• We're a fun, friendly, and diverse group of planners, placemakers, built environment shapers, students, and other folks who found their people here. Create your FREE Cyburbia ID, and join us today! Register through your Reddit, Facebook, Google, Twitter, or Microsoft account, or use your email address.

How important is it that I go to a PAB-accredited graduate program?

SoxFan

Member
Messages
4
Points
0
tl;dr: My current undergraduate school has a non-accredited planning program. Could I stay here and still expect to find a job in a city?

I’m currently a junior at Clark University in Worcester, MA. It’s a small school but has a solid reputation in the area. However, it’s graduate planning program is not accredited. It seems to have decent connections anyways, as the chief planner of Worcester went to Clark. Several other graduates of the planning program work for the regional planning agency that contains Worcester, while a graduate of the GIS program works for the regional planning agency that contains Boston. One graduate of the planning program even works as a City Planning Associate for the City of Los Angeles making over 6 figures less than 5 years after getting her masters at Clark (she went to UCLA for undergrad, though).

My dream job would be to work as a planner for the City of Boston, but I would be happy working for any city with a population of 100,000+. I would work for just about any city though, but I wouldn’t be as happy working for ones smaller than that. My problem is getting into a masters program and being able to afford it. At Clark, if I maintain a 3.5 GPA, I am guaranteed admission into the accelerated (1 year) degree planning program, plus a 50% scholarship. In this case, I would be saving a lot of money by only paying for a half a year of tuition as opposed to 2 or 3 years elsewhere. Additionally, I’m not too confident I would be able to get into a great planning school. I have a 3.5 gpa and I think I can maintain that, but I’m a transfer student with social anxiety, so I really haven’t connected with my professors at all, and thus, I probably won’t have good letters of recommendation. I don’t know what else planning programs look for, but I’m an economics major with <3 months work experience and zero research experience. I am thinking about seeing if I can volunteer or work for a community development organization for the neighborhood my college is in, though, so maybe that would help. Right now I’m thinking about applying to Tufts, but I feel they would probably be a reach school anyways. I’m not sure where else I could consider applying to because I honestly have no idea what kind of schools a 3.5 would get me into, so any suggestions for schools to apply to would be welcome too.

With all that being said, how important is it that I go to an accredited program?
 

Planit

Cyburbian
Messages
11,689
Points
36
I've been successful and I went through an unaccredited program. Don't kick yourself so much.

More importantly is what kind of program is offered - theory based, project based, social aspects, design aspects, et cetera. You want to work in a big city, but what emphasis or direction? In a big city planning department you will be centered on 1 thing like zoning administration or transportation or environmental reviews.

Sounds like you would be more comfortable (and confident) if you stay at Clark. Doing volunteer work and internships will advance your employment skills beyond a mere degree (no matter where its from). Remember, you can always transfer...
 

SoxFan

Member
Messages
4
Points
0
I've been successful and I went through an unaccredited program. Don't kick yourself so much.

More importantly is what kind of program is offered - theory based, project based, social aspects, design aspects, et cetera. You want to work in a big city, but what emphasis or direction? In a big city planning department you will be centered on 1 thing like zoning administration or transportation or environmental reviews.

Sounds like you would be more comfortable (and confident) if you stay at Clark. Doing volunteer work and internships will advance your employment skills beyond a mere degree (no matter where its from). Remember, you can always transfer...
I honestly have no idea what kind of emphasis I would want to work in yet. That's something I need to start figuring out this year (and also if I really even want to work in urban planning; I may want to work for the government in some other capacity). But honestly, I actually would probably feel more comfortable and confident going to a different school for my masters. I have read about people from unaccredited programs (including Clark's) being very successful, but it also seems like a lot of people who got their degree at Clark work in something completely unrelated to planning. The only reasons I'm considering getting my masters at Clark are because my friends may be doing other accelerated degree programs here and because it would save me a lot of money.
 

glutton

Cyburbian
Messages
414
Points
11
It sounds like maybe you may wish to wait some time and gain work experience in the non-profit or government field doing anything remotely related to planning or community development before going back to school. You may feel like an accelerated 4+1 program will save you money now, but if you don't really know what you want to do, that will be money wasted on another year of 'going with the flow'. Waiting a year or two will give you time to figure out your interests and save up a little bit of money to pay for school.

From my experience, smaller and/or unaccredited programs are very locally and regionally focused. They will have good connections locally or in the state like you described, but not much out of state. There will always be exceptions to this, but like you said with the LA person, usually people get these connections through their prior personal networks. Or they just cold apply and some get lucky. As for your GPA, getting into planning school is really not as hard as you may think from a strictly academic standpoint. I went to a top 10 school with a 3.5 GPA. The more important thing is demonstrating strong interest through volunteering, work, research, and/or personal experience.

As for the salary, six figures in 5 years is possible in SOME big cities (usually West Coast ones) due to the abilities of government and transit agencies to tax themselves and raise local funding. It also depends on the city's tax base and whether population is growing rapidly or remaining stagnant. the LA graduate you were referring to may have also had other work experience before graduate school that brought her in at a higher level than entry level.

td/lr: I think the school you go do doesn't matter if you're looking to stay in one area (the area/state you went to school in). It does matter if you want have national opportunities in big cities.

Good luck!
 

