Renaissance man needs a degree (or do I ?)
May 6, 2007 8:50 AM   Subscribe

I have a variety of talents and interests, but no degree. So, I'd like to go back to school and get a degree in Architecture or Urban-Planning.

I find myself (at 33yrs old) with no degree, but with a multi-tude of interests and skills. I'd like to either get a degree (or a job) where i can use that multi-tude of skills. It seems after much searching for a job, that my goal would be easier if I had a degree. My brain (and heart) keeps leading me back to Architecture or urban-planning.

The bad:
I'm currently unemployed and about 20k in debt. My brother has given me a place to live, and I have a short term plan to use my computer/technology skills to work my way out of debt and hopefully get some savings in the bank. My background (last 10 or so years) is in IT and I'm pretty confident in my technology skills)

The good:
I'm healthy and ( I think) fairly creative and resourceful. I am very good at internet research (often times finding answers to thinks my friends say "cannot be found") I have an eye for design (structures, lines, layout) and fully enjoy books such as the recent release from . I have an interest in creating urban conditions that are much more "intuitive" and useful and sustainable.

What I find (in my mental state) is that our world will be facing (or is already starting to face) a variety of multi-faceted global problems,..and that people such as myself need to get off our rears and help solve them. I dont want a standard conventional 9-5 M-F job working for a corporation just to make them money. I want an unconventional job solving problems (city-planning/renewal type) where I can have a positive impact on society. There is a local job I applied for doing "internet research" for a local towns "Economic development team" .. but they are being slow to respond (after multiple calls and emails, even after I was recommended to them by someone I know in another city)

At my age, it seems like I'll be lucky to finish school before i'm 40. Which sometimes makes me wonder if I shouldnt just work my way out of debt and take some of the motivation and ideas I have and become a freelance/consultant type of career, but I'm having a hard time believing that cities would hire someone in that regard without a degree. (I'm working right now on an idea for my local city for an interactive city-map (showing all categories of business, parks, schools, city-gov offices,etc) because they dont have one.

Questions?.. comments?... snark?... job offer?.. ;P
posted by jmnugent to Education (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My only advice is that doing a 5 course load and working anything more than 20 hours a week will have a serious negative effect on your academic performance and retention of knowledge. You say you'll feel lucky to finish before you are 40, so keep that timeline in mind and start with a reduced course load. Another trick is to save your electives for the end so that you can use your "almost but technically completed" degree as leverage sooner.
posted by furtive at 10:21 AM on May 6, 2007

And why you might need it? Perhaps not now but 10 years down the road when you want a cushy job or to move up, that degree will just make it a lot easier.
posted by furtive at 10:22 AM on May 6, 2007

Response by poster: furtive
"And why you might need it? Perhaps not now but 10 years down the road when you want a cushy job or to move up, that degree will just make it a lot easier."

There are a couple reasons why I'm not a 100% believer in that:

1.) There are alot of successful people who dont have degrees (or dropped out of college)

2.) Who's to say that in 10 years having a degree will still be one of the decider factors of "moving up". (another way of saying that-- will the technological advances of the next 10 years change our world so much that traditional schooling and degrees still hold the same "weight" ?.) After spending 10 years in IT, I can tell you I dont put much weight in people who have MCSE's.. because most of them are book-smart, but not very real-world/experience-smart.)

3.) Lastly.. do I really want to work for a company that values me on the factor of having or not having a degree?..

I worked the past 3 years being the IT admin for a middle-sized K-12 school district,..and from everything I can see, our educational system is pretty broke and busted. It doesnt do very much at all to foster individuality, creativity or resourceful thinking on your feet problem solving. I'm honestly not sure I want to be part of that (as a student) in the college level. Would I love to go back to school?.. sure, .. but a part of me is scared that I will hate it for being to structured (course, another part of me is excited about the opportunity of getting in there and "rocking the boat"
posted by jmnugent at 10:36 AM on May 6, 2007

Knowing a very small amount about each field, I think you'd be better off pursuing an urban planning degree. Architecture degrees tend to be 5- or 6-year programs, full time, and as far as I know, most of them don't allow you to attend part time or at night. Then after earning your degree, you'll have to spend several years working for someone else (which you don't want) in order to get enough experience to take your registration exams, and you can't establish your own practice until you've passed them (there are 9 exams). It's a long haul. Whereas urban planning tends to be a more traditional 4-year degree and has a wider variety of directions you can go after you're done.
posted by boomchicka at 10:53 AM on May 6, 2007

A lot careers in urban planning are also going to require a masters degree in said field. Not all, but for the type of work you're talking about, I think it may take a bit more than a four year degree.

