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Thread: Think twice about MIT

  1. #1
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    Think twice about MIT

    I couldn't help but notice the abundance of threads on this board that reference applications to MIT's DUSP. Given that MIT is the number one planning program in the country, this affinity for MIT is not surprising. I too dreamed of receiving a planning degree from DUSP. But two years later, my dream has transformed into a seemingly neverending nightmare from which I long to be released. Perhaps I am being a bit theatrical, but because of the stress and devastation that the Institute has brought to my life and that of some of my classmates, I feel the need to warn potential DUSPers of what they will face.

    MIT/DUSP is incredibly arrogant and unsympathetic in the allocation of financial aid. Most students are accepted with no departmental financial aid and the institute's financial aid process is anything but transparent, causing headaches galore for the countless admits who attempt to finance their degrees. MIT's Technology Loan Program, a high interest loan program that many masters candidates depended on, was brazenly abolished by the administration mid-year, sending countless students in a tailspin searching for scarce aid from even scarcer private sources.

    Academically, a DUSPer rarely gets what s/he should. So many of the students foolishly overburden themselves with 6-7 courses per semester and/or multiple jobs to finance their "education." This, in turn, degrades the quality of the studio/workshop/practica curriculum that would otherwise be the program's selling point; the collaboration amongst students suffers because no one spends enough time to dig deeply into the work at hand as a team. Instead, each student briskly wants to allocate the work to be done individually, cut and paste it all together for minimal coherence at the end, all so they can put in similarly minimal face time with the other five to six groups that they are "working with."The products of these "collaborations" often fall short of their full potential because everyone has so much else to do. Excellence ceases to be the only acceptable outcome, as everyone dons a simple "lets get this done" attitude.

    Additionally, many of the professors are loathe to spend time with students other than their research assistants, the administrators of the program are cold and, at times, unhelpful, Meanwhile, the bend of the curriculum is as absurdly political as it is unapologetically liberal which then of course obscures the process of developing practical solutions to seemingly intransigent problems, the very crux of a good urban planning program. The poor planning doesn't stop there. The department in the past few admission seasons has recently accepted unusually large classes, resulting in thesis nightmares where students cannot get the advisors they need to write acceptable, interesting theses. Then there's the oversubscription/undersubscription problem that plagues the department. Students are more interested in more studios/workshops/practica than seminar and lecture courses. Thus, one would think the Department would offer more of those to quench student thirst and relieve the overcrowding that dilutes the quality of such courses. WRONG: the Department acknowledges the problem and does nothing about it.

    The logistical and academic deficiencies of MIT are only compounded by the social tenor. The environment at MIT is dreadfully cold and frighteningly high-pressure, The smaller DUSP community is extremely political and more remniscent of a Green Party boot camp than an academic department. However, if you are interested in International Development or social justice, than MIT might be right for you. But if you are interested in real estate or urban redevelopment, like I am, you should probably go to Columbia or apply to a Real Estate Development Program. MIT is too unprofessional and hardly career-oriented enough to garner the cachet that it does. Too many of DUSP's most current graduates are still looking for work or holding on to part-time jobs at MIT, the degree that alums just borrowed $100K to get has failed to advance so many careers. So before you look at MIT as the best opportunity on earth, explore all of your options. There's a reason why you'll see IHTFP scrawled on bathroom walls.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian The District's avatar
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    this thread arouses an important issue: even if the curriculum or prestige of a school appears to match an applicant's interests, will the school's atmosphere be just as complementary? do students or alumni of any given school, especially one like MIT, sometimes idealize the school when they talk to others, so as to not sound as if they have possibly made a mistake by attending said school? obviously, getting into such a prestigious school means that an entering student has probably gone to considerable lengths to make themselves marketable, and to sound disappointed with their education may make them appear to have chosen their school in error.
    i hope this thread becomes more active than it is at this point, it would be great to hear from other concurring or dissenting students/alumni. while i have visited DUSP and met several students and alums, all of which had nothing but good things to say about the school, i suspect that some of them may have had misgivings about the school that they did not want to share.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    You describe very similar things to what I've experienced with the School of Planning at the University of Waterloo, except I pay about a quarter of what you would, I think.

    Academia < Reality

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    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    Thank you for your candor about MIT and your experience.

    I myself have been fortunate to have an excellent academic advisor (he has an MURP and is a county manager) the past two years who has encouraged me to go to grad school, but has always told me that I need to pick a program where I would excel and get the best education that fits my interests.

