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Thread: Should I Study Economics or Planning?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    Should I Study Economics or Planning?

    I've been considering the possibility of going to graduate school for economics instead of my original plan of urban planning, though I still don't have enough information to make my decision. I'll list out what I'm doing now and what I do know about the two fields, and maybe someone can come along and steer me in the right direction.

    Currently:

    Pursuing a bachelor's degree in Public Administration. I'm about 1 1/2 years from completing this one so I'm really starting to think of graduate school plans. My degree plan goes into great depth as far as public policy, intergovernment relations, budgeting in the public sector, ethical issues associated with the public sector, etc. It is an excellent preparation for Urban Planning but I'm not sure how well it will relate to economics (maybe economic development?).


    Plan A:

    Go for a Master's of Science in Community and Regional planning. This is a field that I have a very strong interest in as it is a "big picture" view of the complex creatures that are cities and metropolitan areas. I do tend to find myself more interested in the physical and statistical side of planning than the political side, though. Dealing with angry citizens at city council meetings does not sound to appealing to say the least. Still, though, being a part of the evolution of a city and creating better places for people to live would be a very satisfying career for me. I really get into researching demographic trends and finding the best course of action for the future.


    Plan B:

    Go for a Ph.D. in Economics (local uni. doesn't offer a Master's... just goes straight to Ph.D.) Besides having "Dr." in my title, which would make me feel really cool, I would be a wacky economist :nerd: Though my knowledge of economics is minimal at this point (taking macro and micro this summer), my understanding is that economists focus on an even larger picture than planners do. They spend a lot more time with statistical data and creating models to predict future trends in the economy. It seems to be a research-intensive job where you spend more time alone using using your own creativity to solve big problems than having to deal with the many levels of bureaucrats. I LOVE statistics and I LOVE seeing how the whole system of cause and effects works out.



    So, what to do, what to do? For you "show me the money" types out there here are the average wages for these fields according to bls.gov:

    Urban Planners: Median annual earnings of urban and regional planners were $49,880 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $39,210 and $62,710. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $31,830, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $76,700. Median annual earnings in local government, the industry employing the largest number of urban and regional planners, were $48,950.
    Economists: Median annual wage and salary earnings of economists were $68,550 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $50,560 and $90,710. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $38,690, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $120,440.

    The Federal Government recognizes education and experience in certifying applicants for entry-level positions. The entrance salary for economists having a bachelorís degree was about $23,442 a year in 2003; however, those with superior academic records could begin at $29,037. Those having a masterís degree could qualify for positions at an annual salary of $35,519. Those with a Ph.D. could begin at $42,976, while some individuals with experience and an advanced degree could start at $51,508. Starting salaries were slightly higher in selected areas where the prevailing local pay was higher. The average annual salary for economists employed by the Federal Government was $81,852 a year in 2003.

    Looking forward to hearing everyone's opinions and advice

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    If you work as an economist within the wholesale finance sector and you are good at it you may end up making substantially more than that, eventually.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  3. #3
    I'm finishing up my economics undergrad at this moment, so I can offer some insight into the field. The first thing you need to determine is if you like the subject. Economics is a fusion of mathematical logic and social science, two topics that tend to find their preference among vastly different types of people. You have to be sure to have enough motivation to get to the end of your degree. Future payoff is just one variable to take into account when making this decision. So I suggest picking up the dryest economics book you can find and see if you can read through to the end.

    Secondly, graduate-level economics are heavily focused on econometric analysis nowadays, which is a controversial issue in dispute with other schools of economic thought who believe statistical models are inapplicable to the field. The truth is that they really train statisticians instead of clear-thinking economists. Since you state statistics as one of your primary interests I suppose this is a positive for you.

    I've decided that economics has taken me as far as it can, and my knowledge of economics would be best applied to the field of town planning. I enjoyed learning economics but learning further statistics does not really appeal to me and won't help me achieve any of my objectives other than having a fancy title. Be certain that it will help you achieve your objectives and won't send you down a path of employment you have no interest in.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    Thanks for the responses.

    After learning more about the mathematical preparation required (calculus III) for graduate study in economics, I'm not so sure it's something I could handle. I am very interested in the field but I want to be an economist, not a mathematician. It looks like I should just stick with my original plan to get a master's in planning.

  5. #5

    Economics Degree

    I completed my undergrad in Economics back in 2002...I knew it wasn't going to lead to anything other than more school, but I stuck it out, made the most of it, and did well. I worked for three years to get experience, and found that it didn't mean much in the workplace (I worked a research job).

    I've just headed back to obtain my planning degree and certification, and have found that my 4 years of economics has greatly prepared me for the next two years in school/my career afterwards. One of the key components for people doing their first degree as a planning degree is learning the economic fundamentals behind the decisions people make within an urban region, and to have that squared away and be second nature has given me a great advantage...



