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Thread: Engineer - worth going to planning grad school?

  1. #1

    Engineer - worth going to planning grad school?

    Hey everyone,

    I have a Civil Engineering Bachelors Degree and have been working as an Engineer in the General Contracting industry for two (2) years now. I recently applied to grad school for an Urban Planning Masters program for a start date of this fall at a few schools and was accepted by all of them. I am 24 years old and currently making $53,000 a year. Although I make decent money for my age, I am not particularly fulfilled in my current field and don't think that the path I am on will get any more exciting or interesting. I am also aware that Civil Engineering and General Contracting are in some ways related to the world of planning.

    Anyways, I just wanted to get some fed back on whether any of you believe it would be a wise choice, both financially (although money isn't everything) and career wise, to spend the time and money to go to graduate school in Urban Planning for two (2) years. I have read as much about the job prospects and career opportunities as possible, but I wanted to put out my specific case for feedback. Any and all comments, feedback, criticism or insight would be greatly appreciated.

    I need to make this decision soon, and although I am not worried about the path I end up choosing, it is a very big decision for me and my family.

    Thank you all so much.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    I guess I'm just wondering what do you ultimately want to be doing career-wise? (Or maybe you don't?)

    Not knowing more than what you've presented, I'd recommend that you're better off getting the experience to get the P.E., either in your current job, or finding a position that involved planning that allows the experience to count towards the P.E. I think you should at least finish the progression you've started with civil since you already have 2 of the 4 years needed to take the exam and the P.E. opens more doors in the engineering and planning worlds, two worlds that often do overlap. If you wanted to go to grad school concurrently, then an MBA or an MPA.

    I'm a civil engineer with a P.E. and really do half engineering and half planning. I've thought about looking into the AICP, as it's always an option as a means to have "credibility" in the planning world, and this could be an option for you as well.

  3. #3
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    I am a civil engineer with a PE license, and I've practiced for over 10 years. Despite being a professional engineer, I'm currently pursuing a masters in Urban Planning because I've always known that it was the field that truly matched my interests (frankly I've always felt unfulfilled as an engineer, so if your gut is telling you this now, it probably won't go away). Since I'm in school I would definitely say that its worth it, but that's a biased opinion

    I agree with the previous poster. Get your P.E. license regardless, even if you choose to never practice engineering once you finish school and are an employed planner. Given the state of the job market for planners, it's nice to have it to fall back on, IMO.

    It's funny that you posted this because I was just thinking of asking this question myself but from a different perspective, such as whether having engineering experience will either be seen as incompatible or will make me "overqualified" to prospective planning employers, mainly local governments.
    Last edited by Derek Lloyd; 09 Apr 2012 at 12:30 PM.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by UrbaneSprawler View post

    Not knowing more than what you've presented, I'd recommend that you're better off getting the experience to get the P.E., either in your current job, or finding a position that involved planning that allows the experience to count towards the P.E.
    I echo the getting your P.E. my public works department has openly discussed sponsoring me for a P.E. even though i work in planning. Having a PE can make you a "double" threat, which looks good from both a private sector and public sector function.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    Having a PE can make you a "double" threat, which looks good from both a private sector and public sector function.
    Or, if the OP is like many grads and can't get a job in the planning profession, they have something to fall back on other than stocking shelves and bartending.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally posted by UrbaneSprawler View post
    I guess I'm just wondering what do you ultimately want to be doing career-wise? (Or maybe you don't?)

    Not knowing more than what you've presented, I'd recommend that you're better off getting the experience to get the P.E., either in your current job, or finding a position that involved planning that allows the experience to count towards the P.E. I think you should at least finish the progression you've started with civil since you already have 2 of the 4 years needed to take the exam and the P.E. opens more doors in the engineering and planning worlds, two worlds that often do overlap. If you wanted to go to grad school concurrently, then an MBA or an MPA.

    I'm a civil engineer with a P.E. and really do half engineering and half planning. I've thought about looking into the AICP, as it's always an option as a means to have "credibility" in the planning world, and this could be an option for you as well.
    Thank you and all the others for the responses. I hope I continue to get a few more opinions as well.

    I'm thinking I would like to work in Urban Design or Land Use Planning, but since I am very new to thinking about areas of specialization, I am open to anything that would combine my Engineering/Contracting background and Planning. I am planning on getting my P.E. as soon as I am eligible, but I really don't think I can last another 2 years at my current job. I would be willing to consider applying to other jobs in the Planning world, but everything I have read has stated that a Masters in now essential to even get my foot in the door. Are there really planning jobs out there for people with my background that are available to me without going to Grad School? I also don't really have time to wait to go to school. It is pretty much now or never as I am about to get married and have kids soon after. I could only go part time in the future and would really rather get it done in two years and move on. Again, thanks for all the help everyone....

