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Thread: College freshman contemplating changing his major to urban planning. need advice

  1. #1
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    College freshman contemplating changing his major to urban planning. need advice

    Ok, so Iím currently a freshman in the University of Miami school of business majoring in management science also known as operations research. However, I donít particularly like it here. I find most of the students here to be extremely superficial and materialistic, especially in the school of business. They know nothing about whatís going on in the world nor do they care to know. All they care about is their frat parties and what night clubs to go to. So anyways Iím considering transferring to Occidental College, a small liberal arts college in Los Angeles. Since they donít have my current major there I was looking through possible majors that I could switch to if I were to transfer there. As I was looking there was one that really caught my eye, urban and environmental policy. So I started to think that maybe I can major in that with the eventual goal of getting a masterís degree in urban planning. Aside from the issue of money, switching my major is the biggest factor in deciding whether or not I want to transfer because I know I would like Occidental a lot more than I like Miami but at the same time I have to look toward the future and my career plans and try not to be short sighted.
    However, to be honest I only have a very vague idea of what an urban planner actually does. But there are several things that make me think that urban planning would be a good career for me. Iíve always loved cities and maps. When I was younger I was absolutely OBSESSED. When, I was probably about 8 or 9 years old I would spend hours studying maps and looking up census data about cities (I was a strange kid). Also, I would continually beg my parents to take me to visit big cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Even now I still love that kind of stuff. Back in high school I spent countless hours riding my bike all over my hometown of Cincinnati exploring all of the different neighborhoods in the city (including the extremely dangerous crime-ridden neighborhoods). I loved learning about the layout of the city and eventually came to know it very well. Aside from my reasons for thinking that urban planning might be a really good fit for me I also think that business might not be right for me. I donít know if I could deal with the conservative business environment filled with people who care nothing for their fellow human beings and are only interested in how to make more money. I consider myself to be a rather liberal person and Iím also very proud to be a liberal. My goal in life isnít to make as much money as I possibly can. My goal is to be able to make a difference in the world and help people, especially people living in poverty. In general would you say that the people in urban planning tend to be liberal, conservative, moderate, or a fairly diverse mixture of people from all different political viewpoints? Also, for the people who are already working in urban planning do you feel like what you do makes a difference? Do you get a sense of fulfillment out of what you do?
    However, even though there are several things that lead me to believe that urban planning would be a good career for me I also have a lot of concerns about switching my major and I donít want to burn any bridges without giving a lot of thought to what I actually want to do. One of the big concerns I have about urban planning is the money issue. From the research Iíve done on it, it seems like urban planners are somewhat underpaid, especially for a field that generally requires a masterís degree to get good entry level positions. Normally this wouldnít be such a big concern but I think that I would probably like to stay in Los Angeles after college and it is insanely expensive to live there. I know that money doesnít buy happiness but at the same time I want to be able to live my life without constantly having to worry about my finances. Do you think that I would be able to live comfortably in Los Angeles working as an urban planner? Are there any urban planners that live and work in Los Angeles that could give me some insight into that? Another thing I wanted to know is how useful is being talented in math in urban planning? Iím extremely talented in math (I got a perfect score on the math section of the SAT) and itís not a skill that I want to let go to waste. Another thing Iím curious about is how useful are foreign languages in urban planning? I really love foreign languages and want to be in a career where I can utilize my foreign language skills. Iím nearly fluent in Spanish and could probably be fluent with just a little bit more practice, Iím currently learning Portuguese, and I hope to learn even more languages later on in life. Another thing Iím concerned about is that some people have told me that urban planning can be very political and urban planners spend a lot of their time tangled up in politics. Is this true?
    So anyways, based on everything Iíve said does it sound like urban planning would be a good fit for me? From the little I know about urban planning I think it sounds like something I would really enjoy. But like I said I only have a vague idea of what an urban planner actually does and I do have my concerns about going into urban planning. Does anybody have any advice for me on what I should do? Iím really torn right now on whether or not to transfer. Iím only a freshman right now but I really think that I would like my current major as I start to get into more advanced topics but itís hard to know right now since Iím still only in the general business classes such as economics, business law, and accounting and havenít really gotten into classes from my specific major yet. But at the same time I really donít like most the people here at Miami and even after college I donít know if I could stand working in the corrupt corporate world. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Sorry that this is so long but I had a lot to say. Please read it anyways because it took me a long time to write this. This is actually my second time writing this because the first time my computer messed up and I lost everything I wrote so this time I was smart and typed it in Word and copied and pasted it. But anyways thank you so much for any advice. Iím so lost right now.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    California tends to pay above average for planners. I looked into some jobs out there around this time last year, and the starting salaries were way above what I make here in the NYC area. As for foreign languages... I speak intermediate-level Spanish but have only been called upon to actually use it once. 99% of the people you'll be dealing with are english speakers. Now, in the nonprofit community development world, that was a different story - I had chances to speak Spanish all the time, and that was actually how I learned the language.

