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Thread: What are my chances of getting into almost top-tier grad school?

  1. #1

    What are my chances of getting into almost top-tier grad school?

    Hi everyone. I'm new to the forum although I've been browsing for a couple of weeks. Let me introduce myself -


    I'm a 21-year-old undergrad student attending a mostly unknown state school, majoring in Community Planning and Urban Studies (yes our program is PAB accredited, btw), and minoring in political science. I graduate in the fall of 2009, and as of right now, my GPA is a 2.7. I have yet to take the GRE but I plan on taking it sometime in the spring.

    I want to attend a highly reputable, respectable school for grad. I know that to an extent, the only thing that really matters is that you have a degree but I'd like to attend a larger, more well-renowned school for grad.

    The ony problem is, as I've said before, is that I've fooled around too much in undergrad. Honestly I didn't even know HOW to study until my junior year...........and I'll be a senior in January.

    So with all of that being said..........I've downloaded the Plantizen.com guide to urban planning grad schools and after doing some research based off of that, I've seen a couple of schools that capture my interest. But the one school that stands out to me as being almost perfect for my career interests and my particular situation is the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill).

    Now I know that UNC is a highly competitve school, not an easy one to get into. But the program seems perfect for me - they offer what I want to concentrate in (transportation planning), not to mention almost every other concentration available in planning, so should I decide to focus on something else between now and grad school, I can do so. Plus, for such a competitive school, its tuition rates are pretty reasonable - $20,000/year for out-of-state but only $6,000/year for in-state residents! I thought I was dreaming, I had to double check the school's website to make sure it was accurate. That's only slightly more than what I would pay in tuition as an in-state student at the school I'm at now. All I'd have to do is become a NC resident. Bottom line, UNC seems to offer a LOT of bang for my buck. It almsot seems to be too good to be true.


    So with all of that being said, what hope does a kid with a 2.7 GPA, and only 3 semesters left before graduation have of getting into such a highly competitive planning program as UNC? Will an extraordinary GRE score help? I should also mention that I had an internship this summer at a community development non-profit............I definitely plan on getting another one next summer (2009). Will having two internships under my belt and an above average GRE help make up for what will probably be at best, a 2.9 or 3.0 GPA upon graduation? The website says that they "prefer" a B average or better, but the word "prefer" implies that there is room for flexibility and that they're open to accepting students with slightly lower GPAs. So basically I'm just looking for an honest answer guys - what are my chances of getting into UNC, or similarly-ranked schools such as Virginia Tech or Rutgers?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    GPAs say alot about how you handle your school work. You will need stellar GRE scores, good references, a letter of intent, portfolio (optional) to be considered at more prestiguous schools to compensate for the poor GPA. Several grad schools allow "some" students probationary status if they don't have good grades, but they need to convince the admissions staff that they have what it takes to succeed in a planning program.

    I graduated with a BAUP with a GPA of 2.67 (I was also in the military and didn't have all of the time to devote to my studies). I don't plan on ever doing that again when I go back to school. Solid professional experience may also make up for low GPAs and GRE scores, too.

  3. #3
    Thanks for the response. Does having a summer internship or two (i.e. work experience) count for anything? What if (hypothetically) I were to make straight As from now until graduation? I keep hearing that grad schools only look at your last 4 semesters of school.............if so, would they be impressed if they looked at my transcript and saw that even though I screwed around the first 5 or 6 semesters of undergrad, I was able to get serious in the last 3 or 4?


    I really don't want to attend No Name State University for grad. I don't want to feel like I have to settle. Now granted I'm not really interested in any Ivy League schools either (I don't want Ivy League debt).............I just want to go to a school that'll be highly respected wherever I go. I want to prove to myself and others that I have what it takes to succeed in a tougher enviornment. I want to be challenged. My program is OK I feel challenged more and more as I get further along in the program but for a long time I didn't feel challenged at all. I don't mean to brag, but i've basically always been the smart guy who got bored easily in school if I wasn't being challenged, and so that's very important to me. I want to have fun learning, and at the same time, be pushed to be the best I can be. I want to be in an environment where I feel the desire to compete and succeed.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Jazzman View post
    i've basically always been the smart guy who got bored easily in school if I wasn't being challenged, and so that's very important to me. I want to have fun learning, and at the same time, be pushed to be the best I can be. I want to be in an environment where I feel the desire to compete and succeed.
    Coughs BULLsh*t. Then why the heck did you get a 2.7?!!!

