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Thread: Name school vs state school

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Name school vs state school

    Just wondering what your opinions are...
    How much weight does the name of a school carry, like berkeley, mit cornell etc, over a stateschool, when it comes down to internship finding, job hunting, career advancement etc?

    From what I have heard, for and against:

    not that important, somewhat important
    you should go to a school in a city/area where you like to work later
    nameschool is important if you want to continue in academia
    planning is not something you can learn in a library, the city it's in is crucial
    name more important if you want to work overseas

    your thoughts? from students or seasoned professionals

  2. #2
    Quote Originally posted by vxw View post
    Just wondering what your opinions are...
    How much weight does the name of a school carry, like berkeley, mit cornell etc, over a stateschool, when it comes down to internship finding, job hunting, career advancement etc?

    From what I have heard, for and against:

    not that important, somewhat important
    you should go to a school in a city/area where you like to work later
    nameschool is important if you want to continue in academia
    planning is not something you can learn in a library, the city it's in is crucial
    name more important if you want to work overseas

    your thoughts? from students or seasoned professionals
    Getting a job depends on who you are and what you bring to the table, not so much what name of institution you have on your diploma. To the degree your specific program churns out great graduates, that's all well and good for getting your foot in the door, but beyond that, it comes down to your personal qualities and abilities. Whether a 40k a year degree is worth being able to get that foot in the door is a matter of opinion and ability to pay off such massive debt. (Btw, no planning job out of school will enable you to pay off that kind of debt in a reasonable time frame.)

    My opinion is that you should focus on the specifics of a program, not the overall reputation of the institution. Disregard name brands, and, if after everything has been considered, make your decision based on what you like about a department's program, regardless of prestige.

    Don't try to buy prestige, it's a trap.

    EDIT: One thing I should add is that state schools often are "name schools" for planning. Refer to the Planetizen 25 top US planning schools list. Also see the PAB-approved program list.
    Last edited by chocolatechip; 02 Apr 2010 at 4:56 PM.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Plus
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    State School.

    Several of us have said it before to similar post -

    Do Not go into debt over a name.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Listen to JNA.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Its a very personal decision and depends on a lot of factors. At the end of the day you just need to go with your gut. All the debates you listed are just as you described.

    BTW, I chose a state school over a big name. Generally think I made the right decision, although I do feel it limits me a bit. It also allowed me to take lower paying jobs to make good career choices early on.

  6. #6
    Hey, I started a thread a couple months ago on this same topic and it might contain some helpful ideas if you're interested: http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showthread.php?t=39966

    I actually have considered this topic for quite some time, but I'm probably going to enroll in a state school. The nice thing is that the state school also has a reasonably well known name, so in a way I'm getting the best of both worlds, right? I'll likely end up graduating with less than $20k in debt and will be enrolling in a program that suits my interests perfectly.

    I have a lot of respect for the posters on these boards who got in and are deciding to go to schools like Penn, Columbia, Harvard, etc, but I personally couldn't handle that much debt and the pressure that comes with it. It could just be me since I'm really debt averse, but an estimated cost of $50K+ per year seems to be way too much, especially in this economy. Unless you have some good scholarships, of course...

  7. #7
    Quote Originally posted by 49ersfan View post
    I have a lot of respect for the posters on these boards who got in and are deciding to go to schools like Penn, Columbia, Harvard, etc, but I personally couldn't handle that much debt and the pressure that comes with it. It could just be me since I'm really debt averse, but an estimated cost of $50K+ per year seems to be way too much, especially in this economy. Unless you have some good scholarships, of course...
    Had the cost not been so ridiculously high, I would have applied to Penn and I think I would have had a reasonable shot of getting in. I'm not sure how many good students some of those schools lose because they find it to be simply not cost effective enough.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    There's one option I haven't seen discussed much on this forum regarding the debt issue of an expensive school. If, after weighing the pros + cons you decide to go with an expensive school you could put off enrolling for a couple years for the sole purpose of earning/saving some money. The job I've been doing isn't even urban-planning related, but earns me a lot of money (which didn't prevent me from getting in to a brand-name school). I know I'm not getting any financial aid next fall when I enroll, but I've built up enough savings that I don't need to worry about being in debt for the rest of my life. Something to consider.