    I say go for it. I didn't even know what planning was as a college freshman. I majored in sociology and took an urban sociology class, that was my introduction to the field.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian el Guapo's avatar
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    almaguerj
    Not meaning to flame, but I would look into purchasing some paragraphs and a gross of brevity. Those items would come in very handy in a career in planning.

    Good luck with your decision.

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    wow, you urban planners are really helpful people.....

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by almaguerj View post
    wow, you urban planners are really helpful people.....
    Did you miss eG's comment? Who has the time or patience to respond? Consider a more succinct post next time.

    Whatever, good luck...in what you're trying to accomplish. Not that I completed reading your post.
    Annoyingly insensitive

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    his comment was what i was referring to asshole

  7. #7
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by almaguerj View post
    his comment was what i was referring to asshole
    Moderator note:
    And for that, you get a welcome to cyburbia gift:



    See you in 4 days.
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Jen's avatar
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    Im surprised that two seasoned cyburbians took a crap in this guys thread, a first time poster looking for career advice and he gets the treatment?

    And why 4 days suspension? why not 1 day, 4 hours or 4 weeks? 4 days? where do you come up with that?

  9. #9
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jen View post
    Im surprised that two seasoned cyburbians took a crap in this guys thread, a first time poster looking for career advice and he gets the treatment?

    And why 4 days suspension? why not 1 day, 4 hours or 4 weeks? 4 days? where do you come up with that?
    Moderator note:
    Because the suspension started on a weekend, the suspension was made to last 2 weekdays (it expires this afternoon), which is typical of a personal attack suspension.

    Neither EG or RJ did anything to deserve the profanity that ensued
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Jen's avatar
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    I think the poster exhibited frustration after posting a long thoughful inquiry only to have two out of three replies consist of nothing but snark and ridicule., imo they were being assholish to the poster. nothing personal, just an observance. Im glad your here NH to protect, whatever it is you are protecting of eG and RJ.

    and the poster called one an asshole, is that the profanity that ensued you are referring to?

    you make me laugh

  11. #11
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jen View post
    I think the poster exhibited frustration after posting a long thoughful inquiry only to have two out of three replies consist of nothing but snark and ridicule., imo they were being assholish to the poster. nothing personal, just an observance. Im glad your here NH to protect, whatever it is you are protecting of eG and RJ.

    and the poster called one an asshole, is that the profanity that ensued you are referring to?

    you make me laugh
    Moderator note:
    Hope you enjoyed your laugh.

    Last word from me on this....

    No rules were broken until the profanity was directed at another user. End of story.

    As always, if you have issues with how a moderator acts, please let Dan know.

    Off-topic:
    You'd think a former mod would be aware of the rules and process that we follow.
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Jen's avatar
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    last word eh except for the off topic? hrmm
    my last word... from the rules,

    4.6 Creating an inclusive community

    4.6.1 Be friendly and inviting to new users of the Forums. Give them a reason to stay and eventually join Teh Clube.

    4.6.2 Cliques are natural, but should not intimidate new users or make others feel like they're "on the outside looking in." Popularity contests and similar posts that may make some feel like "less of a Cyburbian" than others are strongly discouraged.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Jen View post
    last word eh except for the off topic? hrmm
    my last word... from the rules,

    4.6 Creating an inclusive community

    4.6.1 Be friendly and inviting to new users of the Forums. Give them a reason to stay and eventually join Teh Clube.

    4.6.2 Cliques are natural, but should not intimidate new users or make others feel like they're "on the outside looking in." Popularity contests and similar posts that may make some feel like "less of a Cyburbian" than others are strongly discouraged.
    ahhh well done.

    yea those first two posters are **** (insert your choice of 4 letter word[im being neutral here])

    to the thread starter, im glad you want to change the urban environment, your plans quite honestly resemble my intentions. However, through my work at a local planning dept, I have found that the majority of developments still being approved are the shit sprawl thats been lambasted over and over again. Current planning directors just dont have the guts to stand up to councils and do what is right. Quite honestly, I believe these planning directors (and other seniors) don't 'get' the mixed-use thing, they didnt get educated in the same way with the principles I have. I was looking a subdivision today that was created 5 years ago and it doesnt even conform to the official community plan, what bs.

