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Thread: ADVICE REQUESTED! [Masters in Urban Planning]

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    ADVICE REQUESTED! [Masters in Urban Planning]

    Dear professionals of the urban planning community...

    I've recently been accepted to two programs for a MCP but am having trouble making my decision where to go. It's either Columbia University in New York City or University College London [Bartlett School] in London. My concentration is in urban planning for developing countries with an element in historic preservation. I was wondering if for international planning, does it make sense to go to London? Have any of you guys out there heard good things about the Bartlett School at UCL? Columbia seems to be more US-oriented. I'm also afraid that a UK degree might not be as recognizable when applying for research grants post graduation as opposed to a US degree...

    Any advice would be GREATLY APPRECIATED!!!!

    hl248

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    I don't know much about it. It is my understanding that America can be pretty "elitist" in the sense of hardly recognizing as valid degrees from other countries. But other countries can also be elitist and tend to only recognize as valid degrees from certain American institutions.

    I did briefly look at a dual degree aimed at doing work overseas, where I would have had to learn fluent Spanish. The intent would be to work in South America. I have been back in the USA more than 12 years and started to get "itchy feet" for living outside the U.S. again a few years back. But then I moved to California, which is highly multicultural, and ... I don't know. I just don't long for something else in quite the way I once did. It also just seems impractical to set the bar so high that I can "never" get started on a career. I figure I will finish my education while working to build a business and perhaps some years down the road that will naturally evolve into an opportunity to work overseas or work on international projects or what have you. Or not. Whichever way the road takes me is kind of "fine by me".

    Anyway, you might want to do a little surfing. I doubt anyone here can really give you a definitive answer. I was considering UW in Seattle. But then we left Washington state. UW in Seattle has a bunch of dual degree programs. Er, but, come to think of it, I think I was still looking at degrees in Social Work at the time and various dual degrees involving that. But that is partly how I tripped across some dual degree involving planning... which became more relevant later.

    Probably an utterly useless introspective ramble of an "answer". Oh well.

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    hl248,

    I'm a little surprised that you already received your package from Columbia. I did not complete my application there, but I was in the GSAP office in Avery today visiting a friend and they were quite literally stuffing the envelopes in front of me. Or did Elliot or someone call you ahead of the package?

    I got accepted to GSD (Harvard) and I'm still waiting on MIT and Berkeley. Berkeley told me that they'll start sending out acceptances and rejections by email, alphabetically, next monday (a week from today). I've heard anecdotally that some people have already gotten verbal admission notifications from MIT, starting this weekend.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    hi alfie,

    i called yesterday and the lady at the office was kind enough to tell me over the phone since i told her it was urgent. [i need to get back to UCL by today but i'm probably going to ask for an extension]...i'm also waiting to hear back from MIT and Berkely. MIT should get back to us this week and Berkely on the 29th via email....
    also received an acceptance from U of Washington but their program seems to be more oriented in the Seattle program as opposed to an international platform...

    what do you think about these programs? have you heard anything about the Bartlett program at UCL in London?

    p.s. so glad to have met someone who was going through the same thing as i am!




    Quote Originally posted by Alfie
    hl248,

    I'm a little surprised that you already received your package from Columbia. I did not complete my application there, but I was in the GSAP office in Avery today visiting a friend and they were quite literally stuffing the envelopes in front of me. Or did Elliot or someone call you ahead of the package?

    I got accepted to GSD (Harvard) and I'm still waiting on MIT and Berkeley. Berkeley told me that they'll start sending out acceptances and rejections by email, alphabetically, next monday (a week from today). I've heard anecdotally that some people have already gotten verbal admission notifications from MIT, starting this weekend.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    what about planning on an international level??

    at the risk of sounding so ameri-centric, but i'm afraid that without a MCP from a US college, i will have problems finding a job later or getting grants. i want to work in developing countries and did get accepted into UCL [Bartlett School of Planning] in London but everytime people ask me where i'm planning to attend, they say "UCL?? what's that??"

    I'm afraid that post-grad, i'll run into this problem as well....anyone a planner focused on international planning and development projects??

