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Thread: How necessary are master's degrees?

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    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    How necessary are master's degrees?

    I'm sure this question has probably been asked before, and I'm not sure if this belongs in this forum or in "Career Advice", but I'm wondering how necessary Master's degrees are in the field of planning.

    Am I taking a big risk if I don't get a Master's degree immediately after getting my bachelor's degree, especially if I'm getting my bachelor's degree in a field like geography, and not planning? Or are there enough employers looking for planners that I should be able to secure a decent job within 6 months of graduating with just a bachelor's degree.

    Also, can intern experience (like four summers of it) cancel out not having a Master's degree?

    I'd kind of like to make decent money as soon as possible instead of staying in school for seven years straight.

  2. #2
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    I think it depends on where you are looking. If you go to a more competitive market, a master's degree will help you get your foot in the door as well as more money.

    Although I think that work experience is very important, a Master's can sometimes replace two years of experience, so really it evens out.

    As for the money issue, obviously if you are not in school you will be making more money than if you are; but some will pay more for a master's so it could be a trade off. I say get school out of the way, because going back sucks.
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by illinoisplanner View post
    I'm sure this question has probably been asked before, and I'm not sure if this belongs in this forum or in "Career Advice", but I'm wondering how necessary Master's degrees are in the field of planning.

    Am I taking a big risk if I don't get a Master's degree immediately after getting my bachelor's degree, especially if I'm getting my bachelor's degree in a field like geography, and not planning? Or are there enough employers looking for planners that I should be able to secure a decent job within 6 months of graduating with just a bachelor's degree.

    Also, can intern experience (like four summers of it) cancel out not having a Master's degree?

    I'd kind of like to make decent money as soon as possible instead of staying in school for seven years straight.
    Depends on where you are and the person interviewing.. I also have my geography (as do many planners) with internship experience and I had no trouble finding employment. IMO- A general planning undergrad degree is not worth more than geography, environmental resource management, etc..

    My advice is to find a job in a city that has a school you can obtain your master degree from. Then when you know what exactly what you want to go into after working a year or two (Urban Design, Comprehensive Plan, Plan Review, Land Preservation, Environmental Planning etc..) you can get your grad degree specialized in what you want to do. Also many employers have tuition reimbursement.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    I went straight to a Master's and I'm finding out now that I could have used tuition reimbursement programs to have them pay for it. Of course, I'd have to stay here for a while to make it worth it to them to pay for it. When you're looking into a job also look at Master's programs in the area and see if there is something you could do while working. If I could do it again, I'd find a job near a public school (cheaper) with a good graduate planning program and then take classes while I worked.

    This is one of those things that you really can't make a "wrong" decision on. I don't know how easy or difficult it would be for you to find a job in planning with an undergrad geography degree, I've never tried. I think you would be able to, though, because in my last job I worked with recent grads and some were Geography majors.

    Anyway, good luck!

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    The Master's degree will open up additional avenues for you and it will allow you to compete for higher position jobs as you gain practical experience. Many Planner II positions and up require a Master's Degree. It will put you at a competitive disadvantage not to have the additional degree. It will also require that you have many more year of experience in order to gain that 1st promotion from entry level planner to a project management planner.

    Quote Originally posted by Tresmo View post
    I went straight to a Master's and I'm finding out now that I could have used tuition reimbursement programs to have them pay for it. Of course, I'd have to stay here for a while to make it worth it to them to pay for it. When you're looking into a job also look at Master's programs in the area and see if there is something you could do while working. If I could do it again, I'd find a job near a public school (cheaper) with a good graduate planning program and then take classes while I worked.

    This is one of those things that you really can't make a "wrong" decision on. I don't know how easy or difficult it would be for you to find a job in planning with an undergrad geography degree, I've never tried. I think you would be able to, though, because in my last job I worked with recent grads and some were Geography majors.

