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Thread: Financing alternatives for a planning education [was: $100,000 debt?!]

  1. #1
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    Financing alternatives for a planning education [was: $100,000 debt?!]

    I was not sure to post this in the student lounge or not, but I am really looking for advice from people out of school, rather than those still in it.

    I was accepted to UPenn and UMichgan. Everyone told me to have a backup school, but no one ever told me to consider a cheap school. After grants, UPenn will cost me around 28k a year, UMich 25k, just for tuition. Therefore up front I am looking at $60,000 in loans. With room and board (500 a month rent, 800 a month other expenses), health care (2,200 a year), and other costs, I am looking at a loan of $100,000!!!

    They recommend that you not take out a loan greater than your annual income (so your loan is around 10% of your income over ten years). But at $100,000, even if I landed an ideal planning job making 50k a year, my debt would still be twice my annual income. If I made the typical $35k a year, my debt would be three times my income.

    This is crippling. Debt would dock $13,000 from my after tax salary every year, turning a $35,000 salary into roughly $22,000, or $10 an hour!

    And what if, God forbid, I go to planning school, get out, and either can't get a job, or get fired or layed-off from my job, thus ending my planning career? What would I do if I had to pay off my student loans worth five times my annual income, where half my income was going into debt? Then I would only have a net income of $9,000 a year, below even the minimum wage!

    This is absolutely terrifying. After all this effort and education I spent to get accepted to the best planning schools in the country, to pursue a career in a field I love, these numbers makes me want to abort my planning career before it begins. It appears that a planning degree, like a culinary degree, may get you far, but is not economically justifiable. It makes me think that being a barista and debt-free would be a more satisfying career than being a planner crushed by debt.
    Last edited by VegasPlanner; 04 Apr 2008 at 7:06 PM. Reason: typo

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Couple of questions:
    1. What specific grants are you applying for?
    2. Don't these schools offer financial assistance in the forms of teaching assistant/research assistant jobs?
    3. Isn't your health insurance factored into the cost of the tuition?
    4. What are your "other expenses"? Can you cut this down even further?
    5. What are your "other costs"?
    6. Are you working right now (and saving for grad school?).

    Unless you are a doctor or a lawyer, no one expects you to pay off your student loans quickly. Planning affords a working wage. You are not going become rich from it. I was fortunate to lock in a FAFSA at 3% over 20 years, and am paying around a hundred bucks a month. You can also ask for forbearance due to financial hardship (although this doesn't keep interest from accuing).

    Both of those schools are expensive. Have you considered Harvard? Their endowment might give you a free ride if you are accepted.

    I thought about going to UMich for an MLA (and maybe a second planning degree). But the sticker shock was too much, they have very strict residency requirements, and the economy is terrible. I will keep looking.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian el Guapo's avatar
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    Go to school in Kansas. It be dert cheap and mi education are be quality, so me told teachers by were taught sez.

    Use the $75,000 left over after four years for booze. Tell people you went to school in Kansas so you could get back in touch with the quaint America of your grandparent's generation if you must. No one really cares where you went to school. They just want you to be able to do the job.

    PS - Paying $100,000 to become an urban planner is um....really farking dumb. Sorry, but it is true.
    el Guapo is a former 20 year +/- urban planner (just like you) who thought becoming an attorney was a good life choice.

  4. #4
    Dood: I'll start my 20th year in July and (cough, cough) I just broke the
    $50k level this year...Dood! $100,000 in debt? Listen to el Guapo!

  5. #5
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    It depends on what you want to do and where you want to do it. $100,000 in debt for many private-sector planners, or even a public-sector planner in California or the Northeast is probably not incredibly overwhelming, but if that's not the direction you want to head in - $100k probably is.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    There are still many places that do not require a graduate degree for entry-level work, and many of those offer financial assistance for continuing education. So if you don't mind doing the entry-level work now (hey, it's either now or 2 years from now if you go directly to full-time grad work) and getting a graduate degree over a period of 4-6 years, I'd recommend that. You might not get the exact job you want right out of school, but by the time you get your grad degree and have 4 years actual work experience, you'll be in a much better position to land any job you'd want (plus, you can get AICP, etc, with 4 years experience with an undergrad anyways, so you'd come out with a grad degree and AICP all at once).

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Signature's avatar
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    First, Congratulations on getting into your schools of choice!!


    1. I may not be done with grad, but I'd still like to address this Q, because it's so near and dear to my heart.

    2. It sounds like you only applied to public unis outside of your home state. All public unis have residency requirements, and out-of-state tuition is often very high. Have you looked into the ability to switch state of residency after 1 year of attendance? Have you considered about waiting one more year and applying to U of Nevada //or// a private school? Private schools may provide you with more support.