    [note: UCL is ranked 3 overall after Oxford and Cambridge in the UK and the Bartlett is ranked no. 1 in planning over there]

  6. #6
    maudit anglais
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    I would jump at the chance to study in London. Heck, I'd jump at the chance to study in New York too

    Where is your undergrad from? In my experience, having an international Masters isn't as big a disadvantage as having an international Bachelor's. I would think that a Masters from the UK wouldn't make a difference in getting a job in the USA. I know it wouldn't make a difference here in Canada (or likely anywhere else in the Commonwealth).

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    UCL vs US schools

    I think it depends on what you want to do, hl. If you're interested in international consulting or working for a development ngo, UCL is probably a very good bet and their rep commands quit a bit of cachet from the right type of employer. If, however, you have political ambitions in a US local government or want to be a muni planning head, maybe stick to the US school.

    I recently moved back to the US from London. Remember, that at current exchange rates, its frightfully expensive. Also, you may want to check on the funding situation at UCL and issues like the size of classes and the quality of the equipment in their labs. I've heard that the ratio of instructors/tutors to students at UCL is historically quite abysmal and they've had to put up with a lot of budget cuts lately.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally posted by Alfie
    If, however, you have political ambitions in a US local government or want to be a muni planning head, maybe stick to the US school.
    I can tell you that, without a doubt, any planning degree from an accredited school (whether US or western Europe) will qualify you as a candidate for every entry-level planning position in the US. But you had better be ready and able to define the term "improvement location permit"
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
    "Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy."
    Warren Spahn

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    Columbia versus others?

    Hello,

    First regarding the UCL query (though no doubt you've already made your decision), the UCL program is reported to put you in touch with a lot of international researchers and scholars and is a familiar name to anyone within Europe. Sadly, I missed the application deadlines for many of those schools but would have considered applying. In terms of reputation, though, UCL is definitely a known name (as is columbia).

    I was also accepted to Columbia University UP program for fall 2004 (am actually considering pursuing a joint degree with SIPA) and am interested in which school you decided to attend. It's unclear to me how integrated Columbia's program is in the GSAP or SIPA schools. I have been in touch with some of the administrators, but still can't really get a sense of the program--it's fit within the university and overall sense of community--and the quality of the students. I realize that there is as much, if not more, potential for making contact with international scholars at a place like Columbia (if I make that a priority), but with the limited information I've found I'm tempted to not go and apply to a broader scope of schools for next year.


    The only two school for which I met application deadlines are Columbia and NYU. In the end, those are priority schools for me because I have been living in NYC for 5 years and want to study urban planning in this city (or in another major metropolitan area, differences aside).

    I'm now deciding between the two. Thoughts or advise on the strength of the two programs are most welcome. I'm concerned by some of NYU's requirements and lack of ANY design component, but am VERY impressed by the sense of community among the students and the school's approach to recruiting students. Columbia has not been that great at getting in touch with me.

    Because graduate school is so much what you make of it, I'm tempted to accept at NYU because of the opportunity to feel supported pursuing a number of different projects.

    Sorry for the long-winded note. Any advise or responses to what may be ill-founded observations are most welcome. I need to decide between the two programs (or decide to wait until next year, applying to a broader scope of schools) by APRIL 15.

    Thanks so much,
    Kate

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    Questions on the Columbia program

    I know a little about Columbia's program. Elliot Sclar, who runs it, is really terrific. It has a policy planning orientation, and focuses on planning issues in the biggest cities. Prof Sclar is an economist and his interests revolve around transportaton, access equity, issues in the finance of infrastructure, etc. Right now, the program is based in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation, although there are reports that they may move the program over to SIPA. There is also an initiative underway to develop a capablity in sustainability/environmental issues, in combination with other university programs. One other advantage is access to a sequence of courses on negotiation/conflict resolution courses. Overall, I think its pretty flexible in terms of what you can do with it. I did not complete my application there, because it does not have enough an urban design/studio orientation for me (I'm more of a designer by background), but I really do recommend it.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by LolaP
    Because graduate school is so much what you make of it, I'm tempted to accept at NYU because of the opportunity to feel supported pursuing a number of different projects.
    My big dream at one time was to attend a small, obscure liberal arts college by the name of St. John's. Their curriculum, grading policies, etc, are so different from other colleges and their curriculum so rigid that you cannot transfer into the program from another college without starting over from scratch and, when you graduate, if you want to go on to medical school or law school, you wind up taking "remedial" classes to fill in some of the 'normal' undergrad stuff that is missing from their program. But the program has a solid reputation, the education is very solid and the graduates have no problem getting into Harvard, et al.