    PS. You might think there's no way you could save that much money but I think it's possible with careful budgeting even if you don't get an incredibly well-paying job. At the very least you could get rid of a large chunk of the tuition/loans.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by FuturePlanner View post
    PS. You might think there's no way you could save that much money but I think it's possible with careful budgeting even if you don't get an incredibly well-paying job. At the very least you could get rid of a large chunk of the tuition/loans.
    I've done almost exactly what futureplanner said. After finishing undergrad (with about 7k in loans) I was lucky to obtain a well-paying job (in planning!) and have now ferreted away enough money to pay for at least one year of Penn, where I am headed this fall. The name vs. cost debate looms large, but my gut combined with a scholarship of about 25%, pushed me over. Not to mention, I like the program.

    I have two colleagues who studied planning (at Cincinnati and Cornell) beginning with small grants or scholarships, yet both managed to work with professors to secure 50% funding by their second semester, and a free ride for their second year. That might not be the usual case, but I'm sure going to try and make it happen...

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    Don't try to buy prestige, it's a trap.
    Truth.

    Quote Originally posted by vxw View post
    you should go to a school in a city/area where you like to work later
    nameschool is important if you want to continue in academia
    planning is not something you can learn in a library, the city it's in is crucial
    name more important if you want to work overseas
    I also hear these opinions, and I for the most part believe them. My graduate search is mostly defined around major metropolitan areas that I would like to work/live in (as well as other traditional considerations like funding, program strengths, specialties, etc). However, I do believe that your third point is important--the city in which your planning program is in sort of acts like your "laboratory", and in some ways provides crucial context and real-world problems/examples for you to engage with.
    Last edited by quietsilver; 03 Apr 2010 at 7:26 PM. Reason: Formatting error

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    I don't mean to hijack this thread for my own personal problem, but I'm having a hard time choosing between a prestigious expensive school (MIT) versus a cheap local school (UCLA or USC). Cost is a big consideration for me, but so are other factors:

    I've lived in LA for a few years and I know it well, and I like it. But...I've never been anywhere else really, so I guess I don't really know what I like. I think I want to come back and work in LA, which makes either local school a better choice. But, if LA is all I know, can I really be a very effective planner? Maybe I need to challenge myself and move across the country and see how things work in a different city? Dilemma!

    Thoughts?

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    As someone already pointed out, the dichotomy between "name" and "state" schools is really a false dichotomy. Some of the most prestigious (and well resourced) planning schools in the country are also state schools - think Michigan, UCLA, Illinois-UC, North Carolina, etc.

    Going to a university with many resources has very distinct advantages. It all depends what you want to do with a planning degree. I think a lot of people who say that you should always go with the cheaper option aren't considering the full range of jobs/opportunities people hope to access during school or after graduating.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by whyxbotherx View post
    I don't mean to hijack this thread for my own personal problem, but I'm having a hard time choosing between a prestigious expensive school (MIT) versus a cheap local school (UCLA or USC). Cost is a big consideration for me, but so are other factors:

    I've lived in LA for a few years and I know it well, and I like it. But...I've never been anywhere else really, so I guess I don't really know what I like. I think I want to come back and work in LA, which makes either local school a better choice. But, if LA is all I know, can I really be a very effective planner? Maybe I need to challenge myself and move across the country and see how things work in a different city? Dilemma!

    Thoughts?
    There's a couple of things in here:

    Is MIT offering you any funding? I'm guessing not--or, at least, just a drop in the bucket? My experience with all those big name schools is that they're much less likely to give you anything substantial.

    LA is a city with a whole bunch of interesting planning problems, and in that regard I think it'd be interesting to study in. However, as you may know better than I, California was hit inordinately hard by the recession, and it might be a while until they recover from their fiscal crisis. In that regard, I'd worry about my job prospects (and, to a lesser degree, the available funding in the UC school system) in the future.