    He has always cautioned me to look beyond the big names and the so-called rankings and look at the length of time the program has been in place, the professors and the overall focus of the school.

    With his little voice in my head and his willingness to help me, I have selected five schools that would all fit my needs (and my daughter's) and applied to them. I would be happy at any of the five and it will most likely come down to the financial aid package for me.

    If there is anyone else that is or has been a graduate planning student I know that many of us here would appreciate an honest analysis of your experience at your school as well will be hearing back from the schools in the coming months.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally posted by kjelsadek

    If there is anyone else that is or has been a graduate planning student I know that many of us here would appreciate an honest analysis of your experience at your school as well will be hearing back from the schools in the coming months.
    In the spirit of friendly information-sharing, here is my opinion (so far) of the graduate planning program at Portland State University. I have noticed a few people are planning to apply or have applied here, so hopefully this is helpful. I am a first-year student in the program, so I only have a little over a quarter's worth of experience with it.

    Pros: Good facilities, good professors (mostly), lots of contacts with practitioners in the area. The program is very well-respected and well-known in Portland (alumni of the program are in virtually every public and private agency in town). The other students are great. Most of the professors (if not all) were practitioners at one point, so they teach with the intent that everything we learn needs to be practical. Also, everyone that I know that wanted one has gotten a Graduate Research Assistantship (pays tuition plus stipend), although most of us were not offered this on admission. Program is very strong in policy planning, weak in design. Strong specialization areas are transportation, environmental planning, community development and land use.

    Cons: Core curriculum was newly re-designed this year so there are a few academic things that need to be worked out still, but I imagine they will be fixed next year. Not very many design classes (not a problem for me, but for some people it might be). Not very much help with internship placement, which is required. Program is VERY Portland-centric, so may be limited in its applicability to other places, if students do not intend to remain in Portland.

    Biggest piece of advice I can give: DO NOT come here if you do not like Portland! And if you don't intend to stay around here, seriously think about how you will apply this degree to wherever you end up going. Portland is proud of its planning history and the program is proud of its city.

    Overall I am very pleased with the quality of education I am receiving. If anyone has any other questions, feel free to ask.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian shishi's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by City-zen
    In the spirit of friendly information-sharing, here is my opinion (so far) of the graduate planning program at Portland State University. I have noticed a few people are planning to apply or have applied here, so hopefully this is helpful. I am a first-year student in the program, so I only have a little over a quarter's worth of experience with it.

    Pros: Good facilities, good professors (mostly), lots of contacts with practitioners in the area. The program is very well-respected and well-known in Portland (alumni of the program are in virtually every public and private agency in town). The other students are great. Most of the professors (if not all) were practitioners at one point, so they teach with the intent that everything we learn needs to be practical. Also, everyone that I know that wanted one has gotten a Graduate Research Assistantship (pays tuition plus stipend), although most of us were not offered this on admission. Program is very strong in policy planning, weak in design. Strong specialization areas are transportation, environmental planning, community development and land use.

    Cons: Core curriculum was newly re-designed this year so there are a few academic things that need to be worked out still, but I imagine they will be fixed next year. Not very many design classes (not a problem for me, but for some people it might be). Not very much help with internship placement, which is required. Program is VERY Portland-centric, so may be limited in its applicability to other places, if students do not intend to remain in Portland.

    Biggest piece of advice I can give: DO NOT come here if you do not like Portland! And if you don't intend to stay around here, seriously think about how you will apply this degree to wherever you end up going. Portland is proud of its planning history and the program is proud of its city.

    Overall I am very pleased with the quality of education I am receiving. If anyone has any other questions, feel free to ask.
    Thanks for the info about PSU and PDX.

  7. #7
    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by City-zen

    Biggest piece of advice I can give: DO NOT come here if you do not like Portland! And if you don't intend to stay around here, seriously think about how you will apply this degree to wherever you end up going. Portland is proud of its planning history and the program is proud of its city.
    Portland is my hometown and I attended PSU as an undergrad for a year so if I get the opportunity to go home with a good offer I will!

  8. #8

    Another MIT perspective

    I'm sorry to Anon06 for your displeasure with DUSP, but I hardly think that it is representative of how all of us feel. Of course there are rough days and weeks- I am working much harder than in any previous academic experience, but that is what I expect for my money!