    3. Next, cost vs. benefit ratio. First, pursuing education is always a good thing, and getting a degree along the way in a field you are passionate about is a great thing! Yes, planning is not investment banking or doctoring. But I have come to the conclusion that no field or industry is perfect! Look at those investment bankers now, all out of work. And lots of doctors complain about the sacrifices (and the practice insurance). I could go on and on. The point is, if this is where you belong, your "best and highest purpose", and you need a master's to get a job in it, do it!

    4. I completely understand fear of debt. But again, no industry is perfect. If whatever you are doing right now for a job earns you a decent salary and is tolerable for the next umpteen years--stay put. If its intolerable and you don't want to do it anymore, then more education and a career switch is due.


    =-) Tell us what you decide to do! Best wishes.



    I was accepted to UPenn and UMichgan. Everyone told me to have a backup school, but no one ever told me to consider a cheap school. After grants, UPenn will cost me around 28k a year, UMich 25k, just for tuition. Therefore up front I am looking at $60,000 in loans. With room and board (500 a month rent, 800 a month other expenses), health care (2,200 a year), and other costs, I am looking at a loan of $100,000!!!

    They recommend that you not take out a loan greater than your annual income (so your loan is around 10% of your income over ten years). But at $100,000, even if I landed an ideal planning job making 50k a year, my debt would still be twice my annual income. If I made the typical $35k a year, my debt would be three times my income.

    This is crippling. Debt would dock $13,000 from my after tax salary every year, turning a $35,000 salary into roughly $22,000, or $10 an hour!

    And what if, God forbid, I go to planning school, get out, and either can't get a job, or get fired or layed-off from my job, thus ending my planning career? What would I do if I had to pay off my student loans worth five times my annual income, where half my income was going into debt? Then I would only have a net income of $9,000 a year, below even the minimum wage!

    This is absolutely terrifying. After all this effort and education I spent to get accepted to the best planning schools in the country, to pursue a career in a field I love, these numbers makes me want to abort my planning career before it begins. It appears that a planning degree, like a culinary degree, may get you far, but is not economically justifiable. It makes me think that being a barista and debt-free would be a more satisfying career than being a planner crushed by debt.
    Last edited by Gedunker; 06 Apr 2008 at 8:11 PM. Reason: restored quote tags

  8. #8
    Cyburbian vagaplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by VegasPlanner View post
    I was not sure to post this in the student lounge or not, but I am really looking for advice from people out of school, rather than those still in it.

    This is absolutely terrifying. After all this effort and education I spent to get accepted to the best planning schools in the country, to pursue a career in a field I love, these numbers makes me want to abort my planning career before it begins. It appears that a planning degree, like a culinary degree, may get you far, but is not economically justifiable. It makes me think that being a barista and debt-free would be a more satisfying career than being a planner crushed by debt.

    Well...if you're in Vegas, there's always the strip. You can make lots of money there, especially if you're of the female persuasion. "Know what I sayin?"
    ...my lifestyle determines my death style!
    - Metallica

  9. #9
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    $90,000 is simply insane. No one pays that kind of debt (even Penn students). They say your loans shouldn't be more than your starting salary. Planners don't make half that, even Planners from UPenn.Only a lawyer or a doctor or an investment manager could justify and manage that level of debt.

    I'm not worried about paying off the debt IF I have a job. I could manage that, and it might be alright.

    I am worried what would happen if I am laid-off, if I decide to move, or even get fired. Without debt I brush myself off and start looking again, maybe paying bills with a side job, maybe find a new career. But if I went to a prestigious school, I would have to pay $1,200 every month, between jobs or no. With that debt obligation, if I got fired, there would be no exit strategy. Working at Starbucks for two months while I was between jobs wouldn't cut it. If I was out of work, even for a month, my fiscal life could be destroyed. I would need my parents to bail me out and help pay my loans for me, but they couldn't afford them. I would have to work three part time jobs just to make ends meet. If I am working so hard to pay bills, when will I have time to interview and get back in the job market? The worst case scenarios would be catastrophic.

    I really hate to do this, but I think I am going to request a deferment for a year. Then I will move to Florida where I have friends, and establish residency. This way if I wanted to go to Penn I will have some money saved, if I wanted to apply to Florida State and U of F I could attend for $5,000 a year, and if I wanted to apply to somewhere else entirely that was more reasonable, I could do that as well.

