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Graduate School Planning — January 14, 2009

January 14, 2009

I have been researching graduate schools extensively over the last few weeks trying to decide which ones I want to apply to. Thanks to the Planetizen 2009 Guide to Graduate Urban Planning Programs, I was able to narrow the search down considerably just by focusing on the list of the schools with strong transportation planning specializations, which is what I think I want to specialize in. Those schools are the following:

  1. Georgia Institute of Technology
  2. Harvard University
  3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  4. Portland State University
  5. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
  6. Texas A & M University
  7. University of California, Berkeley
  8. University of California, Irvine
  9. University of California, Los Angeles
  10. University of Maryland
  11. University of Michigan
  12. University of North Carolina
  13. University of Southern California
  14. University of Texas
  15. University of Washington

I have narrowed this list down even further by eliminating schools in places I would not want to live, such as California. I’ve basically narrowed it down to seven schools:

  1. Georgia Institute of Technology
  2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  3. Rutgers
  4. University of Texas
  5. Texas A & M University
  6. University of Washington
  7. University of North Carolina

I may add others to the list as I do more research, but those are the ones I will start with. It’s not going to be cheap applying to all these schools. Every school has an application fee of at least $50. In addition to that fee, I have to pay $10 per transcript request to send each school my transcript from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary, even though I took only one class each at those schools. Thankfully, Georgia Tech, where I did my undergraduate studies, does not charge for transcript requests. 

I’ve always had an interest in research, so I’ve been leaning heavily towards pursuing a career in teaching and research at a university. It seems to be the ideal mix of my interests and desires:

  • Teaching
  • Researching topics that interest me
  • A level of autonomy
  • Interaction with some of the brightest minds in their field, and
  • Interaction with students, which I think I would really enjoy.

This would mean that not only would I need to get a Ph.D., but I would also need to go to a school that is a strong research university. I discovered an organization that offers classifications of universities according to several criteria — one being its level of research activity. The organization is called The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The highest level for a doctorate-granting university is “Very High Research Activity.” All fifteen schools on the list above are universities with “Very High Research Activity,” so that is good.

I have to be patient, because it’s going to be a long process. First, I have to take the GRE this May, and then I have to get all my information together. I will have to get three references for each application. I’m thinking I will use Dr. Nelson Baker, my supervisor at Georgia Tech when I taught the engineering graphics lab, and at least one of my former work supervisors. I may need one more. I will then submit my applications late this year for Fall 2010 admission. Most of the schools have deadlines of early January for Fall admission if you are applying for a research assistantship position. That’s something I really need to get, because I do not want to take out more loans for graduate school. I have a feeling my final decision about which school to attend will come down to who offers me the best financial aid package.

Overall, I’m pretty excited about the prospects — moreso than about anything I’ve planned in my life up to now. I think I may have finally discovered what I am supposed to do for the rest of my life.

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