    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    I'm finishing up my economics undergrad at this moment, so I can offer some insight into the field. The first thing you need to determine is if you like the subject. Economics is a fusion of mathematical logic and social science, two topics that tend to find their preference among vastly different types of people. You have to be sure to have enough motivation to get to the end of your degree. Future payoff is just one variable to take into account when making this decision. So I suggest picking up the dryest economics book you can find and see if you can read through to the end.

    Secondly, graduate-level economics are heavily focused on econometric analysis nowadays, which is a controversial issue in dispute with other schools of economic thought who believe statistical models are inapplicable to the field. The truth is that they really train statisticians instead of clear-thinking economists. Since you state statistics as one of your primary interests I suppose this is a positive for you.

    I've decided that economics has taken me as far as it can, and my knowledge of economics would be best applied to the field of town planning. I enjoyed learning economics but learning further statistics does not really appeal to me and won't help me achieve any of my objectives other than having a fancy title. Be certain that it will help you achieve your objectives and won't send you down a path of employment you have no interest in.

  6. #6
    Isn't public policy easier than pure economics? Maybe you should consider public policy.

  7. #7
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    The Best of Both Worlds

    Hello,

    I am in very much the same situation, I am torn between a Master's of Planning and a Master's of Economics. From what I've gathered both can be done at the same time, a dual degree. I know that this is offered at USC and I am looking for other schools that offer this. Also, the London School of Economics offers both a Master's of Planning and a degree in Regional Science, and both sound like a good mix of the two topics.

    I am an economics major at the University of Toronto and I am a self professed "eco-nerd." I love economics and really want to apply that to city and regional planning so I have been looking at Planning programs that have a particular focus on regional and city economics. The schools that have stood out in this regard are USC, UCLA and UNC. If anyone has any other suggestions for MPL programs with strong economics focuses I would much appreciate knowing it. I hope this is useful to you.

  8. #8
    Me too, I'm in the same situation. I was supposed to double major in geog and econ. Well, I got the geog and decided to proceed to grad school, instead, to save $$$. Now, I'm pretty much set on getting a master's in environmental management/policy. It's my way of combining geog and econ. I really like econ but I don't know if I see myself crunching #'s, which is something I do enjoy. I like planning/admin b/c you're out there in the field solving probs. Economists/policy analysts think on a bigger picture but they're more distant from the frontline. However, I really do like econ and I can always get a PhD in it.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BIH80
    Economists/policy analysts think on a bigger picture but they're more distant from the frontline.
    I think this is what I like about economics, though. Less dealing with people, more thinking about and solving abstract problems.... and actually getting paid for it

  10. #10
    Quote Originally posted by jread
    I think this is what I like about economics, though. Less dealing with people, more thinking about and solving abstract problems.... and actually getting paid for it
    Well, both fields have their pros and cons.

    The PhD in econ would pretty much exclude you from planning work, except that with high level responsibility. It seems to me that you prefer econ/public policy over planning, I think the real decision is whether you should get a PhD or Master's in econ. If I were you I'd get a Master's in econ, therefore relocate, and later decide on the PhD, unless I knew I really liked econ. There's plenty of master's level economists in planning.

    About your unfamiliarity with econ, your major in public admin is related, you do have some familiarity. You should take on some/more quant: econ, policy analysis and calculus (audit first if you must). Have you checked out graduate econ syllabii on the net? I would to get a better idea of what graduate study econ is really like.

    When it comes down to it, it's about what you're happy doing.
    Last edited by BIH80; 08 Sep 2005 at 4:52 PM.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    As some people mentioned, you can always get a dual degree in economics and planning, or planning and public policy. Dual degrees are normal in many schools.

    Ph.D. in economics really needs to have strong advanced math skills and needs a long time to get the degree, but I believe that the overall salary of economists will be much higher than planners, and economists have more job selections than planners (I only compare Ph.Ds, job opportunities for Masters in planning seem not too bad, but Ph.D. in planning has very narrow job tiers).
    English is my second language, but the earth is my first hometown

  12. #12
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    Econometrics

    My question is whether or not taking a course in econometrics in my undergrad would be a good idea (or necessary) for entrance into a masters of economics. This is not a class I want to take unless I have to. Thanks

  13. #13
    Cyburbian psylo's avatar
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    <bias> planning of course </bias> I think both give you a great base to go from, for myself I decided on planning because I felt that with a Masters in Planning that would help me get to where I wanted to be at.

    by the way: Luca... Rock Chalk Jayhawk KU!

