Ann Forsyth's blog

Ann Forsyth is professor of Urban Planning at Harvard University.
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Finding Planning Schools

Confused about where to study planning? Of course there’s the Planetizen guide but in the United States two free sources of information provide extensive lists of potential schools.

Visiting Planning Schools: What (Not) to Do

The fall is high season for school visits from prospective students. I am a great believer in doing this remotely—while some greenhouse gases are generated by a Google search it is far less than a plane ride to a distant campus. I suggest visiting schools only after you have been admitted (and not even then if you don’t have a really crucial question that can only be answered on site). However, if you can’t bring yourself to even apply to a school in a place you’ve never visited, and promise to buy carbon set asides, a tour may be worth it. The following tips can help you make the most of the school.

Making Sense of Information: Using Sources in Planning School

With the semester starting, students are beginning to focus on assignments and other project work. Today there is a great deal of information available for planners, but that can lead students to be overwhelmed (and use only a few available sources) or uncertain about how to use those sources that are available. Fortunately universities are coming up with resources to help students untangle these issues. My own institution just launched the very helpful The following tips are adapted from my guide for students doing final projects and theses (link at the end of this entry).

Applying to Graduate School in Planning: Writing a Good Statement of Purpose

Summer is the time to start thinking about graduate school applications typically due in the late fall and early spring. Previous blogs have looked at how to investigate if planning is for you, find the right program, apply, and decide which offer to take up. This blog looks in more detail at the statement of purpose or letter of intent, an important part of the application packet. The following tips will help you craft a compelling statement:

Finding Planners with Shared Interests: The Post-Graduation Experience

In recent months many planning students have graduated and are moving on to the next phase of life—jobs, internships, fellowships, and such. For many this will involve a move to a new place. Even those staying in the same metropolitan area will seldom make it back to their planning program, and besides their fellow students will have scattered. Graduate school provides a peer group of those with similar interests and training. How do recent graduates create such a network when they are no longer in residence at a university?

Skills in Planning: Writing Content-Free Planning Documents

For many students graduate school is the time to learn how to write professional reports and memos. One of the skills many planning students seem eager to master is writing the content-free document. This kind of writing is a little tricky to do. Accordingly, in this last blog in my series on planning skills I provide tips on how to create sentences, paragraphs, and whole reports and PowerPoint presentations that convey the absolute minimum of important information.


Titles should never reveal the actual content of the report. This is the guideline I find easiest to follow myself.

Tips on Gainful Unemployment for New Planners

In the United States the stimulus package will eventually kick in to create jobs for planners—in housing, transportation, design and such. However, in upcoming months students graduating from planning schools face a situation they typically had not planned on—where unemployment is relatively high and employers are hesitant about taking on new people. As I have been pointing out to my students, this is not the first time in the history of the world that such a situation has occurred. The following tips draw on my own observations of successful strategies for weathering such downturns.

Deciding if You Want to be a Planner

Not sure if you want to be a planner? Recently my colleagues and I have received a spate of emails from prospective students around the world wanting to know whether planning is a field they should pursue. Their extensive lists of questions show that this is a pressing issue for them. This entry answers some of the more common questions and aims to help prospective students come to programs with a shorter and more focused set of topics to explore.

Finding a First Job in Planning

Finding a first full-time “real” job in planning seems a daunting task at present. However, cities are growing, infrastructure is being funded, and there will be jobs for planners. The following tips can help one navigate the market.

Be prepared to go to Kansas. By this I mean that there are certain places much loved by young planners—New York, Boston, San Francisco—and these are not the best places to start looking for early planning jobs. Sure they have them. For low pay. Where you’ll find yourself at the very bottom of the totem pole with years of photocopying ahead of you before you make it to the zoning counter.

Recap on Two Years of Advice

Two years ago the Planetizen editors asked me to contribute a monthly blog posting. The first one appeared in February 2007 and I have managed to submit posts monthly for two years. In accepting the assignment, I decided that I needed to have an angle. I write, teach, and practice about the substance of planning so I decided to do something else—provide advice for students on how to enter and succeed in planning programs. Martin Krieger at USC already provided a terrific advice column for doctoral students so I decided to focus on students in professional planning programs.