WHAT IT TAKES: a degree in urban planning, environmental policy, or design
TOP SCHOOLS: planning schools that have a good balance of physical planning, design, and policy, including Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Pennsylvania
WHAT IT PAYS: $30,000 to $40,000 starting salary at a nonprofit, depending on education; expect to make 10 to 20 percent more working for a municipal government and 30 to 50 percent more in the private sector
WHO'D BE INTO IT: detail-driven, research-loving, enthusiastically nerdy types who hunger for complex challenges and grasp the implications of the political process on people's lives
HOT SPOTS: Washington, D.C.; state capitals; and large cities
ROLE MODEL: Payton Chung, age 27, research coordinator at the Congress for the New Urbanism in Chicago
PLANETARY POWER: The congress promotes walkable communities and better urban planning. Chung was involved in launching the first national certification and rating system for green neighborhoods.
WORDS OF WISDOM: "There are lots of opportunities in whatever field or position you're in to act on your ideals. Regardless of where your expertise lies, you can find ways to apply your knowledge."