    But by only applying to the best schools, I really boxed myself in, not because I don't want to go, not because I couldn't get in, not because I wouldn't make good money when I get out, but because the debt load is unjustifiably perilous. A low debt pays for itself in peace of mind.
    Last edited by VegasPlanner; 06 Apr 2008 at 9:59 PM. Reason: comma

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally posted by VegasPlanner View post
    I really hate to do this, but I think I am going to request a deferment for a year. Then I will move to Florida where I have friends, and establish residency. This way if I wanted to go to Penn I will have some money saved, if I wanted to apply to Florida State and U of F I could attend for $5,000 a year, and if I wanted to apply to somewhere else entirely that was more reasonable, I could do that as well.

    But by only applying to the best schools, I really boxed myself in, not because I don't want to go, not because I couldn't get in, not because I wouldn't make good money when I get out, but because the debt load is unjustifiably perilous. A low debt pays for itself in peace of mind.
    I kind of did the opposite of what you did during the application cycle in that I applied to all "less competitive" schools and recieved full tuition + stipend at all but one school(applied to six). All are big generally respected schools but are not the top named schools... I somewhat regret not reaching higher and striving for something better but the more and more I read into debt and the "worth of the name" idea, the more I'm happy with my lesser named schools.

    That being said, if you're a fairly competitive applicant, you can get great packages at the mid level schools. You mention Florida and I am out of state and got an offer with all tuition except for about $1200/semester paid for and an assistantship for 20 hours/week. It's certainly not amazing, but it's a fairly good package. I was offered roughly the same type deals by a few big schools on the east coast.

    I'm sure you can do the same.... if anything, taking a year off and building your resume up may make you an even stronger applicant.

    Good luck.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Plus Veloise's avatar
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    Perhaps worth considering...EMU (only a few miles down the street from U-M) has an accredited undergrad program, and perhaps their master's has achieved it by now. (I am done with tuition-based higher education.)
    If you have your heart set on attending Washtenaw county colleges, perhaps you could knock out some credits in Ypsilanti. (I found their weekday evening course scheduling to be much more adult-friendly than the place down the street, which has the typical T-Th 9:30 - 11 am classes.)

    Perhaps look into other programs that are not "the leaders and best,"1 and send out some apps closer to home? I would think that the transition between climates would hurt as badly as the tuition bite. As others wrote, no one cares about the logo or mascot on your sheepskin; it's not like you'd be applying to the athletic department.2 (There is friendly rivalry at the HR or planning director level, but I know of someone working for the city of Ann Arbor who has a framed color aerial of Spartan Stadium, i.e. MSU, on his office wall.)

    At this time I will resist making a wisecrack about naming one's urban planning program after one of the prime instigators of the suburban shopping mall.

    HTH
    -----
    1A line from The Victors, "the greatest college fight song ever written," according to John Philip Sousa

    2Bo Schembechler once un-hired someone, preferring "a Michigan man"

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Plus PlannerGirl's avatar
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    Guap is right and I wish I could get so many of the other students here to read his sage words.

    Here are some short and sweet points that may be of help to you. Note this is all from my public side planners point of view

    1) No one (in the public sector) gives a hoot where you went to school, seriously it may actually hurt you in some places.

    2) MANY jobs will take you starting out without a grad degree, get out there and pound the pavement, start at the bottom and work/learn your way up. School is school but planning is varied across the nation and what you learn on the job is MUCH more valuable than in school. The trench is very good for you for a few years and most places anymore have a tuition reimbursement program so you can get that grad degree for much much cheaper.

    3) That level of debt is just boggling to me and personally would not touch it. I've been a planner for 10 years and just cracked 70 but thats in a VERY high cost of living area so it might as well be 30. There have been plenty of nights over the years I had to pay student loans rather than have a healthy meal etc.

    Quote Originally posted by el Guapo View post
    Go to school in Kansas. It be dert cheap and mi education are be quality, so me told teachers by were taught sez.

    Use the $75,000 left over after four years for booze. Tell people you went to school in Kansas so you could get back in touch with the quaint America of your grandparent's generation if you must. No one really cares where you went to school. They just want you to be able to do the job.

    PS - Paying $100,000 to become an urban planner is um....really farking dumb. Sorry, but it is true.
    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin

    Remember this motto to live by: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming 'WOO- HOO what a ride!'"

  13. #13
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Veloise View post
    Perhaps worth considering...EMU (only a few miles down the street from U-M) has an accredited undergrad program, and perhaps their master's has achieved it by now. (I am done with tuition-based higher education.)
    Eastern's graduate program is still unaccredited. BUT, I have some friends from http://www.wayne.edu (a very affordable school, in a very urban setting not too far from Ann Arbor either ) who have taken a couple courses there and have nothing but great things to say about their program and their instructors. EMU also has a top notch masters program in geography and it is integrated heavily into their planning program so that is always an option (I am not sure if there is any sort of geography accreditation or if theirs would be accredited).

