hello! i am new here, having just started to seriously think about urban planning as a course of study/career... and subsequently read so many websites (including this one) that i feel like i might go blind.
in any case, here is my situation: i work in an admin job at a university with a fairly highly ranked planning program. if i applied and got in, i would be able to attend for free (part time, of course).
while the program's emphases are not necessarily a perfect match for my interests, my intuition is that it is not even worth applying elsewhere, given the opportunity to get educated for free (while earning a salary) at a decent school. so what i have been focusing on instead is whether the degree is right for me.
i am drawn to it for its interdisciplinary approach, for the chance to not only think academically about social problems but to approach them with a set of tools (gis, design, program evaluation, etc), and for the possibility of working in a position that urges me to think critically. from the posts i've read on here, this is the typical idealist dreck that starry-eyed would be planners come up with. i've got a cynical side too, though -- it seems like the very interdisciplinary approach that makes the field attractive might doom me to forever compete against more specialized folks (with JDs, MBAs, MPAs, engineering degrees, etc) who'd always wind up landing the job. i'm also afraid of ending up in an entirely technical job, or a soullessly corporate one, or a soul-crushingly bureaucratic one. but, i figure, those possibilities exist within every field, so i must soldier on! right?
i'm also unsure of what to specialize in -- while i've always been attentive to the feel of different cities (i've lived in quite a few), excited by local revitalization efforts, and fascinated by sticky problems like gentrification, my interest in urban planning as a degree/career path is new. the planning program i'd be applying to recommends that students specialize, but given my broad interests and newness to the field, i'm more inclined to take a bunch of classes in different fields and collect a nice array of skills (gis, design software, stats, eis knowledge, chops in econ and finance) and then kind of see where that takes me. i'm not sure if i'd like to go into city planning or community/economic development or housing or environmental planning or transportation planning or what, nor am i sure what the job market will look like several years down the road once i'd be finished with a degree, so it seems like a good idea to be as well rounded as possible. yet there's that other lurking thought that one must always have a niche to be marketable, and that it isn't for nothing that universities advise students to specialize. but if i must specialize, however shall i pick??
so, to those of you who have made it this far, here are my actual questions
1.) based on what i've written, does a masters in urban planning seem like a good choice for me? if you can't tell, how would you recommend i find out?
2.) is it worth looking into other programs or should i just focus on the one i know i can go to for free (presuming admission)?
3.) how does a starry eyed planning-to-be-a-planner know if his/her interest and passion about the field will persist even once the harsh realities of any of a variety of planning careers set in?
4.) is specializing preferable to becoming a generalist with a toolkit? if so, how does one decide what to specialize in?
so, many many thanks for making it this far! i look forward to hearing what you have to say.