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Thread: Master's in civil engineering vs. planning

  1. #1
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    Master's in civil engineering vs. planning

    Hello all,

    I'm finishing up my B.S. in Civil Engineering within the year and considering my graduate school options. My focus is in transportation engineering, so I'm certainly interested in transportation planning at a local level, but I'm also considering an MPA dual degree to work toward planning policy analysis for a state or federal agency, not necessarily even transportation related.

    I'm well aware that the planning industry for fresh graduates is currently a rough place to start, so I'm considering playing it safe by sticking with an M.S. in Civil plus the MPA. UT-Austin is really the only school that offers this dual option at a reasonable (in-state) tuition for me. I've always been interested in planning and I know that a career as strictly an engineer is not for me, but I'm also practically minded and don't want to waste money on a degree in planning if the job market is still expected to be stale within the next 2-3 years.

    I've heard from engineering consulting firms that they don't like to hire people that aren't fully committed to choosing between engineering and planning, which I find ridiculous. I just wonder if that's the situation for planning firms too? I know I would enjoy pursuing a master's in planning much more than engineering, but I'd appreciate hearing some experienced perspectives on what option will give me the greatest flexibility and most value.

    Thanks guys.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    You already have the engineering credential which will be quite valuable. So valuable that as a mid-30s professional, I am still considering going back to get one. Your BS will allow you to sit for the EIT and then the PE which means a lot more than an engineering masters.

    In other words, if I were you and you had to choose, I would do the planning masters. It is true some firms will not hire you without a Masters in Structural, Geotechnical, or Environmental. But even then, you'd have to choose which emphasis to do your engineering masters in. And the fact is, some firms will hire you with just your BS.

    If you end up going into engineering and are serious about your career, any good company you land with will pay for your masters degree in engineering while you are working there. Not too many firms are going to pay for a Masters in Planning.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by doctornoisewater View post
    Hello all,
    I know I would enjoy pursuing a master's in planning much more than engineering, but I'd appreciate hearing some experienced perspectives on what option will give me the greatest flexibility and most value.

    Thanks guys.
    Again, in this and the future economy, you should be flexible over narrow specialist. You will likely need to move several times and anything to cut down on the loss of income periods. That means engineering. You no longer have the luxury of going into a career that is in a narrow specialty. You need to work.

    .02

  4. #4
    An engineer can do planning but a planner can't do engineering.

  5. #5
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    An engineer can do planning....(snip)....
    This claim deserves its own thread. And I can predict the train wreck.....

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    An engineer can plan???? Since RJ already commented on that post I will refrain....

    I am sorry to report that civil engineering is experiencing the same unemployment crisis faced by planning. Planners lay out the basic uses and write the codes for development. Civil engineers crunch the numbers to lay the pipe. If there is no development, neither of us work. Flexibility is the key at the moment. The more you can do, the more valuable you are to either a company or to government. You can be moved around to different tasks and perhaps allow your employer to get by with one fewer person. That is not to say, though, that you will not wish you had specialized at some point in the future.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  7. #7
    You know that's not what I meant. I didn't say engineers make good planners. I meant that there is nothing barring an engineer from going into planning as a profession, but the same is not true for planners going into engineering.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    You know that's not what I meant. I didn't say engineers make good planners. I meant that there is nothing barring an engineer from going into planning as a profession, but the same is not true for planners going into engineering.
    Don't worry 'chip, I'm a planner and agree with you 100% I can take any educated person and turn them into a "planner". Perhaps not a good planner, but a planner nonetheless.
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

  9. #9
    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    This discussion to me weighs the benefits of a Master's degree vs. a professional license. As an engineer I don't believe a masters in civil is valued as much in the working world as a PE. I would tend to think the same in our organization about planners in that AICP is recognized more than a masters in planning.

    Doing my four years of work under a PE made me eligible to take the PE exam and from what I've seen and been told, I'd be eligible to take the AICP exam as well with the planning overlap. I've been thinking about this professionally. chocolatechip and jobaba's comments I really do agree with.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by jobaba View post
    So valuable that as a mid-30s professional, I am still considering going back to get one.
    I have the exact same sentiments and do wish I have a bachelor in civil engineering (with a MUP in support)!

    To the OP: since you already have the BEng and are interested in transport, perhaps you could work towards your PE and then supplement your BEng with a MSc in Transport Systems or MEng in Railway/Traffic/Transport/Highway Engineering down the road. You could supplement the courses with planning modules or even a MUP. As an example of such a programme, you may wish to check out UC Berkeley's MCP/MS Transportation Engineering dual degree.

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