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Thread: Thoughts on Columbia's M.S. in Urban Planning?

  1. #1
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    Thoughts on Columbia's M.S. in Urban Planning?

    Like many of you, I am in the process of deciding on which school to attend in the fall, and I am essentially choosing among NYU-Wagner, PennDesign, and Columbia's GSAPP (UIC and Minnesota are also options). Much has been said in regards to NYU and Penn, but does anyone have much insight into Columbiaís Master of Science in Urban Planning program? Any thoughts would be appreciated. Moreover, as mentioned in other threads, my focus is on urban economic development. Do any of these schools have a particular strength in this concentration?

  2. #2
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    in my humble opinion...

    Quote Originally posted by cyburbian
    Like many of you, I am in the process of deciding on which school to attend in the fall, and I am essentially choosing among NYU-Wagner, PennDesign, and Columbia's GSAPP (UIC and Minnesota are also options). Much has been said in regards to NYU and Penn, but does anyone have much insight into Columbiaís Master of Science in Urban Planning program? Any thoughts would be appreciated. Moreover, as mentioned in other threads, my focus is on urban economic development. Do any of these schools have a particular strength in this concentration?
    I was accepted to Columbia, Penn and Harvard and desperately seeking as much info as possible from the last two. Regarding Columbia, I have been told by some planning students that the program is not that great. I have also been told that the program is disorganized and the architecture students are the most important at the school.

    I have also been informed that Penn is the BEST program on the East -- even over Harvard -- and is causing me much deliberation because I am interested in a design-oriented program which Penn is not; BUT Penn DEFINITELY gives you a more well-rounded planning education. Have you looked at the website?

    If money is a factor, Columbia stated flat out that they do not give aid and Penn I am sure will be willing to work with you. DEFINITELY attend the Open House or call admissions and get the name of a student with your interests.

    Good luck!

  3. #3
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    More on Columbia and Penn

    I have pored over each school's website extensively, but as you indicated, the best way to get an insider's perspective is probably to talk to students and faculty. I donít anticipate being able to go to the Open House at Penn, which is disappointing since it would certainly shed some light on the department and the MCP program.

    As for aid, Columbia awards scholarships based on financial need, which was determined by the elaborate 4-page scholarship application (which was rather time-consuming and annoying). Regardless, I was offered nearly twice as much in aid from Columbia than from Penn (i.e. the aggregate merit scholarship and need-based grant offered by Penn). So for me, Columbia has ended up being cheaper by several thousand dollars.

    I have not discussed urban planning programs very much with other planning students (most of my info has been extracted from this forum), but based on the application process, Penn's program does seem more organized than Columbia's (as you may remember the rather complex application process of mailing forms back and forth).

    Aside from the relative strengths of these programs, location has been a key factor, and NYC certainly appears to offer more opportunities than Philadelphia. On the other hand, Iíve never been to Philly and canít speak much of it. Coming from Chicago, Iíve been under the impression that going to a larger city would be more beneficial, but, again, this may not be a sound approach.

    Finally, Iíve looked largely at the opportunity in urban planning programs to take courses outside of the urban planning department. PennPlanner has indicated that you can take up to 4 courses outside of PennDesign. Columbia explicitly states that you can fulfill some or all of your concentration courses, about 9 courses, throughout the University (and considering the strength of Columbiaís various departments, this seems promising), and NYU allows about 4 or 5 courses to be fulfilled in other departments.

    Just some of the issues Iíve been wrestling with recentlyÖthe thoughts of anyone else considering these schools are very much welcomed.

  4. #4
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    Sounds like we're in the same boat. I thought choice was a luxury to be coveted until l found myself reviewing for the fifth time each school's current course offerings (a practice I do recommend since you can sometimes detect towards which concentrations a program is leaning) and faculty bios and student profiles (in particular on PennDesign's website).

