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Thread: Geography of a program versus quality

  1. #1

    Geography of a program versus quality

    As somebody that will likely end up in the Pacific Northwest, i.e. the Seattle or Portland metropolitan areas, should I place more weight on going to the universities in that region, or should I place more emphasis on a program that is a good academic match, but in a different region. Basically my questions is this: should I focus more on schools like Portland State or UW to make it easier to get employed in that region, or should I still consider others, such as UNC?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    there of course is no pure right answer, but I vote geography. reason being: networking.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

  3. #3
    I agree. Networking is the most powerful component to getting a job, and having a few years as an incubationary period in the region you want to live is priceless. Besides, UW has a great masters planning program.

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    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    Especially in this economy and job market I would pick geography if you have your mind set on working in a particular region. Also-while you learn about planning in general in grad school you tend to learn a lot more about planning in the area that the school is located in.
    "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16

  5. #5
    Cyburbian kalimotxo's avatar
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    While I don't disagree what others have said here, there are a lot of other factors you need to take into consideration. What do you want to specialize in? The specialization you choose is going to have more and more bearing on your marketability. There is currently a glut of planners in the job market, but the people struggling most right now are likely to be lower to mid level "generalist" planners; job postings for transportation planners, aviation planners, and economic development specialists, on the other hand, continue to pop up somewhat frequently.

    IMO, it's not worth sacrificing your specific interests to go to a school solely based on geography. For example, if you wanted to specialize in urban design, it probably wouldn't behoove you to choose UW or PDX over Cal Poly or UPenn. If you want to study environmental planning or growth management OTOH, going to a regional program in the Pac NW would probably suit you well.

    It's simple to say geography is more important than the program's "prestige" in the overall scheme of things, but you should probably take a more cosmic view to make sure you spend the next two years in a program that makes you happy and prepares you well professionally.
    Process and dismissal. Shelter and location. Everybody wants somewhere.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally posted by kalimotxo View post
    While I don't disagree what others have said here, there are a lot of other factors you need to take into consideration. What do you want to specialize in? The specialization you choose is going to have more and more bearing on your marketability. There is currently a glut of planners in the job market, but the people struggling most right now are likely to be lower to mid level "generalist" planners; job postings for transportation planners, aviation planners, and economic development specialists, on the other hand, continue to pop up somewhat frequently.

    IMO, it's not worth sacrificing your specific interests to go to a school solely based on geography. For example, if you wanted to specialize in urban design, it probably wouldn't behoove you to choose UW or PDX over Cal Poly or UPenn. If you want to study environmental planning or growth management OTOH, going to a regional program in the Pac NW would probably suit you well.

    It's simple to say geography is more important than the program's "prestige" in the overall scheme of things, but you should probably take a more cosmic view to make sure you spend the next two years in a program that makes you happy and prepares you well professionally.
    Thanks for this bit of advice. Funny that you mentioned transportation planning since that is in fact pretty firmly my interest area, and I'm grappling with the idea of going to a school that doesn't necessarily have a dedicated focus in that (i.e. U Oregon or UW).

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    If you can afford it (and it probably wouldn't cost more than a few hundred bucks) go out and visit the school(s) you are interested in, set up informational interviews with places you would be interested in working for after school. Find out where THOSE planners earned their training. Half of the time it is usually local education, but it is not uncommon to find planners working for a firm/agency that went to school somewhere else. It might give you a few ideas of where else to look.

    Finally, check out the Association for Collegiate Schools in Planning website. They list a bunch of PAB-accredited programs including their specialities.

    Hope this helps-
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    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    Certain states have planning rules and laws that specifically apply to them, so schools in states like Oregon and Florida tend to give you a better back ground in those planning laws, no matter what the planning focus is. Networking is also much easier while you are a student, for example while I was a student I met many planners at the State Planning conference and even got an internship that way and an interview for a post-school job. I also did most of my projects and studios in the area that I went to school in. I wouldn't be too worried about the specialization, a degree is a degree...what really counts is your experience in the end. Also a good generalist program has courses and classes on different specializations and areas of planning.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  9. #9
    Cyburbian kalimotxo's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by beach_bum View post
    Also a good generalist program has courses and classes on different specializations and areas of planning.
    While that may be true, attending a program that offers perhaps one course in transportation planning (if that) with no option of a transportation-focused studio course will not prepare one well for a career as a transportation planner. Employers are aware of that. The same is true for any number of specializations within the field. Someone who wants to take a more specialized career path is at a disadvantage to those with a greater depth of knowledge and experience in that specific field, plain and simple. If OP wanted to be a generalist municipal or regional planner, then I would agree that geography trumps most other factors. Otherwise, I think it's a lot less black and white than others on this thread have suggested.
    Process and dismissal. Shelter and location. Everybody wants somewhere.

  10. #10
    I see it more as a personal choice since you are paying thousands of dollars to learn, live and be happy in a city/town for at least 2 years of your life. With that said, if you want to be a generalist then choose wherever you like. If you want to specialize then course offerings within your specialization are critical. Unfortunately/fortunately my area of specialty is not common, so I chose based on the following:

    1) Is it an accredited program?

    2) Is the school in or around an area where I would enjoy living during grad. school and in the future? (minus weather considerations cause that would blowout all the New England schools )

    3) What are the School’s political leanings? (I am interested in policy and would enjoy meeting like-minded individuals)

    4) How marketable is the degree and/or school name here and abroad?

  11. #11
    I knew this wouldn't be a clear cut answer, otherwise I might have already figured it out by now! A part of me is having a hard time with the idea of going to a school and not getting nearly as many classes in the transportation realm as I want, and on the other, not having very many contacts in the region I'd like to work in.

    During my undergraduate Urban Geography class, I took the opportunity to do my term paper on how the development of the Interstate Highways affected cities. If I go to a program without a prescribed focus in transportation, could I choose to focus my papers in courses towards that realm, as well as my thesis/master's project? Any thoughts on this, particularly from somebody that has done this would be greatly appreciated.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian kalimotxo's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by warderjack View post
    If I go to a program without a prescribed focus in transportation, could I choose to focus my papers in courses towards that realm, as well as my thesis/master's project? Any thoughts on this, particularly from somebody that has done this would be greatly appreciated.
    That is definitely a possibility. If you decide you'd prefer to craft your own transportation focus by gearing your major papers and thesis toward relevant topics, it won't matter so much what classes are offered as the background and interests of the faculty. You would need to have professors that are willing and able to provide knowledgeable support and criticism. Start looking in-depth at the research interests of the professors at the schools you are looking to so you can determine if you could pull together a workable thesis advisory committee when the time comes. If the program allows you to take courses in other departments (e.g. civil engineering, landscape architecture, etc), don't limit your investigation to staff within the planning dept; it's quite possible that your thesis advisers could come from other departments. I'm beginning to look at forming my own here at Virginia Tech and, since I'm focusing on environmental planning and watershed management, it's likely that one or two of them will be from outside the urban planning dept.
    Process and dismissal. Shelter and location. Everybody wants somewhere.

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