APA Job Listings

Of course, the undergrad degree can be in any number of things. Mine was about as liberal artsy as you can get.
posted by gordie at 11:28 AM on May 6, 2007

Response by poster: boomchicka
" order to get enough experience to take your registration exams, and you can't establish your own practice until you've passed them (there are 9 exams)."

Ah.. so getting a degree in Architecture and being a "registered" architect are 2 different things then?... thats the kind of information I was looking for. (So is it kinda like Law school?.. you can graduate.. but you still have to take bar exams,etc to become a fully-fledged "Lawyer" ??)

Not to sound lazy.. but that seems like a lot of "BS" to me. I mean, I have 10+ years experience being an IT Admin (with no degree or certifications) and I can work circles around anybody who does.... Why would I go through years and years of college just to get a degree, when I could spend that same amount of time actually working and getting things done (improving my community and getting actual hands on experience)

I mean...i'd like to go to school just for the personal goal of saying I'd achieved something I thought I'd never do (graduating) but it seems like by the time I invest in (my time, effort and money) into school----I wont ever get that back. ( I have plenty of friends who are still paying off their degrees)

i realize sacrifices have to be made if I want to accomplish the goal of getting to call myself an "Architect" or "urban planner" but that whole process just seems like alot of work for not much payoff. (unless I'm missing something)
posted by jmnugent at 12:47 PM on May 6, 2007

As gordie says, if you stay in planning you will eventually likely need a masters degree -- a lot of the more interesting and better-paid jobs require one. But people come into entry level planning jobs with all kinds of undergrad degrees -- natural resources, history, engineering, you name it. You will need to demonstrate understanding of the field (and probably have specific skills like GIS or local economic development strategies) to get that entry level job, but a degree in a different discipline will not always be a deal-breaker. And if you think about the profession of planning broadly, so as to encompass administration, environmental issues, sustainability, etc, you can come into it from a really wide range of degrees and experiences. (Also, a traditional path in has always been via front-desk and support positions in planning departments -- a number of directors of planning agencies entered the profession that way, picking up degrees while working, rather than the "normal" degree first, then work, route suggested above.)

That said, planning and architecture are professions about which it is easy to imagine a wonderful career, solving urban sustainability or designing adaptive museum galleries for low-income children... but the reality is that these are professions responsible for every piece of unsustainable and bad design you see around you every day. (Well, we like to blame the engineers, lawyers, developers, and NIMBYites for some of it, but a lot of that is just passing the buck, because all of those groups employ planners and architects, too.) Most planning jobs at the entry level are about basic implementation of other people's (often rather poor) decisions; entry level architects spend a long time drawing HVAC systems and designing doorknobs before they are allowed anywhere near a large building design. Really, most of the work both do is futile -- planners make plans that are not implemented; architects design buildings that are never built, or if they are the developer makes changes that ruin the design.

If you can, I'd suggest spending some time (at least a few days; a few months would be better) shadowing and working with practicing planners or architects -- how you respond to the reality of the field is an important issue that can't be answered here on AskMe.
posted by Forktine at 12:55 PM on May 6, 2007

Dude, I'm going to give you some good advice, but I doubt you will take it. You seem to be concentrating on reasons why you can't or don't need to get a degree.

You're 33 years old. I was 38 years old, dead broke, unemployed and in debt about the same amount you are when I decided I was either going to change my life or blow my brains out, and I vowed I would never again do anything I didn't want to do unless it got me to where I wanted to go.

I moved to another state to work (because the state I live in was depresssed at the time), rented a room and got a 40-hour a week job in construction, a part-time job selling jewelry at Montgomery-Wards, and sold encyclopedias door-to-door in my spare time. After a few months I was able to move my wife and child up to live with me, and we rented an apartment.

We got mostly out of debt in two years, and then I decided I wanted to go to school and get a degree. I didn't know what in, but I knew I was tired of working construction (electrician). So we paid off the rest of our debt, saved up $6,000, and headed back home so my wife could be close to her mother while I attended a state university. I found out I could no longer pass the residency requirements, so I had to work a year in state so I could qualify for resident tuition.

