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Thread: Advice on applying to urban planning schools

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Advice on applying to urban planning schools

    Dear all,

    I am a new member to this forum and I am really intent in getting into urban planning school next year. I had loved this field since I was little and really want to get into it as a professional. I read plenty of information from previous threads but I still want to make sure I am doing the right thing as I am applying. I'll start with a little information about me.

    College: Northeastern University, Boston
    Major: Political Science
    Cumulative GPA: 3.5 (3.75 during my senior year)
    GRE scores: 620 math, 450 verbal (I know its terrible, I don't know what happened), 4.5 essay
    Experience: Did one internship with the Boston Landmarks Commission which is in charge of historic preservation in Boston and worked for a non-profit that grew urban gardens and did work in sustainable development; all other experience has been in the public sector including 4 years of substitute teaching
    Applying to Tufts (first choice), Harvard, U-Toronto, Rutgers-New Brunswick, and possibly UMASS Amherst and SUNY-Buffalo as safeties

    I feel some of these have to be good points but I still have a nervous dread of not getting into any school at all. Can someone tell me if urban planning schools are super competitive? Are the GREs very important (as you can see I bombed the verbal? Should I take them again? Also are there any schools in my list that I should not consider on account of a bad reputation?

    I would greatly appreciate if someone can answer at least part of my concerns. Thanks

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Plus PlannerGirl's avatar
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    Very simple question

    What do you want to DO with your urban planning degree?
    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Ben Franklin

    Remember this motto to live by: "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming 'WOO- HOO what a ride!'"

  3. #3
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    I don't think that the GRE score will kill you. If you broaden your school choices, I am sure that you will be much more likely to get in. I know many grad planning schools do not require the GRE at all if you have a certain GPA. I would say that Harvard and Rutgers would be the tough ones to get into, and your personal statement will be important there.

    Good luck!
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  4. #4
    Dan Staley's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Slideruler View post
    Dear all,

    I am a new member to this forum and I am really intent in getting into urban planning school next year. I had loved this field since I was little and really want to get into it as a professional. [snipped]

    I would greatly appreciate if someone can answer at least part of my concerns. Thanks
    It is difficult to recommend - anything - without context.

    The context missing here is:

    o what interests you
    o what do you want to do when you're done
    o what do you think is missing from the profession that you can change
    o etc.

    Generic answer: your personal statement matters, esp with these GREs. Widen your choices as your GRE is a little low, but recoverable with a good personal statement stating what you bring and what you want to do with it.

    Good luck.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    I applied last year with a 1020 GRE and a 3.85 GPA and was accepted at Maryland, Columbia, UT Austin, waitlisted then accepted at Cornell, and rejected by Harvard and Penn. So don't worry too much about your numbers...

    I should mention that I didn't end up enrolling - partially because my current employer (RE developer) persuaded me to stay on board another year, but also because I realized I didn't do enough research on different schools and their emphases. I'm reapplying again this year with a deliberate focus in economic/community development, and I studied for about a month for the GRE and brought my score up to 1200. If you have the time to seriously prepare for the GRE I would definitely take it again.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by riotproofcity View post
    I should mention that I didn't end up enrolling - partially because my current employer (RE developer) persuaded me to stay on board another year, but also because I realized I didn't do enough research on different schools and their emphases. I'm reapplying again this year with a deliberate focus in economic/community development, and I studied for about a month for the GRE and brought my score up to 1200. If you have the time to seriously prepare for the GRE I would definitely take it again.
    Riotproof, just wondering where you find out about each schools emphases. I have been looking at many schools, but haven't focused too much into each emphases and it sounds like that is an important aspect. Also curious as to which schools you are currently looking at now and what their emphases are? Thanks alot.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    my interests . . .

    I am really interested in transportation planning, especially public and alternative transportation (i.e. bikepaths etc). I used to attend as many public transportation public hearings as possible and corresponded with various bikepath/rail-trail advocacy groups back in college but this time I actually want to help a city be ready for the impact of a new route or right of way.

