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Thread: Environmental planning career development: beating the odds?

  1. #1

    Environmental planning career development: beating the odds?

    I was accepted into an Environmental Studies degree program at a top school. One of the concentrations is Environmental Policy where one can pretty much focus on land use and Environmental Planning courses.

    Many of the courses overlap with the School of Design's City Planning Masters program.

    I am sure you guys have had to deal with people like me who develop a passion for urban/environmental planning in their mid 20s after they've already majored and worked in a different field after undergrad. I am no exception. The career sounds very appealing and downright the most interesting of any design major.

    My question is obviously the pay. I have heard the horror stories about low pay and dismal job growth, but is this likely to end soon? At least after I am done with the degree in about 3 years?

    Also how marketable would I be in the field after taking extensive hard science courses like enviro. chem., hydrology, enviro. anaylsis, coupled with policy, land use and planning courses?

    I am also thinking about taking advantage of a GIS/Spatial Analysis specialization certificate.

    Should I continue on to a Masters in City and Regional Planning at the Design School or is the Enviro.Policy Masters enough?

    Please, be honest with me about the situation of planners today. I need all the advice I could get as I will be investing almost 60k into this degree and coupled with my undergrad I will be almost 100k in debt!

    I need to know if it's a worthwhile investment?

    If not, then I will switch over to the Applied Geoscience degree in the same department contingent upon some pre-reqs and go into hyrdology/engineering geology. I am sure that will end up being a more lucrative venture, but not as rewarding or interesting as planning. But considering my situation, I need a practical and marketable Masters.

    Any advice?

  2. #2

    Pros and Cons...

    Pros: Top School:UPenn Department of Earth and Environmental Science
    Courses from Penn School of Design. GIS Specialization from Penn Design
    Course in Public Finance from School of Government
    I hear Penn has pretty good career services.

    Cons: Debt, Debt, Debt! Dismal job market. Cannot rely totally on school name.

    Pros: School has really great internship opportunities from what I hear.

    Cons:Most are probably unpaid, but I kind of expected that.

    Pros: Passion!

    Cons:Low pay might zap some of that passion, but I doubt it.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally posted by manoverde84 View post
    The career sounds very appealing and downright the most interesting of any design major.
    It's not a design major, nor a design career.
    My question is obviously the pay. I have heard the horror stories about low pay and dismal job growth, but is this likely to end soon? At least after I am done with the degree in about 3 years?
    Environmental planning is probably one of the strongest fields in planning job-wise, which is to say that it's not that good. On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the best job growth of any sector, and one being minimal job growth, planning is at about negative three, which leaves environmental planning at around two.

    Also how marketable would I be in the field after taking extensive hard science courses like enviro. chem., hydrology, enviro. anaylsis, coupled with policy, land use and planning courses?
    That would be good. Environmental planning with a science background is easier to get into than pure environmental policy.

    I am also thinking about taking advantage of a GIS/Spatial Analysis specialization certificate.
    Good.

    Should I continue on to a Masters in City and Regional Planning at the Design School or is the Enviro.Policy Masters enough?
    Enough for what? If you want a job in environmental planning, this should be enough.

    Please, be honest with me about the situation of planners today. I need all the advice I could get as I will be investing almost 60k into this degree and coupled with my undergrad I will be almost 100k in debt!

    I need to know if it's a worthwhile investment?
    No, it's not a worthwhile investment if you have to ask that question. I don't care how great your university is, you'll be competing for the same jobs as everyone else, and a planning or policy degree from UPenn or Harvard will not prepare you for the job market any better than a degree from Dumb-Kid State. Believe me. The ivy league-ers are very insecure about this, especially when they get the same fifty-five thousand dollar a year job as everyone else. If you're going to pay that much for a degree, do it for a career that will reward you commensurately. People pay $250,000 for a medical degree because they know it will pay off. People pay $100,000 for a policy degree because they're idiots. Don't be an idiot.

    If not, then I will switch over to the Applied Geoscience degree in the same department contingent upon some pre-reqs and go into hyrdology/engineering geology. I am sure that will end up being a more lucrative venture, but not as rewarding or interesting as planning. But considering my situation, I need a practical and marketable Masters.
    Dude. Listen. Planning, especially environmental planning/policy, is really not that interesting. It's sitting in a cubicle in an office, attending lame meetings, typing at a computer, talking with idiot clients, and producing work that has no tangible effect in the world. Do hydrology/engineering geology.

