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Thread: Interested in planning, need advice

  1. #1
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    Interested in planning, need advice

    Hello! I have been reading the boards quite a bit after stumbling upon Cyburbia. As someone who is newly interested in planning, it has been incredibly insightful. What a great resource!

    Ok, a little about me. I graduated from Florida State University in Ď08 with a Bachelorís degree in Humanities (concentration in Communications), which allowed me the freedom to take a wide range of courses from different departments. I finished in 3 years (thanks to IB credits) and found myself unsure of where I should be headed. After graduation, I spent three months abroad studying French. Since then, Iíve been focused on learning to trade in the stock market for an income, a venture that I started before graduation.

    My interest in planning began during a Summer study abroad to Amsterdam which focused on Dutch design, art and architecture. I was absolutely floored by the functionality, and yet aesthetic value of the Netherlands. Every bit of space was valued. The ease of biking or taking efficient public transportation anywhere I needed to go turned out to be one of the most pleasurable experiences. It completely changed the way I viewed my surroundings. I want to understand what defines a community and what sustains it. It motivates me to realize how many social, economic and environmental issues can be approached through urban planning.

    Iíve started considering this a serious career route in the last 9 months or so. I have read that many planning students do in fact come from ďunrelatedĒ undergrad programs, but I know without work experience or recommendations coming from a related field I am a weak applicant at the moment. Iíve spoken with someone at the School of Urban Studies & Planning at Portland State and she said any more undergrad work would not be valuable. She instead suggested I apply to PSU as a post-bac student and take graduate courses before applying to the MURP program. That way I can start grad level work and prove to the admissions board that I am capable of succeeding in the program. Up to 24 credits can be transferred to the Masterís program after admission.

    Here is where I could use some advice. (First off, I thank you in advance for taking the time to read through this and offer any advice you may have. It is greatly appreciated.)

    Iíve read time and time again that in this economy many with Masterís are unable to find internships or work. Despite this, I am not convinced that a Bachelorís program in Planning or Community Development would be totally worthless. I believe it would be a good foundation, one that my Humanities degree has not given me, for planning. It would give me a chance to start networking and Iíd at least be more likely than I am now to find (ok, beg for) unpaid internships or work prior to graduate school. Also, later down the road I would be able to apply to Masterís programs abroad, something that greatly interests me. Is there anyone out there that would suggest starting in an undergrad program for these reasons or others? Has anyone recently done something like what the PSU advisor suggested, and did you feel in over your head?

    Right now Iíve mainly considered Portland State for a couple reasons. First, Portland is a desirable place to live with a progressive attitude, especially towards land use and transportation. Second, the university has a flexible post-bac admission that might allow me to jump right into graduate level work. Given my situation and the possibility of doing another undergrad program, would you suggest any other universities to look into? For location, Iíd like to leave the Southeast. The Northwest/West greatly interests me but I do still have a certain sentimentality for the Northeast as I was raised in NH and most of my family is from Mass and Penn.

    I welcome any other advice you are willing to share. Thank you again!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    I'd go for the master's. It holds more weight on a resume. You'll also be able to get the same or better networking. For planning, more and more people have a planning master's instead of a related degree. Having the master's would make you more competitive in the job market.

    On a side note, it sounds like you're interested in the design aspects of planning, make sure Portland State meets what you're looking for and doesn't focus too much on policy planning.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian dandy_warhol's avatar
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    Why not just apply now for a Masters in Planning abroad?

    I entered grad school with a BA in Sociology. There were other various undergrad degrees in my program as well. I don't think the lack of planning background was frowned upon.
    In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. -Martin Luther King Jr.

  4. #4
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    I have a BUP and a few years of planning experience under my belt. I am usually supportive of planners moving up the ladder with just undergraduate planning degrees. However, you already have a college diploma. Go for the MUP. Having two college diplomas might sound to some potential employers like you don't have enough focus. You already know that how rocky the job market is which is a good thing: plenty of planning students fresh out of college and gradaute school are just discovering this now.

    I would find a program that fits your goals. Make sure you find a program that has a strong planning alumni network and a good career placement center. Start networking now. Find either an internship that you can grow in or earn several internships. When you are in school, start compiling your portfolio your first semester. Search previous posts I wrote on informational interviews. Start doing this now. We have no idea how the planning market will turn out in 2-3 years when you are finished with your MUP, so you need to get the ball rolling now even before you even apply to school.

    Yes, I am throwing a lot at you. Planning is a growing profession, but there are always more people interested in jobs than available planning positions, no matter what the economy. You need to have the right tools under your belt if you want to be considered for an interview, whether it is an internship or an entry-level position.

    Hope this helps-
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Interested in planning, need advice...???

    My advice?
    Run, run from this profession like it's spreading the plague.
    Annoyingly insensitive

  6. #6
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    Thanks for your responses and advice. It seems to be the general consensus that jumping into a Masterís is the better choice, though I am still concerned about being accepted at the moment. Luckily, it seems I can work around this through PSU. I have been considering that I might be more interested in design, and PSU does offer a grad certificate in Urban design, but that would be for another discussion.

