Congrats. But are you sure you want advice from grumpy ol’ me??
Which school has the best job placement for your interests? Which professors have real world experience? Which programs have projects in real cities? Which school is located in the most demographically diverse region?
Answer those, and you’ve got your answer…
From my perspective, it’s not the school, it’s where you want to be when you finish. If you’re a planner at heart, then plan your outcome. Some other tips for planning school:
Develop relationships in the real world with city planners while you’re in school. Who’s your urban planning idol? Find a mentor and copy them.
Present at the APA and regional conferences (you must do this). Try to land a spot on a planning, conservation, housing, or some other board (urban planners spend a lot of time on boards. Get a leg up).
Dress well (get over it).
Take and pay attention to classes in art history, advanced writing, and philosophy. These will prove invaluable throughout your life.
Learn the basics of GIS, but overall avoid this software like the plague. If you want to be a city planner, just contract GIS specialists for this type of work - they’re a dime a dozen (a terrible truth). GIS is a vortex of doom. Avoid the dooms.
And my gods learn how to print. Buy a cheap color laser printer. I bought an HP 2600n in 2008 for $150 and have replaced the black ink once(!). Laser printers are reliable workhorses. They never break. Never. And ink lasts forever. School printers are vortexes of expensive, embarrassing, timesucks of doom. You are a professional, buy a damn professional printer. (This made me curious. I just checked how many pages I’ve printed on my trusty HP - 2541 total, 1707 color. It has never, ever let me down.). If you want fancy prints, skip the extra beers and spend the money at your local printshop.
Your cohort is your enemy come last semester. Why? B/c they will all be applying for the same exact jobs. Multiply that by all the other schools then add all the unemployed planners out there and you’ll see landing a job is ruthless business. Your peers are nice - spend time with them, but in the end they’re in your way.
I chose UMass b/c the advisers and profs focused on developing practical, pragmatic skills. I landed solid assistantships while there, and turned some of them into consulting gigs on the side.
I developed relationships with local government officials. I went to planning board, zoning appeals, conservation, housing, and city budget meetings to learn the ropes and shake hands and ask questions. I even went to court to sit in on land disputes. This put classroom learning into context For example, you will hear a lot about NIMBYism in the classroom, and profs tend to dismiss and even laugh at their arguments. Don’t do that. NIMBYs must be taken seriously. If you plan on staying in one community for a while, they you’ll be working with the same NIMBYS for years and years! Befriend them. Learn this early by witnessing a NIMBY argue in front of a planning board or dispute a permit at city council.
Check out my reader mail tag for other grouchy student advice.
Keep in touch and let me know how it goes!