Planetizen - Urban Planning News, Jobs, and Education

Ann Forsyth's blog

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.

Skills in Planning: Writing Literature Reviews

Terrorized by the literature is the title of a chapter of Howard Becker’s excellent book, Writing for Social Scientists (1986, Chicago). Whether through terror or misunderstanding, the literature review is one of the areas that students in planning find most confusing. While I have dealt with the literature review briefly in my blog on writing proposals, the tips below provide more detailed advice on how to compose a literature review and how to find important literature in the age of information overload. 

Skills in Planning: The Planning Portfolio

With the return to prominence of physical planning and increasing use of GIS, planning students are becoming interested in developing portfolios of their work. This blog entry provides tips for this process exploring why portfolios are useful, who they are aimed at, and how to design the portfolio. It provides many of the resources needed to design your own!

Skills in Planning: The Time vs. Quality Opportunity Curve

Recently I’ve been writing about skills that planners need—the findings from surveys of employers and the key role or writing in the planning skill set. Skills like writing, graphics, data analysis, and the ability to listen are obviously important. As Ethan Seltzer and Connie Ozawa’s 2002 survey found, however, several more general skills are also key. I reported these in an earlier blog and they include: working well with the public and with colleagues, being a self-starter, being able to finish work on time and on budget, and understanding public needs.