After the first semester, with my grades I applied for and received a full scholarship which included tuition, fees and books. I worked part-time as a motel clerk, and took CLEP tests to get credit in a lot of required basic classes I already knew pretty well (Freshman and sophomore English, history, civics, and a few others). We moved to on-campus housing, which was a blessing, and I finished my BA in English in 3 years and my MA in another 3.

You seem to think 40 would be old to graduate from school, but I WAS 49 YEARS OLD WHEN I GRADUATED!

Let me ask you this: how old would I have been if I hadn't gone to school? How old are you going to be in 7 years if you don't go to school?

We then moved and I went to work teaching adjunct at two different community colleges, substituted at the local high school, worked as a census-taker and took a part-time job as a copy editor at a newspaper 30 miles away.

After a while the newspaper asked me to go fulltime, which I did because they provided insurance, and after a short period of time they asked me to be a reporter. I did that for 5 years and got to know all the local movers and shakers. After the election a couple of years ago an elected official asked if I would go to work for him as his public information officer to handle the media.

After a year or so at that, I found out that most governmental agencies have educational benefits,as did the one I work for, and I enrolled at the local university in a PhD program. I plan to take one class a semester, which means it will be 5 years before I finish my coursework, and then another couple of years on my dissertation, which topic I already have chosen. By the time I get my PhD I will almost be eligible for social security, but that's OK because I don't plan on dying until I'm 90 or so anyway, which is realistic nowadays. I'll also have a pretty good--not great--government pension, and I'll be in a position to spend all my time doing what I do part time now--travel and study.

So the bottom line is you can do it, and you are fooling yourself if you think you can do it without a degree. But you're going to have to suck it up and quit whining and living like an over-aged adolescent and become independent. Living off your brother is a symptom that you are inclined to take the easier, softer way, out of problems, as is the use of the adjective "hopefully" in relation to your saving money. Either you are or you aren't.

While I'm not all that optimistic about you changing, the fact that I was once like you is hard evidence that it can be done, and it has been done by thousands of people just like you and is being done today by someone.

My advice to you would be to take a hard look at yourself and see how you got into the situation you're now in and take steps to correct whatever character defects got you there, because just aiming yourself at a target without changing yourself will just get you right back where you are now, same book, same chapter, different verse.

Other advice I would give you is pray, don't drink or do any kind of drugs and go to work every day, preferably at more than one job. Loose the instant-gratification ethic. Look around and you'll notice it's the busiest people who are the luckiest.
posted by Pistol at 12:57 PM on May 6, 2007 [8 favorites]

Ah.. so getting a degree in Architecture and being a "registered" architect are 2 different things then?... thats the kind of information I was looking for. (So is it kinda like Law school?.. you can graduate.. but you still have to take bar exams,etc to become a fully-fledged "Lawyer" ??)

Every profession (law, medicine, architecture, planning, haircutting) is the same, with fairly rigorous professional exams to become a certified practitioner. The AICP certification for planners is optional -- many don't bother -- but is mandatory for many jobs, and for professional credibility in many situations.
posted by Forktine at 12:57 PM on May 6, 2007

Response by poster: Pistol,

Whoa there cowboy.... I am certainly not an "over-aged adolescent"... it may sound like it, but i can assure you I'm probably the hardest working person most of my friends know.

I am strongly independent ( I *HATE* having to depend on my brother for a place to live)... I grew up in Wyoming where I learned to work hard and long for what I wanted. While growing up, my brother and I both took jobs early in high school (during our Junior years) to help my mom pay for rent. I worked at a restaurant starting as a dishwasher and worked my way up to general manager (5 years). At the computer job I just finished, the contract I was assigned to was my companies #1 contract in terms of revenue.

So I dont have any qualms about working hard to get what I want. As you said, I am very much considering moving away from here, because the job market sucks and its a very conventional town.

The reason I'm in the debt situation that I'm in now is because I'm to nice of a guy and spent most of my money helping other people get the things they want instead of looking out for myself. (My last 3 years working at a school district I spent $250 to $500 a month on things for the district that they wouldnt have otherwise gotten because the district couldnt afford it. Which of course also means I didnt get paid back for that) Thats part of what made that contract so successful for my company, but in the end, when they worked me into the ground, the company DIDNT look out for me. (yeah, hard lesson to learn).