    My point: I would suggest you go to NYU. The lack of "design" stuff is not a killer in my mind. You are a whole person and it sounds like moving at this time would be a complicating factor that would make grad school all the harder, psychologically and so forth. And you sound enthused about NYU.

    But please note that I am not a professional planner. I say this as a military wife who has taken classes from something like 9 colleges, a homeschooling mom whose advice on education is sought after by other homeschoolers, and, well, a person who gave up my national merit scholarship and dropped out of college to go Get A Life and Find Myself. I wanted to know what more there was to life than doing well in school and what more there was to me than someone who knew how to do well in school. I returned to college many years later and I am still working on finishing my bachelors, but I do have my certificate in GIS (which is graduate level work) and my associate's in humanities. I do not have a single regret.

    So I would recommend you go where your heart calls you. But that's just me.

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    HL, heard from Berkeley or MIT yet?

    HL,

    Wondering if you heard back from Berkeley and MIT yet?

    I'm in at Harvard GSD and MIT, but I haven't heard anything from Berkeley yet.

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    Quote Originally posted by Alfie
    HL,

    Wondering if you heard back from Berkeley and MIT yet?

    I'm in at Harvard GSD and MIT, but I haven't heard anything from Berkeley yet.
    Thanks for your helpful note, Alfie. I'm not quite sure which way to go but am going to take a closer look at both schools this week. And if I push off for a year, I will definitely broaden my scope to include the schools you applied to.

    Congratulations on your options. I hope you hear back from Berkeley shortly.

    Best,
    Kate

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    Hi Alfie,

    Nope, haven't heard back from neither....Berkely said their FINAL meeting is tomororw then they start to notify via email....MIT claims that they won't give decisions over the phone...how did you hear back so quickly?

    I'm still deciding....what about you? Any thoughts? What are you deciding between?

    HL

    Quote Originally posted by Alfie
    HL,

    Wondering if you heard back from Berkeley and MIT yet?

    I'm in at Harvard GSD and MIT, but I haven't heard anything from Berkeley yet.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian
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    Thanks Kate for your input with regard to UCL...I'm still deciding on the schools...like, Alfie, still waiting to hear back from Berkely....

    As for your siituation, I would personally go for Columbia as opposed to NYU. I went to NYU for undergrad and absolutely HATED it. There was absolute no sense of community and I did not feel supported either by my peers or the faculty. However, this was in the undergard Stern program which has a reputation of being cutthroat, though the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Call me a cynic, but maybe the reason that the NYU folks are very focused in recruiting because they want your tuition. I found that to be very true during my four years at NYU. The whole school is very money-driven [VULTURES!!!!] and I felt like I was gimping around at a corproation, not attending school. However, I don't know anything about the NYU planning program. On the other hand, my sister went to the Columbia program for real estate development which is the same school as for planning and she had a good experience. She said that her classmates were very helpful and supportive and she enjoyed herself immensely.

    The reason why I'm not too keen on Columbia is simply becasue it seems to be very limited in opportunities post-grad, with most of the work in New York City. My focus in more on an international platform. If you check out the alumni pages at the Columbia website, most of them are working for the city, landmark commission, etc, which seems to be up your alley!

    HL


    Quote Originally posted by LolaP
    Hello,

    First regarding the UCL query (though no doubt you've already made your decision), the UCL program is reported to put you in touch with a lot of international researchers and scholars and is a familiar name to anyone within Europe. Sadly, I missed the application deadlines for many of those schools but would have considered applying. In terms of reputation, though, UCL is definitely a known name (as is columbia).

    I was also accepted to Columbia University UP program for fall 2004 (am actually considering pursuing a joint degree with SIPA) and am interested in which school you decided to attend. It's unclear to me how integrated Columbia's program is in the GSAP or SIPA schools. I have been in touch with some of the administrators, but still can't really get a sense of the program--it's fit within the university and overall sense of community--and the quality of the students. I realize that there is as much, if not more, potential for making contact with international scholars at a place like Columbia (if I make that a priority), but with the limited information I've found I'm tempted to not go and apply to a broader scope of schools for next year.