    Anyway, good luck!
    This is a great idea. There are many programs across the country that allows you to go to school full time and work part time. The company or professor you are working for pay for your tuition. It is the way to go if you are interested in being a practicing planner.
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  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    You can move up the ladder without going back to school immediately. Developing your network, especially in a big metro area, can really help you move up the ladder. I know a few principals and planning directors who just have a bachelors degree. I think it depends on how hard you network in addition to how hard you work as a planner.

    On a separate note, you might end up doing grunt level work at your first job right after school. Earning a masters does not guarantee project manager work right after school (although you will probably move up the ladder faster than with a bachelors degree).

  7. #7
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    If I could re-do my life, I would have immediately gone for my Master's - I do feel it's a void for me, but it's more of a personal void

    Professionally, I have done just fine - 20 years into my career, the last 9 years I have been a planning director and I have 3 years in the private sector as a project manager before that - so I've done okay despite it

    I do have a couple of residents who snide me because I don't have it, but they are snobby anyway and luckily are not right now in positions of authority over me

    I do think, though, that I am the last generation who got away with this and I am even thinking of getting my MPA so when I completely burn out as a local government planner, I can teach

    ...and, with the new AICP and the CM requirements, I think having a Master's is going to be that much more crucial

    so my advice is to go get your Master's - if you know you want to be a planner, a general planning degree for your Master's is fine - even if you don't know what specialty you want

    yes, many places have tuition reimbursement, but unless you were recruited in your senior year of your undergrad to a place that has it, I wouldn't count on it as a sure way to go - just do it now while you are, I assume, young, unhitched, no kids, no mortgage...

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Personally if I hadn't went to grad school right after undergrad I probably wouldn't have done it. Life gets in the way very fast and I would have lost the head of steam I had coming out of undergrad. However, After 1 full year I did two part time years while working full time in planning, I got a measly $600 a semester toward tuition from the employer but more important I was getting a degree AND experience. I suggest you follow a similar route if you can.
    @GigCityPlanner

  9. #9
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    I think that if you start off in a pretty non-competitive geographic area you'll be fine, like me . Get lots of different job responsibilities under your belt, maybe eventually AICP, and years from now it probably won't matter at all.

    But, as more and more people do go for their masters, it will become more and more necessary, to stay competitive.

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    Hi I know I've already asked about this in another thread (although didn't really get a response): I was just wondering how you think having a first degree in Geology is going to work out for me? Obviously I am going to HAVE to do a masters to even get looked at by employers but I am not sure...

    Basically would the masters even help me at all or should I not really bother persuing a career this field?

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    I worked part time as a GIS technician for the state geological survey during my sophmore year in planning They used a GIS software called Rockware which I think is compatible with ESRI). It really helped me understand topography works. It wasn't directly related to planning, but led to bigger things. I also worked with several talented geologists who have worked with geographers, soil experts, and mining companies.

    Try to find some planning electives to take. Before you graduate, I would recommend setting up informational interviews at planning offices to find out what additional requirements they would need. Some places might require a degree in a related field, so it doesn't always have to be planning, especially if you show a strong interest/drive for planning issues.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Plan 9's avatar
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    Not very. Any place that values a pedigree over what you can do or are capable of is not somewhere I would want to work.
    "Future events such as these will affect you in the future."

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    Where I am, there are four levels of planners: Assistant, Associate, Senior, and Principal. People without master's degrees typically start out as Assistant Planners and after several years of experience can move up to Associate Planners. People with master's degrees typically start out as Senior Planners (which is what I am) and after a couple of years of experience--or getting AICP--move up to Principal. Because I am in a city with a university that has a master's program in planning, there simply is no need to elevate non-master's level planners to anything beyond Associate. In fact, we're now at the point where planners with master's degrees are being hired as Associate Planners.

