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Thread: civil engineering vs. urban planning

  1. #1
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    civil engineering vs. urban planning

    hey,
    I wanted to get your opinions on this:
    I'm currently a student in civil engineering at the university of illinois at urbana-champaign but I'm very interested in urban planning. I am in the process of switching into urban planning for next semester but I was wondering what you guys thought about this. Should I finish my civil degree and then get a masters in planning? Would it be useful? I've discovered that I'm much more interested in the broader social picture than the engineering/technical side, but I don't want to regret switching out of engineering.
    thanks.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian ludes98's avatar
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    Go planning!

    Seriously- I am planner, but work at civil design firm. We do planning services in addition to design and a few of the folks doing planning are engineers. You could do planning without the planning degree in alot of communities, but not the other way around. The masters in planning would be nice since alot of communities want these degrees, but I have no idea if civil engineering will get you into a master in planning program.

  3. #3
    Should I finish my civil degree and then get a masters in planning?
    Yes, you should unless you absolutely hate engineering.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian inzane's avatar
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    civil engineering vs. urban planning

    Funny you should ask. I went through the same situation when I was in school (about 3 years ago). I was a civil engineering major and after some internship it felt like my life after school was headed towards crunching number for the rest of my life. I met with planner at one of the cities I had an internship with and we talked for a bit about his job. Needless to say I changed my major planning and never looked back. One of the good things that come out of it is that I have a BS instead of a BA. This made me look good to my present employer because they knew that would have a good idea if a outside engineering firm is skewing there numbers a little. Also Gis software came to me a bit easer because of my experience with AutoCAD. I would say that if you are a thinker that understands politics and can communicate with people easily. Planning is for you.
    “I injured a rock… Hospitalized a brick… I’m so bad I make medicine Sick!!!!”
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  5. #5
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    BA in civil eng. + masters in planning = extremely employable!

    Unlerss you suck at math, or course!

  6. #6

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    I was in your shoes once - I too am an ex-CE student!

    I would say it depends on how you feel about your engineering curricula. I hated mine and was dreadfully bored and had absolutely no enthusiasm, but once I switched to planning, my involvement, grade point, interest in school, and general outlook on life all went WAY up!

    Many places want a masters in Planning to even look at your application, so if you're thinking of going straight into grad school, maybe stick with the engineering and cap it off with a good dose of planning. You'll have a great combo of skills and will be able to relate to people on both sides of the table. If you're not going straight into grad school, think about the jobs you might get right out of school-

    In my experience, the planning jobs right out of school are more broad and interesting than being a number checker or running CAD all day, which is what many of my former engineering colleagues are doing right now. Planning can also lead you into a whole lot of other fields (housing, community development, economic development, public administration, municipal planning, long-range planning, regional planning, transportation planning, natural resource planning, consultant work, design, codes enforcement, Inspection, surveying, urban studies, policy, advocacy, etc.) With Civil engineering you're really pared down to just a couple of fields. So, if you're thinking of going a few years between schooling, planning can offer you a broad spectrum of opportunities and give you a chance to "get your feet wet" in a variety of fields before you settle right down into just one. Then you can go get a masters in that field and you'll be all set!

  7. #7
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    wow, you people are quick to respond. thanks for the advice.

  8. #8
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Here's a thought...

    If you're wanting to work in a small town your CE degree might make you more marketable as a planner. I don't know what it takes to get your seal, but a degree as a Civil Engineer and a masters in planning would really qualify you for the plan review. A lot of small towns use contracts for both plan review and engineering, so they might be able to kill two birds since you would be qualified to look at both aspects.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Duke Of Dystopia's avatar
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    Get your degree in Civil Engineering. After that, all of your classes in planning will be a cinch. Get a prof to help you direct your letter to the proper school and then grill you to get it right. There won't be a Masters program in planning in the entire country that won't let you in.

    In your average graduate program in planning, 1 of 10 students will have any kind of degree related to planning in undergrad. If you want/ ABSOLUTLY NEED the full ride and a paid internship provided, check out The Ohio State University. Great school for number crunching in planning.
    I can't deliver UTOPIA, but I can create a HELL for you to LIVE in :)DoD:(

  10. #10
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    I'd say finish your CE, then go to Dal for a joint Masters.

    In doing your undergrad, I'd load up on site design or traffic design courses and worry less about pipes.

    I am sure that Jeff might have some comments on this too.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I think it depends on how much you enjoy planning or engineering, and how far along you are in your degree program. If you really love planning then go for it. Many of us switched into the field from something else. If you are far along in your CE degree program, finishing it will make you more employable. A possible drawback is that you might get called upon frequently in your career to do in-house engineering, taking you away from other projects. If you still have a long way to go before completing your CE degree, then you are not giving up much by making the switch. Either way, your undergrad major will not have much of an impact on whether or not you can get into a graduate school.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Like others said, stick with engineering and try to tailor it to your interests - especially if you think you'll be going to grad school anyway. You will be learning actual skills that other planners won't have. Two planning degrees might even seem redundant. Good luck.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    PE vs AICP ???