So now I'm rebuilding my life, working for myself and doing job interviews trying to find a job that I like.. that will take care of me.. that will allow me to indulge all the various skills I have. I'm finding it very difficult to do that because all the jobs I'm finding are traditional, conventional 8-5, M-F, do exactly what the boss says and go home.

Maybe I'd be better served just to continue being self employed.
posted by jmnugent at 1:22 PM on May 6, 2007

Response by poster: For clarity sake,...

I just want to add that I did have 3 really good job interviews last week (2 of them for night jobs). I've also submitted the paperwork to cash out my 401k.. not that I want to, but it'll give me about $6k to live on (or move, if it comes to that).

I'm also working on that side project to build that interactive city-map website for my local city (have already had 3 meetings with the local Chamber of Commerce and city-planner guys) ...

So hopefully between all of those items...this year I can turn things around and maybe even get out of debt.

Mostly what I was originally looking for was feedback from other people who have become architects or urban planners and what my long term plan/goals should be if thats what I end up doing.

Thanks everyone for the tips/advice so far...
posted by jmnugent at 1:42 PM on May 6, 2007

Let me say upfront that I believe that, in 99.9% of cases, having a college degree is better than not having one. Yes, you can get by without one, but the collegiate experience enriches and prepares you in ways working just can't (though the latter is extremely valuable as well). College is about more than preparing to work; it's about learning new ways of thinking-- not just how to answer questions, but how to know which questions to ask.

That said, your comments suggest to me that there are some things you should consider before going back to school:

As others have said, careers in both urban planning and architecture are going to require not only bachelor's degrees, but master's degrees as well. Moreover, college architecture programs tend to be exceedingly rigorous, requiring intense coursework (calculus, physics, etc) and long hours in the studio and working on projects. Doing an architecture degree part-time would be almost impossible, I'd imagine, unless you were in a a program designed specifically for people who are working and going to school concurrently.

It sounds like what you want is practical, job skills training. To get an undergraduate degree, however, you will have to take a full range of liberal arts courses in addition to courses in architecture or urban planning-- things like humanities, science, history, etc. Also, if you don't want jobs where you "do exactly what the boss says and go home" then I'm not sure you're going to like college. At most colleges, it's "do what the professor says or you fail."

Maybe the solution is to enroll at your local university as a "non-degree seeking student." Take an introductory course in one of the fields you're interested in and see how you do. Then maybe you could begin work on your degree, or just continue taking courses that interest you without fulfilling all the requirements for a degree.
posted by chickletworks at 1:58 PM on May 6, 2007

Response by poster: chicletworks

"College is about more than preparing to work; it's about learning new ways of thinking-- not just how to answer questions, but how to know which questions to ask."

"At most colleges, it's "do what the professor says or you fail."

The contrast of those two statements is what I'm having the hardest part dealing with. There are so many different ways of learning under the sun,... why is if I go to college, that I'm stuck "doing what the professor says or I wont graduate" ???....

If I'm taking a class.. and I find it boring,.. can I go up to the professor and suggest alternate course work ?.. Can I volunteer creative ideas to prove I have learned the material in my own way ??... (and if not, then whats the point of college?... to make me think like everyone else and conform?...)
posted by jmnugent at 2:10 PM on May 6, 2007

Take CAD training. Two years. End result: you design the "guts" of buildings on computer software - where the walls go, where the electrical goes, etc. You can be a well-paid cog in an architecture firm wheel lickety-split, with access to people and circles in your area of interest. World of opportunity, steady paycheque and lots of freelance potential.

While studying get involved in the non-profit world: Habitat for Humanity, sustainability ngos in your town. Leverage the network and contacts. Think about attending a conference in your area on a topic you like. Then sign up to give a talk about a topic you like at next year's conference. Become the local expert in something - anything - and do it the old fashioned way: be available, do talks, write letters to the editor, go to community meetings. People will come to you.

Do not let your IT skills atrophy - use them as your entry point to the aforementioned ngos. All the while harness your multitude (do not hyphenate this word) of talents to work freelance as part of creative units.

Once you've got your CAD job and have been in situ for a year and have paid off your debts and are getting your head screwed on properly, go back to college at night. One or two classes a semester. Work toward your bachelor's in environmental design, or planning, or even just plain "geography" (which is WAAAAYYY more fascinating a subject than you'd ever think, coming out of high school where it means identifying capitols on maps). By this route it will take you at least five years to get your degree.