    To be "stuck in a bubble" and only "know" how LA works would give you a very narrow picture of how cities work. I mean, it's not like you have to know off the top of your head everything about all the major metropolitans--and, honestly, I don't think anybody can even pinpoint such factors, let alone in one major city--but it's healthy for your overall skillset to at least be familiar with the challenges/issues/and solutions of other cities. In the end, it just gives you a broader body of knowledge to interact with, and that's certainly advantageous. All cities are different, so on one hand, you have to specialize and be intimate with your own city--but on the other, you can't forget to learn from other cities as well.

    If anything, your situation further highlights the additional factors that we all must weigh in deciding between a state school and a "name" school.

    Just my two cents.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    Wow so many detailed replies, thank you very much. Been away from computer last few days, finally sunny here! (Took a nap on a giant rock along the beach....awesome)

    49ersfan:
    Yes I have read that thread, which is why I started this one, to focus purely on the advantages of a nameschool, setting aside the financial issues (that are valid as well). For example if you did law, physics of business, the name gives you a distinct advantage in terms of employment opportunities. But I am getting the impression that that is not as true in planning. Correct? Because the field is so diverse, I predict the quality of your education has more to do with how to study as an individual than the school itself. Really up to your to chase those out of school opportunities.

    futureplanner + banter:
    Interesting points about financing you degree. Some of the expense are blown out of proportion, for example Cornell thinks I need 22k in living expenses for 8 months . It's comforting to know that I won't really need that much, but because I am international, I still need to front 93k before I can even apply for visa lol

    quietsilver:
    re:context: You worded that better than me. That is the main reason I'm leaning towards UBC over Cornell, being in Vancouver, a city with a heavy and quite progressive planning agenda, rather than in Ithaca. I have met quite a few planners and urban designers just at bars and even on the bus, who do enjoy their jobs.
    re: travel: I have only been places where I have lived, never traveled really. (I know, very lame.) BUT I was fortunate to have lived in China, Kentucky and Vancouver aka preindustrial farming community, suburban sprawl to the max and unkillablehousingbubble. This range definitely helps me put things into context.

    rumbach: You got me with the false dichotomy, but it was just the easiest way to word it . Could you please elaborate on the "resources" you've mentioned? I would like to keep them in mind as I study.

    Thanks again for the replies and good luck with your own decisions!
    Take care.

  15. #15
    Super Moderator kjel's avatar
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    Berkley is a state school

    Don't pay attention to the name-pay attention to the program. Are you going to get out of it what you need to meet your career goals? Do you like where the program is located both for personal and professional needs?
    "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

  16. #16
    LOL at USC as a "cheap local school"... somebody is not doing their research.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
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    Again, it is hard to generalize (planning programs vary so widely by school), but a lot of big "name" schools or well-funded state schools have a wealth of opportunities and resources inside and outside of the planning department that you might not find at some smaller programs, schools, or lower tier universities. For example, at Cornell we have access to a wide range of departments that are doing cutting edge research - research that is well funded and tends to get published in the top journals (students are free to take classes in any of these departments). We have beautiful computer facilities with many fully capable GIS stations, map printers, remote sensing machines, an urban design studio, etc. We have many different streams of funding that might be waded into, depending on your interests - from small grants to attend conferences or present papers, to larger grants for studying foreign language or traveling overseas. We have a summer internship placement and funds matching program. We have faculty who have connections with different institutes, think tanks, planning firms, international organizations, etc. We have summer programs and winter break programs that visit different countries for internships or intense planning workshops.

    Like I said, many of these things are true at many different universities. But realistically, some of the least expensive places to get a planning degree lack some of these amenities. The question becomes, how important are they for your goals? I think a lot of times, they are not worth the extra debt. In other cases, however, they are important to put students in a competitive position in the job market. For example, if you are interested in international development and planning, field experience is extremely important.

    That is a bit rambly, but I hope it helps.

    One other thought that pops into my head about funding. It is true that many of the more well-known schools are also more expensive. But just remember that there are a number of different fellowships, grants, university funds, etc. to defray the cost of school, for those people who go out and get them.

    The amount of "other opportunities" will vary university by university, or department by department. This should be part of your conversation with schools you are trying to decide on - what additional sources of money are available, and how successful are Masters students in planning at accessing them?

