Visiting Planning Schools: What (Not) to Do

<p> The fall is high season for school visits from prospective students. I am a great believer in doing this remotely—while some greenhouse gases are generated by a Google search it is far less than a plane ride to a distant campus. I suggest visiting schools only after you have been admitted (and not even then if you don’t have a really crucial question that can only be answered on site). However, if you can’t bring yourself to even apply to a school in a place you’ve never visited, and promise to buy carbon set asides, a tour may be worth it. The following tips can help you make the most of the school. </p>

October 6, 2009, 8:26 AM PDT

By Ann Forsyth


The fall is high season for school visits from prospective
students. I am a great believer in doing this remotely-while some greenhouse
gases are generated by a Google search it is far less than a plane ride to a
distant campus. I suggest visiting schools only after you have been admitted
(and not even then if you don't have a really crucial question that can only be
answered on site). However, if you can't bring yourself to even apply to a
school in a place you've never visited, and promise to buy carbon set asides, a
tour may be worth it. The following tips can help you make the most of the
school.

  • Try to
    go to an open house. You'll not only meet faculty and see the school,
    you'll also meet students who might be your graduate school peers.
  • If you
    are going independently, don't contact faculty directly to organize your
    visit, except as a last resort. Most schools have a graduate program administrator
    who can provide information and assist with campus visits. If there isn't
    an administrator, a faculty member who is the program director may have
    this as part of their job description. They can coordinate schedules
    better than you could.
  • Come
    prepared. Read the web site for the program and come with additional
    questions for the program administrator, faculty, or students. If the
    question is fully answered on the web site, don't ask it-use the time to
    check out the local area.
  • Ask
    questions that show you have investigated the school. Don't start an
    interview with a faculty member by asking "Tell me about your research".
    If they have a strong research program their publications will be
    available and they will wonder why you haven't read them; if they don't, you'll get to hear about the Environmental Impact
    Statement they wrote for a highway rest stop in 2001. Instead ask
    questions along the following lines (and these are just a sampling--there are many more):
    • "I
      noticed you have written a lot on solid waste disposal planning, has
      there been much funding around for that kind of thing recently?" This
      indicates you know their research and want to understand the logistics of
      doing it; it can also help you raise the issue of research grants and
      contracts (including funding for students).
    • "What
      do you think students like most about the program?"
    • "What
      campus-wide opportunities and resources do students seem to appreciate
      the most?"
  • Talk
    with students as they can provide a really valuable perspective.
  • Do a basic
    campus tour to get oriented and find out the range of facilities.
  • Don't
    expect faculty to review your vita or statement. Many faculty won't do it out of
    fairness to other candidates and in consideration of the time it takes
    away from work they could be doing with current students.

For other advice on applying to graduate school see my
recent post
on writing statements of purpose and my earlier one on applying to
graduate school.


Ann Forsyth

Trained in planning and architecture, Ann Forsyth is a professor of urban planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. From 2007-2012 she was a professor of city and regional planning at Cornell.

Indian Trail, North Carolina

Four ‘Low-Hanging Fruit’ Zoning Reforms

An excerpt from the latest book on zoning argues for four approaches to reform that can immediately improve land use regulation in the United States.

June 26, 2022 - M. Nolan Gray

Car Traffic

San Francisco Just Ended Single-Family Zoning

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to Tuesday to eliminate single-family zoning, but pro-development advocates say additional changes are needed to unleash a wave of construction.

June 29, 2022 - San Francisco Chronicle

Rent

U.S. Rental Market Crosses a New Threshold of Affordability

In a first for the country's rental market, most U.S. apartments are asking for more than $2,000 to rent, according to data recently published by Redfin.

June 21, 2022 - Redfin

New Jersey Power Plant

Supreme Court Guts the U.S. EPA’s Ability to Limit Carbon Emissions

The consequences of this ruling have long been foretold. With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now officially barred from the fight against climate change, Congress will have to act to reduce carbon emissions.

June 30 - Yahoo News

Central Los Angeles

California Approves Revised Los Angeles Housing Element

State officials officially approved the city’s housing plan, which was initially rejected for not doing enough to enhance housing equity.

June 30 - Urbanize LA

A fly fisher casts on a fog-covered river.

Lawsuit Could Open Public Access to Colorado Rivers

Colorado is one of few U.S. states that has decided that private property owners supersede the public when it comes to access to rivers and streams.

June 30 - High Country News

New Updates on The Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

International Real Estate Strategies and Deal Negotiation

Harvard Graduate School of Design Executive Education

Affordable Housing: Principles for Changing Domestic and Global Markets

Harvard Graduate School of Design Executive Education

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.