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Thread: Rejected from graduate school: Insights onto next steps, alternate routes and "what would you do?"

  1. #1
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    Rejected from graduate school: Insights onto next steps, alternate routes and "what would you do?"

    I've been rejected to every planning school I've applied to (granted, it's not many - I only tried out for three in Canada) and I can probably figure out that my 3.00 GPA is the limiting barrier to entry, which means I'm unlikely to get into planning school unless I take another year enrolling in make-up courses to boost my GPA. The bright side is I was accepted into a "backup" program to pursue a MSc in environmental management for which my employer is willing to fund over half of the tuition cost. Since graduating with a BSc. in environmental science, I've been working for the past four years for the government on environmental policy work, where I am reasonably well compensated for ($60k/yr) and enjoy good benefits. From an economic standpoint it makes perfect sense to further improve my credentials in this sector to climb the ladder... the problem is I have somehow convinced myself that my true career passion is in the field of environmental planning and sustainable urban development and am willing to make some financial sacrifices to reach this end goal.

    My eventual objective is to work for the city and land myself some sort of a "environmental planner" role. My question is what is the best way that you would perceive for me to achieve this in my current stage now? Should I just do my MSc. in environmental or resource management and hope to work my way into a civic job as an environmental planner? Do any employed planners get to where they are without formal planning education? Or should I try again next year and expand the list of schools I am willing to go to, with still no guarantee of getting in with my weak GPA? Is a graduate education in planning absolutely critical to this profession, and is it worth sacrificing tens of thousands of dollars for if I can get graduate education in another somewhat relevant field?

    I've lurked on this forum for years now, ever since graduation and have seen plenty of posts that suggest that the field of planning is in a state of flux and instability, so I would not be surprised if the majority of respondents would try to dissuade me from the profession. But I've also read plenty of anecdotal evidence of planners who come from more lucrative backgrounds that have made the sacrifices to go into planning and am happy with their choices.. so try to picture yourself in my situation - a candidate with stable and decently well paying options in his own field but who is dissatisfied with the work and truly wants to get into this field.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian terraplnr's avatar
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    Hi there,

    I donít know what kind of courses the university offers for the MSc in environmental management, but that path may work well for you if they have some environmental planning / sustainability planning / regional planning courses as electives (or let you take some elective courses out of the department) and if you focus on getting planning experience through internships/volunteering while in school. Iím sure it depends on the region and the economy, but the city and county where I worked had (and still have) several planners with environmental management, environmental policy, or other somewhat-related-but-not-officially-planning backgrounds. However, our local university doesnít have an official planning program, but has a really good environmental science and management graduate program. I have a B.S. in biology, then went to a very urban planning school but took several environmental/sustainability planning courses as my electives (as well as a few unrelated electives to expose myself to other areas of planning), then worked as a public planner, and am now an environmental planner in a private firm. In this economy, if you apply for planning jobs with your current education/work experience, you would be at a disadvantage, competing against those with planning degrees. However, with a graduate degree in a closely related field and with some planning experience through internships, volunteering, etc., then you would be competitive in the environmental planning world. Hope this helps?

  3. #3
    I know you don't want to hear this, but it's a no-brainer to go for the masters in environmental management, especially since your employer is willing to pay for half the bill. Depending on school policy, and assuming the institution you were accepted at has a planning program, it may be possible to take several planning classes as electives. It could also be possible to reapply to a planning program once you've taken a few graduate level classes to demonstrate your ability to handle graduate level work. Would a dual masters be possible? The worst option, IMHO, would be to re-enroll in an undergrad program to for sole purpose of building up undergrad GPA.

    It may also be possible to segway into an environmental planning position at the municipal level without a degree in planning. It happens frequently with geography and public administration grads. Would the same be true for masters in environmental management?

    There are many recent planning grads that are having trouble landing jobs, let alone as a planner or within their specialization. Experience has been trumping degrees as of late. Is there any nexus between what you do now and the job description of an environmental planner?

    Just my two cents...

    Good luck either way!

  4. #4
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by OfficialPlanner View post
    I know you don't want to hear this, but it's a no-brainer to go for the masters in environmental management, especially since your employer is willing to pay for half the bill. Depending on school policy, and assuming the institution you were accepted at has a planning program, it may be possible to take several planning classes as electives.
    Word.

    I suspect there are quite a few planners unable to find work who wish they had education in env management so they could actually find work.

