Prospective MUP/MSUP/MCP student in need of grad school preparation advice


Hi All!

Here's the deal. I am a recent graduate (c/o 2016) interested in pursuing a Masters and/or PhD in Urban Planning in Fall 2018 (Interested in merging Public Health and Analytics - Using City/Regional data to create healthier spaces)
Undergrad Major: Global Health and Environment
Undergrad GPA: 3.39 (I was a Bio Major for 2.5 years. I have a 3.76 major GPA; Also attended a highly ranked public university)
GRE: Haven't taken it yet, I assume I need high scores!
Programs: Columbia GSAPP's MSUP (Urban Analytics) & UC Berkeley's MCP Program. Dream PhD programs are Columbia, MIT, and UMich.

I have spent the past few months interning at public health organizations working as an assistant to rural and international public health projects. (I've worked in NC and Haiti)

Here are my questions:
(1) Do I have a chance at getting into Columbia and/or Berkeley? Are there other UP schools that focus on data?

(2) Considering more competitive applicants with higher marks, is it possible to receive a scholarship or RA-ship funding for a graduate program with my grades? How can I become more competitive?

(3) I am currently applying for jobs and fellowships for Now through - June 2018. Is it more competitive (1) to work at a university as a research assistant in a field that is related, but not UP [paid--but not a high salary] (2) apply to/do a competitive 1-year fellowship (starting in May) in a field related to UP [stipend], (3) work as a research assistant/analyst for a private urban planning consulting company [paid--a decent amount for a recent grad], or (4) apply to summer programs/fellowships and in the meantime, work part-time in a semi-related field (to save some $) and take data analytics courses at a local community college

I don't know anyone in real life who is in UP, which is why I'm here. Anything is better than nothing, so please please impart some knowledge! Thank you! :)


Competitive PhD programs in urban planning generally want to see more work experience, or you can do your Master's and continue on for a PhD at the same institution by building relationships with and doing research for professors. It's tough to go directly into a PhD because there aren't many spots for PhD candidates - most programs focus on Master's students.

1. Are you competitive? Sounds like you have some good research experience, but your GPA is a little low, especially for PhD positions. I would briefly explain that you changed your major and any issues that came up with your grades and how you overcame them. Usually GRE scores don't matter much in MUP programs, but a really good GRE and a solid essay could help make up for the GPA.

2. How graduate assistantships are given out is really a black hole. Some programs have a system where you don't need to do anything special other than simply apply for admission and wait for your offer letter with information on financial aid and assistantships. In other programs you get there first, and then form relationships with professors. And some programs there are separate scholarships or funding opportunities which are either emailed to prospective applicants or you need to dig them up online. It really depends, unfortunately. I would apply normally for now, and then visit one of the open houses for 2-3 programs (whichever ones you get into) to ask all these questions about the specific school.

3. What kind of fellowships are you applying for? Health fellowships tend to be picky about grades and rec letters, especially the urban planning/environmental health ones at the CDC or NIH. But there are few people who have the combination that you do, so you might be really attractive to a fellowship! All of your options sound like perfectly fine alternatives in preparation for graduate school. Good luck with applying! I remember that applying to jobs/internships/fellowships/scholarships in conjunction with grad school sucked, but it was worth the work!

PS - just for fun, check out APA's Planning and Health Research Center, NYC's Center for Active Design, ULI's Building Healthy Places initiative, American Heart Association's involvement in Complete Streets, Well and LEED standards for buildings... So much stuff coming out nowadays on the intersection of planning and health! (environmental health, walkability/bikability/Complete Streets, traffic fatalities, indoor and outdoor air quality standards, universal design, etc.). Good luck!

PPS - make sure to pick a school with a strong public health program so you can take your electives there :) The best class I ever took in my UP graduate degree was actually in the Master's of Health Admin program on population health.

Hopefully my answer can be helpful for you. I am also pursuing City Planning, Public Health & Analytics. I graduated with a BA in Urban Planning and applied for graduate school admission for Fall 2017. I applied to both Columbia and Berkeley.

I have not heard back from Columbia yet, but I recently got into Berkeley's MCP program. I plan on applying for the Master of Public Health dual during my 2nd year. Your experiences sound great. I don't see why you wouldn't get in; however, your GPA is a bit on the low side compared to the average of each incoming class. I would recommend focusing on your GRE's.

To answer your questions:
(1) You do have a chance of getting into Columbia or Berkeley. I'm not too sure about Columbia but I do know Berkeley's admission process is comprehensive. Berkeley puts an emphasis on your statement of purpose and personal statement.
(2) I think scholarships are merit based. Being an RA requires you to have specific background and skill sets that will make you qualify for the position. If you are interested in research, I would say be familiar with statistical software (SPSS, SAS, R, Excel) and have research experience using those software.
(3) I would say all those options sound fine... just make sure whatever you choose, you are growing professionally. I recommend work experience over taking a course at a local community college though.