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Thread: The Planning School you go to DOES NOT MATTER!!!!

  1. #1
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    The Planning School you go to DOES NOT MATTER!!!!

    Hi all:

    Your forum administrator just brought me to the attention of this forum after reading I was an ex-planner in a thread on another forum (a forum on skyscrapers). So I followed his link and checked out this forum and started reading the posts here. And I am shaking my head. Before I start my rant, let me tell you a bit about myself: I have BA in Geography from UNC-Charlotte (1987) with good grades, a Master of Urban Planning degree from the University of Washington (1991) with even better grades, I did about a half-dozen internships and odd-jobs before landing a long-term temporary job with King County WA doing watershed planning (2-2/3 years). And having seen and met a lot of planners and having done some planning myself after having gone through the entire planning school bit, I have one piece of advice for all of you asking each other which planning school is the "best." IT DOES NOT MATTER!! NO ONE HIRING PLANNERS REALLY GIVES A DAMN WHICH SCHOOL YOU WENT TO!!! I am serious. In the many many many interviews I went to, I never ever ever got the impression anyone gave one rat scrap that I had a degree from a "good" school or a "bad" school. They all teach pretty much the same (mostly useless) stuff, and pretty much anyone of average intelligence can be a good planner. Personally, having gone through the graduate school thing after having learned a lot of planning stuff as an undergraduate, I can tell you that graduate school for planning is pretty much a waste of time. 90% of what I learned about planning I learned from my geography degree, and maybe 10% I learned from my graduate degree. If you are coming from a totally non-planning related background and want to get into planning, then maybe it's OK to get the graduate planning degree. But if you learned a lot of planning stuff as an undergraduate, seriously, don't waste your time in graduate school (unless maybe you want to teach and get a PhD). You wont earn any more money than someone with a BS or BA in planning or geography or urban studies or whatever (see other threads in this section), and you won't learn substantially any more either. There might be a few research-type positions with Think-Tank consultant firms and stuff like that where a Master's will be helpful, but that's about it. So my advice is, if you absolutely insist on getting a graduate degree in planning, go to the cheapest school you can, party all you want (nobody cares about grades, either) and generally don't work too hard.

    Of course, I would recommend not going into planning in the first place, but that's another story.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    I agree that the "best" school is not a good criterion for employment. The person is much more important. As for the benefit of a masters, well: if I have three applicants for a position and only one has a masters, there is a good chance that one will get the job (all other things being equal).

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Wow

    Nice rant. I respect your views.

    My department has four full time professionals, with 7 advanced degrees between us. Only one of those is in planning per se. The others are Public Affairs, Public Administration, History, Biology, Natural Resources, and Geographic Information Systems. That is what makes us such a great team. We compliment each other without competing with each other.

    I expect to retain that kind of diversity, heck even expand it. My point being, yes you can be a planning professional without the planning degree. [insert audible gasps from APA HQ here]. Don't even get me started on AICP....

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Habanero's avatar
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    What I wish-

    I agree that it's not all about the school.. but I wish there was some way to show how motivated you are when you went thru school.. It took me 3 years to get a BS in Urban Planning (I also put myself thru working full time, completing 2 internships as well) but I find it's hard for people to take me seriously since I'm the youngest in the office.
    Any advice?
    When Jesus said "love your enemies", he probably didn't mean kill them.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Excellent point. I did not say the masters had to be in planning. In one job we ran the city CDBG program...planned it to death and never spent the money. After a couple of years I figured out the problem, and hired a business major (masters) to run the program. Went much better after that.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Sponge Bob Square Planner

    TexasPlanner, maybe its not your age but your avatar!

    All kidding aside, I faced the same thing 10 years ago. I had my first dept. directors job at age 24 and no amount of hard work would grant me the respect that I thought was due. It just comes with tenure, or you move on...

  7. #7
    Cyburbian prudence's avatar
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    TexasPlanner-

    For once I agree with bturk. Oh how rare that is.

    I was the only planner for a City of @ 35,000 people when I was 25. The department secretary had kids older than me...developers would have projects in town older than I was at the time...

