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Thread: Too much debt for a planning education?

  1. #1

    Too much debt for a planning education?

    Hi everyone! I was recently admitted to an ivy league school for a masters in city planning. I'm really excited but I've started to worry a lot about the cost of tuition. I worked for a year after college and then decided that it would be best to go back to school to get a masters. I really love planning, but I'm wondering if im making the right decision by going to this school, because it'll cost me 40K/year. I've been reading that the school you go to doesn't make much of a difference in the profession, but I'm not sure that I believe that. Planners, I really need your help! The program is supposed to be great, but I don't really want to be in 80K debt after graduation! Any thoughts?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
    Nov 2002
    Ocean to the east, land to the west
    I had the same dilemma when I went to grad school. I ended up deciding against the Ivy degree with $60K in debt and chose a good state school where I was able to get out without any loans. Was it the right decision? I'll never know. For a long time after getting out it gave me flexibility to change jobs without worrying too much about the salary- and on more than one occasion it was great to be able to go to a better job even if the pay was a bit lower. Now that I am mid-career it doesn't matter much where I went to school. The only drawback I see is for those people who want to go international or be big-name planning consultants. An Ivy name next to you seems to sway some people.

    Good luck with the decision - $80K is a lot of debt, so you need to feel good about it.

  3. #3
    Thanks. It is hard to feel good about being in so much debt, especially knowing that it will take a very long time to pay that back and the field in general doesn't pay very much. I actually am interested in international planning, so at some point I hope to work on projects abroad (in developing countries). I've thought about consulting and working in the public sector. I just hope that the contacts I make at this school will be well worth the $.

  4. #4
    It's not worth it. Do a search for "debt" in the forums and I'm sure you'll come across a good dozen of my posts on the topic, so I won't repeat them here.

  5. #5
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
    Jan 2005
    Hang on Sloopy...land
    Personally I don't think it is worth it unless you feel like you NEED an Ivy league education, or if you hope to continue the PhD level where you have some professors you like or respect.

    In this economy, you should focus on ROI. You will probably get a job based on the Master's degree from In-State University which costs $10k a year, just as easy as the one from Harvard at $40k+ a year.

    Again if prestige matters, go for it. If investment in your future is all you are worried about - don't.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  6. #6
    Quote Originally posted by Hink_Planner View post
    Again if prestige matters, go for it.
    I'll second that. If prestige matters that much to you, and not the substance of an education, then please spend that much money for a planning degree. Your stupidity will take you out of the planning "gene pool."

  7. #7
    Jul 2008
    Quote Originally posted by needguidance View post
    I actually am interested in international planning, so at some point I hope to work on projects abroad (in developing countries).
    If this is the case, there are other options available that accomplish the same goal for less. Like you can do the Peace Corp to give you international experience and that will potentially open as many doors for what you want to do as going to an Ivy but for a whole lot less. Then it may be too late for this but there are Master's International planning programs that incorporate Peace Corp service into the curriculum while often giving you financial aid as a result of your public service contribution.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
    Dec 2008
    the delta
    Here's a different angle:

    Many Ivy League graduates go there due to family name, or contacts, or because they'll have a job lined-up with their father or family friend after graduation. The Ivy League is wonderful at preparing people for that route, where nepotism is important (not necessarily a bad thing) or for other special subjects like medicine or law where you build a business based on your name and your results (I must see Dr. Smith for my problem...)

    The thing you need to remember is that most planners work for some government agency where nepotism is outlawed and the application process is fierce. Ask just about anyone and they'll tell you Yale is better than FSU and Brown is better than UTexas, but when you send in that application for City XYZ their HR can't give you more points because it says Yale or Brown. Maybe they do in their minds but Planning is unfortunately in the realm of people who have a set salary schedule at their jobs and unless you work for a private firm in sales you'll generally make what the schedule says and no more. The guy with the Harvard degree and the Virginia Commonwealth degree are on the same level.

    If you have money to spend go do it (I took a master's program for my personal education and not for earning power because I could - and it was a great decision, though not necessarily just for career advancement). If you want that Stanford diploma on your wall or Harvard sweatshirt in your closet because it will make you proud then do it. You'll puff your chest out when you're done and you should - they are all great schools. But if you think the Ivy League will help you in a world of government jobs you're better off joining the National Guard where at least you get some additional applications points. The one exception is if you are pursuing a PhD - then by all means bust your butt to get into the Ivy League because it will help on faculty applications.

    Good luck in your decisions.
    I burned down the church to atone for my transgressions.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
    May 2004
    Grand Rapids, Michigan (Detroit ex-pat since 2004)

    Accredited masters programs in my fair state

    In-state tuition

    EMU: $10k a year

    UofM: $15k +

    Wayne State: $10k

    MSU: $10k - ish

    (it's not easy to find this info; they hide it as "credit hours" and "first credit hour fee" and "lab fee" and "other")

  10. #10
    Ivy matters more in the legal profession. Planning is less prestige oriented. Consider that the number of graduates from Ivy planning programs is far less than in law, so finding a planning director or HR person who highly values or even expects an Ivy degree is less likely than in many other professions. If you want to stay in academia though, it might be worth the cost.