  14. #14
    Quote Originally posted by bennyd
    My question is whether or not taking a course in econometrics in my undergrad would be a good idea (or necessary) for entrance into a masters of economics. This is not a class I want to take unless I have to. Thanks
    For admission, it never hurts. It really depends on the program and your background, though. I suggest looking at the sites of the ones you're interested in. Most expect applicants to have taken intermediate macro and calculus I. However, if you have a strong quant background, or show promise, they'll admit you and let you make up any deficiencies. Nonetheless, you will be taking econmetrics as part of your curriculum.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    I was torn between a Master's in Urban Planning and a Master's in Community Development. I found a program offering a Master's in Planning and Development Studies.









    Now, if I can only actually finish my &*()& bachelor's....

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by bennyd
    My question is whether or not taking a course in econometrics in my undergrad would be a good idea (or necessary) for entrance into a masters of economics. This is not a class I want to take unless I have to. Thanks
    I guess that taking the class won't be bad, given that economists like to use econometric models. But if you're very strong in quantitative methods and have some ideas about econometrics, then maybe you don't have to take it since many graduate level courses might have it in a core curriculum. But check the graduate curriculum in economics for sure.
    English is my second language, but the earth is my first hometown

  17. #17

    work first!

    After the BA work in the types of jobs that one or more of those degrees might take you to- see if you like it. In addition to helping narrow down your path (most importantly) it will make you a more competitive applicant.

    I learned much more about what I wanted to do in the three years after college (working) than the four years in college. Now I feel that I have chosen the right grad school.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone
    I was torn between a Master's in Urban Planning and a Master's in Community Development. I found a program offering a Master's in Planning and Development Studies.
    I always thought community dev was a subfield of urban planning.

  19. #19
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    Maybe I'm off-base, but my dad is an economics professor (and a former director of graduate studies in his department) and I've gotten the impression from him that a masters in econ is rarely the way to go. We joke about the masters in econ as being a consolation prize for people who, for whatever reason, couldn't finish the phd. A masters in urban planning is definitely a "professional" degree. A masters in econ doesn't seem to be one.

    This topic is interesting to me because I was thinking that I might want to get a phd in econ after I finish my masters in urban planning and policy. I love economics but I'm not so strong in math. It seems to me that the people ideally-suited for such a program (econ phd) are those with a strong foundation in math--upon that they build your understanding of economics. From what I can tell it doesn't work in reverse--those of us who have strong foundations in economic theory might lack the math skills neccessary for the program, and they won't catch us up.

    So, for people like me, who love economic theory but aren't math wizards, our best option is the masters in public policy.

    Just my opinion (obviously influenced by my dad)...what do other people think?

    Laura

  20. #20
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by laura
    Maybe I'm off-base, but my dad is an economics professor (and a former director of graduate studies in his department) and I've gotten the impression from him that a masters in econ is rarely the way to go. We joke about the masters in econ as being a consolation prize for people who, for whatever reason, couldn't finish the phd. A masters in urban planning is definitely a "professional" degree. A masters in econ doesn't seem to be one.

    This topic is interesting to me because I was thinking that I might want to get a phd in econ after I finish my masters in urban planning and policy. I love economics but I'm not so strong in math. It seems to me that the people ideally-suited for such a program (econ phd) are those with a strong foundation in math--upon that they build your understanding of economics. From what I can tell it doesn't work in reverse--those of us who have strong foundations in economic theory might lack the math skills neccessary for the program, and they won't catch us up.

    So, for people like me, who love economic theory but aren't math wizards, our best option is the masters in public policy.

    Just my opinion (obviously influenced by my dad)...what do other people think?

    Laura
    Great post!

    I get the same impression about the Master's in Economics as you do. In fact, on the schools website it specifically says, "the master's degree is always an option for the Ph.D. students who fail their second-year paper". Almost like, "if you suck too much to make the grade, you can get your Master's at least".

    As for my original question, I have talked to the university about both their planning and economics degrees and have basically found out that neither are an option for me. I have to continue working full-time in graduate school and they told me this is pretty much impossible. Seems that are completely unwilling to work with working adults.

    I've decided to go to Texas State University and for an MPA with a focus in Urban Planning instead. They offer the courses in the evenings as well as in a convenient location. Suburb Repairman is going through this program as well and had nothing but good things to say about it.

    So, I guess the question has been answered for me
    "I don't suffer from insanity... I enjoy every single minute of it!"

  21. #21
    I agree, Laura. Any career requiring high-level quant a PhD is almost always ideal for. However, a master's in econ is good for people who don't know what they want a PhD in or even want one. I look upon the degree more highly than a MPP b/c you have more opps in the private sector. Also, it's good for someone who studied public admin as an undergrad and don't want a lot of overlap in their master's. However, you do have a point, which is why many econ depts don't even offer a master's.

    Now, it's important to distinguish between the MPA and MPP.

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