Make sure your name is on everything you do for free, on discount, and in your freelance life. Insist on a line that says "by jmnugent" with a link to your website (build a pro website to showcase your work in all fields) below anything that appears online - particularly this city map thing you've mentioned.

It's a plan, one of several suggested here. Not easy, lots of work. But enh? I'm with Pistol. Just put your head down and work hard. We're all getting older.
posted by Mrs Hilksom at 2:33 PM on May 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I said "at most colleges." I attended both a large state university and a private, liberal arts college. At the former, there was very little room for disagreement with the professor; students were expected to take what she said and then spit it back on the exam. In some upper-division courses (courses generally taken junior or senior year) more creative thinking was encouraged, but not much. In contrast, at my college, students were encouraged to design their own assignments, to dispute the readings we were assigned, etc.

At both schools, though, I learned how to think for myself. At the university, just because I gave what I knew my professor believed to be the "right answer" on a test didn't mean I agreed with it. Maybe I didn't always completely believe the point I was being told to argue for; the important thing was that I was learning how to make a convincing argument. It's all part of playing the game, like it or not. There aren't any schools or jobs where you're not going to have to "play along" with people you disagree with at one point or another. Part of going to college is learning when it's worthwhile to "rock the boat" and when it isn't.

I don't mean to offend, but several professors I've talked to said that they dislike "non-traditional students" (students who didn't go straight from high school to college) because they often have the attitude you seem to. Professors are experts in their fields-- having studied for 8, 9, 10 years or more-- and they generally don't appreciate being questioned by students who've been studying their subject for less than four years. Professors assign the work they do for a reason, and if they had every student asking to do an alternative assignment, they'd never get anything done. Maybe that's reasonable and maybe it isn't, but it's part of the system.
posted by chickletworks at 2:33 PM on May 6, 2007

Response by poster: Mrs Hilksom

Thanks,..thats all great advice, but I'm already doing all of that. I've signed up with the local "Habitat for Humanity" to do computer training classes for new homeowners. I've also signed up with another local non-profit to be their "IT Intern". As well as my freelance/consulting business during my free time. I'm trying to do what I can with the local community, but I'm finding alot of resistance and feet dragging (like I said, the town I live in is very "conventional" about their thinking) and its very hard to get people to change their habits. Like the Interactive city-map idea. I've met with the Chamber of Commerce and city officials several times but they keep putting me off and re-scheduling the next meeting, so I'm half tempted to just do the project myself. (thats my plan actually when my 401k money gets here)

All of the things stated above are whats making me wonder if I should quit wasting my time here and move some place where the mindset is a little more liberal. (even though I think this place I live in now is the place that needs my help the most)

Thank you Chicletworks for the further thoughts. YES, I do know that I'll probably have to suck it up and "play the game".. but I'm so tired of doing that (and did that for the past 10 years and all I got out of it was my company screwing me over in the end)
posted by jmnugent at 2:43 PM on May 6, 2007

Just a few comments:

I didn't mean to come off as a hard-nosed moral reformer, but your situation (and attitude) is so similar to how mine was I couldn't help but jump on you with both feet.

Why you think the Chamber of Commerce, city officials, and all the other "non-liberal" people in power want input from an unemployed, debt-ridden mooch is beyond me, but I think it is one more thing you should look at.

Chickletworks is right; college changes you in ways you can't even predict, and what I hear you saying is that you want to be guaranteed that you won't have to change and still be successful. Going to college in my 40s changed my thinking in so many ways I can't tell you, but I can tell you it didn't make a conformist out of me.

And "the game" is way above your head right now with where you are. You haven't even begun to identify it, much less know enough about it to refuse to play it.

Mrs Hilksom gave you some good advice; here's some more: don't cash out your 401k. You'll regret the hell out of it 20 years from now. Find another way to get financed.

A man once told me, "If you like what you're getting, keep doing what you're doing." And I'm not trying to come off as too preachy, but another man told me, "If you want something to change something has to change." Think about it. I did.
posted by Pistol at 3:46 PM on May 6, 2007


I don't think you absolutely HAVE to have a degree in order to be an architect. I know for certain that that is the case in Vermont (where I live) and California, and North Carolina. In Vermont, it takes seven years working UNDER an architect, and in California I think it takes three. Same with registered professional engineers (P.E.). Experience and passing the tests are all that's required. (FYI, you can still practice law in Vermont with no law degree, but you have to work under a lawyer for years and still pass the bar.)

