I'm always surprised reading this forum at the number of questions about certain graduate programs, and the few questions from prospective students about whether or not graduate study is even advisable in the first place. I'm afraid, to be honest, that many of you are making the same mistake I made before I decided to get a masters in planning--that is, going into it a bit naive about the true costs and benefits of a masters in planning. Although I think I drew some benefits from my masters degree, and I continue to be interested and engaged in planning, I would NOT recommend a masters degree in planning to anyone.
I'll offer my experience to those of you still mulling things over. I had worked for various nonprofits and government offices in New York City where I became involved (albeit mostly at an entry level) in the development of many major land use policies and programs. I determined from this experience that to become a serious player, I would need an advanced degree in a field that examined the very issues and topics I wanted to deal with professionally. Planning seemed like a very natural fit for my objectives, and in a bit of haste, I applied and enrolled in a fairly prestigious planning program, with an appropriately prestigious price tag.
The multidisciplinary nature of planning is what attracts a lot of us to masters programs in planning. It doesn't require specialized knowledge, and generally allows more freedom to a student than a more rigid field of study. The down side of this is that planning programs rarely offer their students solid skills that really sell to prospective employers. If you're expecting a masters in planning will help you land a job you might not be qualified for now, you're likely to be disappointed later.
To be sure, planning programs differ a great deal from one college to another, but few will equip you with any solid deliverables that you didn't come into the program with already. If you got into a decent program, you're already intelligent, well read, and you've likely already proven to various employers, professors and peers that you have some fairly advanced problem solving and analytical skills. A planning program will help you build on these skills, but you're not likely to graduate with any new knowledge or skills that you wouldn't have gotten in a similar period of time in a professional setting. If you can't get a professor or program director to give you at least 4-6 solid (read: not fuzzy) skills that a planning program will help you develop that you don't already possess, then you should, at a minimum, consider another planning program, if not another course of study altogether.
Next, think very deeply and seriously about what you want to do when you complete your degree. Look around in job postings at the kinds of jobs you want and what skills you'll need to become a competitive applicant. More often than not, I think you'll find that another masters program will help you achieve your goals more easily than a masters in planning. Make sure you seriously, and without bias, consider MBA, JD and MPA programs with a public policy bent. Planning students that fail to really understand the financial, business and legal underpinnings of their profession are, to put it bluntly, reprehensibly naive and doomed to push paper for those who do get it. Effective, ambitious and successful planners in the real world understand the legal, financial and political frameworks they work within, and are just as adept at manipulating and working within those frameworks as they are with zoning and land use ordinances. And if you should find years later that planning isn't your calling, an MBA or JD will help you transfer into another profession much more easily than a masters in planning.
Finally, make sure you really find out what kind of salary you can expect when you complete your degree. Masters programs are a lot more expensive than a lot of students realize, and loan payments can truly be debilitating. Before you enroll in a program, find out exactly how much money you'll need to borrow and exactly how much you'll be paying monthly after you graduate. There is no easy way out of student loan debt, and it will profoundly impact your financial and personal goals without very serious and thorough advanced planning. You must treat this process as you would an investment, and fully consider the risks, costs and the return on your investment.