    Any advice?
    In summary, do not be an idiot and waste $100,000 on a planning/policy degree. it will NOT pay off. You will hate your job if you are lucky enough to get one. You will be older, but only a little bit wiser. if you do this, you'll think to yourself "boy, I wish I listened to that one opinionated guy called chocolate-something on the interwebs. At the time, he sounded overly negative about it all, but now i understand the truth: planning sucks. I have no control over my work, no real impact on the world, and the pay sucks a fat one. I sure wish I had taken his advice before I paid for this degree."

  4. #4

    Hell yeah!

    Excellent, chocolate!

    That is the type of honesty I needed. For a 100k investment, I needed that pep talk.

    Please, be as brutal as you an be.

    Although, 50k sounds pretty good starting off. I was in fear of only making 35-40 once out. 5 years in what can one expect, chocolate?

    Damn, is planning really that soul sucking? The Department sure as hell made it seem like planners are on the cutting edge of an increasingly emerging field.

    I knew from the start that pursuing a Policy degree was worthless which is why I wanted to take advantage of all the technical/hard science courses available, couple it with planning, law, and policy, and then attach a GIS certificate to make it marketable.

    But if you say that even after all that the prospects would still be dim, then the investment is starting to look pretty grim.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian kalimotxo's avatar
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    All due respect to chocolatechip, but take his opinion with a grain of salt. I share a degree of his cynicism and think he provides a valid perspective. However - and please rebut this if you can cc - he doesn't speak from decades of experience in varied areas of planning. He speaks from a few years of experience in one area of California doing a job he obviously hates, often parlaying that hatred into attempts to poison others' perspective of the planning profession on the internet. He's providing a great service to those of us dumb enough to think that maybe, in the huge discipline of planning, fulfilling work might be available somewhere. Thank goodness chocolatechip is here to cut through our naivete.

    Planning is a huge profession. Environmental planning itself is a pretty big profession.In terms of job prospects, neither look great in the short term. I worked for a few years in environmental planning and often felt like the work we were doing had a lot of potential to effect positive change. I enjoyed many of the meetings I attended, traveled to some awesome places, met a lot of great people, and still have a ton of admiration and respect for my former co-workers. Shockingly, I may consider doing that work again at some point in my life... and sorry, cc, it's not because I'm a glutton for monotony and ineffectiveness.

    Some people think that environmental planning is solely NEPA/EIS/EA work. Some firms do that exclusively. However, there are many private firms, non-profits, and some local government agencies in larger municipalities that do things like conservation planning, green infrastructure planning, watershed management, etc etc. Some of these organizations never touch the drudgery of federal environmental permitting.

    It is first and foremost important to understand what types of jobs will be available prior to trying to break into the field via a masters degree or what have you. This includes knowing what these jobs entail day to day and week to week. Some people get degrees in a field because it sounds interesting only to end up in a job they hate. But not everyone. My advice to you is do your homework about the field, talk to alumni about their careers, and weigh your many options. Planning isn't for everyone but there are some of us here who actually enjoy what we do.
    Process and dismissal. Shelter and location. Everybody wants somewhere.

  6. #6

    great to have another perspective....

    Chocolate Chip did scare the pants off of me, but I understand where he is coming from. From the little research I did, planning does seem a bit like an uphill battle.

    I am lucky to be in a program that is fairly interdisciplinary and at a university that encompasses a holistic approach, so I am able to pursue many disciplines.

    It doesn't just have to be environmental planning. I can try to do a dual degree in City Planning or heck get an M.Arch too.

    Trying to salvage as much as I can before I give up and switch over to Geoscience, what can I do? What would be the best options?

    MCP? M.Arch? PhD Urban Planning?

    Also, is 50k really possible starting off? That doesn't sound too bad, really.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Manoverde84, tell us what you know about environmental planning and why you are interested in this specialty.

