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Thread: Entry-level job without a masters degree?

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    Entry-level job without a masters degree?

    I received a BA in Urban Studies, concentration in urban planning, in 2005. After a brief hiatus on a different career path, I've decided that I want to return to what I studied in college and enter the field. I'd like to find an entry-level job at a private urban planning or urban design firm but haven't had much luck so far. Is it possible to find such a job without a masters? If so, what position titles should I be searching for?

    Thanks!

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    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    The Masters has become the standard, but there are still opportunities for BAs. You might try places off the beaten path, less money- at least till you get your foot in the door.
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    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by art238 View post
    I received a BA in Urban Studies, concentration in urban planning, in 2005. After a brief hiatus on a different career path, I've decided that I want to return to what I studied in college and enter the field. I'd like to find an entry-level job at a private urban planning or urban design firm but haven't had much luck so far. Is it possible to find such a job without a masters? If so, what position titles should I be searching for?

    Thanks!
    My first position was called Planning Technician. (Six-month revolving door, but still...)

    Planner I is typically the entry-level classification at many cities. (They all have their own schemes. Sometimes they start with more Roman numerals and these reduce with advancement.)

    Also look for Zoning Administrator or Code Enforcement. Will get you in the door.
    HTH, good luck!

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    Cyburbian
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    Do you have any internship experience? I, too, just have a bachelors in planning, and those jobs have been lifesavers for me. I landed my first full time job from contacts at those jobs. Put together a portfolio of your work and send it with a job application, even if it's not required. 9 times out of 10 I earned the interview because of these two items.

    Another tactic: if you had any big projects in college, such as a semester long project, I would bring that out. During my last semester, I worked with a bunch of other students to create a neighborhood plan for my college town. I usually include that in my resume, but carefully craft the words so it sounds more like a job and less like a class assignment. A few people have reviewed my resume, but no one has picked up on that yet

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    Cyburbian Bubba's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by art238 View post
    I'd like to find an entry-level job at a private urban planning or urban design firm but haven't had much luck so far. Is it possible to find such a job without a masters? If so, what position titles should I be searching for?
    As a broad generalization, it is possible to find such a job without a Master's degree, but it helps (in my experience) if you're either in grad school or going to start grad school. One of the managers at a former employeer (private sector) had a tendency to hire folks for Planner I openings that were either in or staring grad school in planning.
    I found you a new motto from a sign hanging on their wallÖ"Drink coffee: do stupid things faster and with more energy"

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    It'll probably be very difficult getting into an urban design firm if all you have is a BA in Urban Studies, but I would say that there are enough opportunities in the public sector. Entry level positions are usually called Assistant Planners or Planner I as someone else mentioned.

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    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    Seems the private firms are more interested in taking on new hires with a Masters, or with a lot of public experience. I think you would have a much easier time entering the planning realm if you applied to small municipalities. And you can learn a lot at small munis with small staff, where you get to do a little bit of everything. Just means more to add to your resume. That is what I did. Your "dream job" shouldn't be your first job. It should be something you work your way up to. Most planners change jobs a number of times before landing where they want to be.

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    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Being from a design firm and only holding a BS (i studied in planning under the college of architecture and environmental design) I would have to agree it would be a little bit more difficult to get an entry position at my firm without a really good portfolio. If you have experience, it may be easier, but still relatively difficult. As suggested by some folks, try looking for an internship or planning technician. Even better, see if there is an internship that deals with zoning so that you better understand the built environment and how that effects the end product. Understanding spatial relationships is a good key for most design firms.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    As a planning consultant, we generally only hire people with a master's degree.

    Even 15-20 years ago I often saw ads looking for a master's with two years of experience as a minimum entry requirement.
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    Cyburbian ruralplanner's avatar
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    Seven or so years back I contemplated going back to school to get my masters in planning but decided against it because I would have had to leave a planning job that, in the job description, is masters preferred. Originally, I never intended to be a planner but rather wanted to use my BS in water resource issues and water chemistry. On a fluke I applied for an LTE planning job in a rural county and was offered the position. At the same time I was offered a full time job elsewhere in watershed management. I took the planning job and had the time of my life. The job gave me a chance to work with a group of aspiring masters planning students as they developed a county plan. I learned alot and had a good time going to the bars after meetings. Alas the LTE ended and I landed a job for two years as a zoning inspector in another county. After that I landed my current job as a planner for a rural county in the midwest.

    I have to say that landing my current "masters preferred" job was a combination of luck and a willingness to work and live rural. When I originally applied I thought there was no way but was surprised. But now I feel qualified to apply for masters level jobs under the "or equivalent" experience concept. Language most jobs descriptions now inlcude.