SoxFan

Member
Messages
4
Points
0
It sounds like maybe you may wish to wait some time and gain work experience in the non-profit or government field doing anything remotely related to planning or community development before going back to school. You may feel like an accelerated 4+1 program will save you money now, but if you don't really know what you want to do, that will be money wasted on another year of 'going with the flow'. Waiting a year or two will give you time to figure out your interests and save up a little bit of money to pay for school.

From my experience, smaller and/or unaccredited programs are very locally and regionally focused. They will have good connections locally or in the state like you described, but not much out of state. There will always be exceptions to this, but like you said with the LA person, usually people get these connections through their prior personal networks. Or they just cold apply and some get lucky. As for your GPA, getting into planning school is really not as hard as you may think from a strictly academic standpoint. I went to a top 10 school with a 3.5 GPA. The more important thing is demonstrating strong interest through volunteering, work, research, and/or personal experience.

As for the salary, six figures in 5 years is possible in SOME big cities (usually West Coast ones) due to the abilities of government and transit agencies to tax themselves and raise local funding. It also depends on the city's tax base and whether population is growing rapidly or remaining stagnant. the LA graduate you were referring to may have also had other work experience before graduate school that brought her in at a higher level than entry level.

td/lr: I think the school you go do doesn't matter if you're looking to stay in one area (the area/state you went to school in). It does matter if you want have national opportunities in big cities.

Good luck!
Thank you for the reply!

As for the unaccredited program having strong local connections, I'm getting the same feeling. My school seems to have good connections with Worcester and central Mass, but not so much with Boston. The only person I'm aware of working in something related to planning in Boston is the person I mentioned who went through the GIS graduate program.

Feel free to not answer this part (and anybody else reading this can feel free to chime it) since you've already answered my first question and I appreciate that, but what exactly should I be doing for volunteering/working and research? I'm going to try to get some sort of internship related to planning or economic development next summer, but I don't think I'll be able to get one in planning because my major is economics. For volunteering, should I just get in touch with the regional planning association and ask if I can volunteer there? There's also a community development corporation for my school's neighborhood; would volunteering there be valuable experience? I'm also unsure how to get research experience, can you explain that to me? There's no undergraduate planning program at my school so I don't know any of the planning professors. Additionally, there's only one associate professor in the program with a degree in planning. The rest are part-time faculty.
 

glutton

Cyburbian
Messages
414
Points
11
Perhaps then you can eliminate research off the list, but yeah, volunteering at a local neighborhood organization is perfect. Try business improvement districts as well (like if Worchester has a Downtown Worchester Business Association or a local chamber of commerce. Or even local parks and rec/housing/transportation/environmental advocacy groups. If you have any technical skills like GIS, then small organizations like these usually appreciate young people coming in and helping them with technical work or social media efforts. A lot of people start out doing marketing type of work with non-profits as well to get a foot in the door.

As for internships, being an economics major shouldn't hurt you from an HR standpoint. Most positions I've seen advertise for degrees in planning "or related fields", which range from architecture to any sort of liberal arts, to engineering. That being said, I would imagine that using your economics background to be involved with an economic development organization or internship would fit very well!

Most of all, I would say try to find some more planners in the area and shadow or get coffee or interview them before you start applying to schools (if you choose to wait).

This might not be super local, but try idealist.org's career board! Also try to find an APA (like APA-Massachusetts) or other professional groups in the area to get involved with.

PS - research doesn't have to be exactly planning related - it can be with an economics professor as well! Or sociology or really any other remotely relateable topic area. Think about how you became interested in planning in the first place (even if it's purely a personal anecdote about where you grew up and how you got around your town, or some piece of local news) and articulate that in your essay.

I would also suggest attending some local city council and/or planning commission meetings in your town to get a better sense of what some of the issues in your town might be and get a feel for how local government works in general.

Good luck!
 

SoxFan

Member
Messages
4
Points
0
Perhaps then you can eliminate research off the list, but yeah, volunteering at a local neighborhood organization is perfect. Try business improvement districts as well (like if Worchester has a Downtown Worchester Business Association or a local chamber of commerce. Or even local parks and rec/housing/transportation/environmental advocacy groups. If you have any technical skills like GIS, then small organizations like these usually appreciate young people coming in and helping them with technical work or social media efforts. A lot of people start out doing marketing type of work with non-profits as well to get a foot in the door.

As for internships, being an economics major shouldn't hurt you from an HR standpoint. Most positions I've seen advertise for degrees in planning "or related fields", which range from architecture to any sort of liberal arts, to engineering. That being said, I would imagine that using your economics background to be involved with an economic development organization or internship would fit very well!

Most of all, I would say try to find some more planners in the area and shadow or get coffee or interview them before you start applying to schools (if you choose to wait).

This might not be super local, but try idealist.org's career board! Also try to find an APA (like APA-Massachusetts) or other professional groups in the area to get involved with.

PS - research doesn't have to be exactly planning related - it can be with an economics professor as well! Or sociology or really any other remotely relateable topic area. Think about how you became interested in planning in the first place (even if it's purely a personal anecdote about where you grew up and how you got around your town, or some piece of local news) and articulate that in your essay.

I would also suggest attending some local city council and/or planning commission meetings in your town to get a better sense of what some of the issues in your town might be and get a feel for how local government works in general.

Good luck!
Thanks again!!! This is very helpful. I think I'm going to try to get in contact with the neighborhood community development corporation and also shadow a planner (which I was already hoping to do). I'll need to check with my advisor if research is even possible; I have almost no flexibility in my schedule because I declared my major late. Anyways, thank you!
 
Top