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Thread: Things to do to prepare for grad school?

  1. #1
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    Things to do to prepare for grad school?

    Hey all!

    I'm a few months out of my undergraduate studies at the University of WI - Milwaukee where I got a BA in French and Sociology, a minor in Economics, and a certificate in Urban planning (no Bachelor's program available). I currently work in market research in Chicago (with my French degree) and I'm looking at going back to school to get my Master's in Urban Planning (or similar) in Fall 2014.

    So since most of the application deadlines would be in late Fall 2013, I'm wondering: what should I be doing now to prepare? As it is, I try to get involved in local opportunities that have to do with urban planning and "community organizing." An example is the participatory budgeting process new to some aldermanic wards here in Chicago. I also write a blog about local issues but I'm not sure if that is really a plus all the time.

    Has anyone else done anything that they feel strengthened their applications to a graduate program? I know I'm thinking early, I don't even know exactly where I want to apply I was looking at Berkeley and Rutger's, and of course UIC here in Chicago, as well as some schools abroad. My primary interest is transportation planning.

    Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    You should be studying the urban forms in the south of France. Maybe extend over into Tuscany. Seriously, you have a year to kill. Take advantage of it and travel. If you feel a need to do something to show on your grad school applications, do a blog highlighting interesting planning-related ideas and contrasting different approaches to planning, transportaion, and urban form. Maybe go somewhere in North Africa like Tangiers and take in the Muslim approach to planning, noting the difference between the colonial influences and the indiginous approach. Send articles back to US mags and newspapers.

    I sure wish I had been given this advice lo those many years ago.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally posted by Otis View post
    You should be studying the urban forms in the south of France. Maybe extend over into Tuscany. Seriously, you have a year to kill. Take advantage of it and travel. If you feel a need to do something to show on your grad school applications, do a blog highlighting interesting planning-related ideas and contrasting different approaches to planning, transportaion, and urban form. Maybe go somewhere in North Africa like Tangiers and take in the Muslim approach to planning, noting the difference between the colonial influences and the indiginous approach. Send articles back to US mags and newspapers.

    I sure wish I had been given this advice lo those many years ago.
    Thanks for the advice! Unfortunately, I work full-time, so I don't have a ton of time to go abroad and study the urban form. I am planning a trip over there next summer, however, and plan on using some of that time to do a little observation. My job may also require me to travel to Romania, which would be interesting.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    A current graduate planning student, I recommend reading The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler. Unlike other reads, it has a strong argument and is just a really enjoyable book. It's not about urban planning in technical terms, but rather how we should be re-thinking our urban environments.

    For transit, a fun book I'm currently reading is Straphanger by Taras Grescoe. It looks at transit system in a dozen world cities from a personal perspective and I think can be a great book for getting regular cities more informed about how transit can be a good thing compared to just personal cars.

  5. #5
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    Don't wait eight years to go to grad school.
    Oddball
    Why don't you knock it off with them negative waves?
    Why don't you dig how beautiful it is out here?
    Why don't you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?
    From Kelly's Heroes (1970)


    Are you sure you're not hurt ?
    No. Just some parts wake up faster than others.
    Broke parts take a little longer, though.
    From Electric Horseman (1979)

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally posted by JNA View post
    Don't wait eight years to go to grad school.
    Although a break is nice before graduate school. It allows you to be more focused and have a better idea of what you want out of your schooling. This coming from someone who had a 2 week break between undergrad and graduate school.

    To the OP, just get as much practical planning experience as you can. There's often a huge difference between what you learn in school and how the real world operates. Something may sound interesting in school but might be totally different or unfeasible when you get down to actually doing it in your career. So it's a good idea to get experience to narrow down what you want to focus on. For example, you may like transit now but your opinion could be changed if you understand the realities facing most transit systems. I think it's best to come into planning with your eyes wide open to the challenges you'll likely face.
    Last edited by Blide; 30 Nov 2012 at 1:45 PM.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    I'll second that, the Geography of Nowhere is fantastic!

    Quote Originally posted by Ev14 View post
    I recommend reading The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler.
    I'll second that, the Geography of Nowhere is fantastic!

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    I'd start brushing up on stats. It's a really valuable skill and I'm pretty sure all MURP programs require it. I'm in school now and that was the one class most of my cohort struggled with during the first year. As a planner friend of mine once said, "It's mighty handy to be able to defend your numbers"

  9. #9
    Geography of Nowhere is a bit dated. And Kunstler is kind of nuts. I mean, a lot of what he says is true, but it's like listening to the crazy guy who shows up at public hearings and rails about Satan. The book can basically be summed up thusly: Suburbs And SUVs Will Destroy the World And Our Souls, Unless They're Destroyed By the Impending Oil Crash, But Oh Wait That Was Before The Recent Colossal Natural Gas Discoveries That Will Enable a Hydrocarbon-Based Society For Another 500 Years, Unless We Drown From Global Warming.

    My advice for what to do before grad school? Go do all the stuff you won't have time to do once you start grad school.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post

    My advice for what to do before grad school? Go do all the stuff you won't have time to do once you start grad school.
    This. Plus learn some bartending skills to bide your time after graduation. And the parties will be different, so get your conversation skills in order.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  11. #11
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    Thanks everyone! To respond to some of the suggestions, I have been trying to find out if transit is really what I want to do. I'm fairly certain it is, but we'll see how the climate is. Right now, I'm fairly optimistic that the tide is turning toward a less car-dependent future for American cities. I'm actually getting involved in Chicago's participatory budgeting process, which is happening in the aldermanic ward I'm living in. I hope that I can be a part of the process that can bring some great bike/pedestrian infrastructure to my area.

    I just visited New York City for a long weekend with a friend, and found some of their bike infrastructure pretty cool aside from the exorbitant expense, I wouldn't mind going to school out there. I also love Chicago. I'll really have to look if anyone has any suggestions on US-based cities to go to school in, that would be welcome (I really don't feel comfortable studying urban planning far away from a place where I'd like to work).

    I've been interested in stats for a while, but never got any formal certification in it. A personal hobby of mine is both graphic design and computer programming... does anyone know if those are helpful (I'm assuming the latter is more useful).

    I have a 3.6 from the University of WI - Milwaukee where I double-majored (French and Sociology focus in urban sociology)/got a minor (Economics)/and a certificate (Urban planning) in 3 years. Applying to grad schools is still a year or so away, but does anyone have any knowledge of how good that might be if I decided to apply for teaching assistantships or grants to help me pay for school? Right now UIC is looking attractive since I'd get in-state tuition, but if the funding lines up, anywhere would be attractive.

    Thanks again for the input you all've already offered!

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by shaun.jacobsen View post
    I have been trying to find out if transit is really what I want to do. I'm fairly certain it is, but we'll see how the climate is. Right now, I'm fairly optimistic that the tide is turning toward a less car-dependent future for American cities.
    Just keep in mind that your experience with transit in Chicago and New York is going to be quite different than what you'll find in smaller cities. The benefits of public transit are not quite so obvious in many locations so it can be a hard sell to the public.

    If you're interested in stats and programing, I'd look into transportation demand modeling. Transportation planners are always trying to project traffic data so they can implement road improvements before they're needed. So their models factor in changes in growth, land use, traffic patterns, road widths, etc. It can be a pretty involved process to collect and then create a model based on all that data.

    As for schools, there's only a handful that are known for their generous financial aid. The rest are pretty hit and miss. If I recall, the only generous school that's in a major city is Georgia Tech. Fortunately for you, it's known to have a good transportation planning program.

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