    For example, several people in my department in the past few years have been awarded Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships (FLAS) at Cornell. It pays full tuition in your 2nd year, plus a generous stipend (equivalent to a PhD stipend). There are many other potential fellowships as well, some large and some small.

    Nothing is guaranteed, of course. But if someone really goes after the money with good ideas and a passion for what they are doing in planning, a lot of good things can happen.
    Last edited by Gedunker; 06 Apr 2010 at 6:40 PM. Reason: seq. posts

  18. #18
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    Prestige can and does matter.

    It's nice to think that prestige within the planning world is totally different than in the world at large - that Planetizen rankings are the final word on program quality, that it's a no-brainer to pick the less expensive school. This is often wishful thinking. Here's why:

    1) Names do matter. Unless you are certain you want to work in your university's region, a credential from a regional school doesn't carry the same weight as a more recognizable program. Sure, we think that everyone responsible for hiring planners is as obsessed with the Cyburbia Student Lounge as we are, but that's often not the case. "Cornell" or "Penn" or "Harvard" or "Berkeley" is code for "smart graduates." It may not be fair, but that's the way it is.

    2) Prestige often translates to resources. I'm attending a “prestigious” school in the fall, in large part because of the connections between its business and law schools. That presence means a wide range of courses that go beyond “finance for planners” or “law for planners,” as well as access to national employers by way of the school’s career center. Not to mention, of course, the connections with fellow students in those departments whose careers may intersect with yours down the road.

    3) “Name” schools are magnets for really smart people. And not just smart planners-to-be, but students, researchers, and professors across every discipline you can think of. Being in this intellectual climate is undoubtedly positive.

    I don’t mean to insult the many above commenters who suggest, often in a sentence or two, that prestige is meaningless. But my real-world experiences in and out of land use (as well as taking classes at another planning program) suggest to me that’s not the case - that the cost-benefit analysis isn’t quite so simple.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by whyxbotherx View post
    I don't mean to hijack this thread for my own personal problem, but I'm having a hard time choosing between a prestigious expensive school (MIT) versus a cheap local school (UCLA or USC). Cost is a big consideration for me, but so are other factors:
    UCLA and USC are most certainly not "cheap local schools." They not only have top-ranked urban planning programs, but also draw students from across the country -- and sometimes across the world.

    Edited to add: If you're looking for low-cost local programs, I've heard a number of good things about the city and regional planning program at Cal Poly.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Plus kalimotxo's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Vanderlyn View post
    It's nice to think that prestige within the planning world is totally different than in the world at large - that Planetizen rankings are the final word on program quality, that it's a no-brainer to pick the less expensive school. This is often wishful thinking. Here's why:

    1) Names do matter. Unless you are certain you want to work in your university's region, a credential from a regional school doesn't carry the same weight as a more recognizable program. Sure, we think that everyone responsible for hiring planners is as obsessed with the Cyburbia Student Lounge as we are, but that's often not the case. "Cornell" or "Penn" or "Harvard" or "Berkeley" is code for "smart graduates." It may not be fair, but that's the way it is.
    Brand names can also connote graduates who think they are really smart, which sometimes makes such degrees less marketable. I had a supervisor (at a multi-regional environmental planning firm) who would regularly throw out resumes that touted 4.0 GPAs from Harvard, etc, simply because doing well in a classroom setting, no matter how rigorous it may be, often does not translate to being a flexible, dependable entry level worker. "Regional" schools (whatever that means - any good planning program should be somewhat regional) often have the benefit of very practical, real world studio projects. If you want to work for an international NGO, no doubt MIT or Cornell are better than Boondocks State. However, there are numerous planning programs in state schools across the country that provide marketable, portable degrees. Sorry, but it's just not true that going to a state school that isn't top ranked (e.g. UCB or UNC) will limit your career options to the region where you studied. I'm sure that doesn't fit the narrative that UPenn feeds prospective students.