    Respect is earned over time...bite the bullet and you'll be fine. In time you'll be accomplishing more than they ever hoped to. We all made it...
    "Dear Prudence...won't you open up your eyes? "

  8. #8
    Cyburbian el Guapo's avatar
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    I'm thinking:

    Ex-Planner: Unless it was a Masters from Kansas State - Then it is like the king of farm school diplomas!

    TexasPlanner my suggestions on how to get respect from the old farts are:
    1. Facial hair, gray temples and an oldsmobile.
    2. Don't quote spongebob in city counil meetings.
    3. No Britney Spears photos on the desk.

    If these don't work let me know.

  9. #9
    maudit anglais
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    I disagree somewhat with bturk and prudence- the old "ya gotta pay your dues first" argument doesn't wash with me. I find that if you project a mature attitude, listen to what others are saying, and think before you act/speak, age doesn't really matter. I was able to hold my ground quite well against the engineers/developers/ecdev people that had been around forever and knew everything - you just have to adjust your approach to suit the situation, and above all, don't give in just because they fall back on the "I've been doing this since before you were a twinkle in the milkman's eye" routine.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Habanero's avatar
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    True, true

    I do understand that respect comes with time, but I also feel that even though I'm 22 3/4 (that's right, BABY, and 3/4!!) I deserve a litte more respect for actually getting thru school and having goals at my age. Granted, I may be a freak of nature, but I prefer "gifted" or "ball-buster" or even perhaps "driven".

    Tex

    p.s.
    El Guano, I mean, Guapo.. EL GUAPO..
    : )
    Ohmigawd.. what do you mean? I can't sing "I'm A Slave For You" when researching zoning issues? That is sooooooo unfair!
    When Jesus said "love your enemies", he probably didn't mean kill them.

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    mike gurnee wrote:
    I agree that the "best" school is not a good criterion for employment. The person is much more important. As for the benefit of a masters, well: if I have three applicants for a position and only one has a masters, there is a good chance that one will get the job (all other things being equal).
    Yes, but whichever one of the three you hire will get the same salary the other two woud have gotten, unless you have an extremely well-funded planning department that likes to dole out more $$ for advanced degrees, LOL!

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Wrong, Ex-Planner!

    I most definitely offer better pay to the candidate with the masters!

    Or more to the point, I offer less to those that don't have it. The candidate with the masters can expect at least +5% pay difference at start, and it widens over time.

  13. #13
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    hip-hip-hooray to you!!!

    could you tell me more about planning and the devil?

    (i am in the unfortunate position of being in grad school 'learning' planning at uw [ssshhhh, don't tell anyone]....)

  14. #14

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    Re: Sponge Bob Square Planner

    bturk wrote:

    All kidding aside, I faced the same thing 10 years ago. I had my first dept. directors job at age 24 and no amount of hard work would grant me the respect that I thought was due. It just comes with tenure, or you move on...
    Where I used to work, the young prople ran the place. All of the old folks sat in their offices running consulting businesses on the side and figuring out how much they will make when they retired. We were unionized to it was literally impossable to get fired.

    Nobody even bothered to ask any of the old guys to do anything, because we all knew that it would never get done. They came in the morning, closed their doors and nobody say or heard from them until they left. Also, some of them would make an appearance in the morning and then leave to conduct their own bisinesses by 10 a.m.

    I guess if we wanted them to do any work we would have had to hire them as consultants.

    I don't think that the name of the school matters, but having a masters degree does (at least for somebody with no experience).

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    PJB, the only advice I can give to you is GET OUT OF PLANNING AROUND SEATTLE!! Seattle is crawling with SO MANY wanna-be planners, marginally-employed planners doing odd jobs here and there and other planning hangers-on, it's not even funny. If you don't mind being in a field where every entry-level planning opening gets AT LEAST 100 applicants and sometimes up to 400, well then stick with it. If that's a bit too much competition for you, then get out - NOW!! There are just too many environmental types around here who want to help make beautiful Seattle even more beautiful, but there just aren't enough jobs for all of them. It's a WAY overcrowded field. I frankly think that's probably the case all around the country, but I could be wrong. What I do know is, is it's way overcrowded with planners around Seattle, probably Portland too, because the area attracts so many environmental types. Unfortunately I fell into that trap, and I know many others have too.

    bturk, if you can pay more for the candidates with the Master's degrees, then hats off to you. Most of the jobs I interviewed for or held paid the same or almost the same no matter who got the job. However, mostly what I did was contract work/odd jobs and one very long-term temp job, so maybe my experience isn't entirely typical.

