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Thread: Starting salaries for planners

  1. #1
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    Starting salaries for planners

    I've been considering a career change and pursuing a Masters in Urban Planning. But, I get a sick feeling in my gut that after spending the time and $$ in school to pursue the masters is only going to get me a $40k (if that!) job. Frustrating! What are typical salaries like for public and private sector starting jobs for new grads (with Masters)?

    Thanks for all replies.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    If you want to make a lot of money dealing with land use, I would recommend either going into real estate, working for a developer, or practicing as an attorney. Planners make a comfortable salary but it is not huge. You might make more in California because the cost of living is higher than in other areas. Compared to the hell that doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, scientists, etc. go through to get their professional degrees, a two year MUP program is not a huge sacrifice if you save up for a state program (or get tuition reimbursment from your employer), live within your means, and have no dependants (easier said than done).

    http://www.planning.org/salary/

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    I have a Master's (when I finish the thesis, asap) and mine was $33k for a county with approximately 60k people. It is now $34.5k, though!! I expect it to increase once I get the thesis done, get a bit more experience, get the evil AICP, etc. MrT is making about $39k working in a larger city with 1 million. We both were entry level with a couple of internships/assistantships.

    Another point that I'm sure others will bring up is that the cost of getting this degree is fairly cheap compared to others. I was in-state and had financial aid and cut my costs by a lot. I will be able to easily pay my debt in ten years (maybe sooner, I'm in the process of creating a few spreadsheets with different options ).

  4. #4
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    Totally depends where you live. Some states are known to pay crap, like where I started, in Iowa. 7 years ago I was making $25K at my first job, but that was without a Masters. And the cost of living is pretty low there, so it all worked out.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    My first job (planning technician) was $12k. I vaguely recall getting a raise to $13k before the job ended (one of those 8-month wonders). I'd provide the price of gas as a comparison, but have no recollection of it, as I did not own a car. This was back before dirt was invented, 1978-79.

    Locally there's an "entry level" position starting at $42k, no masters, nor AICP required. (2007)

    HTH

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    In Califronia, entry level positions pay higher in the public sector than the private sector, with better benefits (typically). My entry level job (which i am still at) started at just under $30,000 which sucked for the area, but i got by and i have had significant pay increases since then and i moved to the northern SJ valley or Southern Sacramento Valley, whichever way you slice it. Depending on where you live, especially in California will dictate your salary like CCH said. An associate level position in the bay area, to which a entry level master's candidate qualifies for in the public sector can range anywhere from 65-90K depending on the municipality, but cost of living is a huge factor. I would say with a master, your entry level median salary in this state for an associate position or Planner II position is about 45K higher in socal and the bay area, lower everywhere else. Good Luck!
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    The jobs I looked at in Texas/Oklahoma ranged from a low (Amarillo) of $29K to a high (McKinney [N Dallas suburb]) of $44K for starting salaries.

  8. #8
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    Am I going to be poor?

    Hello again,

    If I go into Urban Planning, what socio-economic level can I expect to find myself at? I plan on working in Chicago with 2 Bachelors in Urban Studies (concentration in urban planning) and Spanish, and a Master in Public Polic and Administration with a concentration in Metropolitan and Urban Planning. I choose Urban Planning because it seemed more economically viable than an English degree, and also because I love geography, sociology, cities, etc...

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Plan 9's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by zzguy2 View post
    Hello again,

    If I go into Urban Planning, what socio-economic level can I expect to find myself at? I plan on working in Chicago with 2 Bachelors in Urban Studies (concentration in urban planning) and Spanish, and a Master in Public Polic and Administration with a concentration in Metropolitan and Urban Planning. I choose Urban Planning because it seemed more economically viable than an English degree, and also because I love geography, sociology, cities, etc...

    You can plan on being firmly entrenched in the not rich income group. And the definitely slightly poorer than the private sector planners income group if you opt for the public sector.

    If you want to be weel to do you need to be a land use attorney, or better yet, a water rights attorney.

    EEP! Those public sector starting salaries seem way low. No reason you shouldn't be able to pull down 40k+ in S. California. Of course if you are not used to it, cost of living will eat you alive.

    Go private sector, better pay, more sanity, less holidays and bennies.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 28 Nov 2007 at 7:28 PM. Reason: double reply caused by thread merge
    "Future events such as these will affect you in the future."

