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Thread: What tier of schools should I be applying to with these credentials?

  1. #1
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    What tier of schools should I be applying to with these credentials?

    I'm wondering what tier of schools I should be shooting for. Here's my list so far of places I want to apply:

    McGill
    Dalhousie
    Waterloo
    Harvard
    Rutgers
    UIUC
    Utah
    Oregon

    A little bit about me:

    3.6 undergraduate GPA from fairly selective, unaccredited school

    Internship experience with mid-sized suburb; worked re-writing Development Code and Moderate Income Housing Element of General Plan (getting LOR from Comm. Dev. Dir. there)

    1 year experience as GIS Technician for natural gas company (getting LOR from boss there)

    Two summers of seasonal construction/landscaping work for local city's Parks and Rec department; was crew lead by second summer

    Volunteer experience as co-author of Main Street Economic Development Plan for a struggling small town with decent tourism draw; plan was published and implemented by Planning Commission

    So with my school choices and my credentials, is this a pipe dream? Realistically, I'll at least need *some* funding wherever I go, just because of my financial situation. Are these a good list of schools to apply to, and if not, where should I apply instead?

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  3. #3
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    I tend to rate schools by things like funding or if it's in the area I want to work. I've got a degree from a top public admin school and nobody cares. It's just a line on the resume that fills out job requirements. The only person to every mention my degree was a planning professor at the school that has an equal rating when we met at a conference. It came down to, "they have a good program" and comparing notes of what was good about the program and how they could improve theirs. So apply for what you like and see who gives some financial aid.
    I don't pretend to understand Brannigan's Law. I merely enforce it.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Ah...sure....

    Go to the cheapest school on your list. Period. Then take the money you saved and open a business....any business and pay your employees non-living wages, don't put another cent into the place for 30 years and retire in your 50's.

    NOT KIDDING!!!!!!!
    “The way of acquiescence leads to moral and spiritual suicide. The way of violence leads to bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. But, the way of non-violence leads to redemption and the creation of the beloved community.”
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
    - See more at: http://www.thekingcenter.org/king-ph....r7W02j3S.dpuf

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    I second the cheaper school option.

    In my experience (in Southern California) the job market for entry level planners is really tough. The wages aren't increasing as fast as the tuition for college education. So you're going to be owing a fuck ton of money if you're not getting a scholarship or getting your parents to pay for it. I know there's public student loan forgiveness, but none of my peers were able to qualify for it. You need to think long and hard about wanting to be in debt for 10 years. In the high cost of living areas this is a big deal if you are interested in home ownership. A couple of my engineer friends still live at home because the housing market is ridiculous here.

    If price isn't a factor, then you want to go to a school where you will actually use your knowledge for you job. I just talked to a new hire that went to a University of California (UC) school for her masters. UCs are amazing public schools. But their MURP program is all theory based and pretty worthless if you want to work in the public sector. She felt like she wasted two years getting her masters. She said she should have gone to a Cal State school (Pomona). I assume you don't want to feel like you wasted two years of your life, so you need to find a school whose program will be applicable to your future job. But that's kind of hard to know what you want to do, so maybe look into a school that will allow you to take a wide variety of classes.

    For reference with this new hire. She did her undergrad/grad at the same school (6 years). The school's tuition was ~14k/yr. Her job is a planning tech and they hired her at the first step, which is $23/hr, which means you need to get a roommate, live at home, or live in a neighborhood with a high crime rate. I didn't get into the nitty gritty about her student loans. But she did get one year of her masters paid for.

    I'm blessed my baby boomer parents paid for my millennial education.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    I tend to agree to go to the cheaper school, but you won't know what the cheaper school is until you apply. The school I went to was in the middle of my list but they offered me a huge financial aid package that propelled it right to the top.

    So I'd suggest applying to a range of schools, from the top names to the safety, and see how it plays out. But don't just go to the best place you get into - weigh the finances closely. Don't come out of grad school in planning with lots of debt, it limits your options and doesn't help you much, unless you plan to work overseas where the name may matter more.
    Don't read the comments section. You want to, but don't do it.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    I think you'll be fine with most of the schools on your list, given your work and volunteer experience. And while there are a lot of naysayers on this thread, you won't know what the cheaper school is until you apply. Do NOT simply not apply to a good school simply based off the sticker price on the website - you'd be surprised at how much you can negotiate tuition sometimes by talking to the dean or applying to scholarships, waiting for financial aid letters, etc.

    That being said, it doesn't matter to employers so much as to what exact school you went to, only that it was a program they've heard of and somewhere in the region. And that too only for entry level jobs. After that it doesn't really matter. What matters far more is geography - if you want to get a job and live in NYC, don't go to school in Oregon. And vice versa. If you don't know where you want to live and are open, it helps to go to a large, well recognized program with a widespread alumni base you can tap into.

