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Thread: Just what are the classes to take?

  1. #1

    Just what are the classes to take?

    What does one need under their belt to make them more marketable in a shaky economy?

    When people are out there looking for planners, just what is an employer looking for? That they know GIS, AutoCad, etc?

    What classes are essential when in an MCP/MUP program?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    The best thing you can do in college is get an internship. Also, if your program is hands-on, get experience by volunteering on their projects.

    In my opinion, there really aren't any particular classes that would make you more hire-able. It's all about experience. Most of what you learn in school is theory, and most employers want someone with experience in actually doing planning (i.e., not just in a classroom).

    Get an internship Volunteer if you have to...

  3. #3
    So there is no set of skills that I can learn in class that would help me land a job? Even the more practical courses like GIS and AutoCad?

  4. #4
    Quote Originally posted by manoverde84 View post
    So there is no set of skills that I can learn in class that would help me land a job? Even the more practical courses like GIS and AutoCad?
    GIS will be a big plus throughout your career, even if it's just basic map-making.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by tarf12345678 View post
    It's all about experience. Most of what you learn in school is theory, and most employers want someone with experience in actually doing planning (i.e., not just in a classroom)
    Bingo. Although the classroom is great to learn the base of planning, it is experience that teaches you how to "write" staff reports, interact with the public, or best tools and techniques to make drawings and maps when running against deadlines, and the end product either goes to the public or client. The best "class" is an internship(s) that you put what you learned in class into motion.
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Just to add, internships show up on resumes, course work normally does not. The only thing about your education that'll be on your resume beyond your first job is what degree you recieved.

  7. #7
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    I would say all of the advice above is great. Just remember that even volunteer experience can take your classes or skills and show real world applications. I know lots of people who say they can write a letter, but actually seeing what they have written is a much better sell.

    Internships and experience validate your education.
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  8. #8
    Cyburbian kalimotxo's avatar
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    This is a really difficult question to answer, because it really depends on what kind of "planning" career you want to pursue. In general though, if you don't want to be pigeonholed as a facilitator, I'd recommend taking any classes that differentiate your professional skill set. A lot of the discussion on this site that tends toward the "planning is dead/dying/a shitty job" could be a reflection of the paltry expectations of BUP/MUP programs when it comes to developing actually useful skills. I personally think quantitative analytical skills are especially important. Hard design skills, while useful, are probably not worth your time just because LArch and Arch students will beat out a planner 9/10 times if those skills are needed. I'd avoid CAD for the same reason; I used CAD in two classes during my MURP program and I don't expect (or want) to ever use it again. I'd suggest:

    - GIS, like others have said. Don't stop at intro level because one class is not enough to get a good understanding of capabilities or the rhythm of doing GIS work efficiently.
    - Within GIS, courses in Spatial Analysis are super useful, especially if you are doing county/region level conservation planning or anything to do with water.
    - Community or Regional Analysis courses that focus on quantitative analysis. These classes will sometimes focus on working with census data or other demographic statistics.
    - Any course that gets into quantitative analysis of land use and land use controls. Chris Nelson's "Planner's Estimating Guide" is a good resource for this kind of analysis, which essentially looks at how different zoning and land use controls bear out on the ground in terms of land consumption.
    - Finance classes could be useful, especially if you are open to work in the private sector. Even public sector planners would be well-served by a better understanding of the financials are large-scale projects, how realistic the assumptions are, etc. I don't find this work particularly engaging, but knowing one's way around a pro forma seems like a marketable skill to me.
    Process and dismissal. Shelter and location. Everybody wants somewhere.

  9. #9
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    it depends...

    Others are right - it depends on what direction you want to go after Uni. I used to review a number of resumes for planning interns (post-grad) at the private firm I worked at on the West Coast. If you want to go the Urban Design route - definitely design classes/drawing and graphics skills. This is one planning profession where your in-school projects (from urban design studios) will play greatly into your job applications via portfolio.

    If non-urban design - GIS is helpful, report-writing skills (if you do a professional report for an outside client as part of a class this can be helpful, and you can sneak that into your resume/cover letter pretty easily). Economic dev. courses, land-use/transportation course (at least one of each of these) will help you speak the language during an interview better.
    Good luck!

  10. #10
    I really wanted to do urban design but if everyone in here is right, a person with an M.Arch or MLA will surely beat me out in any interview. Is this correct?

    I am better honing GIS skills, analytical skills, economic development and finance courses.

    Do you mean public finance, real estate finance? I am already an Econ undergrads with heavy stats courses, econometrics, international economics, and political economy courses.

    Should I take more and have sort of a MPA curriculum?

  11. #11
    There is also talk on another forum I frequent for planners that says that planners in other nations like China and in OZ have a much more practical curriculum in their MUP program. Is this true? They say that ours is much more theoretical and that graduating American students cannot compete with these hot shot planners overseas.

    How much of this is true?

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by manoverde84 View post
    I really wanted to do urban design but if everyone in here is right, a person with an M.Arch or MLA will surely beat me out in any interview. Is this correct?
    In terms of actual design, yes this is probably a fair statement. Planning curriculum isn't for designing, except when it comes to land use plans (i.e., polygons indicating allowable land use types, but without any particular site-specific design). It doesn't require a course in AutoCAD to figure out how to draw a blob indicating commercial, residential, etc.

    In my experience, for smaller sites (e.g., a few acres), where buildings are proposed, architects or landscape architects tend to dominate the site design - usually in consultation with engineers.

    At a smaller scale (larger area), planners get involved in terms of creating land use plans, but it is typically the engineers (or other designers) that actually create the lotting studies, etc., showing how the land use plan could be implemented. Planners typically aren't taught to understand grading, which is obviously critical to designing a site. Our role in such process is to identify the opportunities and constraints to help inform the design, but not to do the actual design itself.

    For urban design - meaning generally smaller sites in areas that already are largely developed - planners affect the design by pointing out the various requirements (community plans, zoning, etc.) that may have been overlooked or need to be considered, but we don't do the actual design.

    If by urban design you mean identifying an appropriate mix of land uses and associated regulations to realize a community's vision for an area... then yes, that is the purview of planners

  13. #13
    If by urban design you mean identifying an appropriate mix of land uses and associated regulations to realize a community's vision for an area... then yes, that is the purview of planners
    Yes, but is urban design the least lucrative specialization in the MUP program?

    I am interested but not if it means being last in an already tight market.

    Out of all the specializations in an MUP program which would help out the most when graduating?

    Or is it best to avoid specialization? GIS I know is a plus and I will take courses beyond the intro ones.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by manoverde84 View post
    Out of all the specializations in an MUP program which would help out the most when graduating?

    Do you hope to stay in Texas?

    If you were in CA, I'd say focus on environmental planning, hands down. However, I hear they don't have an environment in Texas

  15. #15
    I most certainly do not plan to stay in TX. Not that I don't like the State but I do want to branch out.

    CA sounds great but it seems so out of reach due to the high cost of living.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Tarf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by manoverde84 View post
    CA sounds great but it seems so out of reach due to the high cost of living.

    Pay in CA is commensurate with living expenses - even public sector - for the most part (places like San Francisco being the exception). That is, you can make a decent living in CA as a planner - though the current economy isn't great, making getting your foot in the door difficult.

    I'd defer to others on advice for other states - but for CA, the best course work you can take is environmental. In TX you won't be able to learn about CEQA per se, but if you get a good handle on NEPA you'll be competitive. NEPA and CEQA are not the same by any means, but they're very similar.

    As with anywhere, the best thing you can do is internship, however.

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