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Thread: Current students with experience vs. no experience

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Current students with experience vs. no experience

    For current students, would you say that having some experience in the planning field helped you while you were in grad school? And for those who didn't have experience, do you think that not having that experience kept you back in any way? Or is the experience irrelevant - if you're really motivated you will do well no matter what experience is/is not under your belt?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian planr's avatar
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    Having *some* experience before grad school will undoubtedly be beneficial to your thought processes.

    The type and length of experience will invariable shape your mindset going into school. That is to say, a 2 year stint with a municipal planning department will give you total different insights than 6 months with a development NGO in India.

    In terms of gaining acceptance to grad programs, if you are aiming for a top tier school, experience is something that is usually highly valued. Whether you were a local organizer for a presidential campaign, wrote for a small town newspaper, spent a few years as a tour guide in the grand canyon... whatever. Schools like LIFE experience just as much, if not more than planning experience.

    So, yes, "experience" is good. My recommendation is to spend at least a year in the real world between undergrad (assuming that is where you are right now) and grad. If you have already been out of school for awhile, don't hesitate to apply for grad schools, just play up whatever sorts of life experiences you have in the app process.

    And if you have any questions about MIT, let me know, I'd be happy to answer them
    "Try to be in two incredibly successful bands. If not, that's okay." -- Words to live by, courtesy of Dave Grohl

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by loladay View post
    For current students, would you say that having some experience in the planning field helped you while you were in grad school? And for those who didn't have experience, do you think that not having that experience kept you back in any way? Or is the experience irrelevant - if you're really motivated you will do well no matter what experience is/is not under your belt?
    Having experience, especially planning experience, will help you during and after grad school. I BRIEFLY considered enrolling in the MUP program at my alma-mater UIUC. The Director of Graduate Admissions (my old advisor from college) tried to sweeten the pot and shaved off 1 year off the two year program since I was already working as a planner. Check if other MUP programs offer an accelerated track if you have a undergrad planning degree and/or planning experience.

    If you already have the planning experience under your belt (and possibly AICP and/or LEED-AP certification), you can have better luck with the job search after school, either negotiating a higher salary for an entry-level job or by-passing entry-level altogether (although it still might be harder with the poor economy). I knew one grad student who worked in town as a planner while pursuing a masters. It took her a little longer, but she had a higher salary at her employer when she finished.

  4. #4
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    I went back for my Masters in Urban Planning and Policy two years after finishing my undergrad. During that time, I worked at the Chicago DOT and continued to do so as I went back to school.

    Based on my experience, the level of focus and professionalism is greater for grad students with some experience working in the real world - even more so for those working full-time while going back to school. Having "real world" experience helped ensure the work product I produced in school was of high quality. It also allowed me to apply real world situations to the theory taught in many classes.

    The one downside to continuing to work full-time while going back to school part-time is that I wasn't able to devote as much time to the academic experience of graduate school. Time management is of the upmost importance. Side interests that may or may not be related to a particular class/degree tract fall to the wayside due to lack of time. (The other downside was the lack of a social life - most of my free time was spent working on school work).

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