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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.

Ann Forsyth | April 5, 2009, 8am PDT
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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.

  • Is Planning for Me?
  • Will there be Jobs for Planners in the Future?
  • Where do Planners Work?
  • How do I Know which Programs are Good for What?
  • What if I Have a Really Specific Interest?

Is Planning for Me?

Finding out if planning is for you involves looking at what planners do.

Will there be Jobs for Planners in the Future?

Yes there will be jobs for planners. The world is urbanizing creating issues that need to be solved in cities and regions. The importance of natural systems becoming more and more apparent, but many environmental fields are becoming highly specialized, leaving a gap that planners can fill.

Where do Planners Work?

Planners may do this work in government, for the private sector that is often working for government, or in nonprofit groups. There are lots of different locations for planning work.

How Do I Choose a Planning Program?

Read my earlier column on finding the right program and applying to graduate school (scroll down to find my advice about how to investigate graduate schools).

In that entry I give the following tips:

  • In the United States find planning programs at http://www.planningaccreditationboard.org/index.php?id=30, non-accredited at http://www.acsp.org/CareerInfo/Non-Accredited_ACSP_Member_Schools.html, and affiliated schools at http://www.acsp.org/CareerInfo/AffiliateMemberSchools.htm. Other countries have similar lists,
  • Then, as I said in my earlier post: "to make a short list the first things to do are to read and listen." Look at web sites, read the program materials, look at what faculty have done (it is typically listed on the school web sites or can be Googled) and read their work. Do the classes offered interest you? What about research centers and outreach projects? Did some of the faculty write articles you found interesting when doing your initial reading (above)? Does student work on the web sites look relevant? My rule of thumb is to go somewhere where at least two faculty members do work that really interests you and where the students look interesting too.
  • You can also visit schools for open houses and look on campus. However, as I said in my earlier post on applying to graduate school: "in my experience it does not help your chances of admission to visit a school before being admitted. Some schools receive hundreds of applicants. Don't expect faculty to put aside their other tasks to meet or answer detailed email questions before you have been admitted-their priority is students already in the program and doing the work that makes you interested in studying with them."
    Sure you can visit. It can help you decide if you want to apply. I meet with dozens of such students each year. But you can find out a lot without burning fossil fuel to get to a distant campus.

How do I Know which Programs are Good for What?

If you have done all the investigation I suggest above you should know which programs have interesting classes, students, projects, and faculty. While Planetizen does have its ranking there is really no substitute for this work.

What if I Have a Really Specific Interest?

There are two options for those with specific interests.

  • If it is some common area like urban design or transportation then pick programs that have that emphasis (faculty, courses, projects). However, don't forget that many people evolve new interests in graduate school so its risky to go to a place with just one focus.
  • If your area is not a typical subfield of planning or is at the intersection of planning and other areas--planning for food systems, universal design and planning-you need a more complicated approach. Pick a place with some combination of the following:
    • At least one faculty member with a minor or major interest in the topic and a few more who might have overlapping concerns.
    • Classes across campus and a planning program with plenty of electives so that you can do those classes.
    • Dual degrees in place that will allow you to explore your interests.
In general, there is no substitute for reading, going to conferences, attending planning meetings-all part of a thorough investigation into topics that presumably interest you and a field that may be your future.

 

This is the March blog entry delayed. Other earlier blogs may be of interest including several on getting into graduate school in planning: how to find the right program, apply, and decide which offer to take up. In addition I have written about how to make the most of being a student and when (not) to email experts.
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