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Jazzman View post
    i've basically always been the smart guy who got bored easily in school if I wasn't being challenged, and so that's very important to me. I want to have fun learning, and at the same time, be pushed to be the best I can be. I want to be in an environment where I feel the desire to compete and succeed.
    Coughs BULLsh*t. Then why the heck did you get a 2.7?!!! I think I speak for the admissions staff, too.

  6. #6
    Well no it's not bullshit. Really bright people tend to get bored easily and slack off when they feel unstimulated. But i know that that explanation would never hold water in the real world, so I'm not upset with you about that statement. I would never tell an admissions staff that either, lol.


    But no seriously, I'll take your advice and excel in every other factor and hope that that helps gets me into a top school.


    BTW............you didn't answer my question about grad schools only looking at the last 4 semesters or so of undergrad. Is it true?

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Jazzman View post
    Well no it's not bullshit. Really bright people tend to get bored easily and slack off when they feel unstimulated. But i know that that explanation would never hold water in the real world, so I'm not upset with you about that statement. I would never tell an admissions staff that either, lol.


    But no seriously, I'll take your advice and excel in every other factor and hope that that helps gets me into a top school.


    BTW............you didn't answer my question about grad schools only looking at the last 4 semesters or so of undergrad. Is it true?
    There are MANY bright students who are never bored, and there are ton of hard-working bright, average, and not-so-bright students who don't slack off. There are plenty of courses and obligations in college that are not rewarding, stimulating, or enjoyable but they still have be completed. If you were so passionate about planning, why didn't you address your concerns to your advisor instead of slacking off? If they coudn't help you and you found your program to be a bore, could you have you transferred to another planning program?

    And yes, several programs look at your last 4 semesters for graduate admissions.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    There are MANY bright students who are never bored, and there are ton of hard-working bright, average, and not-so-bright students who don't slack off. There are plenty of courses and obligations in college that are not rewarding, stimulating, or enjoyable but they still have be completed. If you were so passionate about planning, why didn't you address your concerns to your advisor instead of slacking off? If they coudn't help you and you found your program to be a bore, could you have you transferred to another planning program?

    And yes, several programs look at your last 4 semesters for graduate admissions.


    I don't disagree. And hell there's nothing I can do about bad grades now, that's why i'm on the ball now. No need for excuses. I'm just wondering if it's a lost cause (because I think the highest I would be able to pull my GPA up to now is a 3.0 or so) or if I should still try to apply. I really, really like what I see at the University of North Carolina. I just hope I could get in. Thanks for your help.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Coughs BULLsh*t. Then why the heck did you get a 2.7?!!! I think I speak for the admissions staff, too.
    I think it's fairly simple. 2.7 doesn't sound too hot, but that still equates to more B's than C's. I was fairly similar, blowing away my peers on tests but having a poor ability to manage the process of completing coursework and had misplaced priorities. As I got older, my priorities became aligned and managing a 40 hour work-week is considerably harder than a 12-hour courseload, so those skills were built up. There are many, many people similar to this, to the extent that some schools actively look for the 'diamond in the rough' students.

    My advice is, if it's too late to have a good overall GPA, you need to leave a paper trail that indicates that you'll be better at getting good grades in the future (getting grades is in itself a skill). That means, 3.5+ for your remaining coursework, I would wager.

    As far as internships, etc, yes. Everything counts.

  10. #10
    Thanks for the encouragement.

  11. #11
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    transportation planning

    You said you downloaded the rankings, what were the rankings for top programs in transportation planning and environmental-land use trans. planning?

  12. #12
    The top 10 in envirornmental planning -


    1) Florida State
    2) MIT
    3) Rutgers
    4) Tufts
    5) UC-Berkeley
    6) UCLA
    7) Illinois
    8) Michigan
    9) North Carolina
    10) Oregon


    The top 10 in transportation planning -

    1) Georgia Tech
    2) Harvard
    3) MIT
    4) Portland State
    5) Rutgers
    6) Texas A&M
    7) UC-Berkeley
    8) UC-Irvine
    9) UCLA
    10) Maryland



    Now I realize that rankings like this are to be taken with a grain of salt; but at the same time, it IS well-researched information.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian planr's avatar
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    As someone who is currently in one of the top tier programs you mentioned, let me offer my two cents.