    It will be important soon to make good places as energy descent increases, but it will be even more important to use what ecosystems we have left to try and keep us going. IMHO much more work in that coming up.
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    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    I would agree with most of the responses here - go for your master of environmental management. If you scout around the government hiring websites in the US, you may find that the job description and requirements for "environmental planner" state degrees in environmental science or envrionemntal management before environmental planning even. Maybe there are more of those degrees. I have also seen "urban planning with an environmental emphasis". So there you go, your degree may even carry more weight than a 'pure' environmental planning degree.

    Also, do you know what environmental planners do? Those that work in public sector vs private sector? It may not be so different from what you're doing now - a lot of policy work, and (not my favorite area, putting it mildly) permiting and compliance work. It is possible and probable that the kind of work you want to do doesn't fall under the title of "environmental planning". Again, scout out the public sector HR websites. You can look up titles, job descriptions, pay ranges etc. on many of them, and then you can see where it is you want to land, and maybe you might be less disappointed about not getting into environmental planning grad school.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Reefe View post

    Also, do you know what environmental planners do? Those that work in public sector vs private sector? .
    For a couple more years here - until the inevitable disaster shuts down the boom of money and resources being funneled out of Colo - there is plenty of work for "environmental" planners permitting drilling rigs and trying to do something to mitigate spills. You can't swing a dead cat without finding an ad for a firm hired by a drilling company looking for someone to push paper around.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by ColoGI View post
    work for "environmental" planners permitting drilling rigs and trying to do something to mitigate spills. You can't swing a dead cat without finding an ad for a firm hired by a drilling company looking for someone to push paper around.
    Ah, ColoGI, you've got it. A little while ago I was sitting around a happy hour table with some friends and associates, a collection of federal, state, city employees as well as consultant. All of us from environmental planning backgrounds, most still doing it for current employment. The topic was how do we explain what the environmental planner's job is. My cynical answer - the (fill in name of large government, or developer) wants to build (fill in name of large construction project) and our job is to (push paper around and) make it legal.

    A darkness fell upon our little table as the words left my lips. Veiled shadows, whose names were until then unuttered, flitted through the air around us, leaving a chill that made us hold our collective breaths in quiet desperation while the words silently branded themselves in each mind ... "say it aint' so!!!"

  8. #8
    I think the best route for you would be to go into the grad program you've been accepted to. You have an amazing opportunity in that your employer will help with some of the costs as well. What's more, it's always easier to transfer into a program than to get accepted as a first year, first semester student--all this to say, you could do a year at this grad school and then get your grades up and transfer to the other if you're really set on it.

    Good luck!

  9. #9
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    Hey all,

    Thanks so much for the advice and guidance. I've talked with colleagues, friends and family and I think I have decided to enrol in this program and defer my wishes to be in planning for the time being... Not that I have a choice this year but it's better than waiting a year without a guarantee of admission. I am still planning on trying again, at least for another year, but I figure I would have a fall back plan and be one year away from completing a Master's should I not get in again the next year. Yes I also realize the ramifications/consequences should I drop out of this program to go to a planning program that I could be accepted into after one year into it, especially with my employer paying for it... I will likely be crazy enough to bite that bullet and pay back the costs though if I am still this interested in working as a planner one year later.

    My main concern then is the thesis project, which comprises about a third of the program itself. Since it is an MSc. program it is required that the topic be a scientific study which will involve data analysis and hypothesis testing. Some of the topic areas that were mentioned as examples include toxicology, ecological sustainability and sustainable development. I definitely would want to steer the thesis topic towards something as close to the research topics discussed in the field of planning as possible while maintaining the integrity of an MSc. in Environmental Management,,, It has always been an interest of mine to see how globalization and infrastructure development in rapidly growing cities can be conducted on ecologically and environmentally sound principles. Does anyone have any broad subject areas, particular journals, or even just search terms that I could start with which can satisfy an MSc. degree as well as potentially a future application to planning school or a planning-related career? Is it worthwhile to pose this question on the environmental planning forum?

    Cheers,

  10. #10
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by svelten View post
    It has always been an interest of mine to see how globalization and infrastructure development in rapidly growing cities can be conducted on ecologically and environmentally sound principles. ,
    Globalization and ecologically sound principles....srsly? You have much to learn. That will never fly in any halfway decent program. Unless you plant to go work for a bank, in which case you can learn phrases to cover yourself.

    "The two great aims of industrialism ó replacement of people by technology and concentration of wealth into the hands of a small plutocracy ó seem close to fulfillment." -- Wendell Berry
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

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