    Nrschmid, I will certainly read through your posts on interviews. I agree that there are a lot of things to consider so that I do in fact have the right tools to be successful. At this point, I am trying to plan the best order to approach them. I feel as though there is a catch 22 for me. I am interested in planning, but have no real education or experience in it. In order to gain one of these things via internship, or masterís program, I need a CV that shows education or experience. Where does one start? Maybe you are right about appearing unfocused. Being that I was undecided on what exactly I wanted for a professional career, I was never focused on one particular path of study and missed out on valuable time because of it. Alas, this is the past, and I must make my next move from where I am now.

    I do realize that the job market is poor for planners right now, for those who are unexperienced and those with decades of experience. Unfortunately, I believe this is happening across the board. I donít know that I should let this deter me from planning, as I would encounter it in all other professions. Not to mention, there is potential for growth by the time I am finished with school.

    RichmondJake, you say I should run away from this profession. Why? Iíve read through another one of your posts in the Student forum and you welcomed the poster, recommended a school and wished them the best of luck. Should I take your more negative advice personally, or has your view of the profession really changed this drastically in the last month?

  7. #7
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    As someone with limited experience (just starting an MUP program), I too feel that you should probably jump straight into grad school, and here's why. I have a liberal arts degree (BA in Econ) and so so grades (3.2) and have gotten into a number of good planning programs. I think it's most important to write a solid statement of purpose and really let them know in detail why your so passionate about this field now after graduation, and throw some facts in there proving that you can excel at graduate level planning. Of course in the meantime do things that will show them that your serious- volunteer at your local planning department if you can't get an internship, volunteer at a grassroots community organization etc. They might not be exactly what you want, but it'll be a good experience and also show that your committed to the field (which I know is something they look heavily for from non-planning BA's). Once your into a school and get your masters, it will make you more competitive when your ready to work and you won't need to return to school.

    I've found the the ACSP guide to planning programs to be indespensible when looking into schools. Here is the link, http://www.acsp.org/Guide/guide_index.htm

    PSU seems like it might be tough to get into, in 2007 they got 204 applicants and only accepted 80 of them.. make sure to apply to a few programs and good luck!

  8. #8
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    AddG, it's good to hear from someone starting out. It sounds like volunteering is a good option right now for improving my chances of acceptance, as well as getting a stronger idea of where I want to go with planning. This could also coincide with starting courses while at a post-bac status. I was told that PSU is quite selective, so I expected to put in a good deal of work before applying. Of course, like you said, it's best to apply to several schools. Your link should help me decide which ones to take a better look at.

    Thanks for your advice and good luck in your MUP program!

  9. #9
    Cyburbian lycosidae's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cordelia View post
    AddG, it's good to hear from someone starting out. It sounds like volunteering is a good option right now for improving my chances of acceptance, as well as getting a stronger idea of where I want to go with planning. This could also coincide with starting courses while at a post-bac status. I was told that PSU is quite selective, so I expected to put in a good deal of work before applying. Of course, like you said, it's best to apply to several schools. Your link should help me decide which ones to take a better look at.
    Thanks for your advice and good luck in your MUP program!
    Most people will tell you that unless you want to be a professor, its best to work a couple of years before your first professional degree. That way you can learn about a particular sector without committing to it. If you took a GIS class, I'm sure you could get some kind of entry level position with a planning firm or city without having to get through grad school. Bringing some kind of technical skill to the table is probably more important for your first job than having content knowledge.

    People who go straight to grad school right out of undergrad bring fewer professional experiences to their classes and get less out of them, in my opinion.

  10. #10
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    Most people will tell you that unless you want to be a professor, its best to work a couple of years before your first professional degree.
    I don't completely agree with this. I think that if you know what you want to do, don't worry about the experience until you need to. You might have to do some lower level work right out of school, but it is what you would be doing now anyways. At least once you are done, you can market yourself better. I have said before that I really didn't get much out of my master's degree in planning, and much more out of my undergrad in planning. I think there is value in both though.

    Get the master's while looking to ANY opportunity to volunteer, intern, or network. Take the work and understand better what you like and dislike about this profession. We are at a tough economic time right now, and many do not like the way that it pressures our work, but Planning is a good profession. If you have thick skin, and can deal with politicians, it really can be an amazingly rewarding job.

    I would suggest looking at many schools. If you like urban design and not planning, looking specifically into those types of programs (UMich). Policy will kill you if you don't enjoy it.

    Good luck!!
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  11. #11
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    People who go straight to grad school right out of undergrad bring fewer professional experiences to their classes and get less out of them, in my opinion.
    I can definitely understand why that may be true. Especially coming from an unrelated undergrad, I think any experience I can get will better prepare me and at least help me hone in on what interests me the most about the field. I'll definitely look into taking a GIS class.

    We are at a tough economic time right now, and many do not like the way that it pressures our work, but Planning is a good profession. If you have thick skin, and can deal with politicians, it really can be an amazingly rewarding job.
    Thank you for this realistic, yet still positive, view on Planning. That is exactly the attitude that attracts me to the profession. One needs to be realistic about the problems they wish to solve, but on the other hand, only an idealist would envision a solution clearly enough to actually pursue it. Ok, and of course having a thick skin is probably vital in order to survive public policy! Which, like you said, I definitely need to figure out if policy is something I'm truly cut out for or if design program would be a better fit.


    Thanks to both of you... very helpful!

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