    A handful of students are taking "6-7 classes" plus jobs to finance their education. 4-5 classes are far more common- and you can graduate with 4 per semester. I take extra classes becase it is a two year course and I have so much that I want to get out of it. I would be disappointed if there weren't so much choice. As for the "let's get it done attitude"- I have a feeing that depends on the project, professor and team. Sure, in some of my core classes I have seen that type of work- but when people are working on the subjects they are interested in i believe that people are striving for excellence. I have been pleased with the quality of assignments. I have found my profs to be pretty accessible too.

    I think your Green party Boot Camp comment is pretty funny, though not true. But there are several professors, particularly looking at Housing and Community Development who care about poverty, social justice and how our work can make cities more equitable. I happen to like this perspective, however.

    Anyway- I'm glad you brought up the topic- since it is true that the "best" school or neighborhood or brand of soap is not the best for everyone. However- diversity of opinions at any good school is ideal and without pressure from you to focus on career-focused urban redevelopment issues- we would all lose something.

    See you in the common room?

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    Urbanliz,
    I can tell from your post that you are obviously a first-year, as I too had the same sense of urgency about trying to get the most of my two years. But what you should hopefully realize soon is that taking so many courses will become an unbelievably draining and futile exercise. In a program like this you are expected to specialize in a specific area, not try to be a jack of all trades, as many of the six-course per semester students are ridiculously attempting; you will learn there are more of them than you currently realize. After you have added a certain number of courses, each additional course will have declining marginal utility as your concentration will be pulled in too many different directions, diluting the quality of your work, and reducing your energy level. Once you get into practica/workshop/studio courses with long term projects you will see how this very same thing will degrade communication, coordination, and collaboration within your teams. There is a reason why professors beg the students in their workshops not to take more than one workshop per semester. And why the students never listen, wreaking havoc on both themselves and their peers.

    Secondly, I am not against social justice nor do I mind being privy to opinions that are driven and/or informed by social justice values. What I am appalled by is the overwhelmingly liberal/revolutionary mindsets that think the American sociopolitical system is so thoroughly diseased that it must be destroyed to let freedom ring. I am disgusted that students and professors alike are so blinded to the true causes of ghetto poverty - postindustrial macrostructural changes that have fundamentally changed what poverty was 50 years ago and what poverty is now - that these things are not even discussed. Instead of discussing lack of jobs and educational opportunities, MIT's DUSPers look to simply make being poor more comfortable, create affordable housing, and stop the wave of gentrification that is sweeping over maybe three cities in all of America. Maybe this is all a little oversimplified, but as you know I do not have all day.


    Quote Originally posted by urbanliz
    I'm sorry to Anon06 for your displeasure with DUSP, but I hardly think that it is representative of how all of us feel. Of course there are rough days and weeks- I am working much harder than in any previous academic experience, but that is what I expect for my money!

    A handful of students are taking "6-7 classes" plus jobs to finance their education. 4-5 classes are far more common- and you can graduate with 4 per semester. I take extra classes becase it is a two year course and I have so much that I want to get out of it. I would be disappointed if there weren't so much choice. As for the "let's get it done attitude"- I have a feeing that depends on the project, professor and team. Sure, in some of my core classes I have seen that type of work- but when people are working on the subjects they are interested in i believe that people are striving for excellence. I have been pleased with the quality of assignments. I have found my profs to be pretty accessible too.

    I think your Green party Boot Camp comment is pretty funny, though not true. But there are several professors, particularly looking at Housing and Community Development who care about poverty, social justice and how our work can make cities more equitable. I happen to like this perspective, however.

    Anyway- I'm glad you brought up the topic- since it is true that the "best" school or neighborhood or brand of soap is not the best for everyone. However- diversity of opinions at any good school is ideal and without pressure from you to focus on career-focused urban redevelopment issues- we would all lose something.

    See you in the common room?

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    declining marginal utility...

    ...Frank Levy would be proud!

    And yes, do think twice about MIT, but then again, think twice, and maybe thrice, about any institution. If you've applied already don't assume you've thrown your money away--wait to see what the financial aid fairy brings you (it could even be full tuition), visit us, ask questions of every student and faculty member you find, make sure the program emphasis is for you, and ask yourself if 5 months of cold and darkness a year is likely to turn you into the next "anon06."