  16. #16
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    EX-planner wrote:
    It's a WAY overcrowded field. I frankly think that's probably the case all around the country, but I could be wrong.
    It's not the case everywhere. Northern New England often times has a shortage of qualified applicants when positions become open. Part of it is salary (small NNE towns do not splurge on planners), but I've never understood why more applicants don't take advantage of great quality of life....

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Dharmster's avatar
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    Planning Schools

    I think ex-planner's conclusions are pretty much on target but he ignores a couple of really important points.

    1) The MAJORITY of those entering urban planning programs have little or no background in urban planning or a closely related discipline (urban geography, public affairs, etc.)

    2) The fact that planning job pay so little is due largely to the fact that planning as a discipline is held in such a low esteem by the general public.

    Many of the same folks who planasaurus referred to are the same ones fighting against professionalization. They don't want state cerrtification because it might actually mean they have to god forbid pass a test and attend mandatory professional education.

    Having said that I think that ex-planner ignores a VERY salient point and that is that no matter what you are doing you really need a masters degree (or at least have some graduate education) or people wonder about you after a certain age (say 35). I've held 5 bosses in my professional career and I thought I'd summarize their educational experience:

    1) Had a bachelors degree at the time he supervised me as a summer intern (he now holds two masters degrees from MIT)
    2) Had a MPP from the Kennedy School at Harvard
    3) Had a MPP from the Goldman School at Berkeley
    4) Had a MPP from the Kennedy school
    5) My immediate boss had just a bachelors but dropped out of a Ph.D. program at Princeton, the guy who signed off on my checks had a MUP from Harvard
    6) My current boss (I too am a ex-planner) has a MBA from Penn State

    Coincidence? Maybe... but anyone who really doesn't think:

    1) Graduate eduction isn't important
    2) Where you go to school doesn't matter

    Should really ask themselves is that really the truth or are they just bitter?

  18. #18
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    Dharmaster, did your bosses also have UNDERGRADUATE degrees in a planning-related field? If you read my first post above carefully, you'll see I said, "If you are coming from a totally non-planning related background and want to get into planning, then maybe it's OK to get the graduate planning degree." At the UW I knew people who had Bachelor's degrees in music, economics and all kinds of other things like that. If you're coming from that and want to go into planning, then yes, it would make sense to get a graduate planning degree. But if you have an undergraduate degree in urban geography or planning or urban studies, you're not really gonna learn a whole lot more by getting a graduate degree. This was my own experience. I learned a lot of planning stuff from my geography degree, but my Master's added very little overall to my knowledge, all it did was add to my student loan debt, lol. If any employers prefers to hire people with Master's degrees in planning over bachelor's degrees in planning, I have no idea why, all they will do is have to shell out a little more money (maybe) for nearly the same product.

    As for the "Where you go to school doesn't matter" thing, sorry, but I still stand by that. If someone can show me objective criteria by which to rate a planning school, then I will change my mind. But I think rating the nation's planning schools is about as useful as rating, say, the nation's sociology schools - I mean, who really cares? They're practically ubiquitous and they all teach pretty much the same thing. There's good teachers and there's bad teachers in each and every school. And the majority of what they teach is useless, impractical, mostly theoretical stuff (though I guess all academic disciplines are probably like that). Finally, anyone can go to a supposedly "crummy" school and, with lots of studying, useful internships and so on, can get a lot out of it; while another student can go to Harvard or MIT and sail through and still not be as knowledgeable as the student from the supposedly "crummy" school. If I were an employer I would not give a damn about the school they went to, the particular attributes of the individual candidates are FAR more important!!