    I suspect that if i wanted to work with a private consultant, getting a job for me may be a bit more difficult since staff credentials are seemingly used as a marketing tool. This is, for me, where the AICP comes into play. I have my own opinions about AICP, but when it comes to landing a job, it can only help-- especially with private consultants.

    In your situation, if you choose not to get your masters your best chance will probably be a public sector job and one that not many other planners would be willing to take. Such as those that are rural or LTE or both. Then once you get your foot in the door, apply for 'better' positions. If that fails you can always go back to get your masters. If it works, your years of experience and AICP can become pretty valuable--and the best part is that you won't be in debt paying back student loans.

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    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    Having a Master’s degree (thus being completely biased), I have to say that I think all planners should have a Master’s degree. I say this here, because if the person hiring you has a Master’s degree, which they likely do, they might feel the same. I can specifically think of a few occasions where I have beat out other planners for a job simply because I had a Master’s and they did not.

    Get a Master’s degree, it is the professional standard.*

    *Please don’t take this to mean that there are not many great planners w/o Master’s degrees, there are, I know several.
    Last edited by H; 07 Nov 2007 at 3:33 PM.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

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    Cyburbian joshking2's avatar
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    It is possible

    I was in your shoes last month. I found a very well paying planning job in rural western North Carolina. It is more community involvement than design work though. Just keep trying.

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    Cyburbian ruralplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by H View post
    Having a Masterís degree (thus being completely biased), I have to say that I think all planners should have a Masterís degree. I say this here, because if the person hiring you has a Masterís degree, which they likely do, they might feel the same. I can specifically think of a few occasions where I have beat out other planners for a job simply because I had a Masterís and they did not.

    Get a Masterís degree, it is the professional standard.*

    *Please donít take this to mean that there are not many great planners w/o Masterís degrees, there are, I know several.
    I have to agree to a certain extent about a masters being the professional standard if you are working in a highly urbanized environment with complex issues (which includes most consultant work). But for smaller cities, villages and rural areas a masters degree is not necessarily required (as in my case- it is preferred). Just look at the job board on the APA to get a feel for what jobs require a masters and what jobs don't. If you aspire to be a principle planner or a principle in a private firm then getting a masters is a must. If you aspire to work in the trenches with smaller communities, then maybe a masters is not needed. In some respects I feel limited because I do not have a masters and would someday like to work in an more urban planning environment. As H stated, the person doing the hiring may feel that a masters is the professional standard. I'd like to think that a person would be hired based on their qualifications and past history etc. etc. and not what kind of degree they had. But I also know that is not an accurate perception.

    Planners tend to be a pretty protective bunch about their career choices and to the benefits of planning in general- myself included. Any threat to that is taken very seriously, hence part of the reason for the CM credits for AICP. I suppose that if more and more planners recognize a masters as the standard, then I suppose though evolution of the field a masters will be the typical requirment. For now, that's not the case.

    I too know some really great planners with masters degrees, however, now that I think about it, I know far fewer planners who do not have their masters-- but these non-mastered planners do their job well and have proven themselves.

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    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ruralplanner View post
    I have to agree to a certain extent about a masters being the professional standard if you are working in a highly urbanized environment with complex issues (which includes most consultant work). But for smaller cities, villages and rural areas a masters degree is not necessarily required (as in my case- it is preferred).
    Yes, urban / rural and regional differences will surely come into play.

    Quote Originally posted by ruralplanner View post
    As H stated, the person doing the hiring may feel that a masters is the professional standard. I'd like to think that a person would be hired based on their qualifications and past history etc. etc. and not what kind of degree they had. But I also know that is not an accurate perception.
    Is a degree, especially a Master's degree, not a very big part of one's "qualifications and past history etc. etc.?"

    I think it is a very large part, especially in the beginning, having two years of concentrated coursework for "fundamental" knowledge, an understanding of theory, legal basis, research methodology, studio classes and internships for hands-on skills / experience, etc., etc.
    Last edited by H; 07 Nov 2007 at 6:30 PM.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

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    Cyburbian ruralplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by H View post
    Is a degree, especially a Master's degree, not a very big part of one's "qualifications and past history etc. etc.?"

    Yes, your degree is a big part of your "qualifications", however your experience and ability to work with real-life people to produce positive community results is also a big part-- if not bigger than your degree-- in my opinion. If you can't work with people-- you get no results nor do you gain the respect and trust of the community you are working with. When I refer to history I refer your proven ability to work with people to produce lasting results. History also refers to what you have done for the communities you have worked for and more importantly how inovative and progressive the results of your planning efforts have been. As well as proof that your efforts see the day of light and are actually implemented.