    The only two school for which I met application deadlines are Columbia and NYU. In the end, those are priority schools for me because I have been living in NYC for 5 years and want to study urban planning in this city (or in another major metropolitan area, differences aside).

    I'm now deciding between the two. Thoughts or advise on the strength of the two programs are most welcome. I'm concerned by some of NYU's requirements and lack of ANY design component, but am VERY impressed by the sense of community among the students and the school's approach to recruiting students. Columbia has not been that great at getting in touch with me.

    Because graduate school is so much what you make of it, I'm tempted to accept at NYU because of the opportunity to feel supported pursuing a number of different projects.

    Sorry for the long-winded note. Any advise or responses to what may be ill-founded observations are most welcome. I need to decide between the two programs (or decide to wait until next year, applying to a broader scope of schools) by APRIL 15.

    Thanks so much,
    Kate

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    Gedunker, can you elaborate on "improvement location permit"??

    What do you think about UCL or LSE (London School of Economics) for planning?



    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker
    I can tell you that, without a doubt, any planning degree from an accredited school (whether US or western Europe) will qualify you as a candidate for every entry-level planning position in the US. But you had better be ready and able to define the term "improvement location permit"

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    I also recommend the Columbia program. It really is an up-and-comer in planning, and Elliot is a very innovative (and ambitious) program head.. he's also very supportive of students. If you want to do any design or technology-related work, Columbia really is your only choice vis-a-vis to NYU Wagner, since Wagner lacks the required facilities or faculty (and NYU lacks an architecture program, altogether). The one negative to consider about Columbia is the lack of a planning career services office. For career placement advice, you're really reliant on forming relations with faculty and using your own personal and professional networks, which may be why, as HL pointed out, most people end up working in the NY area.

    Visit both schools (I think you'll find the Columbia facilities to be lightyears ahead of Wagner, and Avery has a leading planning/design/architecture library), talk to as many faculty members as you can and also speak with former students.

    Message me if there's anything other general info you would like about Columbia.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally posted by hl248
    Gedunker, can you elaborate on "improvement location permit"??
    What do you think about UCL or LSE (London School of Economics) for planning?
    "Improvement Location Permit" is the rather mundane term for a building permit in Indiana. A very dear friend with a Masters In Urban Planning from UNC worked with me and went on an interview for a job with a major engineering/planning consultant and was asked to define it. He was completely stumped and believed he lost the job because of it. My point is that the public sector in planning compels a certain apprenticeship much the way engineering and architecture do. No matter the university degree -- the grunt work is still going to have to be done, and it is that that will set a planner on a path toward a directorship more so than the degree. The degree is important to getting the job in the first place, particularly with bigger cities.

    I can't comment on either school you cited. I can say that a focus in economics will tend to benefit a planner in only the largest jurisdictions or in smaller jurisidctions that are actively doing public/private partnerships in housing and mixed use redevelopments. Others here could probably speak better to this question, such as Cardinal.
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
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    Thanks so much for the advice. I'm originally from England (and Canada) and know that the LSE is world-renowned. However, the facilities are reputed to not be as strong as at, say, the AA, so it's really hard to know unless you've had a chance to visit. One other factor to consider is that in England you can start graduate programs at a younger age. You should really ask what the average age of the program is, because it may be frustrating for you if you're in school with a bunch of 20 year olds.

    Please do keep us updated on where you both decide to go. I am considering saying no to Wagner and Columbia and reapplying to a larger range of programs next year, so your advice and thoughts are very helpful.

    I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed figuring out what sort of focus will help land better jobs post-grad. I think I need to find a program that will help me balance international economic development with a little bit of planning, but worry that the creative in my will miss the opportunity to work in a studio on more design-focused issues.

    As for NYU, I'm worried about the academic quality of the classes (sat in on one that was abysmmal), but feel that I will indeed have a better chance securing a job because of their career services office and the practical emphasis. I found out that I can take design courses at Pratt to round out the focus, and I may have funding options.