    1) With regards to your GPA: If you come on strong in your last three semesters (think 3.6+ in each) and show your commitment to the final years of your undergraduate education, the fact that your cumulative GPA will still be relatively low will be MUCH less of an issue. Many admissions committees look only at the last 60 credit hours / 4 semesters / 2 years anyway.

    2) With regards to the GRE: When I was doing my research into graduate programs last summer, it seemed like the "average" GRE score for a top tier school was somewhere in the range of 1200-1300 with a 5.0 on the writing. If you can work your scores into the 1300+ / 5.0+ range, you will have nothing to worry about. Top tier planning schools are very much unlike other top tier professional schools (med, law, biz) in that you don't need 99th percentile numbers to gain acceptance).

    3) With regard to internships: Do as many as you can, paid or unpaid, it doesn't matter. What does matter is trying to gain a little relevant experience in what matters to you, whether it be transportation planning, zoning and building codes, community organizing, etc. It is also important that you impress those that you work with so that when the time comes you can ask your supervisor for a letter of recommendation if need be.

    At the end of the day, I can pretty much guarantee that the two most crucial pieces of your application package at ANY school will be the Statement of Purpose (Letter of Intent) and the set of Letters of Recommendation, meaning that the qualitative parts of the application far outweigh the quantitative in terms of importance.

    To give you some background, I applied to UCLA (accepted), MIT (accepted), and Berkeley (wait-listed, then rejected) with a 2.78 Cum. GPA, 1400 / 5.0 GRE, one internship from Jun-Aug 2007 and experience as a Research Assistant under a professor at ASU during my last two semesters (graduated Dec 2007).

    Long story short: Bust your ass in class, make friends with professors who are doing interesting work, get some practical experience, and write a bulletproof statement of purpose and you will have a perfectly good shot at acceptance at top tier schools!

    PS - It may also help if you can afford to visit 2-3 of your top choices during the fall you plan to apply (2009?) to meet with faculty and current students and get a feel for each school. You can also ask faculty about their research interests, relevant funding opportunities, job placement, etc. If you plan to apply to MIT (or even Hahvard), let me know and I will happily show you around Cambridge.
    "Try to be in two incredibly successful bands. If not, that's okay." -- Words to live by, courtesy of Dave Grohl

  14. #14
    Thanks a lot, planr. I'll keep everything you said in mind.


    I noticed that you said that you graduated in the fall.........did you start grad school in the spring, and if so was that a major factor in considering what school you wanted to attend? One advisor (who has no background in planning, but rather a ph.D in Economics) suggested that I look at schools that do spring admission and forget any that don't. I don't think it's a bad idea to wait nine months for admission in the fall if it's a program I really want to get into..........and at the same time, if I move in early enough, it seems like it could also benefit me financially (I'd only pay out-of-state tuition in most states for the fall, by the time spring rolls around I could be considered an in-state resident, I would submise).

    Anyway, I'm getting way too far ahead of myself. I didn't think this was true not long ago, but it seems like I actually have hope despite my not-so-stellar perfomance thus far.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian planr's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jazzman View post
    I noticed that you said that you graduated in the fall.........did you start grad school in the spring, and if so was that a major factor in considering what school you wanted to attend? One advisor (who has no background in planning, but rather a ph.D in Economics) suggested that I look at schools that do spring admission and forget any that don't. I don't think it's a bad idea to wait nine months for admission in the fall if it's a program I really want to get into..........and at the same time, if I move in early enough, it seems like it could also benefit me financially (I'd only pay out-of-state tuition in most states for the fall, by the time spring rolls around I could be considered an in-state resident, I would submise).

    I did not start until the fall. Very few programs, including most of the ones you mentioned have both fall AND spring admissions. I believe the reason for this has to do with logistics, given that each school that is accredited must teach a similar core curriculum (theory, history, quantitative stuff, etc). It is much easier to offer a well-defined series of classes when you only bring in students once a year.