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    If you only care about money then become a chemical engineer; they consistantly have the highest pay for recent graduates.

    Do what you love. If its English figure out a job where you can apply an aspect of English that you like. My wife majored in English and is a school teacher. She loves her job.

    I am an economic developer for a small town. I went back to school because I wanted to make a difference so I got an MPA. I left a well paying and easy job working as a stock broker for a large mutual fund company. I am on my 3rd job and still make less than I did when I was slinging stocks. I work twice as many hours, nights and weekends. To me it was worth it because I love what I do and I am happier.

    The question you have to ask yourself is what is more important , doing a job you love or being paid well. If you are lucky you can have both.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Plan 9 View post
    40k+ in S. California. Of course if you are not used to it, cost of living will eat you alive.
    Ha! I make more than that and i am in nor cal. Yippie! But alas, i am still poor cause i can't afford to buy my own home..just yet..

    Like everyone else said, if you expect to be rich, move on to something else, or inherit some money and become a worthy developer. If you like planning, you can work with any salary that is given to you. Happiness at your job pays way more than $$$ at a crappy job. You mind,body and soul will thank you later.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    You have not told us what experience you already have. If you have worked in a related fied, that may count as relevant job experience. With that, you could start out higher.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  13. #13
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    Well I know I'm not going to be rich--I just want to be comfortable. I probably won't be having any dependants for a LONG time, so I won't have to worry about that. I'd just like a salary that'll give me enough to live comfortably and not have to worry about money...but not necessarily live in a mansion.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    Planning jobs do not start with large salaries. When I started, entry level jobs in the southeast were around $35,000/year. Now they are around $40,000 - 45,000/year. You have to look at earning potential and not just starting salary.

    Jobs in public sector urban planning are extremly secure. They cannot out source public participation to a foreign country. Private sector planning is less secure because you are impacted by real estate cycles, economic cycles, and potential outsourcing, but the money is better.

    When you have been in the business for a number of years and you can show that you are a competent and savy planner you will have potential to move up. Planners move around like crazy so there are often times numerous competitive openings in many metro aeras.

    Good luck!
    Satellite City Enabler

  15. #15
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Plan-it View post
    Planning jobs do not start with large salaries. When I started, entry level jobs in the southeast were around $35,000/year. Now they are around $40,000 - 45,000/year. You have to look at earning potential and not just starting salary.
    I think this is accurate- except that "entry level" at that salary invariably means at least two years experience and a Master's. True entry level positions (right out of college, no experience/only internship) are difficult to find and I doubt would start at much more than 30-35k or so.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    A planner's salary is good money. At least I think so. My wife doesn't. She harangues my six-year-old son to study harder so you can be a better paying job than Papa. I got good grades in everything but math. I chose to be a planner. I think my starting salary was about $31K.

    You will never get rich. That is for certain. But you can make a decent living and if you are in the public sector, the benefits are good.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    I think this is accurate- except that "entry level" at that salary invariably means at least two years experience and a Master's. True entry level positions (right out of college, no experience/only internship) are difficult to find and I doubt would start at much more than 30-35k or so.
    Good point Hilldweller, I concur. The salary figures I provided was for a Master's graduate with at least two years of internship experience.
    Satellite City Enabler

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by otterpop
    You will never get rich. That is for certain. But you can make a decent living and if you are in the public sector, the benefits are good.
    I partly agree with that. Planning directors (and senior planners in more affluent communities) can make upwords of over 100k a year. Principals in well-established consulting firms can make even more than that (I know a few who are making between 150k-300k per year) but they are working far longer hours. If you start your own firm, you might be looking at 60-70 hour weeks for a couple of years before you even turn a profit, let alone something to support yourself on.

    Several people on this forum have said you make more in consulting, which is partly true (ask anyone who is a draftsman or support staff, and they will tell you otherwise). It depends on your degree(s), your previous experience, job responsibilities, and which firm you work for. I only have six paid holidays a year, not including the day after Thanksgiving, and will almost never be compensated for staying late or bringing home work to stay within the project budget (Raf, you've been in the same boat). My firm is small, and I am the only planner on staff. It's not that stressful, and I haven't been to evening meetings in a long time, but if I wanted to make more money I could either look for a job in the public sector (which I am currently trying to do) or work in a bigger firm with bigger projects and larger budgets.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Around here, the starting public sector salaries are lowish ($40K or so) but, if you are good, they go up fairly quickly, as long as you are willing to move around the area to move up. In addition, don't discount the relatively good working benfits and hours of a public sector job. Time is money!

