My 8 Reasons to Go to Planning School

Graduation can be a very stressful time for a planning student. Do you take that entry-level position with the local planning agency? Or do you commit to another couple of years of school?

While both options can be great for your career — how do you determine what is best for your future?

I was at this same crossroad when I graduated with an urban studies degree from Loyola Marymount University. The benefits of jumping into the workforce were obvious — more money, no school. The benefits of graduate school were less clear. However, after a lot of research, soul-searching, financial planning, and mentor consultations, I determined that graduate school would be the best step for me in accomplishing my career goals.  

Here are my eight reasons to go to planning school.

1. Networking Opportunities

Attending planning school will expand your professional network by introducing you to students, faculty, and alumni. These connections can greatly increase your chances of starting a career in planning.

2. Expand Your Knowledge

While the planning field is generally interdisciplinary, planning school will allow you to dive deeper into your desired interest or concentration, further enhancing your knowledge and experience. The writing, research, and technical work that is required in your coursework will be directly applicable to the skills that are needed in the planning field.

The author presenting his capstone project to Dr. Brian Taylor at UCLA’s Careers, Capstones, and Conversations: A Networking Event. Photo courtesy UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

3. It's Rewarding!

While in school, you will also be able to work on a wide range of projects and research. The capstone project or thesis in particular, can be the vital piece that sets you and other candidates apart during the interview process.  

4. Access to the APA Community

The APA hosts many national, regional, and local events throughout the year. These events allow members to network, and learn about what fellow planners are up to. Student members receive discounted pricing to many of these events.

Young and Emerging Planning Professionals of the Los Angeles Section of APA's California Chapter host a career panel for aspiring planners. Photo by Rachel Roque.

5. AICP Certification

Planners with master’s degrees from accredited universities are eligible for the AICP exam at least a year earlier than those with those without a degree. According to the 2016 APA/AICP Planners Salary Survey, the typical AICP member earns $16,100 more in salary than non-AICP members.

6. Your Degree Gives You Job Options

Planning degrees allow you to work in a wide-range of sectors (public, nonprofit, private). A planning degree will also help prepare you for a career in academia.

7. Flexibility to Explore

If you’re still trying to figure out what career you’d like to pursue, committing to school (opposed to a full-time job) allows you to intern in a wide-range of fields and sectors. You can "test the waters" before you commit.

8. Having a Master's Degree Leads to More Job Opportunities

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Urban and Regional Planners need a master’s degree from an accredited program to qualify for most positions." According to the APA’s 2016 APA/AICP Planners Salary Survey, 51 percent of planners have masters degrees in planning.

About the Author

Lance MacNiven is a transportation planner with WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff. MacNiven earned a master's degree in Urban and Regional Planning from UCLA in June 2016, and also serves as the Region 6 representative for APA's Student Representatives Council.

Top image: UCLA hosts the 2016 APA Los Angeles Student Symposium: Social Justice and Community Engagement. Photo by Sarah Mercurio.


August 18, 2016

By Lance MacNiven