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Thread: Harvard vs Berkeley

  1. #1
    May 2008
    new york

    Harvard vs Berkeley

    So I got off the waitlist about 2 weeks ago, and have been agonizing over where to go. Harvard has the prestige and shared courses with MIT, while as berkeley has a better program. I am interested in a planning with a sustainable/environmental focus aka environmental planning. either choice is good.... but which is better?

    i haven't had a chance to visit either, but feel that since harvard seems to be more design oriented, i may gain more practical skills and knowledge at berkeley.

  2. #2
    Apr 2008
    Los Angeles, CA
    I had a similar problem as you. I was also on the waitlist and finally decided to choose Berkeley due to the diversity of the program (more choices). I doubt Berkeley is going to give us a 100% practical education since it's still a research university. But I do feel that Berkeley is definitely big on the environmental/sustainability emphasis, perhaps more so than even Harvard (I may be wrong). I guess the question to ask yourself is do you have a particular professor you're really interested in working with? Did you compared Berkeley's curriculum versus Harvard's? Do you want to work on the west coast or the east coast? I heard a lot people on this forum stressing the geography of planning. California planning is definitely different from other states.

  3. #3
    Nov 2007
    New York
    Annshi: Your practical skills wouldn't be deficient just because Harvard is design oriented. It depends on the type of skills you expect. You are right that Harvard is heavy on design. It's housed in the GSD, where Architecture seems to rule the roost, if the number of students is any indication. Additionally, all planning students still take "studio" classes, which I assume means the development of a portfolio like other design disciplines. I would not feel constrained though as the GSD has made it easy to cross register at MIT, which probably fills in any gaps in Harvard's course offerings. I think practicality and skill-based education is a big part of the GSD program, as I was told by an administrator that people don't go there for PhDs (read: not overly theoretical).

    On the other hand, I think Berkeley is more theoretical, but without sacrificing opportunities to develop skill sets. It is more the kind of place people use as a springboard for academic careers. I have read that some other California programs (SLO?) are geared towards practical applications. I don't see how Berkeley can't do this also, but perception is reality I guess. The different programs in CA all serve their role. See:


    I was very temped by Harvard too, and prestige was a factor. Although it's responsible of me to consider only the factors that will directly impact my career prospects (which made Berkeley the hands-down choice), my human side still wanted to go to Harvard for the atmosphere and prestige. In the end, though, my career path will not depend so much on professional networks, and that is one of the strengths of Harvard.

    As for location, I think the Harvard name would carry across the country, but probably more in private firms than in municipal governments. Perhaps the same for Berkeley. The only thing that geography might affect is your selection of an internship, out of which frequently comes a job offer, so you might have to make a geographical decision. As a practical matter, interviewing is easier to do a few T-stops away rather than a trans-continental plane flight. But that's further down the list than the more important factors Cole mentioned.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
    Nov 2002
    Ocean to the east, land to the west
    I think the biggest factor is location (east vs. west coast) and where you'd like to be for 2+ years (and perhaps long after that.) And financial aid, if that's a factor. Can't go too far wrong with either.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
    Mar 2004
    Where Valley Fever Lives
    Blog entries


    Why the hesitation? UC Berkeley is the clear choice If you get a chance, get Dan Kammen as your advisor

    If it helps, he went to Harvard for his Masters and PhD

    “The way of acquiescence leads to moral and spiritual suicide. The way of violence leads to bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. But, the way of non-violence leads to redemption and the creation of the beloved community.”
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    - See more at: http://www.thekingcenter.org/king-ph....r7W02j3S.dpuf

  6. #6
    Sep 2015
    East Coast


    Bumping this thread. Have comparisons changed much in 8 years? Would be nice to hear from Cyburbians. I'm currently deciding between these two very different programs. Here are my thoughts so far...

    I keep having quite opposite concerns about whether Harvard is "too design-oriented" vs. whether Berkeley is "too theory-oriented". On top of that, I declared an interest in housing/community development but I'm not sure I want to go that route anymore. Having worked in urban policy and consulting roles in the past, I have no design background and welcome the chance to build a set of visual communication skills (+1 to GSD). The studios seemed impressive at the GSD Open House. However, in speaking to current GSD students (esp. those without design backgrounds), words like "unclear expectations" or "frustrating" were used to describe the studio experience. I'm not sure whether to be worried, or to be excited about the challenge? On the other hand, it seems like I can get a more balanced (albeit heavy and loaded) curriculum at Berkeley. The class offerings seemed more interesting. I also liked the flexibility between thesis and client/professional report versus thesis only at the GSD. (+1 to CAL)

    Faculty and Research
    There are faculty on both sides I could see myself working with (TIE?). However, with Berkeley, it seemed like there was a rat race to compete for GSI/GSR/TA positions. A current student's advice was basically "apply broadly to every Cal department based on any class you took in undergrad". I didn't get the same impression about research opportunities during the GSD open house. Also, I received an assistantship offer at the GSD which was cool beans! (+1 to GSD!)

    Career Prospects
    I have roots in the Bay Area, but I'm not sold on the West Coast. I also see myself going into private practice. Although prestige might be better, does Harvard necessarily have a better network in planning? Not so sure... Cal seems to do well in the Bay Area but not outside this. However, there are so many other schools in the Northeast, and I'm not convinced about the reach of the GSD brand/prestige (TIE?)

    Anyone want to chime in?

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