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Thread: Differences between top M.A. Programs

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    Differences between top M.A. Programs

    What are the major differences between the top Masters programs (besides location)? For example, do some focus more on social policy while others on environmental policy...

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    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by chrisjdp
    What are the major differences between the top Masters programs (besides location)? For example, do some focus more on social policy while others on environmental policy...
    Eradicate the words "top" and "best" from your thought process and go to a school that will fulfill your needs and interests and help you get where you want to go and help you be successful at what specific area of practice you want to go into. Read through the "Application Blues" thread and the other school specific threads for more details.
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

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    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I agree - don't get too preoccupied with "top" and "best." I went to an "ivy league" school for undergrad and grad (another degree, another life). Now I am back in school for a planning MA at a, gasp, state school. Not only is it a fraction of the cost, but I am getting a rockin' education. Maybe its because I am older and am more focused, but I really think for a great many schools, you get out of it what you want and what you work for. I couldn't be happier with my schooling right now.

    Don't be fooled by brand names and high prices...

    Focus on what you want out of the experience (working with certain people, examining certain issues, being in a certain place, etc.) and let that guide you.

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    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Ah......

    Quote Originally posted by wahday
    Don't be fooled by brand names and high prices...

    Focus on what you want out of the experience (working with certain people, examining certain issues, being in a certain place, etc.) and let that guide you.
    Well said.....well said.....old man.....as the one puffs on a pipe and drinks single malt scotch out on a deck overlooking the marina
    I see wahday on the path of total enlightenment.....and perhaps, with time and 5,000 posts, will rank right up there with the likes of RUMPY and EG
    Skilled Adoxographer

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    When I asked my father for advice in choosing a program, his reply was succinct: "Anybody can do well, or poorly, at any school." Moral being that what you get out of an education is a function of the effort you put in.

  6. #6

    Brand Name?

    Quote Originally posted by Zymurgist
    When I asked my father for advice in choosing a program, his reply was succinct: "Anybody can do well, or poorly, at any school." Moral being that what you get out of an education is a function of the effort you put in.

    I understand this to a certain degree. We must agree that it is a huge component. But surely it is not the ONLY component, right?

    If it was, it seems like all rational people should choose the cheapest school closest to home with the cheapest rents and work their butt off and be super successful. But they don't. They go to expensive schools we they can.

    If they are being irrational....what bias is causing this?

    Sorry for the tangent.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    I am a double Ivy grad, and if you think going to the master's program is worth it to be part of the mysterious allure of an Ivy (or other top ranked schools), think twice. Penn's master's program, regarded as one of the better MCP programs, has nothing on my undergraduate experience. The quality of teaching, quality of students, and overall experience just isn't comparable.

    If you can find a free or near free ride to MIT or Penn or Columbia, by all means take it. Great programs in great cities, it's hard to say no, and many doors will open for you. But don't, by any stretch of the imagination, commit yourself to 50K worth of debt when your first year's salary will most likely be lower than that figure.

    A good in-state planning program will open many doors for you, especially with the state's planning offices. The slight advantage a top program will have will be with non-profits on the east coast, and national planning consulting firms. But even EDAW takes grads from large state schools.

    Also, it is caveat emptor. Planning can be an undisciplined field, it is too easy to muddle through the two years and graduate without a firm idea of what you want to do, and end up taking a job you're not too interested in. If you know you specifically want to do transportation or urban design, great, be focused and you'll get there regardless of the school (portfolio and internship very important here) but there's no point shelling out big bucks when you'll only end up in a county planning office. If you have some vague ideas about doing site planning, keep in mind that landscape architects have usurped this field for the most part. Working for non-profits that help struggling communities? May be better to do a master's of social work or policy.

    In some ways, I'm for completely revamping most planning programs. Social planning should be lumped with the policy/social work. Urban design should be its own master's degree (there's no point, as at Penn, requiring urban design students to take regional and statistical analysis classes). Site planners and master planners should be given over to landscape architects. Real estate should be given to Master's of Real Estate. Planning programs should only be concentrated on two subjects: transportation planning, and land use planning.

    As it is, I graduated with a MCP from Penn (thankfully with very, very minimal debt which I've already paid off), but will be going back to school for a MLA in the fall of '07, hopefully at UVA where I can be in-state.
    Last edited by PennPlanner; 13 Apr 2006 at 3:17 PM.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian supergeek1313's avatar
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    I agree with PennPlanner. I am graduating from an Ivy and have the grades/work experience to have been a competitive applicant at Ivies and the likes of MIT, Berkeley. But after spending 4 years at an elitist institution clogged with trust fund babies and collecting a fair amount of loans to pay off I just wanted out. I applied to 3 schools, 2 in Canada, 1 in-state and while that # seems small they were all schools that I could see myself going to and had good programs. All were relatively affordable without funding, but all gave me generous packages that made it even better to attend. Maybe I won't become the most successful planner but I think that in all of the ones that I selected I would gain the skills necessary for a job in the field and within the subject that I was interested in.

    If you take a look at the APA website for job descriptions it seems as if having CAD and GIS skills are of utmost importance. So if you go to a state school and get great technical skills you'll be better off than going to a big-name place and not knowing any of this (in my opinion).

