Urban Plannin'
May 7, 2012 1:47 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking to make the jump from the public sector to perhaps a career in urban planning. Can you share your experience with me?

Right out of college I was offered a position in the legislative branch and have worked in the same office almost five years. I'm feeling the itch and have covered transportation, business, infrastructure, and municipal issues for the office I work in during that time.

As I look ahead to the future I would like to work for a city or maybe a small county and I could either get an MPA but super wonky policy kind of bores me. I like to get my hands dirty, talk to people, and get out in the community. I wonder if an urban/municipal planning master's degree would help me get there... either working for a firm or working for a city as a city planner working on transportation and RDA projects.

Has anyone made this jump? Would you advise against it? Do you love it? Do you have it? I'm not super math oriented but I can hold my own. I have street smarts and am good on my feet. Just wondering if I want to devote 2 years to something I may already have the skills for. Thanks.
posted by timpanogos to Work & Money (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
the thing about getting an advanced degree even when you've got some good experience is that a) it can solidify and formalize your experience, and b) it's likely to be a gateway to a ton of opportunities.
posted by entropone at 2:34 PM on May 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have my Masters in Urban Planning/Econ Dev/Geography (6 years ago) but I got a job offer in another sorta, kinda indirectly related field right out of grad school (private sector), and I definitely wanted to be employed full-time, so I took it.

I would think that since you have five years of experience with those issues you've mentioned, it sounds like you've already basically primed yourself for a urban planning position. What I'm saying is that you may not need to have the Masters to get in to a community planning position. I would make an appointment with a community planner (of where you'd like to work) and just talk about your experience and see what type of chance you'd have (not necessarily an interview for a job, just for information). I'm sure the pay would reflect, however, if you did not have your MA. I know of some who got positions in planning only after undergrad (may be quite different nowadays!), and of course, there are several that I went to grad school with who went into city/county planning.

Where do you live?
posted by foxhat10 at 2:44 PM on May 7, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers. I'm in Salt Lake City, UT.
posted by timpanogos at 2:45 PM on May 7, 2012

I have extensively considered exactly the same sort of switch (though a bit further advanced in my career), and my wife's a planning lawyer, so without having actually done the big career move, my observations are that, in my state, my country, you don't have to have a planning degree, but it would be highly beneficial, your existing qualification may be enough if you start a bit lower down the food chain. But two years of work experience, getting a wage and not having the study debt, is probably a quicker path than studying. If you could work part time and study, or even get your employer to subsidise your study in some fashion after you'd gained some credibility, that would be ideal.

You don't need a lot of maths for planning, GIS skills would be better. From my knowledge, yes there's a good balance of getting out there and talking to people together with office work.
posted by wilful at 5:53 PM on May 7, 2012

I'm also in the legislative branch, though further down the chain than you, it sounds like, and am almost done with my MPA. I think you are talking about a MURP not an MPA, correct?

You might try taking one or two graduate GIS classes as an non-admitted student and see how you like it before applying to an urban planning program. I think it would definitely add some formal training to your career - giving you a leg up, and give you time to be exposed to the right network to explore a specific area of interest. However, in my (pretty limited) observation of planners, their work is a little less about working with people and more in their own world doing zoning, coding, and maps.

Anyway, if you're more interested in the MPA thing and how that squares with leg experience, feel free to send me a message. Best of luck!
posted by goodnight moon at 10:35 PM on May 7, 2012

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