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Thread: Advice for an undergrad?

  1. #1
    Aug 2005
    Orlando, Florida

    Advice for an undergrad?

    I've been reading through this forum over the past few days, and it has been very helpful. I'm really glad there's a resource like this for practicing planners and students to coalesce!

    Anyways, I would like some advice about building a solid resume. More specifically, I want to know what I can do to to get into a good grad program. I have at least a year before I need to start applying, and I want to do as much as I can to assure my admission.

    A little background-- I'm going into my junior year at a small liberal arts school, with a double major in environmental studies and sociology. Although my school doesn't have a straight out "planning" degree, I have taken as many courses related to planning issues as possible. I have a solid GPA, but I haven't taken the GRE yet. As far as practical experience goes, I am currently working at my first internship with a my local county's planning division.

    I am hoping to attend a strong planning school for my master's (preferably Berkeley, MIT, UPenn, Harvard, or possibly PSU--to live in my favorite city ). I'm very interested in urban design, physical planning, economic development, community development, and environmental planning (I'm notororious for indecisiveness---guess I need to hone in on my interests, huh).

    Do any of you attend these schools? If so, what do you recommend? What academic/prodessional experience did you have that helped you get in?

    If you don't attend these schools, do you have a suggestion for another program that I overlooked?

    And back to my original question-- what can I do (eg specific courses, research, training, portfolio development, job experience) to catch the eye of admissions reps at these competetive schools?

    Last edited by tara; 02 Aug 2005 at 11:08 PM.

  2. #2
    Sorry, I didn't attend any of the schools you mentioned, but here goes my two cents. Competitive graduate planning programs tend to focus on numbers (GPA, GRE and years of work experience) and letters of recommendation. Relevant work experience isn't too important but never hurts. Basically, have the numbers and you're in. However, the double major will win you some points. Some programs may be more difficult depending on what you plan to concentrate in. Specialized urban design ones tend to be especially competitive and a portfolio may be required. You already have the environmental and sociological aspect down, which narrows urban design and econ development to the two concentrations I think you should choose from. I say spread your eggs and diversify. Hope this helps. You're welcome.

  3. #3
    I would suggest looking through some of the old threads in the Student Lounge. There has been a lot of discussion about the schools you mentioned and advice for getting into school in general.

    That being said, though--I'm going to be attending PSU in the fall, so if you have any questions about their program, feel free to ask. I'm not sure how serious you are about their program, but one thing to keep in mind is that it's pretty important to take into account the location of your program. I have heard from several planners working in Portland now that they are more likely to hire people who are familiar with the local planning regulations than they are to hire people who aren't. And you're most likely to get that kind of knowledge if you go to school in the place where you want to work. So if Portland is really your favorite city and a place you may want to live, keep that in mind.

    I hope that helps!

  4. #4

    Mar 2004
    Cambridge, MA
    Quote Originally posted by tara
    Do any of you attend these schools? If so, what do you recommend? What academic/prodessional experience did you have that helped you get in?
    I attend one of those schools. I've never been on an admissions committee, and they seem to accept people for all sorts of reasons, but here's what I think helped me. (Note: I applied straight out of undergrad, but professional experience is always good, too).

    Community Service - Volunteer with a local agency that works with related issues: a homeless shelter, a non-profit housing agency, an environmental organization, etc. Of course you should be doing this because you really want to help out or make a difference and not just to pad your resume, but it's a good thing to do whatever your motivation.

    GRE scores - The math section is just a little more complicated version of what you learned in 8th grade. If you study enough you can get a high score (but a relatively low percentile ranking because of all the engineers, etc. who also take the GRE). The verbal section really comes down to how many words you know, which is not something you can really cram for. Get a book that comes with practice tests on CD-ROM. There's also a writing section which I think is asinine, but the book will teach you how to write what they want to read. Which brings me to...

    Writing Sample - I took an advanced writing course in the fall of my senior year when I was applying to masters programs. The professor gave me feedback on my writing sample, which I also turned in as an assignment for class credit (perfectly legit). If I'd had my act together a little better, he could have also critiqued my personal statements. If you don't want to take a writing class, take an "A" paper you wrote and meet with the professor to ask how it could have been better. This professor may be impressed by your initiative and write you a...

    Letter of Recommendation - Just get to know your professors well. I feel like admissions people must be able to tell when a recommender really knows his/her recommendee, and that is probably a good thing.

    Plan to spend a lot of time working on your applications. I applied to 5 schools and it was a full time job for a month or two. I also didn't contact any professors at any of the schools, but in retrospect I should have. Most should be eager to sell their program, and if they aren't you might not want to be there anyway.

    Hope that helps. I tried to cover some things that haven't been brought up here before.

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