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I don't know what to study!

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Hello everyone,


I'm having a bit of a conundrum! I'm just about ready to graduate with my bachelor's degree in Urban Studies (with a specialization in urban planning). This is something I'm really passionate about and like very much.


Since the field I want to work in (real estate development) all but requires a master's degree to even enter the field, I'm going to get my master's soon after. The problem is this:


I'm not sure which exact master's degree I should aim for as I'm not sure which sector of development I want to work in (project development/planning or project investments/finances). Here are my two choices:


1) International Management. This would also open me up to a field of work outside of real estate should I actually decide it's not for me. Basically, getting a master's in international management wouldn't specifically train me for a job in investment/development but it would also offer me a cushion for other fields such as multinational firms, etc. Within the scope of real estate development, I would imagine that a M.Sci in this field would allow me to work as a project development organizer for overseas projects, liaise with international firms, etc.


2) Accounting, finance and economic management. This specifically trains me for a career in investment/development that interests me but might pigeonhole me should it not work out. I am not the best at math, but corporate finance (oddly enough) is infinitely interesting to me as well as the mechanics behind investing, etc. I really fear that a degree in finance, while offering me possibly greater earning capabilities, would put me into a corner based on the things I could do as a career.


Which career path would open me up to the most interesting/varied choices? Which would be the 'safer' bet? Which would have more earning potential?

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I think if you are after an 'interesting' and 'varied' career path staying in planning would be a great idea. I'm going to be a bit biased though given I've just graduated with a MSc in sustainable planning and environmental policy.


Is money the thing that motivates you the most or is there anything else you are interested in (excuse if that sounds a bit crude!). In the UK there aren't a great deal of jobs for graduates in planning at the moment so I'm moving to Australia for 12 months in December where planners are in demand


In terms of the two courses you mention, International Management sounds great...more varied and can be linked to the sector you studied at BSc level. Would you not want to perhaps study a more specialised area of the planning sector instead though, perhaps urban design or regeneration?

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You will probably disgard my advice as it has to do with my own bias, but I will give you my opinion anyways...


I think the best way to figure out what it is that you want to do is to get into the work force (for even only 1 year) and start at an even lower position. My reason for suggestion this is two-fold:


1) You will never really know which one is right for you until you actually see it in action. You don't have to work in those positions... you just have to be able to kind of watch it from a distance. Try to get a job somewhere where you will see both these types working around you. From there, you will get a sense of the basics and have more clarity in terms of what you want to persue.


2) This is going to sound mean, but I've worked with a lot of people with Masters degrees. Those with high education and low experience usually have two problems. They tend to have a harder time finding a job (if companies are going to spend that kind of money on you, they want to know you have somewhat related experience and can do the job) and when they do get one? I find many of them are extremely hard to work with. Their minds are filled with too much theory and not enough practical experience. They make big, BIG mistakes because they have a hard time assessing a situation for what it is. They are trying to do what school taught them and do everything 'by the book'. In the real world, sometimes you have to forget the book.


I work in a different field, so things may be slightly different - but a great example of this was when someone (with a Masters and low experience) asked me to do a lengthy cost/benefit analysis on a MAJOR systems security breach. Really?? I know that in school it says you should do this for all work orders... but really? The cost is whatever it is and the benefit is that it doesn't get into the media, where many people's sensitive information could be breached and where all of our clients would fire us and we would go bankrupt.


The above is only one of many examples I've encountered. (The guy above was eventually demoted and then fired when I went above his head to the executive committee)


Personally, I think it's best to get out there and get a sense of what things are really like on the ground level - if even for a little while - before persuing your Masters. Those that have? I personally find to be invaluable as they have incredible insight.


That's not to say that all people with Masters and no experience are do-do birds... but it's just my observation and opinion...

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I probably should mention that I work full time in a corporate environment in Manhattan right now. I work in an Italian/American import-export company so I do have experience in the workforce, just not in the exact pinpointed field I want to work in, though at work I *do* use elements which I want to apply in any work I do (I speak Italian and maintain contact with Italy on a daily basis... something I think international management would allow me to continue doing).


I think international management would offer me the better opportunities and wouldn't pigeonhole me. By the time I'll start my master's I'll have had about 2 years' experience in a large corporation so I won't be a total noob.

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I think international management would offer me the better opportunities and wouldn't pigeonhole me.


Clearly it sounds like the international field is what interests you most. It also may be a good track in the sense of its future potential -- so much economic growth is occurring outside the US these days that this type of degree could provide career flexibility.


All that being said, one of the best exercises you can do is find people who are doing the type of work you want to do, preferably colleagues at the office and/or alumni referred to you by your campus career center. Buy them a coffee and ask them how they got to where they did. This is an exercise I had to do as part of an internship in college myself and it was completely eye-opening to talk to different professionals I admired and learn more about their career path. Even though I never entered that field (law) some of the stories they told me about how they were hired and how they knew what they wanted to do were completely fascinating and still stick with me today. As long as they don't perceive you as a professional threat, I suspect everyone you approach would be delighted to sit down with you for a few minutes to explain how they got to where they are. People love talking about themselves. And after asking them about their own career path I'd ask them about your degree dilemma. It's likely they'd have a good sense of what's most valuable in the field.



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My brother studied city planning / course 11 focus on environmental policy and planning and urban information systems at MIT for his master's and he does exactly what you seem to want to do on both a national and international basis (he works mostly out of Florida and Japan). The one thing I will say is that you should be prepared to either take a low-paying job or internship...at first. It's a super competitive field; my brother graduated with top honors and awards from MIT and he's still not really making a good income. The plus side is that he's doing what he loves and he travels a lot for free. He graduated two years ago. Good luck!

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I like planning very much and would be really happy doing that, but I want to use my planning background in a large-scale development company.


I think international management is my best bet. Urban planning + international management = I think I would be a very attractive candidate for international development firms. I want to start small and work my way up, of course.


I'm excited! Thanks for your replies, everyone.

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