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Hi there! 👋 new around here - in need of some advice

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Hi everyone -

First I want to say that these forums are wonderful. I feel like I have learned so much just poking around. I am so glad I found you guys!

I am hoping that some of you experienced planners might be able to offer me some advice. First let me introduce myself and give you some background. (Sorry if this runs a little long)

I moved to Los Angeles about 3 months ago after living in NYC for the last 10 years (originally from NJ) My husband and I moved here after he lost his job. It came at a time when I was between freelance jobs and we were looking for a bit of a lifestyle readjustment so we packed up the dogs and drove out here. Despite the fact that as a New Yorker I still have some deep-seated prejudice against the idea of living in LA I am actually enjoying it a lot. We are living in a great neighborhood (Silver Lake/ Echo Park) and we're enjoying having more space and lost of sunshine.

So the reason I am here is that after working for the past 6 years as a freelance producer in documentary television I am now looking to make a career change into the planning field. Many people have looked at me funny when I tell them that I am leaving television (sound like it would be fun and exciting) to go into planning (many people outside the field don't even know what it means) but I have given this a lot of thought and am committed to the change. As interesting as TV work can be at times it is a very frustrating profession these days. The money stinks, the hours are consistently terrible (80 hour weeks are not unusual for me), almost all the work is freelance meaning no paid vacation, no benefits and no consistent employment, you are pretty much limited to living and working in NYC or LA and most importantly for me, I don't think it would be possible to have and raise a family while doing this. So it's official. I need to make a change.

So with that said, I am now looking for a grad school program to attend in the LA area. Price is a major factor for me, as I really want to avoid graduating with excessive debt. At the moment the one that seems most appealing to me is Cal Poly Pomona. I am actually having a hard time finding out any concrete info about the program. I have called the admissions office a couple of times this week but they seem to be on some weird summer hours or something. I am going to drive out there later this week to check out the campus and feel out the commute (not fun I am sure) but in the mean time I would love to hear from anyone who has any info on the program. I have heard they accept part time students which is important to me since I would like to get a job somewhat related to the field while I go to school. My udergrad degree is in History so planning jobs are most likely out of the question but I am hoping to either find a media relations job with a non-profit that works on community development issues or an entry level administrative job in a private planning firm. Does that sound realistic to you? Is it worth working and going to school or am I better off sucking it up and taking out a loan to graduate sooner? Will I learn anything in a strictly administrative position? While I am committed to this I am a bit terrified of making such a big change. Any advice, encouragement, warnings etc. would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much in advance for your help.
 
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I am definitely NOT switching to planning for the money. Sorry if what I wrote made it seem that way. I am looking for a career where I can have a choice of places to live (not be limited to NY and LA as I am now) and one that is conducive to raising a family (One where I am not required to get on a plane at a moments notice and regularly work until the early hours of the morning). I don't expect to make more money than I do now. I will most likely initially make quite a bit less and I am prepared to accept that. But since I will not be limited to living and working in NY or LA - two of the most expensive cities in the world - at least what I do make will go at least a little further.

I do have one aquantance who is a planner for consulting firm in Hartford, CT and he seems to be doing ok financially. He just bought a house and his wife is able to stay home with their baby. That is more than I can say for anyone I know working in documentary television.
 

otterpop

Cyburbian
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6,655
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It is possible to start in an administrative position and work yourself into a planning position. However, it is very difficult and even if you get an entry-level planner position after adminstrative work, you may find moving further up the ladder to be very tough.

GIS, geography or planning training is recommended. A BA or a MS in either of the three is probably where you want to go. A degree in history could help if you are interested in historic preservation, which is a narrow niche in the planning profession.

I am just a rural planner in a largely rural state. I don't know what the job market for planners in L.A. is. But there are planning jobs to be had. The salary isn't great, but a public sector job does provide good benefits, reasonably regular hours (though plenty of night meetings) and paid holidays.
 

bmoore81

Member
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Welcome!
I don't know about all the schools in the area, but Cal Poly Pamona has a decent program, focused in gis and geographic information systems as well as sustainability (energy, water, etc) and the state schools are going to be your best bet as far as $$$ goes. However, if you can manage the extra debt, UCLA is a top ranked school, with strong job placement in transportation in the LA basin. Good school and has other options besides transportation ( I will begin classes there this fall, and will be staying with a friend who lives in silverlake).

For the big bucks, USC has a strong name and strong job placement in the private sector.

Seeing as you are managing a career shift, getting an entry level job in planning can be difficult, most are unpaid or close to minimum internships, as most cities have small planning departments. There are job posts on the APA website (i forget if access is members only or not, you can join at a discounted student rate once you start taking classes) uh.... :-\

also for jobs, check each cities website, things are posted there from time to time. An easy way to do it is get a map with that shows cities in your willing commute distance, then google them with CA. Then its a matter of finding where they post their openings. Unfortunately you would have to convince the employer that history is a "related" field, as most ask for planning, architecture, or a related field.

Seeing as you are posting on forums, I will assume your technically capable, so you might want to find a good gis program. People with gis skills are always in demand around here it seems, if not in public sector, then in the private.