    The PE is going to put more loot in your pocket. A CE degree is tough, and something that is not easy to do later on in life while employed. It'd be much easier to go back to school at nights and pick up the masters in planning than the other way around.

  14. #14

    Urban Planning to CE

    How about the other way around? I have a B.S. in urban planning, and I am considering going back for a CE degree. Any comments or suggestions?

  15. #15
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mattmanmorris
    How about the other way around? I have a B.S. in urban planning, and I am considering going back for a CE degree. Any comments or suggestions?
    Depending on what school and how licensing works in your state you might not be able to.

    I know that in most Canadian provinces, a MSc. Engineering is not eligible for P.Eng status while a Masters of Engineering is. Typically to take a Masters of Engineering you have to have an undergrad in it.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  16. #16
    I would stay in civil engineering, then perhaps consider a dual graduate program in civil eng/urban planning. As someone mentioned above, OSU has one.

    You would be extremely employable.

    If I were good at the maths this is what I would have done. But since I suck, I stay in the social sciences!

  17. #17
    Quote Originally posted by donk
    Depending on what school and how licensing works in your state you might not be able to.

    I know that in most Canadian provinces, a MSc. Engineering is not eligible for P.Eng status while a Masters of Engineering is. Typically to take a Masters of Engineering you have to have an undergrad in it.
    I should clarify; I am considering a bachelors in Civil Engineering. I could get a masters in water resources, but I would first have to take a number of undergrad courses before entering the master program. Either way I am looking at 4 years. At this point the bach. seems more desirable as I would get a more diverse education.

    My other option is to get an mba, which would be helpful in running my own business. Right now, I work as a consultant for zoning entitlement work and general site planning concept work. In addition, we are writing ordinances for some of the local communities. I am thinking the CE would be an added service that we could provide, which would add to the overall marketability of the corp.

    Quote Originally posted by Globetrotter
    I would stay in civil engineering, then perhaps consider a dual graduate program in civil eng/urban planning. As someone mentioned above, OSU has one.

    You would be extremely employable.

    If I were good at the maths this is what I would have done. But since I suck, I stay in the social sciences!
    I already have a degree in planning, and I am preparing to take the AICP exam very soon. I am just trying to decide if going back to school for 4 years for a CE bach degree is worth the trouble.

  18. #18

    From a fellow Civil

    Finish your Civil degree whatever it takes. Yep, I took many classes I dreaded and took the C or D and ran. Pass your EIT and PE exams, then go for the AICP.
    The AICP is fairly easy from what I have heard in comparison to the previously mentioned (EIT and PE). The AICP will make you a "certifiable" planner whether you have the degree or not. there are many variations of civil/planner than you can explore. Transportation planning is the most logical, if that interests you. Now I am pondering the PTOE (Professional Transportation Operations Engineer) certification that is only held by a little over 1300 PE's worldwide. That would put me in an elite class. I don't know if that interests you though. I must say the PE certification was worthwhile as it has opened doors for me even within my small city an netted me an additional $10k worth of raises within the last year. A wise man once told me, if you find a job you love, you'll never work a day in your life. I haven't worked yet.....HA.
    Good luck on your decision making.
    Who's gonna re-invent the wheel today?

  19. #19
    Member CosmicMojo's avatar
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    LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE!!!
    It's the best of both worlds, Civil Engineering and Urban Planning.
    It has technical design work like Civil, but with the policy of Urban Planning.

  20. #20
    Why Can't We All Be Civil?
    Who's gonna re-invent the wheel today?

  21. #21
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    Civil Engineering + Planning does not at all equal highly employable, instead it equals a conflict of ethical and professional interests. Never the twain shall meet....

    Try architecture + planning or landscape architecture + planning, much more of a logical integration of careers. Engineering and planning DO NOT mix whatsoever!

    Engineering and planning may equal a higher paycheck, but you will always in your career be pulled in one direction or the other, planning and engineering do NOT mix in terms of professional satisfaction or stability. In fact, a PE + AICP only makes you an overqualified engineer, in no shape or form without a graduate planning education does it make you a real planner.

    In my opinion, engineering and planning represent a conflict of interests and do not mesh well together on one's resume. My boss is an AICP and a PE and believe me, he is much more of an engineering than will EVER be a planner.