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    How about the social life of the program? I only attended the open house for Penn, but they all seemed like pretty cool people with which I would definitely enjoy pulling long hours and hanging out with and such. Are all programs pretty good socially, or are there differences?

    Maybe I am the only one who cares about this at all, but it seems to me that it would be important. With so much group work, I know I will definitely get more out of it if I like the people in the program.

    I honestly don't get how you can let the possibility of debt run your life. I know there won't be a lot of disposable income, but I doubt anyone is going to be starving on their entry level planning job. Of course, if you are married and planning on kids quite soon, it's another story...


    Quote Originally posted by supergeek1313
    I agree with PennPlanner. I am graduating from an Ivy and have the grades/work experience to have been a competitive applicant at Ivies and the likes of MIT, Berkeley. But after spending 4 years at an elitist institution clogged with trust fund babies and collecting a fair amount of loans to pay off I just wanted out. I applied to 3 schools, 2 in Canada, 1 in-state and while that # seems small they were all schools that I could see myself going to and had good programs. All were relatively affordable without funding, but all gave me generous packages that made it even better to attend. Maybe I won't become the most successful planner but I think that in all of the ones that I selected I would gain the skills necessary for a job in the field and within the subject that I was interested in.

    If you take a look at the APA website for job descriptions it seems as if having CAD and GIS skills are of utmost importance. So if you go to a state school and get great technical skills you'll be better off than going to a big-name place and not knowing any of this (in my opinion).

  10. #10
    Cyburbian supergeek1313's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by VBBoysAreMyHeroes
    How about the social life of the program? I only attended the open house for Penn, but they all seemed like pretty cool people with which I would definitely enjoy pulling long hours and hanging out with and such. Are all programs pretty good socially, or are there differences?

    Maybe I am the only one who cares about this at all, but it seems to me that it would be important. With so much group work, I know I will definitely get more out of it if I like the people in the program.

    I honestly don't get how you can let the possibility of debt run your life. I know there won't be a lot of disposable income, but I doubt anyone is going to be starving on their entry level planning job. Of course, if you are married and planning on kids quite soon, it's another story...
    Oh I don't disagree with you. Unfortunately UofT doesn't have an open house though I spoke to the director last summer... we will all have orientation together. Honestly if money wasn't an object then I'd really consider Penn because their program looks great and everyone I know there (undergrads but whatever) really loves the school. I like the people I know at UofT though they won't be in the program and I feel like for group work some people (like me) work better without working with friends on projects, but I agree that it would be nice to have cool people to talk about urban issues with or go get dinner (aka ramen noodles) with.

    At the end of the day it's a matter of what school's the best fit for you. My profs & TAs have advised me that for planning it's more about your skill level than attending a particular school; granted, with a Master's from Penn or MIT they may give you the extra "ooooh," but if you're a GIS/CAD whiz with a knack for economic development that went to Buffalo they won't turn you down. As long as you go somewhere that will help mature your interests in the field of planning that you want to go into then you'll be fine.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    Socially, I had an excellent time at Penn. Philadelphia is a hard city to beat for graduate school, in part because the cost of living is relatively low (esp. when compared to Boston or NY or SF or DC or any other young person's mecca), yet the city offers a first rate urbanism, history, cultural scene, and a very, very, nice dining scene.

    My class was rather large (80 students), and it was inevitable that we'd split off into several smaller cliques, but there were big parties to which everyone attended, and on the whole we worked very well together. Planning will be an intense academic experience, because you take the same classes with so many of the same people, especially once you break down into specialties, then you all go out and party together afterwards. Honestly, after a while I started backing out of the social events because I needed a break from the other people, and there's quite a few grad students across all schools and disciplines at Penn, so I found friends elsewhere as well as a counterbalance.

    People are cool-no doubt about this, not pretentious and very laid back. The school has gotten more competitive in the years since I've matriculated, so while my class had, well, a number of students whose academic credentials were dubious and surprising for a Penn caliber place (and especially to me since I was coming from another Ivy undergraduate), I think that the last two classes have managed to eliminate the detritus.

    Debt is what you make of it. My family traditionally has a horror of debt, which has rubbed off onto me. It is nice not having to make large monthly payments and instead start saving for a house, go on nice vacations, and so forth. But if you don't mind (and if you are still pretty young) the academic debt may not be too bad as long as you are comfortable with it, and are fully aware that you won't be landing a 80K job post graduation.

    Quote Originally posted by VBBoysAreMyHeroes
    How about the social life of the program? I only attended the open house for Penn, but they all seemed like pretty cool people with which I would definitely enjoy pulling long hours and hanging out with and such. Are all programs pretty good socially, or are there differences?

    Maybe I am the only one who cares about this at all, but it seems to me that it would be important. With so much group work, I know I will definitely get more out of it if I like the people in the program.

    I honestly don't get how you can let the possibility of debt run your life. I know there won't be a lot of disposable income, but I doubt anyone is going to be starving on their entry level planning job. Of course, if you are married and planning on kids quite soon, it's another story...

  12. #12
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    You guys are leaving out a very important part of the decision: job placement.

    Many schools are well connected and have a plethora of career opportunities available after graduation, while others are limited to certain geographical areas. Career placement, in my opinion, is one of the most important aspects of making a decision for graduate school. Where is this degree going to take me and how quickly am I going to get there?

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