Regarding loans and pt employment, at UCLA, students are required to have some sort of an internship during their second year, depending on your background you can get some decent funding too (they are paying for my first year). However, I am still taking out loans so I don't have to work and at 3% interest rates I can manage minimum payments even if disaster strikes and I have to take a min wage out of gradschool. I think you can do whatever you put your mind (and your mate) to as long as you keep track of your end goal and your progress toward it. Working and going to school is feasable but they dont reccomend it (i have worked and gone to school through high school, community college, and at the university, the fall quarter will be the first time I havent worked while going to school in 7 years).

Good Luck! :-D

BTW its nice to see someone post who is in southern california, seems that hardly anyone posts from this region.
 
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I notice in your post you don't mention _why_ you want to get into planning. I would strongly advise you to take a step back and consider why you are doing this in the first place. I understand your dissatisfaction with your current situation, but that in and of itself is not a good reason to go back to school. I'd strongly suggest doing some informational interviews with people in the profession and listen to what they tell you about what the day-to-day job is really like.

I'd also caution you that the planning job market in California is very bad, IMHO. The state is having terrible financial problems and because of the nature of gov't financing in California, this means municipalities are also strapped, as well as the various consulting firms that serve them. I know several people who completed their MAs at UCLA this June and they are having real trouble finding work. The situation may well be better in two or three years when you come out, but don't expect to glide into a job.

If you decide you really want to do this, my own opinion is that you should choose the cheapest school. Nobody really cares where you got your degree from, and you don't want to be making loan payments on an entry level salary (high 30s low 40s is a realistic range for an MA with no fulltime work experience). Also, many programs (UCLA in particular), will give scholarships on a 1-year renewable basis. DO NOT EXPECT TO GET FUNDING YOUR SECOND YEAR, no matter what you hear about "oh, its just a formality, all our second years get funded". Tell them to put it in writing.
 

NHPlanner

A shadow of my former self
Staff member
Moderator
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9,945
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Welcome :b:

[mod hat]

I merged your two threads.....we try to stay away from posting multiple copies of the same thread.

[/mod hat]
 
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Thanks everyone for your thoughts so far.

Sorry about the double post. I didn't want to just post to the student board because I wasn't sure if more experienced planners read and posted there and I wanted to get responses from people with some years of experience under their belt. To answer a few of the points brought up so far

This is definitely not a rash decision for me. I have given this decision a tremendous amount of thought. When I graduated from college six years ago I had two main areas of interest: urban planning/policy and documentary film. I had done a history major at NYU with a double minor in urban studies and journalism. Upon graduation I was deciding between Grad school for public policy or planning or trying the documentary/ journalism thing for a while. When I got an interesting job offer at a documentary production company I went with it and have worked pretty steadily as a freelancer for the last six years. I have simply decided that while the work can be interesting the lifestyle isn't what I want. Planning was an obvious next step for me.

I should be clear that at this point I am not deciding weather or not to pursue this, just how to go about it. So while I appreciate your frank warnings I would also appreciate options, advice and ideas on how to best make this happen, what type of job is best to look for while I get a degree etc. and not necessarily reasons *not* to go into the field. While it is good to know all the negatives up front (truthfully they are pretty much the same when it comes to any field that involves an aspect of public service) as I am sure anyone else who has made a mid-career change can appreciate, this is very scary for me. I would really love some constructive, honest guidance...but maybe with a slightly positive spin.;)

I should also mention that I do not want to work in Southern California for very long after graduation. I know that the usual advice is to go to school in the area you want to settle and work. Unfortunately that just isn't an option. My husband also works in the entertainment industry so when he lost his job in NY, LA was the only obvious choice for us. He has found a decent job here (the money isn't great but he is much happier here than back in NYC so that counts for something) He is looking at a future career change as well but not until after I finish school and find a job in the area where we decide to settle. We would like to eventually end up in a smaller eastern city. We like the Hudson Valley region of New York and New England (not Boston though, more like Portsmouth NH or Portland ME. So I would welcome any thoughts from people living/working in those areas as far as the job market and salary vs. cost of living there.

Thanks again for all of your thoughtful advice. I greatly appreciate it.

ps...sorry about these really long posts, I gues I have a lot on my mind.

junkoplenty -forgot to ask... Where in Silverlake? I am in the hills East of Glendale, right on the boarder of Echo Park. Don't know if you have spent any time here yet or not but I love the neighborhood. Great restaurants, good bars and an overal good artistic vibe. Not at all Hollywood. Will you be living here or just passing through? oh, and the work vs. loan thing is definitely food for thought. I would like to work (partly just becuase it feels weird not to after working full time for the last 6 years but mostly becuase I am a debt-a-phobe. No school, credit card, or car debt so far and I would very much like to keep it that way) but I am definitely starting to open up to the idea of going full time and taking on some loans. I know that they say education loans are "good" debt. It is just hard wrapping my head around the idea that there is such a thing.
 