    As for salary, a difference of $15,000 is not the same thing as a difference of $50,000 or $100,000. It might mean tightening the belt when you first start out. It's called paying your dues. As a rule I never discuss my personal salary, but when I first started out 5 years ago I had to do without the luxuries of cable tv and lived close to my job 30 miles west of downtown Chicago for a few years. On a side note, I bought a broken futon from a landscape architect for 50 bucks and that was my bed for 4 years. I found my first tv out of a dumpster in college and replaced it only after working for a few years (it was a perfectly fine tv, the color was a little more red on one side of the screen and green on the other. Some magnets helped a little). Granted, I also live within my means and believe in deferred gratification. I am making more money now living in a cheaper city (doing EP and other types of planning) and save roughly 30-35% of my net income each month. I'm not saying that everyone should be a tightwad like me, but I'm very proud that I've never lived paycheck to paycheck even starting out. I have been down to Texas several times. Austin is more expensive than Chicago and Houston is the cheapest big city to live in the country!

    Regardless of whatever profession you choose, very few of us are blessed with the dream job right out of school. That is what is called working up the ranks. I have worked in EP for 5 1/2 years (all NEPA/EIS/EA) and think it's one of the more stable types of planning jobs right now (that and transportation planning, which I also have worked in). However, many large companies might call these jobs NEPA specialists not environmental planners (but they are pretty much the same thing).

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

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  8. #8

    Money wouldn't be a big deal if....

    ....it wasn't for the federal loans. I wouldn't care if I was making 20k honestly. I can make any salary look two times higher with my thrifty/cheap ways. It's just the horror stories of student loan debt keeps me from being totally worry free.

    I also understand that one needs to cut their teeth in any field and companies will offer low pay.

    As for you first question, I was really initially interested in city planning not environmental. The interest didn't start until I began to read up on land use planning. The planning profession just sounded really rewarding to me.

  9. #9

    Trust me if it wasn't for the loans....

    ....I would not care if I made 20k once out. With my thrifty ways, I could make 20k look like I made twice as much. The point though is that the insane amount of federal debt I would take on would be quite overwhelming with anything below 40k.

    I really enjoy planning altogether and think of it as a perfect fit with my social science background. I know you first have to cut your teeth in any profession, I just did not expect for planners to be given the shaft like that. But it seems that five years in you are doing just fine, right?

    Also, what did you mean by a difference between 15k and 50-100k?

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    #1. You don't need a degree or work full time as a planner to do planning. The biggest decisions are made by elected and appointed officials who usually aren't planners.
    #2. Who says you need to go deeply in debt to go to school. What about learning planning through volunteer work? Can't you defer planning or a planning degree until you have worked in another field. I thought very seriously about an MLA a few years ago. There is no work right now, and I would probably rather do something more lucrative and stable such as accounting. I could always pursue an MLA down the road in my free time as a hobby.

    You make 35k sound like it's a HUGE difference from 50k. Working wages are working wages. It just means you can eat out more often or afford a better cable package. I make more money now, but I'm by no means living the good life yet (and I don't intend on doing that anytime soon). Keep in mind, I graduated college with a BUP 7 years ago. I snatched my first job when times were good and worked for about a year in the boom. I have spent most of the past 4 1/2 years working in this recession. I do a bunch of different tasks that have nothing to do with planning (AutoCAD and Microstation are two of them) not to mention relocating over 750 miles from home to a much smaller city. I also developed my own digital portfolio in Flash. Is it required? No. Do they teach this in school? Heck no. But I did what I had to, and it was still a bumpy ride.
    Last edited by nrschmid; 05 Dec 2010 at 7:45 PM.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  11. #11
    Quote Originally posted by kalimotxo View post
    All due respect to chocolatechip, but take his opinion with a grain of salt. I share a degree of his cynicism and think he provides a valid perspective. However - and please rebut this if you can cc - he doesn't speak from decades of experience in varied areas of planning. He speaks from a few years of experience in one area of California doing a job he obviously hates, often parlaying that hatred into attempts to poison others' perspective of the planning profession on the internet. He's providing a great service to those of us dumb enough to think that maybe, in the huge discipline of planning, fulfilling work might be available somewhere. Thank goodness chocolatechip is here to cut through our naivete.

    Planning is a huge profession. Environmental planning itself is a pretty big profession.In terms of job prospects, neither look great in the short term. I worked for a few years in environmental planning and often felt like the work we were doing had a lot of potential to effect positive change. I enjoyed many of the meetings I attended, traveled to some awesome places, met a lot of great people, and still have a ton of admiration and respect for my former co-workers. Shockingly, I may consider doing that work again at some point in my life... and sorry, cc, it's not because I'm a glutton for monotony and ineffectiveness.
    Hey, I may be blunt, but I'm not trying to "poison" anyone's perspective. I know very well that my advice on here is often unreasonably negative. I just think that there's a place for it amidst the often unreasonable expectations of people thinking of going into the profession. Look at it this way: If I can scare off some people from going into planning, what great loss is it? Is it a great loss for them, that I was able to ward them away from their dream job? Is it a great loss for the profession, that there is one fewer person trying to get the 100-to-1 opening? Again, I know I am negative. But you are right in saying that I should be taken with a grain of salt. More than that, everything I say I say with a chuckle. Does that change how you read me?