    On the other hand, don't go into planning to move up the economic ladder...

  20. #20
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Masswich View post
    Around here, the starting public sector salaries are lowish ($40K or so) but, if you are good, they go up fairly quickly, as long as you are willing to move around the area to move up. In addition, don't discount the relatively good working benfits and hours of a public sector job. Time is money!

    On the other hand, don't go into planning to move up the economic ladder...
    That is pretty low for one of the most expensive places in the country to live in (Boston). However, I bet local governments have no trouble finding qualified candidates because 1) Boston is a desirable location, and 2) there are a lot of educated people there. Or am I wrong about this?

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    This is a great debate to be having, but has anyone really taken a look at the job market in general for planners? Take California for instance, our job market looks bleak in the private sector due to the collapse in the housing market (lots of firms, including mine have laid off planners), and entry level positions don't look that well either due to our economic conditions turning for the worse (the state government's budget is heavily tied the ups and downs of the economy and lately raising property tax values due to the large amount of home sales which in the end effect the local municipalities budgets) in the public sector. Those with some experience can apply to those higher level senior positions which tend to crop up as the "graying" of our profession continues in this state, and a lot of planners begin to retire. Any thoughts on how our country's economic state and how that effects entry level salary, as well as competition for jobs from the applicant pool?
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    I should have been an accountant. lol

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    This is a great debate to be having, but has anyone really taken a look at the job market in general for planners? Take California for instance, our job market looks bleak in the private sector due to the collapse in the housing market (lots of firms, including mine have laid off planners), and entry level positions don't look that well either due to our economic conditions turning for the worse (the state government's budget is heavily tied the ups and downs of the economy and lately raising property tax values due to the large amount of home sales which in the end effect the local municipalities budgets) in the public sector. Those with some experience can apply to those higher level senior positions which tend to crop up as the "graying" of our profession continues in this state, and a lot of planners begin to retire. Any thoughts on how our country's economic state and how that effects entry level salary, as well as competition for jobs from the applicant pool?
    In Georgia, the job market for planner, especially entry level, is fantastic. There are more jobs available than there are qualified individuals to fill the positions. Two of my last four hires were from out of state because there were no local candidates to consider. This is sad because we have a fantastic planning school nearby, they just can not provide the number of qualified individuals the market demands. The issue of a graying work force in GA is not that much of an issue. GA continues to have a net inmigration of people in their 20's and 30's. There are lots of 40's individuals in the senior management positions and they are highly mobile so there are numerous opportunities to move up.

    On the short term, the housing market is a little iffy here more because we have a 30 month supply of built speculative housing in the Atlanta area, but that is mostly in the far out exurban areas and condos downtown. This is making private sector employment in planning more difficult to come by, but public sector work is still doing OK.
    Satellite City Enabler

  24. #24
    Cyburbian
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    ditto for Colorado. I have talked to some directors who have had postings open for months with only a few applications. most every municipality here has a planning department, even the really small places. part of this is because we have strong planning, zoning & conservation enabling laws. the only school putting out planners is CU at Denver and they can't nearly keep up with demand.

    in short, this is a great place to have a planning career

  25. #25
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Plan-it View post
    In Georgia, the job market for planner, especially entry level, is fantastic. There are more jobs available than there are qualified individuals to fill the positions. Two of my last four hires were from out of state because there were no local candidates to consider. This is sad because we have a fantastic planning school nearby, they just can not provide the number of qualified individuals the market demands. The issue of a graying work force in GA is not that much of an issue. GA continues to have a net inmigration of people in their 20's and 30's. There are lots of 40's individuals in the senior management positions and they are highly mobile so there are numerous opportunities to move up.

    On the short term, the housing market is a little iffy here more because we have a 30 month supply of built speculative housing in the Atlanta area, but that is mostly in the far out exurban areas and condos downtown. This is making private sector employment in planning more difficult to come by, but public sector work is still doing OK.
    Good to hear Plan-it! The slow job market for planners in Florida may benefit Georgia. It seems the only positions are in Transportation Planning, no shortage in those positions around here. In fact, I may be heading across the border in the Spring and several of my friends are thinking about it too!
    Last edited by beach_bum; 09 Dec 2007 at 7:02 PM. Reason: typo

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