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Thread: How do I become an urban planner?

  1. #1
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    How do I become an urban planner?

    Hey everyone, I'm new to this forum, but I have had an interest in becoming an urban planner ever since I first got my first set of legos. I have always by the way urban areas are designed and how they function, but it wasn't until I took an AP Human Geography class in my Junior year of high school that I realized that it was an actual career opportunity. So here I am, an upcoming senior in high school (class of 2010), and I am seriously considering this career possibility as I enter the college application process. My question is this: what is the best way to get there? I know that the end result is an MUP, but I'm wondering what course I should take to set me on the right path to that end result.

    A little background about myself:
    Located in California, so some of the big schools that I have considered are Cal Poly SLO, UC Berkeley, Stanford, CalTech, UCLA, USC, and some out of state schools as well.
    GPA is approximately 4.3 weighted, SAT of 2180 (770 Math), so I stand at least a fighting chance at getting into all of the schools listed.. My course load has been rigorous and I am taking 6 AP classes my Senior year

    So I guess my main question is this- what undergrad major should I focus on in order to most successfully get me to be an urban planner? I have considered civil engineering, political science, public affairs, as well as an urban planning major, but I would prefer a major other than simply urban planning in order to have a more diverse background and a backup career should something fall through.

    Thanks in advance!

  2. #2
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    First off OD, greetings from a Nor Cal native transplanted to the Florida panhandle. You'll get lots of good information and advice here.

    Secondly, you can't go wrong with a degree in planning from Cal Poly SLO. Highly recommended from my point of view especially if you want to remain in the Golden State. Best of luck to you.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian FueledByRamen's avatar
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    First off, I just want to say how great it is that you A: took an AP Human Geo class and B: are interested in planning at such an early age. My undergrad was in geography (minor in architecture) which served as a great springboard into planning. If you have the opportunity to go there, UC Berkley has long been considered the best school for geography. If I got to do it all over again, I would have gone to Berkley (if they accepted me) for my undergrad.

    (granted, I would have never met my wife if I would have done that, but you know what I mean )

    Besides geography, I think that a liberal arts background is a great lead-in to planning (requires comprehensive thinking, lots of writing, etc.). Sociology, philosophy, poly sci, pub affairs would all be good majors (my two top choices would be geography & pub affairs). Civil engineering....eh, not really. CE educations are often very narrowly-focused and the college programs rarely require reading, writing, foreign language, etc.

  4. #4
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    From another undergrad in Geography, I second the idea of studying Geography.
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  5. #5
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Orange Duck View post
    So I guess my main question is this- what undergrad major should I focus on in order to most successfully get me to be an urban planner? I have considered civil engineering, political science, public affairs, as well as an urban planning major, but I would prefer a major other than simply urban planning in order to have a more diverse background and a backup career should something fall through.

    Thanks in advance!
    From an urban designer/planner stand point: Major in landscape architecture, take a masters in urban planning/city planning. That way you get the best of both worlds (or just BS in city planning at cal poly and you will do fine)
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  6. #6
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    RichmondJake- I'm guessing from your name that you are originally from Richmond? If so, that's just a BART ride away! And FBR- yes, the Human Geography course was really interesting, although because it was a new course at my school and had only 15 students, it took a lot of explaining to convince my classmates that it wasn't just some kooky form of anatomy :o)

    Thanks for the input, everyone. I really like the idea of getting my undergrad degree in something that is well rounded. With the way the economy is right now, the future is about as unclear as ever, and I want to make the decision come graduation time (or earlier) as to what direction I want to go. For this reason, I would like to go into college looking for a degree that would let me get a decent-paying job right when I graduate just as easily as it would let me go on to get my MUP or maybe MPP/MPA. With that in mind, I think that something like public affairs might be best, but there are few schools that offer this major. An alternate might be political science. What do you guys think?

  7. #7
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Orange Duck View post
    RichmondJake- I'm guessing from your name that you are originally from Richmond?.....
    Off-topic:
    Not exactly. I was born and raised in Ft. Bragg up in Mendocino County. Graduated from SSU (ENSP) in Rohnert Park. Spent some time in Santa Cruz. Registered on Cyburbia when I worked for the city of Richmond. In the words of the Grateful Dead, "...what a long strange trip it's been..."

    BTW, insomnia is not fun...two nights in a row now.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Since you are interested in getting a degree that is well rounded but still allow you to work as a planner (or in a planning related field) I would suggest looking into programs in Urban Studies.

    Stanford and Cal both have great Urban Studies programs where you can tailor your curriculum to your interests. Additionally both schools have great name recognition which will come in handy when applying to jobs and graduate school.

    UCSD also has a good undergraduate major in Urban Studies and Planning. I work with people who went to this program and they speak highly of it.

    The School of Policy, Planning, and Development at USC offers and undergraduate major in Policy, Planning, and Management. It is built around a common core curriculum and lets you specialize in a number of fields ranging from public affairs to real estate development.

    All of these programs are located in or near the largest urban areas in California, which means you will have access to numerous internships as well as living laboratories in which to study urban issues.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    The best program in California is Cal Poly SLO. Very design oriented and located in a great college town along California's central coast. I graduated from there over 35 years ago and will always have great memories of my time there.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Orange Duck View post
    RichmondJake- I'm guessing from your name that you are originally from Richmond? If so, that's just a BART ride away! And FBR- yes, the Human Geography course was really interesting, although because it was a new course at my school and had only 15 students, it took a lot of explaining to convince my classmates that it wasn't just some kooky form of anatomy :o)

    Thanks for the input, everyone. I really like the idea of getting my undergrad degree in something that is well rounded. With the way the economy is right now, the future is about as unclear as ever, and I want to make the decision come graduation time (or earlier) as to what direction I want to go. For this reason, I would like to go into college looking for a degree that would let me get a decent-paying job right when I graduate just as easily as it would let me go on to get my MUP or maybe MPP/MPA. With that in mind, I think that something like public affairs might be best, but there are few schools that offer this major. An alternate might be political science. What do you guys think?
    If you're looking toward masters, one option is public admin. Arizona State has a great program for it, and it does have a focus for urban government. With a decent undergrad degree, that would get you headed toward city management, with some other career options open to you.

    For your undergrad, if you're not going for a planning degree, I would agree witht the others and go for a good design related degree, landscape architecture is a good one.

  11. #11
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    Sorry for the late response- I've been on a mission trip in Oakland. We were supposed to go to Mexico to build houses, but when it was scheduled swine flu was still making the news, so you know how that goes...

    USC's program of policy, planning, and development sounds interesting- it would be nice to have several options in closely related fields. This is especially enticing because both my dad and maternal grandpa are USC graduates, which could facilitate admissions and possible lead to financial aid. It seems like that program would leave numerous options open to me. Any other opinions?

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