Now that I’m graduating from CED, with a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies, I’d like to give some few tips of advice (very urban studies specific) for those who are going to come to Cal.
1) Don’t focus too much on networking with as many people as you can, but focus on creating strong relationships with people you can click well with as well as people that will help you grow.
I think people get really tempted to want to meet as many people as you can. However, the most interesting experiences I’ve had have been through establishing strong mentors that have helped me grew for several years as I went through my undergraduate studies at Cal.
How to determine if you have a right mentor? Can you relate to the person you are communicating with? Can they empathize with you as a student? Do they have a lot of years of experience and have great insight in a particular industry? Do they also know a lot of other people that can help you in the future? Can you develop long conversations about them professionally, academically, and (sometimes) personally?
One way to find mentors is to attend networking events, and then strike some conversations, light talk with several people. Get their business cards, then identify one or two people you want to have coffee with. Then, you can get a sense of their personality; do you feel comfortable with them? Is there anything you can learn from them?
Also, don’t get too stressed about this process. It’s not that scary as it seems. Employers know that you guys are just students and are just learning about the profession.
2) Do not specialize too early (i.e. I’m going to be a housing guy, versus I’m going to be a transportation guy), and take a variety of classes in different specializations, as well as do internships to get a sense of how you feel about specializations. After working at least several internships (in the real world) then you can start narrowing down what makes most sense to you.
For example, I once enjoyed transportation planning, but after talking to some professionals and friends, dabbling into some internships, taking and practicing drawing courses, that I prefer urban design. However, I need to work for several years to decide further.
3) Get comfortable, drawing, sketching, as soon as you can.
Regardless of if you do urban design (or not), you are planning for places people live, work, and play. You need to know how to communicate your ideas visually to a larger audience, or different stakeholders. You don’t have to be artistically inclinations like these guys, but be comfortable sketching your ideas.
4) Do not feel pressured to get into graduate school immediately.
Life is better if you take your time and really make your decisions based on your experiences in the real world.
5) Don’t also feel compelled to immediately get into a really kick-ass position early; this takes a lot of time.
6) Study abroad as early as you can, preferably your sophomore year. Do an entire year.
Go outside your university study abroad office as you will get a better variety of choices. See this article on Americans and why we don’t travel enough for more details.
7) If you are interested in international urban planning, start studying a language ASAP.
This is especially true if you want an overseas position in urban planning; fluency in a foreign language as well as internship experiences in your home country will be key in securing a job after graduation.
8) Make friends with your fellow urban studies majors! They are awesome, cool, chill, and really kind.
What I really enjoy about my program is that you meet people from all sorts of different backgrounds. The smallness of our program makes it really easy to know everybody closely. Develop strong relationships with them; in the long run, they’ll be great people to lean on when times are tough, or you need advice, or you just want to hang out with, or maybe potential job offers.