If you think you want to be an architect, check the ACTUAL requirements in your state. There may be a path of less resistance to your goal than college.

As far as the value of a college degree, however, it is an indicator that you can make a plan and follow through. (I have always told folks, "If you didn't finish, you didn't go".) As an adult, you may be able to prove that you can make a plan and follow through in other ways that a 24 year old can't, but it's still an indicator that you can function in a formal setting, accomplish assignments, overcome obstacles, and achieve a goal. I think it makes you more rounded, and if you go somewhere other than some silly ass divinity school or Liberty University, you may stand a chance of acquiring additional useful skills!

I second the idea of obtaining CAD skills, too. It'll come in handy for either path.

I hope you get what you are looking for out of life, and wish you luck on your journey.
posted by FauxScot at 3:46 PM on May 6, 2007

Response by poster: Pistol,...

I'm hoping the local Chamber of Commerce and City officials will listen to me because I'm proposing an idea that I think can and will help our local city businesses get more business (in an "economic development" sort of way). As it stands right now, our city has no online "map" of any kind and my solution ( I think) does a pretty good job of helping residents and visitors quickly and easily find the things they need. ( I've built a fully functional "demo" map of around 250 locations in the city and taken it around to 50 or businesses for "feedback" and so far almost all of them love it and keep asking me when it will be up.

No,.. I'm not saying I dont want to change. I understand change.. I've been through alot of change in the past 5 years. I just dont want to waste my time. I think alot of my mindset comes from the fact that I worked my ass of for the past 10 years for a company and in the end got totally dicked over and came out with nothing (and deeply in debt). There is NO WAY i'm going to spend that much time going through college to come out with nothing and in deep debt (again).

Actually. I DO know the game. I just dont want to play it anymore. I've worked for Microsoft and HP.. I've worked in other big companies. I was the only IT person for an entire school district. So I know all different ways to "play the game".. I just am burned out on it ... I think its fake and superficial..and I dont want to do it anymore. (which I think explains why I'm so happy working for myself right now doing random freelance consulting jobs)

As for my 401k.. I wish I didnt have to cash it out.. but at the moment, I dont have any other options. The 2 credit cards are on my ass for payments and I dont have a reliable job, I have to do something to get money to live off of while I continue the job search. I had 3 good interviews last week for local companies that seem pretty cool to work for (one has already called me back saying I'm their top candidate).. so my feeling is I should have a good job here in a few weeks (hopefully a night job, so I can follow up on daytime projects like the city-map idea)..
posted by jmnugent at 4:10 PM on May 6, 2007

I didn't notice you saying what area - or what kind of area - you're in, but in a reasonably metropolitan area of North America you should be able to parlay 10 years of IT skills into a freelance career (think: the small businesses who liked your map) that can support your debt. I think this is job #1: you can use the skills-a-plenty you do have to take the weight off your back (debt) and provide you with the room to go to school with (flexible schedule). Now, of course this requires you to be the kind of person who is good at drumming up business for themselves, but as we've seen with your map initiative you are capable of approaching people cold.

Also consider that if those 50 businesses paid $100 each to be on that map that you would then have $5000, 25% of your debt. 200 businesses paying $100 each would axe your debt completely. Stuff like this is doable and would lead to your goals unless there really are only 150 businesses who would partipate.

As a presumably single dude who is in a low-rent situation, having IT skills could get you to debt-free existence and time for architecture school and working for the betterment of your fellow man.

As an aside, architecture school rarely leads to the jobs people think of when they think they want to go to architecture school. You might be better served with city planning or civil engineering.
posted by rhizome at 5:49 PM on May 6, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks rhizome

Actually.. the thought of charging for my city-map idea has already crossed my mind. (that was my original idea, to charge businesses $100 a year for a listing)

However, there are two kinds of businesses in my town. Those who are already paying $400 a year to be members of the Chamber of Commerce, and those who dont see the point in paying anyone, anything.

So I either have to convince existing members to jump ship and pay me... and/or convince non-members that there are benefits to paying me.

I thought partnering with the local Chamber of Commerce would help me jumpstart my map. BUT.. since I've gotten such a poor response from them.. I'm tempted to use the money i cash out of my 401K to buy a laptop/wireless and finish the idea on my own.