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Cardinal

Cyburbian
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10,080
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34
I won't say anything against planning - it has its down side like any profession - but on the whole I love it. The money can be good on either the public or private side. As a "big city" person, you might not realize that cost of living can be a big factor in whether a salary is good or not. Last Friday I made considerably less than I did today, but there, a 2800 square foot, 1840's Italianate mansion on the National Register can be purchased for $230,000.

I have a relative in video production who is in the same boat as you. After Los Angeles and New York, the job opportunities are limited. Chicago runs a distant third. There are a handful of other places that may have some production, but it tends to be pretty specialized.

Planning will give you many options, from very urban places to rural ones. Planners here at Cyburbia work the full spectrum and can give you tips. Stick around, join in our conversations, and welcome to the field.
 
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Amy, some education options in your neck of the woods:

UC-Riverside has an extremely prestigious GIS certificate program. It can be done evenings and weekends over the course of about a year while working. Or it can be done in one summer. It is too late for you to do it this summer, but two years ago, one student signed up for all 5 classes offered in August in order to get a jump start and knock out half of it in a month. You could consider doing the same.

Another option is USC. They are probably more expensive per class than Pomona but I believe it is a shorter program. If you can afford to travel, USC has a satelite campus in Sacramento that is geared specifically towards working professionals and is on a weekend condensed schedule. They have students who come from as far away as Taiwan and Texas. You can take some classes in L.A. and some up in Sacto -- you can even consider doing a class/internship in D.C., as I understand it. USC also has a graduate GIS certificate which is only 3 or 4 classes and most of that is online plus one beautiful week on Catalina Island. :)

I considered Cal Poly Pomona when I lived in Southern Cali, in part because it was close by and in part because it is one of cheaper schools in California. (SLO also has a good planning program but no one can afford to live there. :-D ) I generally like the Pomona area and I am fond of the little airport near there (Ontario International) but it doesn't sound like you are considering moving there. But I don't remember specifics about the program at Pomona (which may have changed anyway). I researched planning programs in 1999 and 2000 and settled on USC Sacramento in 2000. Shortly thereafter, my husband got orders for a military base 45 minutes from Sacramento. I haven't really thought about it since, because I have my "10 year plan" firmly in hand and I have only been working it for about 5 years. :-D So, nose to the grindstone and all that. :)

Welcome aboard.
 

Rem

Cyburbian
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Hello and welcome to Cyburbia.

As you are new I will not make a gratuitous suggestion about courses in Australia and how desperately short of planners we are, but next time ......

I think it's interesting you are conidering a move from a non-fiction (documentary) to a fantasy (planning) field though. ;-)
 

ssc

Cyburbian
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209
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amyh31 said:
We would like to eventually end up in a smaller eastern city. We like the Hudson Valley region of New York and New England (not Boston though, more like Portsmouth NH or Portland ME. So I would welcome any thoughts from people living/working in those areas as far as the job market and salary vs. cost of living there.
Welcome!

We moved 5 years ago from NYC to the Hudson Valley region. Still adjusting to small town life, but it is a great area to raise kids. I would warn you about the amount of driving we do here as opposed to NYC, but of course you are in LA now, so anyplace else would probably mean less time in the car!

Cost of living here - not too bad, but housing is getting pricey. Job market for a planner - not terrific. Municipal jobs do not pay well, and there aren't many consulting firms. On the other hand, the opportunities for freelance work seem to abound.

As for overall quality of life, the Hudson Valley region is a great place to live. In our neck of the woods, you would be joining a growing community of young professional families who have left NYC and are now trying to figure out what the heck to do for a living!

Good luck!
 

tsc

Cyburbian
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1,905
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I highly recommend getting good GIS experience. Start checking out sites like www.esri.com. They have a wealth of info. Numerous planning positions look for those with GIS experience.
 

DennisMaPlanner

Cyburbian
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197
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Welcome, use your background to your advantage!!!! Planning is all about communication and public involvement. I come to Planning with degrees in Political Science and Theater. I did graduate work in Planning. I find I use my theater skills almost as much as I use anything I learned in grad school. With the advent of community access cable and the internet since I broke into this field in 1981 the method of getting the message out has drastically changed. Learning to read plans will come, you bring a skill to the field you should take every advantage of.

As to the job market on the east coast, the salaries are lower in small town New England, and housing costs are growing.

EDIT - I would put your years as a videographer on your resume to illustrate your skills in public communication!
 

Budgie

Cyburbian
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5,270
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30
Since I have little to add concerning your quest for good advice, I would like to make an observation concerning the advice you will get from the slackers on this site. As a group those who post regularly to this site appear to me to be intelligent, thoughtful, experienced, energetic and have a positive outlook on life.* Good advice abound. Consider this a thanks to those who've watched out for me in the not to distant past (you know who you are).

Welcome and contribute.

Moderator note:

* The cited characteristics don't apply to Budgie and El Guapo, both of whom should be tied up and left in a small dark damp closet in a basement near Bessemer, Alabama.
Moderator note:

 

mendelman

Unfrozen Caveman Planner
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
13,902
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57
Welcome and may your quest for planning enlightenment be swift, prosperous, and sure....but watch out for the current planning, it sucks the life out of the idealistic.

:-D
 
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