    Everyone is different, but my recommendation would be to apply for fall admission to all schools and do an internship or travel a bit (if you can afford it) in the period after graduation.
    "Try to be in two incredibly successful bands. If not, that's okay." -- Words to live by, courtesy of Dave Grohl

  16. #16
    That's what I want to do...........my practical, logical, rational side says I should try to obtain some sort of internship or planning related job in order to gain experience.........that way when I come out of graduate school, I'll have a master's degree AND about a year of experience under my belt (possibly more, possibly less).


    But the other side of me says, "hey, I only have one life to live, and I want to see the world! The other part of me just wants to use those seven or eight months or so in between undergrad and grad to have fun, see some things, and just live my life.


    Maybe I can do both

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Jazzman View post
    That's what I want to do...........my practical, logical, rational side says I should try to obtain some sort of internship or planning related job in order to gain experience.........that way when I come out of graduate school, I'll have a master's degree AND about a year of experience under my belt (possibly more, possibly less).


    But the other side of me says, "hey, I only have one life to live, and I want to see the world! The other part of me just wants to use those seven or eight months or so in between undergrad and grad to have fun, see some things, and just live my life.


    Maybe I can do both
    How serious are you about planning? You told us that you slacked off for over half of college, want to get straight A's to make up, and get into a good graduate school. And now, you want to go backpacking for 7-8 months?

    Bro, you are going to have to work your butt from here on out if you want to get into planning. The economy sucks, and it isn't going to improve overnight. Chat with any of the dozens of students on cyburbia who pulled straight A's throughout college and grad school who still cannot find work -6,-9,-12 months out of school. Chat with any of the dozens of practicing planners who have been in the profession for years who can't find similar work after being shown the door.

    I was honorably discharged from the Army with barely one year left of college and my GPA in the toilet. I hunkered down, earned straight A's in all of my planning courses, worked as many paid/unpaid internships as I could (6 in 2 1/2 years, including after college), volunteered with my local APA chapter, and other planning organizations on campus, taught myself how to (1) make a portfolio and (2) how to network. I am very VERY lucky that I can work up the ladder with just my college planning degree, but I had to work my butt off.

    Planning is a growing profession and is gaining traction in society. Despite what Time, NYT, Wall Street Journal, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics say, I still think the rate of enrollment is accelerating compared to the rate of new planning jobs being created (even in a better economy). Alot more graduates + slightly more jobs = much more competition. No matter what the state of economy, you will still be competing for entry-level jobs after grad school aginst planners who have several years of experience.

    "Are you in good hands"

    http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showt...ng+grad+school

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    Jazzman, here's my plan as it relates to traveling, which might have some applicability to you. My disclaimer is that I haven't done it yet and am not in grad school. Also, my situation is slightly different; I went to a top 30 national university, 3.6+ GPA, combined BA/MA in economics, 1410 GRE (5 in writing). Not saying that to brag but just to put that out there; I'm hoping to attend MIT, although Harvard and UPenn also sound great to me.

    So, I've been currently working for 4 years in an unrelated industry (strategy + planning consultant for life sciences institutes). My plan is to send my applications out next September (2009) and as soon as my apps are out, travel the world for 6 months. Pretty much right after I get back I'll receive my acceptance (hopefully!) or rejection letters, and then enroll for Fall of 2010.

    I agree that traveling like that can be a once-in-a lifetime opportunity, so it was very important for me to have that experience even though it will delay my admission into urban planning. I don't see any reason why you couldn't do the same, as long as you have all your ducks in a row beforehand (i.e., finish the year strong, get an internship, apply, travel, enroll).

  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    Dang, Future planner, I'm doing basically the same exact thing (same non planning experience, same stats, same schools and traveling between Jan and August), but I'm doing that this year. I also think the traveling thing can be helpful in bringing ideas to the table once you get to school.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian planr's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    And now, you want to go backpacking for 7-8 months?
    Do you even have a passport? Don't knock it until you try it.

    To Jazzman - If you are so inclined, there are plenty of NGO's in developing countries who would love to have you on board as an intern. You won't get paid, but it'll give you something to talk about wherever you go and will be an experience you'll never forget. Based on what I've done and things I've seen friends do, with a little bit of effort you could get a gig in an African country for 3-4 months and another in an Asian country for 3-4 months. If you like International work, there really is no better substitute. However, if you just want a Master's so you can start your next job at a higher pay grade in the government or as a consultant, the domestic internship may still be a better option.
    "Try to be in two incredibly successful bands. If not, that's okay." -- Words to live by, courtesy of Dave Grohl

  21. #21
    Quote Originally posted by planr View post
    Do you even have a passport? Don't knock it until you try it.