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    think twice about mit - and then go

    anon06, I would agree with your contention that there are students who take too many classes, and that the value of the classes declines when you take too many. That said, it's the students who choose to take too many classes, not the advisors or the faculty - not taking too many classes is a lesson best learned on your own, and supposedly that happens in your education previous to DUSP. On the flip side, doesn't it say something about the program that there are so many interesting classes? It's one of the strengths of the department that it allows the students to be proactive about their education - if you want to change something, you can change it if you expend the effort. If you don't like your advisor, you can change; if you don't like the way a class is taught, the department has an established forum through which change can be effected.

    It's true that MIT doesn't offer a lot of financial aid. I was under the impression that this is due both to the lack of money in general for planners, and the money allocated to the school by MIT, which is, after all, primarily an engineering institution.

    Quote Originally posted by anon06
    Urbanliz,
    I can tell from your post that you are obviously a first-year, as I too had the same sense of urgency about trying to get the most of my two years. But what you should hopefully realize soon is that taking so many courses will become an unbelievably draining and futile exercise. In a program like this you are expected to specialize in a specific area, not try to be a jack of all trades, as many of the six-course per semester students are ridiculously attempting; you will learn there are more of them than you currently realize. After you have added a certain number of courses, each additional course will have declining marginal utility as your concentration will be pulled in too many different directions, diluting the quality of your work, and reducing your energy level. Once you get into practica/workshop/studio courses with long term projects you will see how this very same thing will degrade communication, coordination, and collaboration within your teams. There is a reason why professors beg the students in their workshops not to take more than one workshop per semester. And why the students never listen, wreaking havoc on both themselves and their peers.

  12. #12
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    as a Planning professional that worked in public sector planning in the Boston area for 11 years, I can tell you that the only interns or student projects that were done for me or worked for me that were useful and insightful were either the ones from MIT or the law students at New England School of Law

    so don't sell the school too short - they must be doing something right if their professional practice class churns out documents that can be used professionally

    besides I know Terry Szold and felt MIT was lucky to have her - it really adds to the training to have professors who worked in the trenches - my big complaint about academics are the ones who teach professional practice concepts without professional experience - MIT doesn't have that problem

    it's elitist for a good reason - stay with it, your resume will thank you -

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    Participation & debate at MIT

    anon06,

    I hope that to the extent that you seem to have some deeply-felt issues with the program that you have aired those concerns in a venue within MIT that will help you feel less frustrated personally and that helps future students. My experience has been that there are many ways to air your concerns, both formal and informal, private and public, and both students and faculty are willing to hear you out.

    DUSP students have traditionally been very vocal and active in shaping the department, as evidenced by the various roundtables and meetings held by EPG and HCED students this year. If you really feel committed to the issues you bring up, I would hope that your commitment would lead you to participate in improving the areas that you find lacking.

    I have a couple comments in particular about your gripes:

    I agree with you that the pace of work can be challenging depending on what you've decided to do with your time, but having spoken to friends at other places, UPenn and Harvard, for example, I don't get the impression that the tendency to bite off more than you can comfortably chew is a characteristic particular to MIT's students. In fact, ping your buddies in graduate programs in general and I think you will find that it's an occupational hazard. Also, I echo the sentiment already expressed that lack of interesting courses definitely is not a problem, and if that leads people to take six courses at a time, then that is up to the individual. No one is going to give you a hard time if you take less, and people certainly do that, especially with studios.

    I roundly disagree with you about the accessibility of professors. Straddling real estate / urban development, environmental policy, and planning in Latin America, I've been running around like a nutcase talking to professors all over DUSP and frankly, I've never been given the impression that anyone is anything but interested in helping me pursue my interests. The fact that I'm able to write my thesis this semester on a country that I've never looked at before is, I think, a testament to how much help was offered to me by these professors whom you characterize as unavailable and cold. So I encourage you to go knocking on some doors and reconsider your opinion.

    Lastly, I don't know what floor you are on, but I for one have never seen IHTFP or anything else scrawled on any bathroom wall....

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    Another perspective on MIT: It was good for me. Perhaps it'll be good for you...