    I think it definitely depends on the market where you want to work. If you're near a school with a graduate program, your chances of securing upper-level planning work with an undergrad degree are probably more limited.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    danthonyjr, If a planner without a masters degree moves up to associate planner in your firm, how easy is it for them to move up to the senior planner position and beyond? Is your firm company owned, where each person who makes principal becomes an owner? Sounds like the firm places a lot of trust in their staff to give them ownership as a principal after working just a few years.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Plan 9's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by danthonyjr View post
    Where I am, there are four levels of planners: Assistant, Associate, Senior, and Principal. People without master's degrees typically start out as Assistant Planners and after several years of experience can move up to Associate Planners. People with master's degrees typically start out as Senior Planners and after a couple of years of experience--or getting AICP--move up to Principal.
    Scary! People with no practical experience making real world decisions based on what some professor's ideal solutions are. Everyone should start at Assistant, the counter work does them good and sets the basis for customer service later in their careers.
    "Future events such as these will affect you in the future."

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    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    Wow, thanks for all the responses.

    They're all so varied, so many opinions.

    I guess I'll try my luck and look for a job after I get my bachelor's degree. If no luck there, I can always give up the job search and go for the master's right away. We'll see. Still plenty of time.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Plan 9 View post
    Scary! People with no practical experience making real world decisions based on what some professor's ideal solutions are. Everyone should start at Assistant, the counter work does them good and sets the basis for customer service later in their careers.
    That sounds like someone bitter because they HAD to start at the assistant level. Yes you can learn many needed skills in 6 months on the job, more than grad school will teach for "real world" experience. But there are other useful tools that one comes in with from grad school like plan reading, they are up to date on the latest technologies usually, and know the lingo.
    @GigCityPlanner

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    This sounds great and dandy, but what happens when you get a bachelor's degree in City and Regional Planning from an accredited planning school (APA)? Shouldn't that count for a lot as compared to a Master's Degree?
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    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Tide View post
    But there are other useful tools that one comes in with from grad school like plan reading, they are up to date on the latest technologies usually, and know the lingo.
    Agree with most of that. Graduate students have more exposure to plans, but I think it just takes experience to develop a good eye for site plan reading. I have learned more about in's and out's of a software from work experience, whether it be GIS, CAD, GPS, Photoshop, etc. You might learn alot more planning lingo in a graduate program, but you you might have to spend just as much time learning how to adopt your boss' preferred writing style.

    Nick high-fives Raf.
    Last edited by nrschmid; 24 Oct 2007 at 8:03 PM.

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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    danthonyjr, If a planner without a masters degree moves up to associate planner in your firm, how easy is it for them to move up to the senior planner position and beyond? Is your firm company owned, where each person who makes principal becomes an owner? Sounds like the firm places a lot of trust in their staff to give them ownership as a principal after working just a few years.
    I work for a joint city-county planning agency in a county of approx. one million people.

    To my knowledge, we have no senior or principal planners without master's degrees. I would assume (is making assumptions safe?) that if a person with a bachelor's degree had considerable work experience and became AICP certified, he/she would be eligible to move up to senior planner.

    The agency has a very close relationship with the university's graduate program; most of the grad students spend at least one of their two years interning for the agency (interns are designated assistant planners, btw). Thus, the "Scary!" remark from Plan9 is a bit misplaced here.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    I guess you just have a different system of job titles, that's all. I assumed that an assistant or an associate planner would refer to a full-time non-intern planning position, and a senior planner would be a planner who is senior to another full time planner (hence Plan9's scary remark that students fresh out of school would move into a senior level position). I also thought that you worked in the private sector because you have principals in your office (and I would have definetely looked for a job at your firm if you offered ownership only after a few years of work )

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    I am looking at a Master's degree at Western Ontario in London with a full ride. However, I am a foreign worker, and my visa will soon expire unless I get a market evaluation from Human Resources Canada.

    I got some admissions from US schools with little aid, I can't afford the difference. Any ideas?

    I should have mentioned, this would be an urban geography MA. Has anyone with a Geog. MA made it in planning? Any ideas?
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 22 Apr 2008 at 9:31 AM. Reason: double reply

  23. #23
    Cyburbian
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    yea those work; i work with a few planners who have the same background.

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