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Thread: Is the undergraduate degree that important?

  1. #1
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    Is the undergraduate degree that important?

    Hello all,

    I was wondering if any of you could give me some insight as to whether I should consider another undergraduate degree before pursuing graduate school. The issue is this: the school that I had graduated from did not offer grades (pass/fail system), and my degree was in Fine Art (BFA). Now I know that it has been mentioned here more than once that your major as an undergrad is not something that many schools really take so much into account during admissions. But a student pursuing a MUP with a Geography or Poli Sci degree is one thing, but Fine Art? And the fact that I did not receive a GPA is pretty worrisome as well, not to mention frustrating.
    More importantly, I would like to know how employers treat graduates with a relevant graduate degree, but an irrelevant undergraduate degree. I know that this is a tough time to pursue planning, and the idea of failing to make the cut simply because there was another candidate whose educational experience shows more consistent interest in planning-related fields is discouraging.
    To try to offset this disadvantage, I've enrolled at the local community college for a GIS certificate. I have also been interning at a local non-profit that deals with many planning-related issues. Hopefully these types of pursuits will prove to schools and employers that I have made some commitment to learning the trade before moving on to the next step.
    What do you all think? I'm 27. Not exactly an age where I would like to find myself trying to get another bachelors degree.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    When hiring, I make no decision based on the undergrad degree. Some raise my interest, such as fine arts. Not having a GPA could be an issue with grad schools however. I personally like the concept, you do the effort until it is acceptable.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
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    Did your college only give pass/fail grades with no other information on how you performed? I know people who attended Hampshire College in Western Massachusetts, and they got no grades at all. What they got were narrative evaluations of their work in each class. No-one I know who went to Hampshire College had trouble getting into grad school because of the way they evaluated student performance.

    You will probably need to take the GRE, get letters of recommendation from former professors, write an essay, etc. All of these will put your academic performance into context. Also, there are real reasons for accepting someone with a Fine Art degree into a planning program, now that planning and zoning are getting so wrapped up with design and architecture through form-based codes and the like.

    In short, I don't see that you have any need to get another undergraduate degree.

  4. #4
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    I have a BFA in Photography and I was accepted into a grad program, so I wouldn't worry about that. As far as the pass/fail, I'm not too sure about that. I recommend contacting the programs you are interested in to see what they say. I believe schools are more concerned with what you've done after school. If you have legitimate experience somewhat related to planning and can articulate that in your personal statement you should be okay.

    Continuing what JimPlans said, you should now focus on the GRE (doing well on that will reinforce your academic capabilities), recommendations and your personal statement. Those in itself will outweigh your undergrad degree if that is your main concern. I wouldn't consider getting another bachelors.

    Best of luck!

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    I would also try to find some volunteer/internship experience (even a few hours a week, if you can't do it full- or part-time). It can be in anything from community development to urban farming to refugee resettlement. That's what one planner recommended to me, and that's really worked out for me.

    For the record, a friend of mine (who I interned with last summer) majored in Art History at a small Midwestern college and got into UW Madison's urban planning program. She loves it! I'm an international relations and religion double major and I also got into grad school.

  6. #6
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    Thanks for all the feedback, folks. I'm thinking that I will probably have more to show for after I finish my GIS certificate. My aim is to get A's in all the required classes, and hopefully that will show my academic capabilities. The annoying thing is this will mean that I will have to wait another year to apply. I've thought about maybe applying once for Spring 2011 just to test the waters a little bit.

    mike gurnee - The concept makes sense for art school. Grading art may make sense if everyone were painting academic realism, but talent is no longer the primary determinate of a capable artist. Art is now very subjective, and an instructor's bias will inevitably factor in to the grading process.

    JimPlans - No other information was given by my instructors that may give schools any sense of my academic achievements. Applying my artistic background to planning certainly has crossed my mind, but I don't fully know if I want to go that route. I've read some comments on hear about the disadvantages with an MUD degree. I want to find a degree that will be very reliable as I enter the job market. Nevertheless, I've been very encouraged to see various municipalities throughout the U.S. transition into form-based code, and perhaps having some design sensibilities will in fact be more favored further down the road. I've been conflicted over this since I've thought about grad school - design or policy? University of Miami or UIC?

    Timbassa & burningcoin - Your comments are encouraging. It's always nice to know there are others out there that don't always follow a completely straight trajectory! My internship at the Center for Neighborhood Technology involves a lot of research, and I'm very happy to have been given the opportunity. By the way, burningcoin, I'm originally from Madison, and that has been one of the school's that I've considered. Timbassa - I'll be sure to contact schools regarding the GPA issue.
    Ultimately, I realize it's more about how strong your interests are, and what you have done to prove it.

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