    My experience at MIT was very different from ANON06, as a recent graduate:
    1) I had great access to professors who assisted me professionally, academically...Their support was above and beyond what I had expected.
    2) Yes, MIT is politically liberal, and a lot of folks snickered at Bush during the debates, etc. But this in no way reflects how folks saw the issue of urban poverty at MIT. We were horribly conscious of the complexities of urban poverty, and we focused significantly on post-industrial cities that were 'off-the-map' of most folks (Youngstown OH, Camden NJ, Lawrence MA). Folks at MIT do not at all simplify the issue of urban poverty. If anything, it's tough to be an Anti-Red-Sox fan in Massachusetts.
    3) Financial Aid will always be a problem for Masters programs. But folks working part-time is not necessarily a reflection for the need of cash, but taking advantage of the great work-study opportunities that abound in the Boston area. I had the fortunte of working for a Legal Aid office, a local community development funder, and more. I think MIT could allocate it's financial aid better, but there simply is not enough to go around. You'll always have a lot of folks taking on debt.
    4) Folks take too many classes, but that is because there are those classes that you feel you HAVE to take, and in a 2-yr program classes don't rotate very often. Also, the classes are very challenging and demanding for a reason: I saw that there is an Economic Dev. class and another class both working on collaborative projects in New Orleans this semester. Are you going to slack off on such a serious class? Hell no, you'd want to work hard.

    Lastly- MIT was a challenging place, but I found a great resource of support networks from professors, alumni, fellow students, and community development professionals who made themselves available to me. It was a supportive environment that was not competitive, but more collaborative and open. We shared our knowledge freely and openly.

    For prospective students, I want you to know that MIT's program is large, it's broad, and it might not be for everyone. But I did my research and knew that this program had the capacity for supporting my academic interests and career goals at once. I hope everyone finds that program for themselves, whether it be MIT, or another program.

    Besides, this is too much navel-gazing for MIT. I had the fortune of working with some CUNY Hunter planning students recently, and they gave one of the best student presentations in a public forum that I have ever seen. Kudos to CUNY Hunter's program as well.

    Quote Originally posted by bklyngrl
    anon06,

    I hope that to the extent that you seem to have some deeply-felt issues with the program that you have aired those concerns in a venue within MIT that will help you feel less frustrated personally and that helps future students. My experience has been that there are many ways to air your concerns, both formal and informal, private and public, and both students and faculty are willing to hear you out.

    DUSP students have traditionally been very vocal and active in shaping the department, as evidenced by the various roundtables and meetings held by EPG and HCED students this year. If you really feel committed to the issues you bring up, I would hope that your commitment would lead you to participate in improving the areas that you find lacking.

    I have a couple comments in particular about your gripes:

    I agree with you that the pace of work can be challenging depending on what you've decided to do with your time, but having spoken to friends at other places, UPenn and Harvard, for example, I don't get the impression that the tendency to bite off more than you can comfortably chew is a characteristic particular to MIT's students. In fact, ping your buddies in graduate programs in general and I think you will find that it's an occupational hazard. Also, I echo the sentiment already expressed that lack of interesting courses definitely is not a problem, and if that leads people to take six courses at a time, then that is up to the individual. No one is going to give you a hard time if you take less, and people certainly do that, especially with studios.

    I roundly disagree with you about the accessibility of professors. Straddling real estate / urban development, environmental policy, and planning in Latin America, I've been running around like a nutcase talking to professors all over DUSP and frankly, I've never been given the impression that anyone is anything but interested in helping me pursue my interests. The fact that I'm able to write my thesis this semester on a country that I've never looked at before is, I think, a testament to how much help was offered to me by these professors whom you characterize as unavailable and cold. So I encourage you to go knocking on some doors and reconsider your opinion.

    Lastly, I don't know what floor you are on, but I for one have never seen IHTFP or anything else scrawled on any bathroom wall....

  15. #15
    Cyburbian jbr's avatar
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    looks like the thread-starter is on a web-wide rampage:
    http://discuss.princetonreview.com/tm.asp?m=7039882

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    Re: Tech Loans

    Quote Originally posted by anon06
    MIT/DUSP is incredibly arrogant and unsympathetic in the allocation of financial aid. Most students are accepted with no departmental financial aid and the institute's financial aid process is anything but transparent, causing headaches galore for the countless admits who attempt to finance their degrees. MIT's Technology Loan Program, a high interest loan program that many masters candidates depended on, was brazenly abolished by the administration mid-year, sending countless students in a tailspin searching for scarce aid from even scarcer private sources.
    Would you care to provide a citation for that? The only recent news I can find on the matter is that the loans *are now subsidized*. See daniel.mitblogs.com

    PS> IHTFP has many meanings. whether you're a beaver or a banana slug, It's Hard To Fondle Penguins. But then, the master's students here often have a very poor grasp of the Institute. Of course, so do many underclassmen. It's not any easy place to grok.

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