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Thread: Harvard open house - MUP- some observations

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Harvard open house - MUP- some observations

    Anyone else there? I went to the Open House at Harvard on Friday and had a great experience and had the following thoughts (if you have any other questions let me know and I can answer). These are things you probably can't get by looking at their (pretty weak website):
    • Pretty small program, 1st year students: 30, 2nd years 20
    • A large variety of backgrounds, alot of students, more than expected, with no previous work (not to mention planning) experience. Average age seemed be mid-20s
    • Cambridge has much more of a college town feel than I expected.
    • The program is much more design focused than any other I've encountered. Students have their own studio space and spend a huge chunk of time there.
    • I met about a third of the 1st years. Really friendly and easy to talk to.
    • Harvard makes you pay for everything. VPN access to software. $. Chair for studio. $$. Printing pinups. $$. I think alot of people get tuition help, though.
    • Pretty impressive presentations by students.
    • Tight community feel to students and faculty. This is a big plus for me.
    • The chair Jerold Kayden, is incredibly engaging and funny. A real personality. He's going on sabbatical next year, though.

    Overall, the program really sold me on the design aspect and closeness of the community. The other prospective students were a little quieter than I expected, but definitely opened up during day. We basically sat with the students and shat the crap for a couple hours during the afternoon. Overall, good time.
    Last edited by wvhoo; 10 Nov 2008 at 2:04 PM. Reason: MOre descriptive title

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    What are the pros/cons of a design centered curriculum? With all this studio work does it essentially allow you to hit the ground running once you land a planning job?

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    I have no idea if it's true, but the chair especially emphasized your "hit the ground running" fact as GSD grads are more well suited to do that than other places.

    One Con I can see is that it costs more (printing a plot is like $10), is significantly more work time (depends to see if it is more difficult), and can take away from taking more classes. Pro is that you get to know your colleagues better, get some design skills you may never get, and it seems like it could be a good time.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    At Penn I really felt like the school was proud and excited about their planning program and its students. It was quite clear that you would be a part of a tight knit group not only within the school of design, but just as importantly within the U Penn community at large. Did you get this feeling at Harvard? I read the "What's the Mission of Harvard's Urban Planning Program?" that was posted on their website, and it painted a picture of a rocky road to its current incarnation, which has only been around since 1994. I guess I'm a bit concerned about attending a school that relegates the planning program and its students to "second class".

    Oh, and what kind of internships/jobs did the students you spoke with get? Did the majority end up in normal city planner jobs in and around boston? Do you think Harvard opens up more doors?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    During the opening ceremony they had TWO urban planning students present really engaging topics.

    The students seemed to really enjoy the program, and actually liked the size of the program.

    They said 1/3rd go public, 1/3rd private, 1/3rd other. I think alot of the internships were everywhere. Both Harvard and MIT don't have big cores, which is good and bad.

    I spent two days at Penn and the content of the classes and the general convival atmosphere is sweet. The chair was honest about the issues with the program (barely any aid, lack of research). I had great experiences with the students I actually chatted up with (mostly 2nd years), but it's definitely hipster haven, which I'm not used to.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    When I was at Penn, I got the impression that the planning kids were essentially quirky geeks (which is not a bad thing), but you're right the rest of the school did seem like a hipster haven (which is not necessarily a bad thing either).

    I guess what I was asking was whether or not you got the feeling that the Planning kids were seen as nothing more than "architecture lite" students by the rest of the GSD. Not taken as seriously, etc.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    I didn't attend the open house (and am not applying to Harvard), but I did the GSD Career Discovery program this summer and got a sense from that of what the place is like. Basically, extremely design-focused, as wvhoo mentioned. I definitely did get the sense that the planning program gets a lot less attention than the architecture programs, which are much larger and clearly the focus of the school. It sounded like the structure of the planning program is also modeled very closely on the architecture programs, which basically means studio-centered with the studios eating up massive amounts of time and attention, leaving much less for other classes. Nothing wrong with studio, of course, but to me this seems suboptimal for a planning program (though it probably works perfectly well for architecture). A lot of the students do seem to really like it, though.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    I graduated from Penn in 2005, a member of what was the largest planning class in the program's history due to over-enrollment. It was a decent time, and I'm surprised to hear the current students described as hipsterish, for my class was fairly diverse with all sorts of backgrounds.

    Planning students are not taken seriously by the architects, and for understandable reasons. MArch and MLA are very intensive programs and the students more or less live in their studios, but despite the intensity of the degree, the architects have a lower average starting salary than the planners, which they must resent!

    Penn was a decent time, and I graduated with minimal debt which I paid off in 18 months, and I have a good job out in Dubai. But I'd think more carefully before committing yourself to 100K debt for a MCP/MUP. The school's name is nice, but to be frank, you won't have better opportunities than someone from a planning program at a state university. Many of my classmates are still struggling with enormous student loans, and it's certainly put a crimp on their financial expectations for the foreseeable future.

  9. #9
    Hey, wvhoo.

    I'm one of those student presenters you mentioned. If you still have any questions (or would like a frank evaluation) feel free to e-mail.

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