    And no, I am not "bitter" about my situation, it forced me to make a career move that I am now glad I was forced to make.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    EX-Planner mentions "useful internships" and I'm just curious if anyone can speak to this potentially important component of a graduate planning education.

    My question is this: to what extent does attendance at a top name university and planning school afford the grad student to obtain useful work experience before graduation? For instance, does having a summer internship with the City of Detroit while attending the University of Michigan mean more for a potential employer as opposed to some one who attends Portland State University and works an internship in Portland, Oregon? Assuming the work load and quality is similar at each internship, does this comparison (Great School-Extremely Challenging City versus Average School-Somewhat Challenging City) suggest the University of Michigan student with the Detroit internship has an overall better graduate education and experience, thus affording more (and better) job offers?

  20. #20
    Member Mary's avatar
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    To my experience the internship has more to do with what you do than who you do it for. At least what entity you do it for. On the other hand if your boss knows all the right people his/her recommendation may take you far. And if the place you are working is hiring soon you may find that you are partly trained and hopefully have fans who would love to help you get the new position.

    Good luck.

    My recomendation... Hunt for an internship with a decent sized community in a part of the country that you want to work. Also look for a boss who's lived and worked in the area for awhile. Ask questions about where to go to get to meet more planners. The boss who can direct you to the local APA meetings etc. may be helpful. Lastly hunt for a job where you can get experience doing a number of different things. If you play file clerk for a summer it will not help you as much as if you work with legals discriptions, and zoning issues, and learning to answer questions at the counter, and reading or even altering GIS or Auto cad maps and.... you get the idea. The more you learn the better off you are.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Mary, thanks for the info. However, I am not looking for internship. (Perhaps your words will help some one else!)

    What I'm getting at is how a school that has many resources (i.e. the University of Michigan) may possibly confer better internship advantages and opportunities to a grad student versus a student at a school that doesn't have as many resources. EX-planner offers a compelling argument regarding grad planning programs (i.e. they are all the same), however, I believe his remarks refer to the academic side of things. What I'm trying to figure out is if the so-called academically "better" schools can offer more to students, such as a high-quality internship placement.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Habanero's avatar
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    Hmmm

    Well, I went to a smaller school, no big names for me, and I landed a job working under Frank Turner. As far as internships go I believe it has more to do with the person and what you do with the education rather than where you get the degree.
    When Jesus said "love your enemies", he probably didn't mean kill them.

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Dharmster's avatar
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    In response to your points:

    1) Your original post responds to those asking about planning schools. Well, I believe that the MAJORITY of master students in accredited planning schools nationwide don't have a undergraduate degree in urban studies, urban geography, etc. So you do caveat your response, but not up front. My undergraduate degree WAS in urban studies. But hell, I was 20 when I started my senior year and naive as hell, but even little young naive me found out by asking faculty, graduate students, etc. The majority of people posting on this board don't come from closely related backgrounds and thus don't have a clue (which is why they are asking)!

    2) My bosses had mostly public policy degrees with some urban planning oriented classes. In fact, except for the Harvard MUP they were not planners. I worked at a international NGO, a consulting firm, a international financial institution and now for a quasi-government company . So perhaps, I am unusual being 5 years into my professional carreer and not yet having worked for a local government. But getting to your point, I think there only a handful of places where you can get a PLANNING degree as a undergraduate major and the MAJORITY of planning schools applicants don't have one.

    3) As for rankings, I think they do have a role. For a small discipline like planning, there really aren't any published rankings except for the Gourman Report (which is questionable at best). However, having said that rankings do matter. I did transportation, and you better bet I know which planning schools are good. Yes, I can look at a resume (and I'm sure others are capable too) and know that someone is excpetional even if they have a degree from a less than big name school and I hope others do the same. By the way, I went to not one but two state schools and still got hired by the above mentioned folks, so I know some but not all people do look beyond the schools you went to.

