If you’ve decided to get a Planning degree, I think (with no bias, of course) you’ve made an excellent choice. As a certified Planner, you’ll be able to apply your craft in a number of areas.
Just a few that I encounter on a regular basis*:
Private Consultants – This is what I do. You work for a private (i.e. not government) company, or yourself if you are a risk-taker. You may work as a planner, urban designer, etc. and will be hired by Cities, agencies, developers, etc. to undertake a variety of projects and provide your best professional recommendations. Most of the posts on this blog will focus on the life of a private consultant, though this can vary greatly depending on your chosen field (i.e. urban design, traditional land use planning, etc.).
Municipal Planner – When you tell people you’re a Planner, this is what they’re going to think you mean (oh, you work for “the City”). As a Municipal Planner, you work for a City, Town, etc. Cities are generally divided into departments, which might include Policy, Urban Design, Transportation, Community Planning, etc. and your role will vary depending on which department you work for.
After hiring a Private Consultant to undertake a project, Municipal Planners will manage the project on their end, enforcing deadlines, arranging public meetings, and generally keeping the consultants in line. Once a consultant finishes a project, the Municipal Planner is required to submit a report of the key findings, and their recommendations (which may not always jive with the Consultants), to Council for approval.
Another key role of Municipal Planners is to review development applications. Prior to any development, a detailed submission package (i.e. drawings, application forms, and fees, fees, fees) must be submitted to the City for review and approval. Municipal Planners can handle this in-house, or for more contentious applications, hire Private Consultants to undertake a Peer Review.
Agency – Many agencies, such as Metrolinx, MMAH, Canada Lands Company, etc. have planners on staff. Still, to avoid a conflict of interest, and ensure an unbiased process, most planning and design-related projects will be undertaken by Private Consultants, with the on-staff agency planner working as Project Manager (similar to the Municipal Planning process above).
Development Planner – Large development companies will generally have planners and urban designers on staff to help them navigate the planning approvals process, and (ideally… but definitely not always) provide input into the development of a plan to ensure it reflects good planning and design.
These are just a few of the fields in which you can apply your Planning expertise. Of my classmates at both Dalhousie and Waterloo, I know people who have used their planning degree to get jobs with non-profits, start their own related businesses, and all types of other things.
*To any of my friends and colleagues who are employed in any of these positions, I apologize for my bastardized descriptions that greatly undersell what you do. I look forward to exploring opportunities for guest posts so you can tell your side of the story.