    Some people apparently are fulfilled by planning. But more often, aged planners are bitter and jaded. If I can highlight some of the reasons why I think that is true, I think it performs a good service, even if nearly smothered with a healthy dose of cynicism. There are, after all, plenty of careers where two decades of work does not have the same effect. So excuse me for being blunt with a person who is thinking of dropping 100k+ on a masters from UPenn when he most likely has no clue what he really wants to do and is merely swept up in the hysteria of academic credential-collecting.

    FYI: Not in California anymore; doing a completely different kind of planning. Many days I wish I was doing environmental planning again... it wasn't really that bad. But that's the great thing about perspective; I'm not a glutton for monotony and ineffectiveness either--that's why it can be so painful. (You think that makes our sacrifice worth more?) On another note, would you pay a hundred thousand dollars for the privilege of getting into environmental planning? I think this entire thread comes down to that single question. If yes, my hat is off to you my friend. If no... then you blow as much hot air as I do.

    Now, on to business...

    ....I would not care if I made 20k once out. With my thrifty ways, I could make 20k look like I made twice as much. The point though is that the insane amount of federal debt I would take on would be quite overwhelming with anything below 40k.

    I really enjoy planning altogether and think of it as a perfect fit with my social science background. I know you first have to cut your teeth in any profession, I just did not expect for planners to be given the shaft like that. But it seems that five years in you are doing just fine, right?
    Yes, you would care if you made 20,000 once out of college. Especialy right after paying an arm and a leg for your degree. At 20,000 a year, you'd be sleeping in a closet, stealing ketchup packets from Mcdonald's to make tomato soup, and biking to work with a single gear, not because it's one of those trendy track bikes, but because the rest of the gears are rusted through and you're too busy putting in 11 hour days at the office trying to look eager and smart so they can give you a raise so you can take your bike to the repair shop. Your friends will come into town and want to go out drinking and you'll have to apologize and say your stomach hurts and go home because you don't have a red cent and you don't want to look like a loser when they are making living wages. You'll shop at the Salvation Army, convincing yourself its trendy to wear 70s Levi's "Action Slacks" that a dead man used to wear. Then you'll get a toothache and have to go to the dentist, but not after spending a few weeks with the little spare time you have trying to find one who will do work on a payment plan. And then... you should be getting the point by now. And you're right, taking this much debt is insane. So think about all that.

    You say you enjoy planning, but how much experience do you have. Little to none? You're about to embark on a huge investment. Would you buy a house without seeing it, entering it, or knowing the neighborhood? Would you want to buy that house merely because you were approved for a loan? Because that's what you're doing by convincing yourself planning is the profession for you, and thinking that getting into a prestigious university is further proof of your correct fit for this kind of work.
    Last edited by chocolatechip; 05 Dec 2010 at 11:41 PM.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian cng's avatar
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    Due to the Bell scandal fallout, every single local government in California publishes the salary and benefits of its employees. For an entry level position, click on one of the cities and look up the actual pay of an assistant planner, or planner I, or planning tech... whatever the title may be. If you're concerned about your pay after getting out of school, just look for an area that offers relatively higher pay, and lower cost of living. These places do exist, if you look hard enough.

    Of course, I'm talking like it's 2005, when it's 2010. I know the job market is bleak... But, just be passionate, persistent, and realistic. Get good grades, find a good internship, and be diligent in your search. Don't go too far into student loan debt. After a few years on the job, nobody really knows or cares where you went to school, anyway. Your work performance will determine your reputation.

    Planning is still a great field to work in. It offers enough variety for you to find your niche. I personally really enjoy doing advanced planning work for my city, in particular, working with General Plans, zoning ordinances, design guidelines, etc... heck, even the Housing Element. I enjoy working with the public, and planning allows for opportunities for this.

