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Grad / masters What Are My Chances in an MCP/MUP Program?


Posted earlier on here but just thought I should simply post my stats and if anyone could provide me with the insight it would be deeply appreciated!

I finished undergrad in May 2019, looking to pursue a Masters in Urban Planning/City Planning Fall 2021 (interested in transit, housing, climate change, as well as studying second-world urbanity for alternative non-capitalist forms of built environments.)

Undergrad Major: American Studies with a Concentration on Labor, Minored in Latin American Studies
Undergrad GPA: 3.4 (3.8 major GPA) Attended Top 30 University
GRE: Haven't taken it, looking at programs that have or will likely waive because of COVID.
Programs: UC Berkeley's MCP Program (Top Choice), Michigan's MURP, UNC Chapel Hill's MCRP, Possibly Harvard and MIT but unlikely I will even consider as they seem pretty out of reach (?).

Throughout my undergraduate years, I was involved in several student organizing groups and held a position within the student government. I also spent a semester in Buenos Aires, studying political history, Spanish, as well as some urban history. I interned full-time last time at a powerful labor union in a major American city. Published several political op-eds on a prominent news blog. I have Spent 2020 working for one of Big Three consulting groups (not in consulting of course, but office administration). Representation wise, I am a Latino queer person raised by a single-parent for most of my youth (sometimes these things count?).

Here are my questions:
(1) Do I have a chance at getting into any of these programs, specifically Berkeley? Are there other UP schools that may be a better suit?

(2) Considering more competitive applicants with higher grades/better CV, is it possible to receive a scholarship for a graduate program with my grades and lack of GRE? How can I be more appealing to programs?

(3) Should I wait out any programs, and am I jumping the gun and need more experience? I seem to be getting mixed signals on masters wanting/requiring experience in the field. At the same time, it is immensely difficult to get the experience prior to the completion of a Masters.

Again if anyone has any insight, advice, or comments, I would be grateful for all contributions! Thank you in advance!


I swear I've seen this post somewhere before, did you also post on Reddit (r/urbanplanning) by chance? :)

But to answer your questions, your list seems on target. I can't speak to what schools are looking for this year specifically since the application cycle for graduate school in general tends to get more difficult during recessions and times of economic uncertainty. But if you want average 50% percentile scores and GPA's, you can check out the Planetizen guide to urban planning schools (whatever the latest edition is for the most recent data) for an estimate from previous years.

Overall, what is most important is your essay, which should demonstrate passion, reason, and anecdotes for why you want to pursue urban planning and what you hope to get out of it. It's great that you've narrowed down your schools to 3-4 and that you are not shotgunning just because.

Now to your questions:
  1. Transit, Housing, and Environmental are three completely different sub-fields. It sounds like you don't know yet what you want to concentrate in. Which is totally fine, but I would figure out if you want a program that is more physical planning based, or policy and research based. If the latter, I might suggest adding UIUC and Cornell into that list - both of which have a decent international focus in addition to policy. Also, this is a huge one - where do you see yourself living after graduation? Urban Planning programs can be very regional given the nature of the subject. For example, those who attend University of Washington's urban planning program tend to come from the PNW region and tend to stick around in Seattle. What area of the country do you want to wind up in post-graduation?

  2. Scholarship availability vary widely - I'd concentrate on just writing the best essays you can. Some schools will have an optional diversity essay for scholarship purposes - something to look out for because you might be a perfect fit given the personal background you mentioned. You can also take a look at the APA's student scholarships for minorities.

  3. I'd say 2 years is the perfect amount of "gap year working" time between undergrad and an MUP, assuming that you plan to keep working at your office admin job until you start school next fall 2021. Since you graduated May 2019, that works well with you applying this cycle. Waiting longer just delays the timeline of you beginning your planning career IMHO, unless you are getting super relevant work experience related to planning during your gap period. I think 2 years of working (even as an office admin) is the perfect amount of time to get your feet wet and understand office dynamics, get some cash and start paying off undergrad loans, save money for grad school and retirement, and gain some real world exposure, even if it's not in planning or anything related.
Good luck!!