    People in the rural parts ultimately do not care what your degree is in nor do they care or even know what AICP is. What they do care about is that you genuinly care about what happens in their community. The point I want to make is that planning affects peoples lives and planning attempts to impact those lives in positive ways-- to many rural and small village areas this concept means more than a degree. I often say to many of the communities that I work with that anyone can be a planner and in fact they are community planners. Degreed or not, qualified or not, we are all working toward the same end.

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    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Higher ed...

    RP made an excellent point about leaving an existing job to acquire a master's degree.

    A few years back I began taking master's level courses for professional development. (Next year, my BS degree will be 30 years old! I probably still have my Rapidographs and a roll of mylar somewhere.)

    If the institutions had offered advanced placement, I might have continued. But when I sat in on the class teaching How to Read A Site Plan, I sat down and calculated...

    ...it would be more cost-effective to land a planning job that will qualify me for AICP, then take the test. No tuition, no years of commuting and textbooks and re-taking courses updated for students young enough to (almost) be my grandkids. I decided that I don't need a master's degree that badly. Besides, every job I've ever had has needed very little of my formal education.

    (Wandering through the UP & LA building at the alma mater, I found job ads...and some interesting brochures designed by students. It seems they were taking a DDA Promotions class which focused on PageMaker. Heck, I used to edit two magazines, I could teach PageMaker!)

    Don't get me started on PhDs who can't figure out how to not lose the car keys every day...

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    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ruralplanner View post
    Yes, your degree is a big part of your "qualifications", however your experience and ability to work with real-life people to produce positive community results is also a big part-- if not bigger than your degree-- in my opinion. If you can't work with people-- you get no results nor do you gain the respect and trust of the community you are working with. When I refer to history I refer your proven ability to work with people to produce lasting results. History also refers to what you have done for the communities you have worked for and more importantly how inovative and progressive the results of your planning efforts have been. As well as proof that your efforts see the day of light and are actually implemented.
    I think I fully agree, this is all VERY important. ...but I am not clear why you put "qualifications" in quotes; are you saying that “education” is not "actually" important? I tend to think it is a valuable asset to a planner.
    Last edited by H; 08 Nov 2007 at 12:19 AM.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

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    Cyburbian ruralplanner's avatar
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    H--

    I am not saying that education is not important-- it is. However I don't think it should be the primary deciding factor as to whether or not a planner has credibility. Experience and years working in the field is equally important if not more important than what your degree is in or what level of degree one has.

    I have sensed over the years that planners seem to have this complex about their professions and more particularily have issues with trying to legitimize the profession. We as planners know the profession is legitimate, but others as in other professionals (engineers, architects) and elected officials as well as the public may not see it that way. As I stated before, this is where AICP and CM comes into play and now the idea of a master's being the new professional standard.

    If planners are truly interested in furthering the profession, it needs to be a combination of education requirements AND results. The profession lacks on both ends. CM with AICP is a good start although I'd argue that CM credits for conferences should not be included-- that is a different discussion.

    Referring to your previous example of beating out other applicants because you had a masters. If I were to interview for a job and the employer emphasized a degree over experience and a proven track record, this is likely a place I would not want to work at anyway.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    I agree with what you say. When it comes down to education, I think planners make it far more complicated than it needs to be. When so many newly minted planners, regardless of their education, start their first jobs and don't know how to use a scale, don't know how to research, and never ask for help, I begin to wonder how graduate school has really separated these guys from the pack. Yes, there is a learning curve at any new job, but I should hope that graduate school plus additional internships would make these guys REALLY stand out from the undegrads (I am still not impressed ).

    I read a very interesting article on my alma mater's planning website,

    http://www.urban.uiuc.edu/about/history_evolution.html.

    Personally, I would definetely go back to an earlier time when "planning" was done entirely by architects and landscape architects. I think that employers are doing a dis-service to themselves by not hiring more qualified planners, regardless of their level of education.

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    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    ruralplanner, first let me say that I fully agree (not that you need my approval) with your most recent post, it is a wide combination of attributes for sure, not solely one thing or the other.

    Quote Originally posted by ruralplanner View post
    Referring to your previous example of beating out other applicants because you had a masters. If I were to interview for a job and the employer emphasized a degree over experience and a proven track record, this is likely a place I would not want to work at anyway.
    But for clarification, I dont think it is always an employer emphasizing a degree over experience and a proven track record per se, but more of if experience and track record is fairly even (which it often is in the beginning), the degreed canidate will most likely prevail. (again, especially if the employer is degreed).