    To get real action you have to move to the private sector, not only are the majority of developers idiots, but they have no idea how to do the project on their own. dont get me wrong, there are a tiny few developers who know how to make good developments, but most are crap. im done here, private is where its at if you want to change the world and make money.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    almaguerj,
    Your post was pretty long, i think i killed a couple of brain cells reading it, as well as the rest of my lunch, but here is my advice from someone in the private sector working in California (and not to mention a resident of this state for over 23 years now):

    Planning is very political, and you just have to understand that. Planners try to (and should) be pushing what is good for their residents (and in the private sector, their clients), but ultimately it is up to a council/board of sups to say ya or nay to a project So ultimately you need to build a good coalition of folks to get "good planning" pushed through.

    Real action doesn't necessarily mean the private sector as the vehicle to change the world. Trust me. I have come up with some great concepts only to be shot down by both private and public clients as "too progressive" or "that just isn't going to work." Yes, in the private sector you do get to change more of the built environment, but remember, some of those "dumb" developers pay your bills, so you have to sallow some tough projects that you may not ethically believe in, put a smile on your face and look at some positive like "well, at least it would look better this way than stringing 4 tentative maps together."

    LA is the most superficial place on earth (with Santa Barbra coming a close second). If you want to maintain your liberal views to planning, but wish to stay in the state, try northern California, particularly the Bay Area, but the private sector is very competitive, especially at entry level jobs. You can get an entry level job without a master's out here, but you would need to come out of a planning school such as UCLA, USC, the Cal Poly's etc. If you want to stay and do your master's here, i recommend a public school so that you get a flavor of everything, not to mention it is cheaper, and you need to know your environmental regs.

    Cost of Living
    Yes, i work in the private sector, and i live comfortably. Sometimes i hurt for money, sometimes i have extra to sock away in savings, but by no means am i a rich man because of family obligations. You will command a higher salary out here, but the price of housing, gas, etc is probably double, if not triple as compared to the mid-west, so be prepared for sticker shock. Bay Area planners command high salaries, as do socal folks, but the trade is always the cost of living. Good luck.
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Planderella's avatar
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    Sorry, I couldn't read through your entire post, but I'll comment on points that stood out to me. If your goal is to make as much money as you possibly can, then urban planning may not be the right major for you. It's a middle class profession through and through.

    Knowing a second language is a plus in any profession.

    Planning can be fulfilling at times, but I find that it's more political than anything. Not that being political is a bad thing, it just makes the job more challenging.

    Simplest thing to do is spend some time shadowing a planner in both the public and private sector to see what a typical day or week is like and whether you can see yourself in a similar environment.

    You're just a freshman, so you still have some time to figure out what you want to do. Switching from management to urban planning, and then Miami to L.A., is quite a jump, so make sure you explore every option before you do it.
    "A witty woman is a treasure, a witty beauty is a power!"

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    I have to say that was TMI

    But i don't think your under grad major matters in terms of planning, I think you have to plan on going to grad school anyways, whether in planning or not.

    Pursue the degree interests you most. I think good preparation for planning in general is an understanding (in no particular order) of economics, statistics, political science, policy, geography, GIS, and sociology or demography. And you could easily work that in to a business degree.

    If you are interested in development a business degree would be great! You can temper the training of the need to grow and develop with a background in sensible and just planning.

    You could even be a good guy working in the private sector- need more of those.

    Best of luck

  17. #17
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    Help

    Well, I don't know much about urban planning yets, since I'm a beginner but the first most thing is language skills, here in the US, the southwest is booming with massive growth and the need for people (urban planners) with language skills that'll help them with the immigration movement (not only hispanics but asians too). Another is a good knowledge of where you want to plan, have some background information some history of teh city/area you are going to plan in. Another thing and this is major now of this age, is the environmental conscience. You must ask your self is this plan for the city will alter the environment in a postive way or a negative way. Plus the culture to, you wan the newest part of teh city to blend in with the city's cultural background but yet different. You said before that you begged your mother and father to take you to cities like Chicago and New York City and so on, the history of development from those cities are a useful tool to help you with your problem. A big part in the solution you are looking for is the new way of thinking, since the population is rising, the old way of thinking for urban planning won't work, and subtle gradual change will need to take place, like street layouts, zoning access, pedestrian access and safety, as well as transportation (rapid and mass transportation) issues.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    Brevity is a skill to be learned. Whether I was 15 or 25, I would never EVER fire back with obscenities, no matter what the criticism. This is not a chat room, but a professional forum, and a degree of decorum should be maintained. I think NHPlanner did the right thing.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Just my quick 2 cents here. Planning is a very diverse field and I think, given the kinds of interests and concerns expressed in your post, you may indeed be able to find a corner that fits well with your skills and abilities.

