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Advice on choosing schools needed

I need to come to a decision about graduate programs in planning over the next few weeks, and I'm seeking some advice. I'm in my 30s, and I've spent the last 12 years working in inv't banking and real estate finance throughout Europe and Asia. I did my undergraduate degree in urban studies and architecture, and it's been my dream to go back to do a graduate degree in planning since then. I'm interested in international/planning consulting work, with a strong component in urban design/site planning (my research interests lie on the urban/rural fringe and with special consideration for trans-border conurbations -- I grew up on the US-Mexican border). I may at some point go back to real estate development in this context.

I've been admitted to the MUP program at Harvard GSD, which has a physical planning/urban design and real estate emphasis as well as competencies in both regional planning and international. I'm also hoping to get into MIT (City Design & Development specialization), where, if I go, I may pursue a somewhat superfluous graduate degree concurrently, in real estate. I've also applied to UC Berkeley, but I did not follow their recommendations on degrees so I may not get admitted. Berkeley also had the earliest deadline and the design portfolio I submitted there was less developed than those I sent to GSD and MIT. They said they'll notify me on or about 3/29.

Here's my dilemma. I'm trying to get a better idea about how these degrees are thought of in the private sector planning community, in light of my career goals, and get a bit of a comparison of these programs. I also have a financial dilemma:-- I don't qualify for much aid at GSD, and I likely won't get much at MIT either. I won't need any loans (for the same reason why I didn't qualify for the aid, in the first place). But the next two years will cost me quite a bit in savings. The easiest solution to the financial issue is Berkeley (I qualify for in-state tuition under CA's weird new retroactive anti-brain-drain law for graduates of in-state secondary schools), but the real estate sub-focus is much less developed there and I may not get admitted at all.

Any thoughts or recommendations would be appreciated.



I'm no expert here but I'd recommend the biggest real estate focus possible. I've always been intrigued by MIT's real estate development program but couldn't go there in a million years - so I guess I'll root you on in that direction. :)


As far as I've heard, GSD's focus is very architecture-based, with planners getting burned out because they're taking the same studios as the architecture students. People in the MIT program seem to love it. Also, you should be able to find merit-based aid, or assistantships at either school. Unfortunately, that will do nothing except for making the school equal in price to a state school, and rent in Boston doesn't help (the reason why I didn't apply to GSD, MIT or Berkeley!).

If you want to do straight urban design, go to GSD, but if you want to do real estate, I'd say MIT. I got the impression that Berkeley was most focused on transportation planning. But that could be because I was initially interested in transportation planning (I recently quit my job as a transportation planner because I was becoming jaded about the whole planning profession as a whole.)

This may not help at all, but school choice is agonizing! I change my mind every 6 hours.