    Also, as a previous poster mentioned, consider ROI. I was lucky and got my graduate degree for almost nothing, which was good because my first planning job paid almost nothing - but, it also helped me move closer to family and gave me great experience. Debt will limit your freedom and reduce the selection of jobs you can take.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
    Jun 2005
    NYC area
    This field is generally not lucrative enough to make it worthwhile to incur substantial debt. Bear in mind that your $40k worth of yearly tuition may be the same or more than what you make per year at your first planning gig.

    State school.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Aug 2001
    The Cheese State
    An Ivy League MBA will earn substantially more and have a far greater number of job opportunities than someone pursuing a business degree from a second-tier public university. For the most part, the same cannot be said for planning. Most planning jobs are in government, which pays its professional positions notoriously poorly compared to private sector. The people doing the hirring are also less interested in where you received your degree than in what relavant experience you may have. I would also say that in planning there are a good number of universities where I believe you can get just as good a planning education as you might in an expensive private school.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  13. #13
    Thanks for all the advice!

  14. #14
    Oct 2010
    Which Ivy program is it?

    Some of the Ivy programs have more fledgling planning programs and are thus of lesser quality than some of the more established state school programs.

    Look into the Planetizen rankings...

  15. #15
    Mar 2005
    Dubai, United Arab Emirates
    That's largely crap especially on the undergraduate level. I have both Ivy undergraduate and graduate degrees and what you wrote is simply crap. The Ivy schools are fabulous places to study and the resources quite impressive but how they can help you post graduation is much more limited than most people realize. The only area where the Ivy degree does genuinely help you over an equally bright graduate from a lesser school is in investment banking and consulting.

    For professional schools, the Ivy programs are indeed stellar - law, business and medicine are among the tops in the US, if not the absolute tops. But all the Ivy schools have too many master's of X programs that are largely a waste of money, and I'll put planning in this category.

    To the OP: I went to Penn and graduated in 2005, but with less than $20K in debt through a combination of merit grants and a resident advisory position in an undergraduate dormitory that covered living expenses. But to take $80K is absolutely ridiculous. Your starting salary most likely will be in the low - mid $40s. Midlevel salaries will be in the fifties to possibly 60K. You will take decades to pay off the debt and it will cripple your ability to set aside money for savings.

    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    Here's a different angle:

    Many Ivy League graduates go there due to family name, or contacts, or because they'll have a job lined-up with their father or family friend after graduation. The Ivy League is wonderful at preparing people for that route, where nepotism is important (not necessarily a bad thing) or for other special subjects like medicine or law where you build a business based on your name and your results (I must see Dr. Smith for my problem...)


  16. #16
    May 2008
    California Central Coast
    No one but you will be able to tell you if taking on debt for a planning education is worth it and if it is, what amount is appropriate.

    I graduated from my undergraduate university with no debt and therefore I was more willing to take on debt for graduate school. I know others, however, who wouldn't even think about taking out debt for school.

    It's all a matter of the situation you're currently in and what you think is an appropriate action. Each individual on here has a different situation so while some may take on debt of $60k, that would be completely infeasible for someone else. School is an investment so you have to identify potential risks as you would any other.

    Talk to a financial aid office. That's what they're there for and will be able to provide ALL payment and debt options.

  17. #17

    Ivy League not all it's cracked up to be unless....

    ...like was said before, you go into banking or consulting.

    Most the aura surrounding Ivy League degrees and high pay is due to the salaries in banking and consulting. That's it.

    Any Ivy degree will only be notch above a State School and sometimes not even that much of a difference to warrant accruing any debt.

    Outside of the East Coast, people have no choice but to equalize the playing field.

    My friend moved back down to Houston from NYC and is working in an I-bank with grads from UT-Austin, Texas, and U, Houston. Same position, same salary.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Dharmster's avatar
    Oct 2001
    Arlington, Virginia
    The only thing I'd add like to add to this discussion, is that graduate school tuition has risen to the point that just attending graduate school is no longer the no brainer it was. Where I went to graduate school the out of state tuition used to be around $7k a year. It is more than double that. So with living expenses, count on borrowing more than $50k. When you combine the lost income for two years, I would advise anyone considering a graduate degree to make sure that it is the field they want to go into and that they are prepared to pay off loans for a long time. I finished my education in 1998. In 2011 with about 50k in debt (undergrad and grad), I've finally paid all but about 2k of it off after 13 years. Student loans affect the type of jobs you can take (hard to take a poorly paid position with a not for profit), when you can settle down, etc..

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