    And despite the tales of poverty... you can make a living doing this. Good luck.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by cng View post
    Due to the Bell scandal fallout, every single local government in California publishes the salary and benefits of its employees. For an entry level position, click on one of the cities and look up the actual pay of an assistant planner, or planner I, or planning tech... whatever the title may be. If you're concerned about your pay after getting out of school, just look for an area that offers relatively higher pay, and lower cost of living. These places do exist, if you look hard enough.
    This is good advice. Unrealistic salary expectations are not limited to planning. Mrs Cardinal is a recruiter and often has to deal with recent grads who have been told that their engineering degree means they will be making $70,000 after they graduate. She has seen people come in with nothing but a degree and an internship, countering a mid-pay range salary offer with numbers above the top of the range. Then she has to explain to them that the company will not pay them more than a person with a similar degree and years of experience, despite the fact that the college told them they can get more. When you look at the salaries being paid, consider that even those entry level planners are likely to have some experience and time on the job - which counts for a hell of a lot more than a degree and internship. Look at what they make and knock 5-10 percent off of it.

    As for degrees, one bachelor's degree and one master's degree in a related field are all that you need. Anything more is really just credential hunting and will not get you any additional consideration in the candidate rankings. Think of it this way. A degree is a screening tool. As an employer I look to see that you have it, then move on to the information I will use to make a hiring decision. If a person has a long list of great project experience, I may consider them even if they do not have the "required" master's degree. A second master's degree counts for nothing in comparison to good experience.
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  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    Look at what they make and knock 5-10 percent off of it.
    I would go up to 25-30%. At your first entry-level job, no matter how hard you work or accomplish, your boss is probably going to still view you as that inexperienced recent graduate that he had to teach. There are exceptions to this, but you might have to switch jobs to move up the career ladder.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
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  15. #15

    It seems like....

    ...the views in here range from the super negative to the mildly positive.

    Of course CC is kind of right about me, I am very new to the idea of planning. My interest was first in enviro. sci. then learned about the policy and planning concentration and was hooked.

    Also, CC, my point was that if it wasn't for loans, I wouldn't have minded scratching by on 20k. I make a little over that at my current job and am living just fine (of course I have a room mate). Now attach a 500-600 dollar a month loan repayment to it and yes, I would be eating toast for breakfast every day.

    All I was expecting was at least enough mobility to not have to struggle later to pay back loans. I am sure planners five years in at least hit the 60-70 mark, right? That is actually quite fine with me, or am I still being naive?

    http://money.usnews.com/money/career...n-planner.html

    Is this article on the right track? Supposedly, it's one of the best careers of '11.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by manoverde84 View post
    I was accepted into an Environmental Studies degree program at a top school.
    I do not believe that there is any such thing as a "top school" for planning or environmental studies. There is only an expensive one. I only know one planner who went to Harvard, and he's unemployed.

    Quote Originally posted by manoverde84 View post
    My question is obviously the pay. I have heard the horror stories about low pay and dismal job growth, but is this likely to end soon? At least after I am done with the degree in about 3 years?
    Planning employment follows the construction industry IMHO, and forecasts aren't good. If you believe this guy, we have to wait at least until 2013. I think he's being overly optimistic. I'm thinking more like 2015.

    Quote Originally posted by manoverde84 View post
    Also how marketable would I be in the field after taking extensive hard science courses like enviro. chem., hydrology, enviro. anaylsis, coupled with policy, land use and planning courses?
    Reasonably (comparatively). I have often wished for (1) transportation planning experience and/or (2) a strong environmental background when looking for jobs in this economy. That's pretty much all I see for demand right now. Of course, the job outlook is still poor, but it is better for people with those skills. As long as you're willing to move to wherever the job is.

    Quote Originally posted by manoverde84 View post
    Should I continue on to a Masters in City and Regional Planning at the Design School or is the Enviro.Policy Masters enough?
    If you will have "real" technical environmental skills after the Enviro.Policy master's program, then you're all set. If not, then skip that and go directly to Applied Geoscience. People want technical expertise nowadays, not generalized policy knowledge. There are already too many unemployed generalists floating around, don't become one more.

    Quote Originally posted by manoverde84 View post
    Please, be honest with me about the situation of planners today. I need all the advice I could get as I will be investing almost 60k into this degree and coupled with my undergrad I will be almost 100k in debt! . . . I need to know if it's a worthwhile investment?
    Not worthwhile. Your handle says you're in Texas, so why not go to UTexas Austin for their program? You could get two years of Master's education for $20K to $25K in total. Austin's program is as good as anyone else's. As others have said, getting yourself deeply into debt for a Master's degree that will not earn you more than a long-distance truck driver is not smart.