    Ditch the engineering path and focus on planning and urban design. It will open up many more paths for intersting careers in the long run in the public AND private sector. A PE + AICP may seem glamorous in the short term, but as time moves on, you will see that they really do not fit well together professionally in indeed conflict with one another.
    Last edited by vtboy99; 04 Mar 2006 at 1:16 AM.

  22. #22
    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    The only place where civil engineering and planning meets in my life is when my husband and I come home at night He is a civil engineer and a professional land surveyor (a much better pairing!) and I shall become the planner after graduate school; although I currently work on a number of projects with the planning department as an undergrad intern.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally posted by kjelsadek
    The only place where civil engineering and planning meets in my life is when my husband and I come home at night He is a civil engineer and a professional land surveyor (a much better pairing!) and I shall become the planner after graduate school; although I currently work on a number of projects with the planning department as an undergrad intern.
    Kjelsadek, my thoughts exactly, a PLS and a PE go together MUCH better than a PE and AICP (strange and professionally imcompatible combination). If anything, an AICP is much better paired with an AIA or ASLA (Licensed architect or landscape architect).

    Heck, even Law + Planning go together better professionally than Engineering and Urban Planning.

    Quote Originally posted by Duke Of Dystopia
    Get your degree in Civil Engineering. After that, all of your classes in planning will be a cinch. Get a prof to help you direct your letter to the proper school and then grill you to get it right. There won't be a Masters program in planning in the entire country that won't let you in.
    Planning classes a cinch?! I would STRONGLY beg to differ. What schools are you referring to? If you have no writing or design abilities to offset your CE experience, it wont be as easy to get into OR excel in planning programs as Duke of Dystopia implies. The two fields are entirely different and in fact imcompatible. Many of the top planning and design programs do not necessarily regard civil engineering as an adequate professional or academic background for admissions (see Harvard, Penn, Berkeley if you dont believe me). Perhaps some of the lesser schools such as Ohio State will look at the CE + Planning combo as a positive, but to make it in the big leagues of planning and design, CE experience may actually prove to be a detriment.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 06 Mar 2006 at 2:46 PM. Reason: DOUBLE REPLY

  24. #24
    Member CosmicMojo's avatar
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    Stick with the Civil Engineering coursework since you're almost finished. Jobs are plentiful for CEs and your skillls are highly transferrable to different regions. Most large offices that serve as consultants to developers are headed by CEs, sometimes even the Land Planning or Site Planning Department is headed by a CE. You can add to that knowledge with grad work in Landscape Architecture, Real Estate Development or Finance, or Planning.

    I don't think they conflict at all in the private sector. Civil engineers with an understanding of the development process are the ones chosen to be project managers instead of just calculating and designing. And there are many disciplines that will give you an understanding of the develoment process: real estate development, landscape architecture, and planning.

    The Civil Engineering degree is much more versatle. With it you can do civil engineering and land planning, but with a planning degree, you can not do civil engineering, mostly just planning administration.

    Why don't you set up some information interviews with some civil engineers? They can tell you what additional studies have helped their career. They can give you great firsthand information and you'll be making contacts for a future job search.

    My Planning graduate degree was much easier than my Landscape Architecture undergraduate degree.
    Last edited by CosmicMojo; 05 Mar 2006 at 9:38 AM.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally posted by CosmicMojo
    Stick with the Civil Engineering coursework since you're almost finished. Jobs are plentiful for CEs and your skillls are highly transferrable to different regions. Most large offices that serve as consultants to developers are headed by CEs, sometimes even the Land Planning or Site Planning Department is headed by a CE. You can add to that knowledge with grad work in Landscape Architecture, Real Estate Development or Finance, or Planning.

    I don't think they conflict at all in the private sector. Civil engineers with an understanding of the development process are the ones chosen to be project managers instead of just calculating and designing. And there are many disciplines that will give you an understanding of the develoment process: real estate development, landscape architecture, and planning.

    The Civil Engineering degree is much more versatle. With it you can do civil engineering and land planning, but with a planning degree, you can not do civil engineering, mostly just planning administration.

    Why don't you set up some information interviews with some civil engineers? They can tell you what additional studies have helped their career. They can give you great firsthand information and you'll be making contacts for a future job search.

    My Planning graduate degree was much easier than my Landscape Architecture undergraduate degree.
    With a CE degree, you will never advance to Principal in a top private sector LA or Arch firm in a Planning capacity, unless you want to work for a developer or civil engineering firm (and of course we all know none of the innovative planning is done in those types of firms). They only look for Planners, Architects, and perhaps if-necessary Landscape Architects to fill that capacity. A CE background will in the non-engineering path create a proverbial glass ceiling for yourself professionally.

    I'm surprised Cosmic, typically the Landscape Architecture graduate courses are much more simplistic and easier than the undergraduate Planning courses.

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