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Thread: UCSD vs UCI urban planning department

  1. #1

    UCSD vs UCI urban planning department

    Hello, I'm currently a senior in high school deciding between UCSD and UCI to attend in Fall 2010. I applied undeclared to both schools but have a strong interest in urban planning. I'm not sure what subdivision of planning I want to focus on but probably urban design.

    I know UCSD as a school is more competitive and ranks higher than UCI, so I'm more inclined to go to UCSD. However, UCI is accredited for urban planning, while UCSD is not. Will this accreditation title make a difference when I apply for graduate school/apply for jobs? Is UCSD's program weaker?

    Any advice? Any current students/graduates from those schools?
    Last edited by x_skim; 15 Apr 2010 at 10:35 PM.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    If you're shopping on rankings, then don't. I took a few UCSD extension classes in planning, one was an urban design class which actually peaked my interest in planning.

    UCSD is heavily San Diego Region specific, I'm not sure about UCI.


    They both are good schools for an undergrad education.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    I know UCSD ranks higher than UCI in overall college rankings but the difference is really negligible, especially to everyone outside of southern CA. The way the rest of the country sees UC schools is Berkeley and UCLA then everyone else. That said, the "everyone else" UC schools are still better than the vast majority of state schools in other states, including some really good flagship state schools. You really can't go wrong with either UCI or UCSD and consider yourself lucky to be able to pay in state tuition for the best state university system in the country. I know it's higher than other states' in state tuition but you are absolutely getting what you pay for.

    As far as planning departments, UC-Irvine is much more highly regarded than UCSD. In most other states, UC-Irvine planning department would be the best in the state. It's not really a "design" school since it's more policy oriented but as an undergrad you would have plenty of opportunities to start learning enough design to get started.

    Good luck.

  4. #4
    Whether UCSD overall is ranked higher than UCI is completely irrelevant. Not only are these rankings often derived arbitrarily, it says nothing about the experience you'll have in a particular department. No disrespect, but making your decision based on overall school ranking is possibly the dumbest thing you could do.

    You need to focus on the planning department. UCI is on the cutting edge when it comes to environment-behavior research with their School of Social Ecology. I'd give my left nut to get my PhD there. Hell, they even have Mihály Csíkszentmihályi there. If you dont know who he is, you should. Granted, he is not in the planning department, but it goes to show that they have attracted TOP talent in the fields of social ecology. They have grouped their planning department within this school, which itself is a rather progressive thing, since most colleges still don't treat it nearly as interdisciplinarily as they should.

    From their website:
    Faculty in the three highly-ranked departments within the School of Social Ecology share a commitment to scholarship that views human behavior in a larger social and institutional context, that moves beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries, and that seeks to disseminate knowledge beyond the confines of the university to a broader public. The faculty pursue knowledge production and dissemination in the service of fostering informed social action as they address issues ranging from global poverty to prison overcrowding, from gang violence to healthy child development, from health risks to community empowerment. The School is an internationally recognized pioneer in developing interdisciplinary approaches to social problems that encourage flexibility and independent thinking among faculty and students and nourish collaboration across different fields and with people of many different experiences.

  5. #5
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    I went to UCSD for undergrad and am pretty familiar with the USP department.
    - There's basically no actual design courses, and it can be difficult to get into the GIS class
    - There's a few truly excellent professors who are great instructors and really inspired me. Some of them were practitioners for a long time before joining academia, which I really liked
    - The USP department has way more career assistance and interaction with the undergrads than any other UCSD department that I know of. However, the program's not accredited nor particularly vocational which might make it harder to find a municipal planning job.

    However, you should seriously consider what you want your college experience to be like. I personally would warn people away from UCSD due to its general blandness and lack of social life. I have heard the same about Irvine (actually, I have heard that it is much worse). I don't know anything about the planning department at Irvine.

    I actually do think the overall ranking of your school matters for undergrad, if only because you have a decent chance of changing your major or focus partway through college and usually a higher "ranked" school has a larger selection of good programs. It makes less sense to prioritize a single department's quality if you're not too sure you'll stay in that department. Like I said, I'm not familiar with Irvine, but I always considered it one of the adjunct UCs (the real UCs being Berkeley, UCLA, UCSD, Santa Barbara, Davis, and Santa Cruz).
    Last edited by Cij; 16 Apr 2010 at 12:03 PM.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    Whether UCSD overall is ranked higher than UCI is completely irrelevant.
    You need to focus on the planning department.
    I don't think it's completely irrelevant, or important to focus on just the planning department at each. You are still in HS so your experiences in college are going to change what you ultimately end up doing. Don't disregard the holistic experience at each. A combined BA/Masters in planning is usually a good deal and saves you some time... but I'm not sure if either school offers that. I would look at the type of classes available to undergrads in planning at each school. In state schools facing budget crises, growing the undergrad program size is a way to increase funding for the whole department. Unfortunately, this often doesn't coincide with an improvement in undergrad program quality (it usually benefits the grad programs, while undergrad class sizes swell, adjuncts and grad students teach sections, classes close out early etc...). Accreditation seems even less important at the undergrad level (better programs are accredited but are not better because of the accreditation process). Grad schools do evaluate undergraduate program strength in admissions decisions (a rating system that is not so public). As someone already said, the UC system is great and you wouldn't be handicapping yourself at either school. Good luck and enjoy your time!