    Quote Originally posted by manoverde84 View post
    But considering my situation, I need a practical and marketable Masters.
    As do we all. If I could do it over again, I would become a civil engineer and specialize in transportation models. Or, become a serious GIS expert with lots of programming skills. Something difficult that most people shy away from because they'd rather read journal articles and write papers on them than truly apply themselves (yes, that is directed at me).

    My ultimate short-cut advice? If any program that you apply for doesn't require you to lean obscene amounts of difficult math, or more than one programming language, or wrap your mind around other complex subjects that scare away most people, you're wasting your money.

  17. #17

    yes you're right...

    ....the Environmental Studies program at Penn is pretty interdisciplinary. So basically I was going to load it up with as many technical courses as I could find to make it a practical degree. There is the Environmental Policy concentration but then there is also the Natural Resource Management one too.

    I was going to take advantage of all the hard science courses, obtain a GIS certificate specialization that is offered by the Design School, land use, planning, and policy courses too.

    The program is roughly 12 courses and at least seven of those the advisor said I could fill up with straight Enviro.Sci. courses like environmental analysis, hydrology, enviro. chem., geo.chem, enviro. engineering courses, etc.

    Five courses which constitute the concentration would be in land use, policy and law.

    I mean, considering the One University policy the University has, I can pretty much take classes in any department and create my own degree.

    We'll see how it pans out.

    As for Texas, I couldn't even get into the program. It was very tough. I landed the Penn program by sheer luck and am not planning on losing it. I mean I deferred enrollment for a year to work and know exactly what I want to do. If Planning does not pan out then I will go straight into Geoscience and major in hydrology, which is the only geoscience concentration that I am remotely interested in.

    Tough times.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    The Keys to this Issue:

    Quote Originally posted by JimPlans View post

    o If you believe this guy, we have to wait at least until 2013. I think he's being overly optimistic. I'm thinking more like 2015.

    o As long as you're willing to move to wherever the job is.

    o People want technical expertise nowadays, not generalized policy knowledge. There are already too many unemployed generalists floating around, don't become one more.

    o [X's] program is as good as anyone else's...getting yourself deeply into debt for a Master's degree that will not earn you more than a long-distance truck driver is not smart.

    o Something difficult that most people shy away from because they'd rather read journal articles and write papers on them than truly apply themselves (yes, that is directed at me). [Hey! Waidaminnit! -CG]
    That's pretty much the template for any new person coming on this board asking for career advice, IMHO. Make it a keyboard macro to save time.

  19. #19

    Again, Environmental Policy is but one of the....

    ....concentrations. I could just do a straight environmental science concentration and add a GIS specialization. Would that be better in terms of the technical expertise the job market is looking for?

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by manoverde84 View post
    All I was expecting was at least enough mobility to not have to struggle later to pay back loans. I am sure planners five years in at least hit the 60-70 mark, right? That is actually quite fine with me, or am I still being naive?
    I think you are still being naive imo. Based on the 2010 APA salary survey, the median salary was less than $60K for 5-9 years experience.

    Obviously you make more money in higher metro areas such as California but the flip side is cost of living.

    You will make more money in the private sector versus the public sector, however your benefits won't be as stellar. One must always look at the complete package, rather than eyeing simply pay alone.

    Case in point, my current gig pays under 50K. I live in Coastal California, and it is very expensive. I have 8 years experience. I took a lowering paying job because 1) there aren't any jobs but 2) i love the area. 3) my benefits are stellar. It probably adds easily another 5-10 for total compensation. 4) i don't pay ss taxes, so i have more take home pay at the end of the day. Yea, I love paycheck to paycheck because my wife is a stay at home mom and goes to school, but i love what i do.

    Realistically, I was never in it for the money. I have a passion and drive for it. If i wanted the cash, I would have taken my dad's advice and became an civil engineer or headed into law.
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  21. #21

    well I am not in it for the cash either....

    ...it's just the loans that have me in a bind.

    If I had no loans then I wouldn't mind living the typical planner life that you described at all.

    I think the majority of the ppl here are swaying me more and more into the Applied Geoscience program, which means I have to use this time off before enrolling to cram on math, geology and what not. Not to mention take a whole semester of pre-reqs.

