graduate programs in urban planning


Dear Planning Students -

I have applied to graduate programs in urban planning for this fall. I have been accepted to several programs (University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Toronto, University of Washington/Seattle, NYU Wagner, UCLA and the Harvard Design School) and have to make a decision in the next few days – a decision that I find extremely difficult. I was hoping that you may be willing to give me some advice.

In your opinion, on which criteria should I base my decision? Should I choose the program that gives me the best education, has the best reputation, offers me the most financial aid? Would a degree from a prestigious school, e.g. the Harvard Design School, justify going into major debt, or would a degree from any of the other universities be just as valuable?

Please let me know if you have any advice for me. Thank you!

Jan Schultheiss, Chicago, IL


I guess I would first ask you what you are particularly interested in studying. That should really be the deciding factor more than anything else. As far as prestige goes, I would not weigh that very much at all.
Apples and oranges

Justfabulous said:
Dear Planning Students -
University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Toronto, University of Washington/Seattle, NYU Wagner, UCLA and the Harvard Design School


You may already have decided. I know my extensions were to tomorrow, basically. But for what it's worth, you have a very eclectic group of programs here. NYU does not equal UCLA does not equal the GSD. Have you visited the programs yet?

The GSD is about physical planning with a design focus. For them, this means teaching planners to work with architects and landscape architects... typically preparing their students to work as planning consultants in architectural and other design consulting firms. In their course, you spend the vast majority of your time in studio, working in small groups with architects, urban designers and landscape architects on site plans. They will freely admit to you that their curriculem is not intended to prepare you to work for a municipal planning agency, economic development consulting firm or international development agency. Pros: you end up with the portfolio you need to get a job as a planning/site planning consultant for a design firm AND a Harvard degree. Cons: you need to really love being in studio 24/7 for 2 years, and you may be ill-prepared/uncompetitive for other types of post-graduate employment. Their policy planning, real estate, transportation, environmental, regulatory and economics course options are extremely limited, unless you intend to take those classes at MIT, the Kennedy School or Harvard Business School... and this can be logistically difficult to do, although it is theoretically option (remembering that they you'll have 6-8 core classes and distribution requirements that you'll need to fill beyond your 4 required studios or 3 studios and thesis requirement leaving only 4-6 real electives).

NYU Wagner is almost the polar extreme. It sits in the School of Public Service, so you'll be going to school with a different bunch of people. They are all about regulatory environments and the policies and politics of planning. They also have an emphasis on social entrepreneurship (commuity development and starting/working for NGOs/not-for-profits). You will NOT end up with a satisfactory portfolio if you don't already have one, but you will be better prepared in areas like statistics, the legal and regulatory framework of planning, policy analysis, economic development, budgeting, public finance, working for not-for-profits, GIS and so forth. NYU does not have an arch school and the urban design/physical planning course selection is extremely limited. If you want to do policy work or work in economic development or commuity planning/not-for-profit sector, they would be the stronger program for you, but without the portfolio you may find it difficult to get a job at a design oriented consultancy, for example. Most people I know who applied to NYU also applied to the KSG MPP/UP program at Harvard, not the Harvard Design School MUP program. The KSG and NYU programs are more comparable.

The only things they seem to have in common is that neither institution has a strong real estate program/course selection (try MIT, Columbia or USC for that), nor do they seem to have much of any capability in environmental design/planning or transportaton (try Berkeley, MIT, GTech etc for one or both of those).

Both are very solid programs, and i really had a difficult chance choosing beween the GSD and MIT, but you really have to recognize that they are not comparable programs. They prepare people for different things.