    To Jazzman - If you are so inclined, there are plenty of NGO's in developing countries who would love to have you on board as an intern. You won't get paid, but it'll give you something to talk about wherever you go and will be an experience you'll never forget. Based on what I've done and things I've seen friends do, with a little bit of effort you could get a gig in an African country for 3-4 months and another in an Asian country for 3-4 months. If you like International work, there really is no better substitute. However, if you just want a Master's so you can start your next job at a higher pay grade in the government or as a consultant, the domestic internship may still be a better option.
    I know you posted this several months ago and I did read it. But I feel compelled to respond now.

    Honestly, I'd love to do some kind of study abroad program, but I wouldn't want to make a permanent career in planning (or anything else for that matter) overseas. There's a LOT of very, very personal reasons why I feel that way that I won't delve into here.

    With that being said................I'm still in the hunt. I posted this several months ago; here I am at the end of the semester and there's a good chance I'll straight As. I might make one B. I've busted my butt this semester.

    As it stands now, I'm looking at several different options. I'm still looking at UNC and Rutgers, but I'm also interested in Maryland and Virginia (those two states are home to many of the communities that are generally touted for being 'well-planned' communities, so it seems that I should try to learn about planning in a place that plans well..........does that make sense?). Also, I've come to the realization that many Midwestern schools are really interested in bringing on minority students into their planning program. I'm definitely NOT looking for a handout (I don't support affirmative action). One of my professors passed on a letter to me from the University of Wisconsin that expressed that sentiment in so many words.....I may end up at someplace like Wisconsin or Iowa for that very reason, if someone is willing to pay for my graduate education, I'll take that opportunity though the Midwest isn't my first choice as far as where I'll want to live (though anyplace is better than 'Bama!).

    I'm really interested in a study abroad program though. I'm in the process of planning a trip to Japan for next year, but I want to see more, and I want to experience more. I am DEFINITELY passionate about my planning career, but I also want to experience some things and see some things as well.

    I'm also considering earning a master's degree in geography. I've heard that a geography degree is VERY similar to a planning degree. How true is this? If a master's in geography is just as good as a master's in planning, then that opens up the possibilities as far as what schools I can consider for my graduate education. Any insights or thoughts, guys?

  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Jazzman View post

    I'm also considering earning a master's degree in geography. I've heard that a geography degree is VERY similar to a planning degree. How true is this? If a master's in geography is just as good as a master's in planning, then that opens up the possibilities as far as what schools I can consider for my graduate education. Any insights or thoughts, guys?
    It's similar in that you are studying spatial issues, but the approach may be different. For example you are usually not studying policy or implementation, but rather processes of change or dynamic land patterns (not that you don't also study this in planning, but this is just one example). Also when you study GIS in geography it's much different than when you use GIS in planning, as another example. I was considering applying to a geography program if I didn't get into planning this year (oh god, I hope that's not the case, because I cannot handle another year in the real world). Most geog masters programs I know of are research-based, less taught courses like a planning masters. A geog masters can be used as research experience when you apply for planning programs in the future. It would be a huge plus if you write a thesis on something you want to continue studying in planning.

  23. #23
    Quote Originally posted by nvijaya View post
    It's similar in that you are studying spatial issues, but the approach may be different. For example you are usually not studying policy or implementation, but rather processes of change or dynamic land patterns (not that you don't also study this in planning, but this is just one example). Also when you study GIS in geography it's much different than when you use GIS in planning, as another example. I was considering applying to a geography program if I didn't get into planning this year (oh god, I hope that's not the case, because I cannot handle another year in the real world). Most geog masters programs I know of are research-based, less taught courses like a planning masters. A geog masters can be used as research experience when you apply for planning programs in the future. It would be a huge plus if you write a thesis on something you want to continue studying in planning.

    Well here's the ultimate question - how likely am I to be hired by a planning agency (city, state, or federal government or a private firm) with a master's in geography as opposed to a master's in planning? Keep in mind I'd already have a B.S. in planning from a PAB-accredited school.

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