    Perhaps an issue here, for this thread, is how you quantify certain things during the hiring process. It is easy to check a "yes / no" box for degree or certification, but something like proven tract record results is a little more ambiguous during the hiring process, unless you really know the applicant and their role / performance level in the results. ...which in my experience is not always the case.

    Also, I must add to:

    Quote Originally posted by ruralplanner View post
    People in the rural parts ultimately do not care what your degree is in nor do they care or even know what AICP is.
    Noted, but I was actually just reading over the AICP code of ethics during lunch for something I am working on (not the test, and I am not AICP), and it occurred to me, it should not matter if your clients know or don’t know what your degrees / certifications mean, as the purpose is much greater than that, as they are not just to “impress” people, or to get jobs, but to further the field of planning, raise the bar, again going back to professional standards, which I obviously am in favor.
    Last edited by H; 08 Nov 2007 at 1:51 PM.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

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    Cyburbian ruralplanner's avatar
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    H--

    I agree with everything you are saying in your last post. It is a discussion that needs to be had beyond this forum-- that is strengthening the profession and what approach should be taken. Don't get me wrong, I am in favor of raising the bar, however I believe that there are a number of ways this needs to occur in addition to your educational background.

    I will admit that I am a bit defensive when I hear discussions about the master's degree standard, partly because I choose not to go back to school after landing a good planning job. If I look back at some of those planning students I worked with in my first LTE planning job, many have landed planning jobs that are, relatively speaking, equal to mine. So from a personal perspective I think I made the right move by keeping my planning job, building experience, establishing a (good) reputation for myself, having been involved in some very innovative projects and getting my AICP. Yes, I may be limited if/when I choose to move on to another position and I understood way back when to keep the job that this will be a reality I will face through-out my career-- but it was the right decision at the time and still is.

    Going back to the original post by art238. If he/she lands a good planning job-- it may be a good fit, if anything to get real world experience. Again you can always go back to planning school. At this point the professional standard requires a master's for high level positions. Until all planning positions require this professional standard, it really does not exist. Over time it may evolve into that or it may not. No one knows. But as planners we'll figure it out.

    I have to add that the master's program I was looking into strongly encouraged that applicants have some level of real world experience in planning. We'll, I guess I just got too much real world experience and could not see leaving a job only to get a master's and try to get that job back.

    To reiterate much of what I have said, I am all for professional standards and AICP CM is a good start. The profession also needs to think about reinventing itself. Right now, the planning profession seems a bit outmoded. This is a job for APA.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Rumpy Tunanator's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by H View post
    Yes, urban / rural and regional differences will surely come into play.



    Is a degree, especially a Master's degree, not a very big part of one's "qualifications and past history etc. etc.?"

    I think it is a very large part, especially in the beginning, having two years of concentrated coursework for "fundamental" knowledge, an understanding of theory, legal basis, research methodology, studio classes and internships for hands-on skills / experience, etc., etc.
    I just have a bachelors so I'll give one example of where this selection could go wrong. I've seen people who have gotten their masters and become so entangled in the theory part of it that it killed their chances at a real job. They were "too good" for the job so to speak. There is the problem. Once someone believes that they will immediately change the world once they get out of school and into the field is what kills it for those with higher eduction. They won't get the job unless its in academia.

    I still believe that the best people to hire are those with an initial degree in planning and some actual work in the field. But then again that is just my opinion. I still don't see why you would need a masters just to get an entry level job. Some work experience (whether internships or real jobs) and initial schooling should do the trick.
    A guy once told me, "Do not have any attachments, do not have anything in your life you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner."


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  23. #23
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    It depends on a few factors:

    1. Does the person have experience

    2. Does the person have an Undergraduate degree in City and Regional Planning?

    3. What type of candidates did you receive for the position?

    I am currently in the process of hiring a person with only an undergraduate degree for an entry level planning position. The person I are hiring has better experience and interviewed much better than the candidates we considered with a Masters Degree.

    On a side note, there is currently a glut of open entry level planning positions in metro Atlanta/Georgia and it is competitive from a hiring managers perspective to get quality candidates. The local universities cannot educate and train enough people to meet current market demand (public and private) and most candidates are coming from out of state. It is an interesting scenario.
    Satellite City Enabler

  24. #24
    Cyburbian big_g's avatar
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    It's tough out their to land a good planning job without a master's. But if you have some GIS skills you might be able to get your foot in the door.

  25. #25
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    I got in with a BS in Planning two years ago and feel I am doing quite well. I will fall back on experience to move me forward and AICP when elegible. I have no intention of a Master's although it is the industry standard.

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