    In short, evaluate schools based on not only "brand name", but also location, alumni base, classes, class size, resources offered, financial aid/cost, job prospects, and most of all, whether or not you see yourself there + if you can afford it. Your best bet is narrowing that list down to your top 2-3 offers and trying to attend their open houses to get a feel for their program.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    I've done grad school twice. My advice to potentially graduate bound planners (which are typically employed in government) is to think value. Unless you're getting a name brand degree (ivy leagues, Cal, Stanford, etc.) whatever region your school is in is where your education will have the greatest leverage for employment - it's where the university can set you up with an internship; and, internships give you the greatest opportunity for a full time job right after school. Otherwise, pack your bags you're moving to XX state.

    But let's start over really quick.

    Realistically, consider what graduate education generally gives you - big picture / theoretical stuff. A graduate degree trains you to be a senior/high level planner, but you won't be qualified for that job until you've got 10 years work experience. What I'm saying is, graduate education is not a ladder up, it's a long-term strategy that only pays (small) dividends over the entire course of your life. I know because I've done it - twice.

    If you are really looking for a way to get into a job / edge out your competition, get certificates and specialize - specialize in GIS, specialize in transportation planning, specialize in environmental planning, etc. They are cheaper, faster, easier, and give you concrete skills that are seen as huge perks. I mean, who wants to hire a graduate educated kid to sit at the planning counter and answer questions about building permits all day? how long do you think you'll make it before you say "why the hell am I doing this?" or "I didn't go to graduate school for this shit" and then get another job somewhere else. That's a natural response to the situation (been there, done that), but it's also natural for a smart manager to realize that you're over qualified for an entry level planning job (which is the only thing available) and won't want to deal with someone leaving after 1 year. You're a flight risk. Public sector hiring is annoying to deal with and bureaucrats are lazy.

    Easiest way to short-circuit all that is to get tangible skills via certificates and prevent the stereotype of 'over-qualified'. That way, you get the entry level job, you get the experience, you don't have tons of student loan debt, and then once you've gotten a few years of planning experience under your belt, then think about doing graduate school. At that point, I'd suggest not getting another planning degree (pointless), get a MPA and move up into management.

    One of my many points is that graduate education is difficult to get traction with but can be useful if you apply it correctly. It won't help at entry level (it may even hurt) but it will help in the mid-span of your career. So wait until then and get your employer to pay for it (if possible).

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by OfficialPlanner View post
    Oh how this conversation is dated (circa '02), but what they all said + collective dislike of the younger generation (millenials) + a still bad economy + employment competition is fierce.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by OfficialPlanner View post
    I dunno if I agree with this. I think it's really region-specific. If you want to work in some of the "elite" planning geographies (Portland, NYC, Boston, SF, etc) then a name brand degree is absolutely helpful. It's gotten way more fierce out there in the 15 years since that thread was posted, and I don't envy the kids trying to make a go of it these days *especially* given the longstanding stagnation in planning salaries versus the likely debt involved in getting a degree from, say, Harvard GSD, MIT DUSP, or the like. Compensation has barely crept upward from where we were pre-recession, and the fact that these millennial grads are even able to afford to live in these cities after factoring in low starting salaries and grad school debt makes me think that the majority of these kids must be getting parental help with monthly living costs. The numbers don't pencil out otherwise.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    I dunno if I agree with this. I think it's really region-specific. If you want to work in some of the "elite" planning geographies (Portland, NYC, Boston, SF, etc) then a name brand degree is absolutely helpful. It's gotten way more fierce out there in the 15 years since that thread was posted, and I don't envy the kids trying to make a go of it these days *especially* given the longstanding stagnation in planning salaries versus the likely debt involved in getting a degree from, say, Harvard GSD, MIT DUSP, or the like. Compensation has barely crept upward from where we were pre-recession, and the fact that these millennial grads are even able to afford to live in these cities after factoring in low starting salaries and grad school debt makes me think that the majority of these kids must be getting parental help with monthly living costs. The numbers don't pencil out otherwise.
    Ironically, most millennials aren't new grads anymore. I'm supposedly a millennial, yet I've got pushing 13 years of work experience under my belt. Point is, anyone graduating a program right now, or in the very recent past, is screwed. It takes years and years to get into planning and then you have to wonder if it was really worth the sacrifices. TBH, the longer I work the more dreary even 'exciting' jobs seem and I'm now solely pursuing the best (better) paycheck available to me without giving up my pension.

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