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Help setting expectations for grad school

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#1
I have started applying for graduate schools for masters in urban planning. Some of my specific interests lie in planning/designing for pedestrians and public transportation, connecting suburban neighborhoods to downtown, decreasing dependence on cars, designing cities for physical and mental health, and the impact of design/planning on socioeconomic opportunities and equality. I THINK my interests would best be served with a concentration in transportation planning, but honestly, i'm not sure.

Here is the list of schools I am applying to. Any other suggestions for schools to consider (or not to consider) would be great.
UCLA
UPenn
UC Berkeley
University of Michigan
University of Washington
Georgia Tech
University of Illinois at Chicago
UC Denver
University of Wisconsin - Madison
University of Maryland

I would be delighted to get into any of these school, but UCLA, Berkeley, Penn, or Michigan are my top choices.

Undergrad: Emory University, GPA: 3.376, Major: Sociology
GRE: Verbal 170, Quantitative 164, Analytical 4.5

Experience:
- English Teacher at private school in South Korea for two years
- Writing Instructor at a test-prep/tutoring center
- Site leader and tutor for after-school tutoring program for elementary to middle school students
- Volunteer/Internship teaching math concepts for a summer academic and recreational program for high school refugees
- Program Coordinator for the same high school summer program the following year with focus on leadership and community service activities.
- Volunteer counselor/mentor in a refugee youth group.

My weaknesses are that I don't have any experience in urban planning.. my undergrad GPA is a bit low for some schools.. and my coursework may seem unfocused because I took science courses throughout my college career (and did poorly, hence my GPA) for a pre-health track.

Big factors for me: financial aid and good job placement.
 
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#3
You have a good chance of getting accepted at any school on the list. I myself am one student fresh out of undergrad and got accepted to many (well I'd try to sound the most humble here) top programs in the nation. If you are interested in Transportation, as you said, have you considered Rutgers?
 
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#4
You have a good chance of getting accepted at any school on the list. I myself am one student fresh out of undergrad and got accepted to many (well I'd try to sound the most humble here) top programs in the nation. If you are interested in Transportation, as you said, have you considered Rutgers?
thanks! that's an encouragement! and i originally had rutgers on my list but took it off because i heard that their program is more policy-oriented, while i am more interested in the design aspect.
 
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#5
Sounds like a good list. My only caution would be that Penn and Michigan don't usually give great financial aid.
i've heard the same about those schools too.. is harvard the same way? and do you think it would be worth it to take out loans for the majority of the tuition in order to go to these schools? are there a lot of jobs that would pay off?
 
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#6
I graduated recently from a more policy/generalist program, and we had a good number of people who came with backgrounds in education like you, especially teaching English abroad or doing other work related to higher education and student affairs. So you're in good company :) Communication is super important in this field.

That being said, it sounds like your interests are at the intersection of urban design and sustainable transportation. A great school for this is Georgia Tech. I believe the author of Retrofitting Suburbia (great summer read, btw for your interests) teaches there or is somehow affiliated with GT. And since you went to Emory, I'm sure you must know about Georgia Tech already :) UIC is also a good choice for a transportation focus. And Colorado is just an awesome place to live and plan for, though I don't know much about their program other than it has a good health focus. You might want to look into Portland State as well.

And people are right about Michigan and Penn's financial aid. They are both really expensive schools, but they are also both excellent for physical planning (whether that's design or transportation or both). Jobs wise, your salary will barely change no matter what school you go to, especially if you work in public sector. BUT, the main difference in the top 10 schools (in my opinion) verses others is the alumni network and exposure you get to different leading planning researchers, practitioners, and breadth of coursework and extracurricular opportunities. Personally, I really liked going to a mid-sized/larger program (our graduating class size was about 45), but some people prefer smaller programs like University of Illinois Urbana Champaign (~20ish a year I think?) or Ball State.
 
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#7
thanks, akshali, this is helpful! and i've heard great things about Georgia Tech!

i do have another question for everyone (a bit unrelated to my original post, so i may have to start a new discussion thread):

how practical would it be to get a masters in landscape architecture in order to go into urban planning/design?

since i am more interested in the design side rather than policy, i've been considering getting my MLA. i'm a georgia resident so it would be a much more viable option financially if i went to UGA (plus, UGA has an excellent MLA program!).
i would love the more hands-on design aspect of LA and the ability to influence the built environment. i also hope to affect aspects of urban planning such as alternative/sustainable transportation. i know a lot of urban planner positions consider candidates with MLA. would it be possible to get to do that kind of work in transportation with an MLA?
 
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#8
I would also toss Michigan State on to the list. They have a good program for MUP and a great landscape program. I have met and worked with many of their alumni over the years and it seems like a solid program.
 
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#9
The biggest question you should ask yourself is - do you like the plant and construction aspect of LA as well, or are you only interested in urban design? If the latter, get an MUD instead. The Master of Urban Design program at Carnegie Mellon is more planning heavy, which is something you might like. Otherwise, Michigan or Harvard or Berkeley allow you to do dual MUP/MUD.
 
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#10
The biggest question you should ask yourself is - do you like the plant and construction aspect of LA as well, or are you only interested in urban design? If the latter, get an MUD instead. The Master of Urban Design program at Carnegie Mellon is more planning heavy, which is something you might like. Otherwise, Michigan or Harvard or Berkeley allow you to do dual MUP/MUD.
If you're interested in LA schools and you want to do transportation planning, UCLA hands down. If you're interested in design, you may want to look at a school like Cal Poly Pomona.
 

The One

Cyburbian
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#11
True.....

The biggest question you should ask yourself is - do you like the plant and construction aspect of LA as well, or are you only interested in urban design? If the latter, get an MUD instead. The Master of Urban Design program at Carnegie Mellon is more planning heavy, which is something you might like. Otherwise, Michigan or Harvard or Berkeley allow you to do dual MUP/MUD.
UC Denver has a ton of dual degree programs and Denver is a great urban laboratory over the last 25 years.
 
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