    Regarding UMich and their benefactor... The namesake of the program may be the single-handed biggest reason why the planning field continues to exist. Who else has helped to create so many problems for us to fix?
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

  14. #14
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    Wow, I realize it must suck to get into the schools you want, and then realize the cost. Like others have said, try getting some entry-level work with just your bachelor's, and maybe they'll have a tuition reimbursement benefit. That is what I did. I worked for a tiny Regional Planning Commission in Iowa, where they reimbursed my tuition if I got a B or better. I took a couple graduate night courses at Western Illinois University (Geography with an emphasis on Planning, obviously not accredited or well-known, but affordable and within commuting distance). With money I saved up from working for 1.5 years, I quit to do school full-time, got an assistantship, and never needed to take out any loans. It is doable, if you have some savings, have in-state tuition, and live meagerly.

    And, when it is all said and done, nobody cares that I don't have a master's from an accredited school, or that I don't actually have a master's in Planning. I think what employers look for most is your ability to the job the way they want it to be done, especially when you are starting out. Are you a good communicator, can you think on your feet, can you multi-task... these skills matter more than your education, IMO.

    Good luck with whatever you decide to do.

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    Such an expensive education isn't justifiable if I wanted to work in government, where they don't need, and can't afford to hire from the top schools. But what if I wanted to enter the private sector? To play devil's advocate, UPenn might open up doors for me that wouldn't be available otherwise.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Plus Veloise's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by VegasPlanner View post
    Such an expensive education isn't justifiable if I wanted to work in government, where they don't need, and can't afford to hire from the top schools. But what if I wanted to enter the private sector? To play devil's advocate, UPenn might open up doors for me that wouldn't be available otherwise.
    The private sector doesn't pay *that* much more. UPenn is more likely to pay off if you're in that region, but it's not likely to be much help in Ohio. Or Florida.

    Keep in mind that personal life satisfaction is also important. Where do you want to live? Do you want to start and continue your career in the northeast? I would think that regional differences matter more than one specific school; although the admissions and athletic departments spin it differently, grown-ups really don't buy into the rah-rah stuff. (ETA: I just started a pertinent thread in the FAC area for other opinions. Perhaps I am incorrect, and someone out there would hire you for being a Spartan Lover or equivalent...we'll find out!)

    Heck, if you want to travel and explore different places, get into wireless (no grad school required) and you can live in (the motels in) three different communities in just one year.
    Last edited by Veloise; 08 Apr 2008 at 7:38 AM.

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    Quote Originally posted by WSU MUP Student View post
    Eastern's graduate program is still unaccredited. BUT, I have some friends from http://www.wayne.edu (a very affordable school, in a very urban setting not too far from Ann Arbor either ) who have taken a couple courses there and have nothing but great things to say about their program and their instructors. EMU also has a top notch masters program in geography and it is integrated heavily into their planning program so that is always an option (I am not sure if there is any sort of geography accreditation or if theirs would be accredited).

    Regarding UMich and their benefactor... The namesake of the program may be the single-handed biggest reason why the planning field continues to exist. Who else has helped to create so many problems for us to fix?
    Both EMU and Wayne are excellent schools (I have attended both). EMU has been an especially good experience for me. I have received several scholarships and worked as a GA for 2 years which has helped me really reduced student loan debt.

    I have to agree with what everyone else has said and want to add that you don't want to start your career with that kind of debt hanging over your head. You're already worrying about potentially losing your job before you've even started school! That kind of constant stress will just be a drag on your career and your life. Pursue cheaper alternatives and be able to enjoy those paychecks when you get them.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    I went to Georgia Tech and their GRA program paid for my entire tuition. The only thing I had to do was work for a private consultant for 13 hours a week (in addition to school) so I could come out of the program with a fantastic education and some real world experience. Dude, maybe you are looking at the wrong schools. Go get an Ivy League planning degree if you want to be a professor, not a practicing planner.
    Satellite City Enabler

  19. #19
    I would guess that most planning programs have professors that are looking for graduate assistants or research assistants. I was able to get a job as a research assistant after my first semester of school which paid my tuition plus a monthly stipend for 15 or 20 hours per week of work. I was able to pay that one semester's worth of tuition off within a year of graduating, and have been free and clear since

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Signature's avatar
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    Was that work-study? That program is pretty mysterious to me. Or did you arrange salary with the co. ?

    =-) Thx

    Quote Originally posted by Plan-it View post
    I went to Georgia Tech and their GRA program paid for my entire tuition. The only thing I had to do was work for a private consultant for 13 hours a week (in addition to school) so I could come out of the program with a fantastic education and some real world experience. Dude, maybe you are looking at the wrong schools. Go get an Ivy League planning degree if you want to be a professor, not a practicing planner.

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