    I don't know if you got a chance to attend Wagner's open house this past week, but if not, it was, in short, impressive. The school's size carries obvious benefits - the size of the faculty, the diversity of interests, the amazing office of carreer services which works exclusively with Wagner students, the number of student groups, and the general sense of community. The location too couldn't be better especially if you're interested in high density cities. On the flip side, what's lacking for me is the intensity of the program. Just to boil it down to numbers, the required number of UP courses is about 10 excluding the school-wide core requirements and the capstone, while at Columbia and UPenn, it's about 17/18 (excluding the studio).

    Overall the students I spoke to really liked the program and sense of comraderie, and only noted the deficit of urban design courses (of which there are currently two taught by the same professor).

    Columbia I'm not seriously considering anymore. I wasn't too crazy about the open house I attended last fall, and got the sense that the program was a bit leftist for me (even though I'm quite liberal). I overhead a student saying that if you were genuinely interested in real estate development (as a part of planning), the program might not be a good match, and not bc there aren't such classes, but bc the program doesn't focus on the private sector. This didn't seem overly practical to me since I see the strength of UP lying in its ability to see and understand the sometimes competing/sometimes overlaping interests of the private/public/gov't sectors. But that's just my take on the school after visiting it for one day, so take it with a good dose of salt.

    As for PennDesign, I'm going to be going to its open house next week, so if you'd like, I could drop you a quick note on my impressions. After reading through some of the older threads in the forum, I'm a bit confused about where the program's overall focus lies. Someone said it was design program, while another person said it wasn't. The course offering seems to be pretty well distributed across all the concentrations (which I heard are to be consolidated down to 3)...

    If you haven't had a chance to do so, one way to touch base with a current student is to email a few of the students on the student planning association. I got their names off the letter they sent in my acceptance packet. I've heard back from two and both were quite helpful. Their general comments were that the program was labor intensive (5 courses/semester was a lot of work), practical, and interactive with the surrounding communities. Philly's a very diverse city ranging from a revitalized and gentrified center to economically distressed surrounding neighboorhoods. Other comments - the computer labs aren't stellar (although I imagine most UP students feel this way), and more importantly, apparently, there is to be a significant change in the some of the faculty (full-time I think) which will lead to an infusion of "new, fresh ideas". What I don't know is which concentrations will benefit from these changes...

    I too am interested in economic (and community development) along with the role urban design plays in shaping communities, so I'm very curious to see which concentrations the program seems most invested in...

    Anyways, hope this is helpful. Good luck!

  5. #5
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    Penn Open House

    Quote Originally posted by carfree
    Sounds like we're in the same boat. I thought choice was a luxury to be coveted until l found myself reviewing for the fifth time each school's current course offerings (a practice I do recommend since you can sometimes detect towards which concentrations a program is leaning) and faculty bios and student profiles (in particular on PennDesign's website).

    I don't know if you got a chance to attend Wagner's open house this past week, but if not, it was, in short, impressive. The school's size carries obvious benefits - the size of the faculty, the diversity of interests, the amazing office of carreer services which works exclusively with Wagner students, the number of student groups, and the general sense of community. The location too couldn't be better especially if you're interested in high density cities. On the flip side, what's lacking for me is the intensity of the program. Just to boil it down to numbers, the required number of UP courses is about 10 excluding the school-wide core requirements and the capstone, while at Columbia and UPenn, it's about 17/18 (excluding the studio).

    Overall the students I spoke to really liked the program and sense of comraderie, and only noted the deficit of urban design courses (of which there are currently two taught by the same professor).

    Columbia I'm not seriously considering anymore. I wasn't too crazy about the open house I attended last fall, and got the sense that the program was a bit leftist for me (even though I'm quite liberal). I overhead a student saying that if you were genuinely interested in real estate development (as a part of planning), the program might not be a good match, and not bc there aren't such classes, but bc the program doesn't focus on the private sector. This didn't seem overly practical to me since I see the strength of UP lying in its ability to see and understand the sometimes competing/sometimes overlaping interests of the private/public/gov't sectors. But that's just my take on the school after visiting it for one day, so take it with a good dose of salt.