    Quote Originally posted by Vanderlyn View post
    2) Prestige often translates to resources. I'm attending a “prestigious” school in the fall, in large part because of the connections between its business and law schools. That presence means a wide range of courses that go beyond “finance for planners” or “law for planners,” as well as access to national employers by way of the school’s career center. Not to mention, of course, the connections with fellow students in those departments whose careers may intersect with yours down the road.
    Again, I simply disagree. Take the two planning programs closest to me - UVA and Virginia Tech. You can go to UVA and take planning classes concurrent with law classes in what is unquestionably one of the greatest law programs in the country. At VT, I take classes in the civil engineering and architecture/landscape arch schools, all of which are consistently among the top ranked programs in the country. I'll also be out of debt within 5 years.

    Quote Originally posted by Vanderlyn View post
    3) “Name” schools are magnets for really smart people. And not just smart planners-to-be, but students, researchers, and professors across every discipline you can think of. Being in this intellectual climate is undoubtedly positive.
    There are smart people and there are also people who need a brand name to reinforce delusions of superiority. I'm pretty sure there are really smart people in every accredited planning program in the country. Unless you are determined to work for the UN or the World Bank or do urban design in Dubai, I just don't buy this justification to pay full tuition (or nearly that) to attend an Ivy League school to break into a profession that is, by and large, solidly middle class. I cannot in good conscience recommend that someone mortgage their future for the planning profession, especially when there are so many reasonably priced and solid programs across the country.

    Quote Originally posted by Vanderlyn View post
    I don’t mean to insult the many above commenters who suggest, often in a sentence or two, that prestige is meaningless. But my real-world experiences in and out of land use (as well as taking classes at another planning program) suggest to me that’s not the case - that the cost-benefit analysis isn’t quite so simple.
    Experiences "out of land use" don't really apply. Going to Harvard for an MBA or Columbia for law school is not even comparable to choosing a high-priced private school for an MUP. There are a few situations where choosing the high-priced private planning school is the way to go, but I'm pretty well convinced that there are better options financially for 90% of people who pay most or full tuition to go to an Ivy.
    Process and dismissal. Shelter and location. Everybody wants somewhere.

  21. #21
    Quote Originally posted by Vanderlyn View post

    1) Names do matter. Unless you are certain you want to work in your university's region, a credential from a regional school doesn't carry the same weight as a more recognizable program.
    I have a planning degree from a west-coast state school and ended up getting a job offer in DC based on a ten-minute phone interview. You know what carries more weight than the name of the school you went to? Your own personal qualities. Amazing concept, but it's the fairest thing in the world. And you can't buy it.

    2) Prestige often translates to resources.
    Reverse that: Having resources can translate into prestige. However, it can often be the wrong kind of prestige; the kind that's made of cobblestone-chic, a veneer that you're beholden to, appealing to the shallow sensibilities of you and your peers.

    I don’t mean to insult the many above commenters who suggest, often in a sentence or two, that prestige is meaningless. But my real-world experiences in and out of land use (as well as taking classes at another planning program) suggest to me that’s not the case - that the cost-benefit analysis isn’t quite so simple.
    You suggest, in a sentence or two, that the above posters say prestige is meaningless. On the contrary, prestige has much meaning, but probably not the meaning you think it has. If a school's program fits your needs despite the cost of its prestige, go for it, but never make a decision based solely on prestige, because I said, it's a big trap. Essentially, unless you're basing your decision on the actual merits of the program, you're buying an image. There are many very well-funded public schools that are often more prestigious in the areas that count.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    I'd like to know what people who've graduated from "brand" schools think. Was it worth it to you? Did you take on lots of debt?

  23. #23
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    I agree with Futureplanner.

    I'd like to hear from some alumni of "name" schools before I reply to the above critiques.

  24. #24
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    Vanderlyn and Futureplanner, careful how you phrase your two comments.

    First, aren't University of Phoenix, ITT Technical Institute, Kaplan "brand" names, too? I feel like "brand" should refer to a brand of cereal, in which case I'll keep shopping generic

    Last I remember, my alma mater has a NAME: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. But I guess it's really a "no-name" right?

    I think you should use the phrase "top-tier" instead.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  25. #25
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    "Top-tier" is arguably even more problematic, as it equates name recognition with quality.

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