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Thread: Entry-level planning experience before grad school?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Entry-level planning experience before grad school?

    Hey all! As I finally sit down to work on my grad school applications that are due in less than a month, my lack of previous planning experience on the resume is really making me second-guess my decision to do grad school next year.

    I'm graduating with a B Eng in 2008, and I have what I'd like to think is a fairly strong application package overall, but my civil engineering background doesn't exactly mesh too well with my interest in physical planning and design. My meagre border-line planning experience involve a summer university research internship, a short period of public space advocacy, and a thesis project with Toronto Regional Conservation Authority on policy development for sustainable industrial zones.

    My main concern is what kind of jobs I can expect to get as an undergrad B Eng in the planning field, especially ones that relate to physical planning. My one classmate who took a year off to work in a planning consultancy (IBI) ended up spending the year designing traffic loop detectors, and I'm loathe to get myself in that situation for one year.

    So before I ramble any further: what kind of planning jobs are out there for non-planning undergrads? Do you recommend working for a couple of years anyway even if the job doesn't exactly "mesh"? Would grad schools look upon my lack of planning experience as a "immaturity problem"? (I'm turning 22, pretty young for grad school by all accounts) Any input will be much much appreciated.

    (p.s. many people also warned me that having gotten a job straight out of undergrad they found the Yuppie lifestyle way too comfortable for them to even think about going back to school again. not a risk here I hope but who knows, those blackberries do look kinda cool sometimes)
    Last edited by torontopian; 01 Dec 2007 at 12:17 PM.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    entry level experience

    Torontopian-
    I certainly understand you dilemma, I graduated with an undergrad in political science and worked for 2 years then went to planning school. I almost went to school right away after graduation, but I am glad I waited and worked. In case you were wondering I worked as a planning technician for a small city, which is like an assistant planner that also does administrative work.

    My class is a mix of people with experience and without and I think having experience helps, but it's not necessary. One thing to consider is that many programs require internships and studios, so you actually get real world experience during school. In my program we also have graduate and research assistantships that help pay for school and we get more experience working on grants and contract.

    Most people will tell you that you don't really learn planning until you work in it and school is just background. I would agree, school has taught me alot, but I consider my 2 years as a planning tech a sort of 2 year degree. The two go hand in hand. With a master's degree and a little experience I think mid-level planning jobs are a good possibility right out of school, without experience, even with a masters you might be looking at entry level and mid levels only in smaller cities.

    Its a tough call, but I say work a little then go to school, you will be worth more out of school and can get better jobs.

    Good luck with your decision!

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Congrats on your upcoming graduation 15 is young for grad school, not 22. Personally, I would take advantage of your engineering degree, work a few years in engineering (maybe earn your PE) and THEN go back to school, especially if you are interested in site design (you can do a lot of that in an engineering/surveying firm). Your first job is almost never your dream job, and graduate school won't expect you to know everything about planning when you apply (that's why they are teaching you ). I graduated from college with a planning degree a few years ago, been working in the private sector as a land use planner/urban designer for the past few years, looking to move up and get a job in the public sector for a few more years, pick up my AICP and LEED-AP certifcates along the way, go back and get an MLA, and then practice both planning and LA. Some of my classmates went back to get their second planning degree after 1 or 2 years working (personally I want to go back to school after I have 5-6 years of experience, preferably in a mid-level planning position with supervisory experience). I don't plan on doing anything more than internships during grad school (MLA studios are very intense), so my previous experience in a related field will hopefully be a better bargaining point when I start the full-time job search again after I earn my masters .

    If you want to go into physical site planning, I would recommend a second civil/transportation engineering degree, an MArch, or an MLA. I would be very careful about urban design programs (already been talking to a few people privately on here who gradauted from a few of them and they are not all the same). An MUP is a good overall degree, but find a program that places a premium on design instead of policy or theory (which is usually more common in planning graduate programs).

    Hope this helps-
    Last edited by nrschmid; 01 Dec 2007 at 3:55 PM.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Thanks Beach_bum and nrschmid. A junior transportation planner position just opened up today at City Hall. Knock on wood.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    I didn't even know I wanted to do graduate school until I was at my first planning job for awhile, and noticed that they offered tuition reimbursement . So, I started graduate school part-time and then quit my job to go full-time.

    I bet even though your B.S. is not in planning, you could get a planning technician type of job, where you mostly look up zoning and process zoning applications and stuff like that. The most important thing is that you convince potential employers that you are a quick learner, good with the public, and interested in making planning into your career.

    But, if you would rather go straight into graduate school, I don't think your lack of planning education thus far would really hurt you. Planning is known to be a discipline that attracts a lot of people from different backgrounds. When I was in graduate school I was actually the only one with a Planning background. Other people were engineering, geography and even social sciences like psychology.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    Make sure you weigh the costs versus the benefits. Yes, grad school may give you a good background, but so can experience and interest. Read for fun and learn the tools of the trade on the job. Whether you work for a couple of years then go to school, go to school, then work a couple of years, or don't go to grad school at all and work 4 years, you'll wind up getting (or at least being eligible for) AICP around the same time, and that's what really will open up the mid- and senior-level jobs to you. The only difference - if you work for 4 years, you've made money two years more than grad school rather than paying two years. Net gain vs. net loss. To me in the public sector, anyway, it wasn't much of a decision... at least for several years until I'm ready to move up beyond planning to department (or even city-wide) administration, but then an MPA would probably be a better fit.

    Oh, and an engineering background will get you a nice job doing plan reviews (which is a lot of what public sector entry-level planners do), and if you're lucky, helping set policy in regards to them.

  7. #7
    maudit anglais
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    Quote Originally posted by torontopian View post
    A junior transportation planner position just opened up today at City Hall. Knock on wood.
    Oh, interesting. I would know the previous incumbent who was in that position. Sorry to be brutally honest without even knowing you, but I would not get your hopes up on this job...there is a lot of competition for these jobs and in the past they have gone to planners or engineers with at least a couple of years of experience. Don't let that stop you from applying though, because you never know unless you go for it!

    Transportation planning is still heavily influenced by those with engineering degrees...my suggestion to you is if you decide (or are forced) to enter the workforce to get some planning experience, look for a consulting firm that fits what you want to do. You don't necessarily have to end up designing traffic loops. Look for firms who are hiring for development work, or junior transportation analysts - you might end up getting stuck churning out impact studies for big box stores, but at least you will start on the right track towards getting transportation planning experience. The market for transportation planners is still very hot right now so with any luck you should be able to find something that suits your interests. Even if you end up designing traffic loops for a year, it's not the end of the world...one year is nothing when it comes your career.

    Oh, and in the consulting field postgrad degrees don't usually get you much extra unless you are in a real niche.

    Would you be interested in moving to Ottawa?

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