    I didn't want to have to do that but I'll live.

    The thing is I really like how despite the pay many of you guys are loving what you do. I hear that a lot from planners too, the vast majority love what they do. That is something money cannot buy.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian
    Registered
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    midwest
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    2,797
    If it's loans you are worried about, then why are you even bothering with a top-notch school? Unless you are working towards an MD, you won't be able to pay off a 5-6 figure debt quickly. Even lawyers are struggling. If the cost of tuition is the concern, go to an in-state school and become an engineer. What will your undergraduate degree be in? Why don't you work for a few years, do some volunteer work in planning, and see if you are still interested in the field. You don't HAVE to go back to school immediately.

    I think you are worrying too much about minutae of the degree and certificate. There are a few posters in the past who spent page after page after page coming up with new combinations of degrees and certificates from in-state programs and out-of-state programs, from private to public, often begging for our endorsement. This is not a rubiks cube or a combination lock. There is no one right combination of degrees and certificates that will unlock the door to wealth and advacement. Experience is usually the key that fits time and time again.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Aug 2001
    Location
    The Cheese State
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    Quote Originally posted by manoverde84 View post
    I am sure planners five years in at least hit the 60-70 mark, right? That is actually quite fine with me, or am I still being naive?
    As others mentioned, this is way off the mark. Planners simply do not make a lot of money, and there is not a great deal of opportunity to change that. Unfortunately, government does not pay well to begin with, and many smaller communities - which are the majority of communities - do not have the resources to pay great salaries. Private sector may offer some better opportunities, but you need to position yourself as an expert and leader in the field to land the work and command the salary. Still, and despite all the negatives, if you have a passion for environmental planning you should pursue it.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  24. #24
    I am sure planners five years in at least hit the 60-70 mark, right?
    As others have brought out, average pay is around 60k for an experienced planner (mid career level). Higher in metro areas (CA Bay Area, Washington DC, etc.). CPSU Raf said pay is higher with private practice, but I think it depends on who you are and what you're doing. Local government is typically a little lower (sometimes much lower), while federal government is higher.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Jul 2010
    Location
    BC, Canada
    Posts
    218
    Overall, I'd say career satisfaction is about finding your niche, but being flexible enough to adapt.

    I interned, then worked in advance planning, historic preservation and downtown work for four years. I learned a lot and enjoyed it (at times) but the city I worked for was corrupt (literally) and management kept undermining Council's lukewarm support for what we were doing, so I moved to a bigger "liberal" city thinking it would be a step up, but found it to be horribly bureaucratic and staff were either cynical or drank too much of their own kool-aid than was good for them.

    I then had a job offer to work in technical assistance for a University. It was in the area of disaster resilience planning, mainly with smaller towns, and I thought this wasn't where I wanted to be (being interested in the flashier areas of revitalization, sustainability, bike/ped, etc.) I kicked myself for not taking that - the pay was not stellar but it was a university environment, good staff, not to mention 24 days a year vacation, and its not as if much will be revitalized in today's economy anyway.

    Now I am interviewing with a non-profit working on sustainable land use issues, as I would like to get out of municipal government. Again, a pay cut, but it may be worth it.

    So what I mean to say is there is a variety of opportunity out there, besides the traditional advance planning / development review / consultant for developers routes. With a degree in environmental planning, you'd probably have a range of options. "Green infrastructure" and "landscape urbanism" seem to be emerging. If you are not interested in just doing NEPA studies, maybe stay away from this - intern in something you want to do. Becoming an expert in NEPA studies or GIS may not help you get where you want, although it could be very marketable. You could do management plans for the park service; work as a watershed manager; provide technical expertise to landscape architects developing green infrastructure, all sorts of things. I would guess some private firms do NEPA studies as their bread and butter but also land more interesting gigs.

    I think whether a particular school is worth it or not depends on a number of factors. I agree that name alone shouldn't make up your mind, but there are certainly good and great programs out there that have various connections. I feel its more about the strength and orientation of the program than the name of the school - if its good program, people in your field will know it.

    After five years, I am not at $70,000 (that would be unusual for a non-supervisory position) but I would be comfortable. This is a middle-class profession for most, upper-middle class for a fair minority, but then again so are most professions.

    btw, I work in the Rocky Mountain west and am sometimes surprised at the salaries "back east" - PA, etc. - that seem low in comparison. Has anyone else noticed this?

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