    The most obvious planning positions are those with a municipality dealing with land use and zoning. Depending on your level, you may be essentially ensuring projects yet to be built are in compliance. Or, you may be involved in developing plans (that someone else will implement) that deal with the big picture (comprehensive planning) or local areas (Sector Development Planning or Community Planning). This could be dealing with issues needing attention immediately, or it could be long range planning, looking at things 10, 20, 30 or more years down the road. Public planners might also work in the realm of policy, researching issues to help legislators make sound decisions on policy issues like transportation, socio-economics, housing, etc.

    Private planning can be either at a private, for-profit firm (usually working under contract for other municipalities, developers, etc.) or at a non-profit corporation. The pay at private firms can be better (though this varies a lot from place to place) and there has been a recent discussion elsewhere in cyburbia about whether it is a more creative environment or not. I don't think the results are conclusive yet...

    Then there is the other private sector - the non-profit arena. This is where I work and I love the creativity and freedom, personally. Community Development corporations (CDCs) are a common employer of planners. Look some up and see what they do. They often deal with economic development, housing and other aspects of community development.

    Topic-wise, planning can include natural resources (environmental planning) transportation, economic development, housing, physical planning (dealing with physical design and layout of places), and more.

    So, to reiterate, planning is a very diverse field. It may be worth visiting this site, Planetizen and the American Planning Association site to get a feel of the variety of work planners do to see what works for you and also ideas and areas that you never considered that may be worth pursuing.

    My final words are not to get too bent out of shape about college. College is partly about what you learn, but its also about learning HOW to learn - how to manage time, how to find info when you need it, etc. Your major is important, yes, but a great many people go in completely different directions than their undergrad degree prepared them for, and that's just fine. Some employers look for that because, say, an English major brings a set of fresh perspectives to the workplace that can be an asset.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  20. #20
    Cyburbian
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    my insta-analysis:

    19 year-old freshman posts a book about why they want to be an Urban Planning major now; flips out when people don't want to read his 1,000 word essay. Hmmm. It's a classic case of being "not ready" for a planning degree/profession. Generally, 19 is too young for a major anyhow (IMHO).

    moreso than perhaps lots of other majors, planning is an old mans (uh, persons) game. While I don't think the planning field attracts the same people as the business major crowd, an important ability is for planners to respectfully consider the hopes/dreams of others as legitimate even if you don't agree with them... So if you're not able to get along with/respect business majors, you have some maturing to do. Many people in the planning field find that maturing happens awfully quick when you leave school and work 40 hrs a week for $8/hr.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by manzell View post
    my insta-analysis:

    19 year-old freshman posts a book about why they want to be an Urban Planning major now; flips out when people don't want to read his 1,000 word essay. Hmmm. It's a classic case of being "not ready" for a planning degree/profession. Generally, 19 is too young for a major anyhow (IMHO).

    moreso than perhaps lots of other majors, planning is an old mans (uh, persons) game. While I don't think the planning field attracts the same people as the business major crowd, an important ability is for planners to respectfully consider the hopes/dreams of others as legitimate even if you don't agree with them... So if you're not able to get along with/respect business majors, you have some maturing to do. Many people in the planning field find that maturing happens awfully quick when you leave school and work 40 hrs a week for $8/hr.
    So how old do you have to be to have a major? I wanted to be an architect when I was 10. If you know what you want to do, why should you wait?

    I think there is a big difference between having dreams and goals and being "ready" for the profession. I read his post word for word, and I agree it was heavy. He will have plenty of time to sharpen the writing skills in school and definetely at his first job, planning or not. Planning in Plain English is a wonderful and SIMPLE text to read.

    Planning attracts a medley of people: geniuses, drunkards, and everyone in between, just like any other profession. I don't think planning, business, or any other type of profession attracts any one type of person than another. The difference is in the weeding out process, and who will actually finish the degree AND practice in their particular field. I think it's unfair to draw conclusions based on a few posts by a newcomer. Another smart guy on here (who shall remain nameless) has been a pistol on here now and then, but he is completing his degree so who are we to judge?

  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    Over the last month or so, I've given five presentations to neighborhood groups about rewriting the Comprehensive Plan as it applies to their neighborhoods. (This is the project that is currently assigned to me.) I've had to go out by myself and open myself up to all sorts of criticism -- much of it quite harsh, and one or two remarks quite personal. It's part of the job.

    To the OP -- Planning can be a very rewarding field, but it can be a harsh field. If you don't have thick skin, it's probably not for you.

    BTW, considering that most planners spend an inordinate amount of time writing, if you can't handle critiques of your writing style, planning is probably not for you. Paragraph breaks are our friends.

    Best wishes in whatever you choose to do.

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