    4) The school you go to DOES matter. The fact is that at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, you often learn as much if not more from your fellow students as from your professors. Okay, in planning once you get beyond the say the top 5-8 schools there is not much selectivity (hey its true so don't kill the messenger). You can bet the bottom dollar there is a difference. For example, the graduate students at my undergraduate alma mater are for the most part not that smart (having said that I have a former colleage, from that program but there were some circumstances that prevented him from going elsewhere). Planning schools DO NOT publish their admissions stats, but I can guarantee you that Berkely and MIT are very selective, then places like USC, UCLA, Georgia Tech, Harvard, and Penn are somewhat selective (I'm sure I missed a few) and the rest admit just about anyone who has a pulse. That's the sad truth and its not going to change anytime soon.



    EX-planner wrote:
    Dharmaster, did your bosses also have UNDERGRADUATE degrees in a planning-related field?

    As for the "Where you go to school doesn't matter" thing, sorry, but I still stand by that. If someone can show me objective criteria by which to rate a planning school, then I will change my mind. But I think rating the nation's planning schools is about as useful as rating, say, the nation's sociology schools - I mean, who really cares? They're practically ubiquitous and they all teach pretty much the same thing. There's good teachers and there's bad teachers in each and every school. And the majority of what they teach is useless, impractical, mostly theoretical stuff (though I guess all academic disciplines are probably like that). Finally, anyone can go to a supposedly "crummy" school and, with lots of studying, useful internships and so on, can get a lot out of it; while another student can go to Harvard or MIT and sail through and still not be as knowledgeable as the student from the supposedly "crummy" school. If I were an employer I would not give a damn about the school they went to, the particular attributes of the individual candidates are FAR more important!!
    Last edited by Dharmster; 05 Mar 2002 at 11:40 PM.

  24. #24
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    Beaner, I personally see absolutely no advantage in going to a "prestigous" school as opposed to an average-joe school. Concerning getting internships, I think that has more to do with the location of the school and the internship than anything else. Obviously if you're going to Cornell University in the middle of nowhere in upstate New York, your opportunites for landing a planning internship while you're in school is far less than if you went to Portland State University in a metro area like Portland. In this case, you're obviously much better off in Portland than in Ithaca, NY. Now, comparing going to different planning schools in the same metro area, I still do not see any difference. A planning student from, say, Columbia University is not really gonna be much smarter (planning stuff-wise) than another planning student from, say, Brooklyn College. Far more important are the personal aspects of each candidate. Now, it may be that Columbia University might have certain "connections" to some local employers that might help get their students an internship a little easier, but with just a little more effort the student from Brooklyn College can probably get him or herself pretty much the same opportunities. And the BC student will probably save LOTS of money on tuition!!!

    Now, setting aside the issue of internships, I *still* see no advantage in going to a supposedly "prestigous" school, unless you want to eventually land a job as a hot-shot consultant or something like that. The planning schools in both Columbia University and in Brooklyn College (I'm supposing they have a planning school, of course) are both gonna teach pretty much the same things - 80% of which, I might add, will be useless garbage (that goes for both colleges). If I were a planning director I could care less what school anyone went to.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Dharmster's avatar
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    I think it's important to get our definitions straight here.

    What we are discussing is graduate URBAN PLANNING programs. As such, we are not talking about the general reputation of the university but of the planning program.

    Someone bought up Portland State Univeristy (PSU) and Michigan as examples. Everyone knows that Michigan > PSU(and it isn't even close). However, the urban planning program at PSU is quite good and probably in the same league as Michigans. Similarily, the urban planning program at Columbia is not so good and many people go there just to say they went to Columbia (and I'm sure many good rejected by the business school, or public policy schools).

    So let's try and all discuss the reputation of the urban planning program (or a speciality) and not of the universities in general(where there is much published information and much less disagreement)! We'll all be less confused and a lot clearer!

    EX-planner wrote:

    Now, setting aside the issue of internships, I *still* see no advantage in going to a supposedly "prestigous" school, unless you want to eventually land a job as a hot-shot consultant or something like that. The planning schools in both Columbia University and in Brooklyn College (I'm supposing they have a planning school, of course) are both gonna teach pretty much the same things - 80% of which, I might add, will be useless garbage (that goes for both colleges). If I were a planning director I could care less what school anyone went to.

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