    As for PennDesign, I'm going to be going to its open house next week, so if you'd like, I could drop you a quick note on my impressions. After reading through some of the older threads in the forum, I'm a bit confused about where the program's overall focus lies. Someone said it was design program, while another person said it wasn't. The course offering seems to be pretty well distributed across all the concentrations (which I heard are to be consolidated down to 3)...

    If you haven't had a chance to do so, one way to touch base with a current student is to email a few of the students on the student planning association. I got their names off the letter they sent in my acceptance packet. I've heard back from two and both were quite helpful. Their general comments were that the program was labor intensive (5 courses/semester was a lot of work), practical, and interactive with the surrounding communities. Philly's a very diverse city ranging from a revitalized and gentrified center to economically distressed surrounding neighboorhoods. Other comments - the computer labs aren't stellar (although I imagine most UP students feel this way), and more importantly, apparently, there is to be a significant change in the some of the faculty (full-time I think) which will lead to an infusion of "new, fresh ideas". What I don't know is which concentrations will benefit from these changes...

    I too am interested in economic (and community development) along with the role urban design plays in shaping communities, so I'm very curious to see which concentrations the program seems most invested in...

    Anyways, hope this is helpful. Good luck!
    Last minute flights from Chi-town to Philly are pricier than I expected...if you make it to the open house, a recap would be very much appreciated. Thanks.

  6. #6
         
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    Quote Originally posted by cyburbian
    Last minute flights from Chi-town to Philly are pricier than I expected...if you make it to the open house, a recap would be very much appreciated. Thanks.
    I am facing the same UPenn/Columbia dilemma. Originally I was really excited about Columbia and truly felt that it was where I wanted to be, plus they offered me the best deal financially. Now, after talking with other students in this situation it seems that UPenn has an incredible program and that it might be a mistake to turn them down. I visited both of the schools in March and found that I preferred Columbia's campus and found the location much more appealing. Thus, there are pro's and con's to each and I am completely torn. I am unable to attend either of the Open House events and I'd like to hear more from those who have.

    Is there anyone who has decided on Columbia? What were your reasons for dong so? Or are there any current Columbia students that could provide some insight?

    Thanks.

  7. #7
    I just got back from the Penn open house and am agonizing over the decision of whether to go to Penn or Columbia. Although Penn offered slick powerpoint presentations and free travel mugs, I can't help but think that it's a more like a urban planner factory than an academic graduate program at one of best schools in the country. Although practical skills are really important to planning, Penn seems to focus on the practical to the detriment of actually thinking.

    Although Columbia's program doesn't seem as well organized as Penn's and its reputation should be better considering that it's one of the best schools in New York (the mecca of urban planning problems and solutions), there seems to be an intellectual vibrancy there that I didn't feel at Penn.

    It's going to be a tough decision. If the main reasons you liked Columbia better were that it's in a better location and has a better campus, then go to Penn. You shouldn't go to there just because it's in New York. You could always do your required internship for Penn in NYC.



    Quote Originally posted by smlee
    I am facing the same UPenn/Columbia dilemma. Originally I was really excited about Columbia and truly felt that it was where I wanted to be, plus they offered me the best deal financially. Now, after talking with other students in this situation it seems that UPenn has an incredible program and that it might be a mistake to turn them down. I visited both of the schools in March and found that I preferred Columbia's campus and found the location much more appealing. Thus, there are pro's and con's to each and I am completely torn. I am unable to attend either of the Open House events and I'd like to hear more from those who have.

    Is there anyone who has decided on Columbia? What were your reasons for dong so? Or are there any current Columbia students that could provide some insight?

    Thanks.

  8. #8
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    I agree completely with you. I, for one, have decided Columbia over Penn.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    ditto on penn's slickness. they don't seem to put much thought into policy, which i think is a mistake. i was very impressed at the open house--how seemlessly design skills are interwoven into the curriculum really made me drool--and it was a really tough decision, but ultimately it just wasn't the place for me. i'm going to unc.

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