    At columbia, I worry about lack of support and their notorious attitude towards financial aid. Though I have a feeling that a dual degree from SIPA might help me find an internationally focused job. And to be honest, the program sounds a bit more academically rigorous.

    I realize that neither of you are considering these schools, but if anyone else has thoughts on these two programs or others to be considered, please let me know.

    Thanks so much.

  20. #20
    Member annie's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by LolaP
    Thanks so much for the advice. I'm originally from England (and Canada) and know that the LSE is world-renowned. However, the facilities are reputed to not be as strong as at, say, the AA, so it's really hard to know unless you've had a chance to visit. One other factor to consider is that in England you can start graduate programs at a younger age. You should really ask what the average age of the program is, because it may be frustrating for you if you're in school with a bunch of 20 year olds.

    Please do keep us updated on where you both decide to go. I am considering saying no to Wagner and Columbia and reapplying to a larger range of programs next year, so your advice and thoughts are very helpful.

    I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed figuring out what sort of focus will help land better jobs post-grad. I think I need to find a program that will help me balance international economic development with a little bit of planning, but worry that the creative in my will miss the opportunity to work in a studio on more design-focused issues.

    As for NYU, I'm worried about the academic quality of the classes (sat in on one that was abysmmal), but feel that I will indeed have a better chance securing a job because of their career services office and the practical emphasis. I found out that I can take design courses at Pratt to round out the focus, and I may have funding options.

    At columbia, I worry about lack of support and their notorious attitude towards financial aid. Though I have a feeling that a dual degree from SIPA might help me find an internationally focused job. And to be honest, the program sounds a bit more academically rigorous.

    I realize that neither of you are considering these schools, but if anyone else has thoughts on these two programs or others to be considered, please let me know.

    Thanks so much.
    I haven't heard great things about either of those programs. I don't think that NYU is that strong academically, and the Columbia program is barely hanging on (somebody told me that Yale should annex it to New Haven because Yale disbanded their planning program overnight in 1969, but has the resources, faculty and location for a fantastic program).

    Plus, in general, schools in NYC have little community cohesion because people are spread out all over the city, and disperse as soon as classes are over. It's somewhat unfortunate that there are no decent planning schools in NYC or DC!

    Unfortunately, I don't know much about internationally focused planning, but you should look at the interests/international experience of the faculty, because it's faculty connections that may be the best route for landing a job. If you were asking about Active Living, I could spout out every single remotely affiliated program!

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    With respect to Annie, I have to disagree with her about Columbia.. The program has an excellent reputation, with record applicants year-on-year for the last 4 or 5 years, and the university has a high degree of commitment to it. I think Elliot Sclar has done exciting things with it, since he took over, and now that the last vestiges of the Tschumi regime are gone and the threat of Zaha (her candidacy for the GSAP deanship, which was resented by most of the planners and just about everyone else) has dissipated, I think that the program will remain within GSAP instead of moving to SIPA, as has been rumored (my suspicion is that those rumors were started from within the program to help quash the Zaha appointment. Several key initiatives are under way, particularly on the sustainability and international side, and a full suite of studio and urban design courses are being added (something that was lacking for a long while).

    Of course, I'll caveat all of this by saying that the search for a GSAP dean is still underway, so, of course, policy may change when they find one, but its important to note that the senior planning faculty members are on the search committee, in key positions. In any case, if GSAP ever decides that it doesn't want the program (extremely unlikely), SIPA would grab it in a minute.

    I didn't apply there because I already have a couple of degrees from the university, but I most certainly would have had this not been the case.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    Alfie,

    Any word from Berkeley?

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    Berkeley - no word

    Nope. None for me, or for the three others I know who are waiting as well. If I do hear by the end of the day, I'm going to stop caring :p

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally posted by Alfie
    Nope. None for me, or for the three others I know who are waiting as well. If I do hear by the end of the day, I'm going to stop caring :p
    Apparently, people I went to college with have heard from Berkeley. Sounds like they're on the undergrad notification schedule!

  25. #25
    Cyburbian
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    Hi Alfie,

    I got a message from Berekely last night (finally!)....no go for me. How did you make out?

    Quote Originally posted by Alfie
    Nope. None for me, or for the three others I know who are waiting as well. If I do hear by the end of the day, I'm going to stop caring :p

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