  7. #7
    Quote Originally posted by jersbanks View post
    I don't think it's completely irrelevant, or important to focus on just the planning department at each. You are still in HS so your experiences in college are going to change what you ultimately end up doing. Don't disregard the holistic experience at each. A combined BA/Masters in planning is usually a good deal and saves you some time... but I'm not sure if either school offers that. I would look at the type of classes available to undergrads in planning at each school. In state schools facing budget crises, growing the undergrad program size is a way to increase funding for the whole department. Unfortunately, this often doesn't coincide with an improvement in undergrad program quality (it usually benefits the grad programs, while undergrad class sizes swell, adjuncts and grad students teach sections, classes close out early etc...). Accreditation seems even less important at the undergrad level (better programs are accredited but are not better because of the accreditation process). Grad schools do evaluate undergraduate program strength in admissions decisions (a rating system that is not so public). As someone already said, the UC system is great and you wouldn't be handicapping yourself at either school. Good luck and enjoy your time!
    I understand that, but a HS student has to go on something if he/she is going to enter college right away (which, btw, is not a given, people actually do go out into the world to find out who they are and then return to school later--like me). And if you've chosen planning, then your experience in that department is going to matter more than most things.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    I went to UC Riverside. I really hated the 'experience', but I really value my 'education' there.

    I think you'd get a better experience in La Jolla than what you'd be afforded in Irvine. It seemed that almost every weekend during my undergrad my buddies from UCI and UCR would just 'chill', while our cronies at LA and SD would be living it up.


    Damn I wish I could go back in time to 2003 and live it up. Make the right decision kid. Good luck.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    I understand that, but a HS student has to go on something if he/she is going to enter college right away (which, btw, is not a given, people actually do go out into the world to find out who they are and then return to school later--like me). And if you've chosen planning, then your experience in that department is going to matter more than most things.
    yea I don't mean to advocate some kind of bourgie undergrad experience. Having an idea about what you want to do is great, but being inflexible about that early interest can be trouble. My main point was that I think it's misleading to apply the perception/resources at the grad level to an undergrad, that may not have access to most of it. I also haven't been convinced that an undergrad planning program is the best prep for a graduate program in the same field.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by jersbanks View post
    yea I don't mean to advocate some kind of bourgie undergrad experience. Having an idea about what you want to do is great, but being inflexible about that early interest can be trouble. My main point was that I think it's misleading to apply the perception/resources at the grad level to an undergrad, that may not have access to most of it. I also haven't been convinced that an undergrad planning program is the best prep for a graduate program in the same field.
    +1 Flexibility is KEY. I went from being a bio major who was pre-dental to being an English major who joined the military to wanting to be a planner

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jersbanks View post
    I also haven't been convinced that an undergrad planning program is the best prep for a graduate program in the same field.
    If you undergrad as a planner then why be a grad student as a planner? Makes no sense. Then again, this is coming from someone with a BS in City and Regional Planning and working ever since i graduated.
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    If you undergrad as a planner then why be a grad student as a planner? Makes no sense. Then again, this is coming from someone with a BS in City and Regional Planning and working ever since i graduated.
    kind of agree, but I guess if you did, it would be similar to the M.Arch II track programs.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally posted by jersbanks View post
    yea I don't mean to advocate some kind of bourgie undergrad experience. Having an idea about what you want to do is great, but being inflexible about that early interest can be trouble. My main point was that I think it's misleading to apply the perception/resources at the grad level to an undergrad, that may not have access to most of it. I also haven't been convinced that an undergrad planning program is the best prep for a graduate program in the same field.
    You're right. My stronger emphasis on "what you want to do with your life" may not be for the average 19-year-old. When I entered college for the first time I was 23, been out of school for 6 years, was married, had lived in several parts of the country, and knew what I wanted to do (at that time). If I was 19 and considering entering college, I would have had no idea which major to pick or where to go. Now, if you're going to grad school, UCI would be a great place. You would have got your partying out of your system (partly, anyway), and be more concerned about life, goals, and matters of substance. If you want to "par-tay" then by all means, attend UCSD. But even as the poster above suggest, UCSD apparently doesn't deliver. Too bad he/she didn't apply to Cal Poly SLO!!

  14. #14
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    I'm not that familiar with the planning program at UCI, but as a former student of the Urban Studies and Planning (USP) program at UCSD, I can say that I enjoyed it very much. The USP program leans a bit heavy on the theory and research side of instruction to be sure. You'll get a lot of courses on social theory, ethnic studies, and the history of this and that, but I found that this provided a really great foundation on which you can really think about the broader implications of planning when doing academic research in undergrad or grad school or in work in the professional world.

    Yes, the USP program has historically been a bit weak in teaching the applied side of planning, but the department has made strides to offer more hands-on classes such as an urban design studio, transportation planning, and sustainable planning, among others. Many of these courses are taught by top planning professionals (agency heads, principals of national planning firms, etc.) and they're teaching in a way that they'd expect future hires to be taught.

    All in all, I will have to say that the program really teaches you how to "think", with the expectation that you're intelligent enough to learn to "do" through the required internships or on your own. This kind of approach may not sit well with everyone, but it certainly hasn't hindered many alum including myself from getting into respected graduate planning programs or being successful in the field; a chief example would be the planning director for the City of Los Angeles who is a USP alum.

    As for the social scene at UCSD, you make it what you want it to be. La Jolla is a bit sedate, but you can definitely go bar hopping minutes away in Pacific Beach, or party it up like no other with the kids at San Diego State.

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