I do already run my own self-employed PC consulting business. Some months the business is great, other months (like March) the business completely sucked. Thats why I'm trying to find a night-shift job... for a reliable paycheck. In an ideal scenario, I'd like to stay self-employed, if I can work all the angles to pay the bills.
posted by jmnugent at 6:44 PM on May 6, 2007

I've heard that Architecture is very much a young man's field, as in it would be hard to get a job right out of school at your age. I would check out the job possibilities after graduation for someone your age because age discrimination still does exist.
posted by magikker at 8:12 PM on May 6, 2007

OK, a few corrections to make (apologies if I step on any toes):

chickletworks: the maths required for architecture are actually pretty basic. It's the endless hours in studio that kill you, not the math. If you were going to be a structural engineer your technical training would be more intense, but architects don't have to worry so much.

Mrs Hilksom: the average joe can teach themselves CAD in much less than two years; if JM has 10yrs IT experience then s/he will have no trouble picking it up, even more advanced stuff like autoLISP (which only CAD managers really use, and that's not what JM wants to do anyway). Also, the CAD monkeys don't actually do any design; they follow markups from the project architect. I hate to belittle a valuable technical skill but CAD knowledge by itself tends to be a dead-end, career-wise. You won't make a whole lot, either; there are plenty of green architecture grads willing to do redlines for cheap.

FauxScot: you can design certain smaller projects (esp. residential) without a license, and on larger projects you can convince a record architect to stamp your drawings (basically accepting legal responsibility for your work). You have to be licensed to legally call yourself an architect and stamp drawings yourself. There are a couple of paths to achieving licensure, but the best way is to get an accredited degree, do 3 years of internship (the IDP program) and then pass all the ARE exams. Barring that, you can sometimes substitute for an accredited degree with comparable work experience, but it depends on the state in which you intend to become licensed. And anyway, you would miss _so_ much by not going to school.

magikker: it's funny you say that; a "young architect" is lucky to establish a successful practice before they hit 50. Nearly every memorable architect did their best work toward the end of their life, when they had decades of experience to draw on.

jmnugent: I don't know enough to say, but I think you might be successful in planning. You might look into getting a GIS certificate (quick and easy for someone with your experience) and applying to a city planning department. Once you get that first job in the field, adaptability and experience count for more than educational credentials. The higher-level jobs often have a grad degree as a prerequisite, but connections and experience would compensate, I think. It's not like architecture, where the licensure is actually a legal requirement.

All of that said, be prepared to be poor. Everyone seems to think that architects live a caviar lifestyle; it just ain't so. Ditto for planning, but a GIS tech can command a decent salary because it's a specialized skill.
posted by Chris4d at 11:04 AM on May 7, 2007

I'm like you. I too think that education's becoming more about conformity than about following your own passions and actually learning. Whether colleges and universities follow the latter really depends - my first uni claimed to do so but never really did, the one I'm in now actually encourages it (and is flexible with alternative coursework). The only reason I'm in uni now is to please my parents; given the choice, I would much rather be doing the things I already was doing without the degree. I can get jobs, pursue opportunities, etc.

That said. There are college dropouts that succeed, and college grads who can't do anything with their life. And vice versa. The defining trait amongst those who succeed, degree or no degree, is that they don't let their circumstances define them. They find ways to succeed regardless of what they have or don't have. It's not the degree that defines them; it's themselves.

I'm sure that there is at least one person in the world that has gone into urban planning without a degree. I want to do youth work, but in Australia (where I am, and where most jobs value experience over degrees) I need a Masters in Social Work (for certification's sake). To get the Masters I need a SW Bachelors. I'm already doing a Bachelors in Creative Industries and really don't want to spend more time in uni. Just recently I found a youth arts organization that regularly hires a Youth Worker Trainee for a 6-month (or so) period, who then moves up or around. EXACTLY what I want to do, with no specific degree requirements. You don't even need a degree, just drive and passion. Heck, my CI degree actually becomes an advantage.

Look around for someone who is doing what you want to do and ask how they did it. In the book "What Colour Is Your Parachute?" the writer suggests looking for someone who has faced your circumstances (in your case, your lack of degree) and made it anyway - they become the best inspiration.
posted by divabat at 4:10 AM on June 29, 2007

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