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Transportation

    Transportation is the area of specialization that combines engineering and planning. We have equal numbers of planners and engineers in the transportation department where I work, but the traffic engineers (especially those with PEs) have a tremendous edge over the planners in terms of prestige, salary etc. We do work very closely together, but the engineers can quite easily do a fair amount of planning work (the unfortunate reality that has been mentioned on several other threads about engineers and architects being able to do planning but not vice versa).

    The projects/studies that that deal with land use planning or urban planning come in the form of transit-orientated design and/or corridor planning, which are few and far between. Unless you work for a regional government agency, which undertakes the majority of large studies.

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    Quote Originally posted by kloeckner View post
    Thank you and all the others for the responses. I hope I continue to get a few more opinions as well.

    I'm thinking I would like to work in Urban Design or Land Use Planning, but since I am very new to thinking about areas of specialization, I am open to anything that would combine my Engineering/Contracting background and Planning. I am planning on getting my P.E. as soon as I am eligible, but I really don't think I can last another 2 years at my current job. I would be willing to consider applying to other jobs in the Planning world, but everything I have read has stated that a Masters in now essential to even get my foot in the door. Are there really planning jobs out there for people with my background that are available to me without going to Grad School? I also don't really have time to wait to go to school. It is pretty much now or never as I am about to get married and have kids soon after. I could only go part time in the future and would really rather get it done in two years and move on. Again, thanks for all the help everyone....
    If you are that concerned about your current job and want to make a lateral move, check out jobs for transportation planners. I've seen a few in recent months that accept a BSCE as a prereq along with a few years of work experience. Check with the state DOT, local MPO, or transit authorities in your area and see if they have any openings. It could be a good place to work for a couple of years while you get your grad education (you might even be able to use it in lieu of internship experience depending on the program) and could be used as planning experience once you graduate and look for a land use planning job.

    The only drawback is that, with the exception of a DOT, it might be tricky to use it as work experience to qualify towards your P.E., especially if the agency doesn't have a licensed civil engineer on staff to vouch for your training.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    Fully agree on the crossover in transportation between planners and engineers. Another area of crossover is with LID. We have planners that are looking at trying to implement low impact development strategies hand-in-hand with engineers. Lots of head-butting along the way.

    kloeckner, I'd characterize that a Masters is needed to get your foot in the door just because there's so much competition in the planning world and the Masters is needed as a level to weed out folks, similar to the PE for engineers. That said, I would think that offering a different flavor to the mix with an engineering degree and PE will help you stand out among a sea of planners with advanced degrees, assuming the Masters isn't a hard requirement in the job description.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by kloeckner View post
    Hey everyone,

    I have a Civil Engineering Bachelors Degree and have been working as an Engineer in the General Contracting industry for two (2) years now. I recently applied to grad school for an Urban Planning Masters program for a start date of this fall at a few schools and was accepted by all of them. I am 24 years old and currently making $53,000 a year. Although I make decent money for my age, I am not particularly fulfilled in my current field and don't think that the path I am on will get any more exciting or interesting. I am also aware that Civil Engineering and General Contracting are in some ways related to the world of planning.

    Anyways, I just wanted to get some fed back on whether any of you believe it would be a wise choice, both financially (although money isn't everything) and career wise, to spend the time and money to go to graduate school in Urban Planning for two (2) years. I have read as much about the job prospects and career opportunities as possible, but I wanted to put out my specific case for feedback. Any and all comments, feedback, criticism or insight would be greatly appreciated.

    I need to make this decision soon, and although I am not worried about the path I end up choosing, it is a very big decision for me and my family.

    Thank you all so much.
    Funny, I'm going the opposite route. I'm getting a degree in Civ E (or in the process of at least) and I have already completed a Planning Masters. I'd say you suffer from a lot of GIGS (Grass Greener...) syndrome. I'm not so sure planning is much more fulfilling. Planners complain about their work being too abstract and not seeing tangible results from their designs. Engineers complain about the work being too dry. Etc.

    For me, I wouldn't mind doing either. But there are many more jobs in engineering and the pay is better. I have a feeling as a planner that I'll be out of work for stretches of several years and really not making much more than I started with. On the other hand, I feel as an Engineer, once I get my PE (something I have no doubt I can do) things will be relatively stable. I'm more concerned about stability than finding fulfilling work. I've been working for many years and have pretty much accepted that I will never love my job.

    I think getting a Masters in Planning either way is a decent idea. If you really decide you want to go into planning, then you can. If you decide against it or cannot find a job and go back to CE, you can spin your Masters as one that is related to your original field. At least, that is what I plan to do with my Planning degree. Lol.

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