    I am also interested in housing and community development. I want to learn how to bridge the gap between affordable and unaffordable, rich and poor, spacious and crowded. I see my self working for a city government or non-profit org doing such things after graduation. I hope this explains some of my current interests.

    Might I add that I never did well in my SATs. I took them 3 times and my highest score was only an 1140 out of a 1600 in the old scoring system. I don't think standardized tests like the GRE or SAT are my strong point at all. Still, if I can get by with a well drafted personal statement I'll keep my fingers crossed. Thanks for that advice to those who provided it.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    To figure out a particular school's emphasis, read their website thoroughly. What do they talk about throughout the entire thing? What kinds of concentrations do they offer?

    The Planetzien (sp?) guide might be useful for that, to a certain extent, and read up on back entries in this forum. I've found those incredibly useful in helping me decide what schools are right for me.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Your stats, with the exception of your GRE scores, seem solid. I wouldn't worry about not getting in anywhere at all, especially if you have a solid personal statement. That said, Harvard is tough. The admissions people pay a fair bit of attention to the verbal score, given the lack of an admissions portfolio and the importance of written communication in planning.

    The important thing though is to figure out what you want out of the program and how each program may suit you. Harvard and Rutgers for example are very very different programs.

    Lastly, UToronto doesn't require a GRE score, and they look favourably upon prior experience in advocacy/activism. Don't send your score there, and I think you are quite competitive.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    I'd be very, very surprised if you don't get in anywhere. The GRE certainly isn't as bad as you seem to think. Good luck!

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Batmanda's avatar
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    I've got GRE scores just a few notches higher than you and a similar GPA, so I've been pretty curious as to my chances of getting in, too, though I'm looking for more of a design focus in a MUP. I'm applying to 8-10 schools, because I'm so scared of not getting in. It sounds like we might both be ok though!

    As far as emphases, most of the websites have info on the specializations or concentrations available, plus they usually have a list of the core curriculum classes. If they don't, email them and ask for a list. Those things together should give you a pretty good idea of what that program would be best for.

    Planetizen: Their guide is useful, BUT it is important to remember that the full-page info on individual schools are not necessarily up to date, and not every school submitted information to that part. Use it as a guide but not as your only resource, because I started by doing that and I found I was missing out on a lot of current info. Also, see if a local college library has it, because its pretty expensive.

    ACSP has a guide, too, without a ranking system, but with info on average GPAs and GRE scores: http://www.acsp.org/Guide/ACSP_13th_Edition_Guide.pdf
    Last edited by Batmanda; 25 Nov 2008 at 2:48 PM. Reason: forgot some info

  12. #12
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    Do any of you have any input into how schools weight the individual components of the GRE relative to each other and to the other application components?

    I somehow managed to score a 740 verbal and 760 math but only a 4.5 on analytical writing.

    I'm hoping that a crisp personal statement will make up for my apparent f-up on the writing section, but the score is still low enough to make me worried about my chances. My GPA and work experience are solid (3.6 from Yale, 3 years in planning/RE consulting). Am I just being paranoid, or is it enough to knock me out of consideration at a place like Berkeley or MIT?

  13. #13
    Cyburbian planr's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Stcamp View post
    Do any of you have any input into how schools weight the individual components of the GRE relative to each other and to the other application components?

    I somehow managed to score a 740 verbal and 760 math but only a 4.5 on analytical writing.

    I'm hoping that a crisp personal statement will make up for my apparent f-up on the writing section, but the score is still low enough to make me worried about my chances. My GPA and work experience are solid (3.6 from Yale, 3 years in planning/RE consulting). Am I just being paranoid, or is it enough to knock me out of consideration at a place like Berkeley or MIT?
    If you have a great statement and good letters of recommendation, you'll have a good shot at MIT. While I cant speak for Berkeley because I'm not there (i am at MIT), I would imagine their process is similar
    "Try to be in two incredibly successful bands. If not, that's okay." -- Words to live by, courtesy of Dave Grohl

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