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The Master of Urban Planning (M.U.P.) program

 

How is this planning program different from other planning programs?

It is different in three principal ways. The first and most important is the emphasis placed on project-based learning in studio courses. Much of what future professionals must know cannot be taught simply from reading books and writing essays. Dealing with complex, messy situations, managing an excessive amount of information for the time given, working in teams, communicating recommendations in front of a skeptical audience and other such tasks must be learned by trial-and-error. Although standard coursework is an important component of the curriculum, learning-by-doing is the primary pedagogical method in the program, and 'real-world' projects, in which students work for a community client, is at the heart of their academic experience.

Secondly, the School has built an important track-record of collaboration with other universities, both locally and internationally, and with the local community. It has ongoing work, funded by major granting agencies, to help develop the urban planning and research capacity of countries in developing countries and to assist grassroots efforts in community development.

A third special feature of the program is its location in Montreal and the involvement of staff and students in local civic affairs. The city offers students a most interesting (and most enjoyable) environment in which to learn about cities, their development and their improvement by public planning. It attracts students and immigrants from around the world and brings them together in a French/English/American cultural environment. Professors and students take on an active role in local policy-making, planning and advocacy.

Other particular characteristics of the program are mentioned below, in answers to other questions.

 

Why does the program require completion of 66 credits?

Students come to planning with very diverse academic backgrounds and because urban planners deal with so many different issues in their work. Therefore, a Master’s curriculum must first provide to all a thorough knowledge of the basics and then offer to each a good exposure to a variety of sub-fields. Core courses, which together amount to about a year of study, introduce students to the fundamentals of professional urban planning; a year’s worth of elective courses enable them to learn about several dimensions of planning or to focus their attention on one or two topics. Also, the need to balance theory and practice and to balance different learning modes (see above) accounts for the heavy credit load. Over the first three semesters, students take fifteen credits of courses (studio, lecture, seminar) per term; in the last semester, they complete a fifteen-credit Supervised Research Project. A summer internship between the two academic years gives them an opportunity to acquire professional experience before graduating. This full, well-balanced program of study can be completed in twenty months (two academic years and a summer) but requires intensive work during that period of time.

 

In what subfields of urban planning can I specialise at McGill?

The school offers a formal specialisation in Transportation Planning. The core program allows students to specialise, albeit without formal recognition, in land-use planning and regulation, community planning, environmental planning, transportation planning, urban design, and international development planning. Specialisation in other areas is possible as well but requires more collaboration with professors from other units. As said, the School does not encourage specialisation for its own sake; a general education in planning is a solid basis for early practice in a variety of subfields, and good generalists are in short supply.

 

Does the School of Urban Planning offer dual-degree programs?

Not at this point. Multiple programs are earned in sequence. Some courses taken in one program can allow for substitutions in another program.

 

Should I consider earning an M.U.P. if I already have a Bachelor’s degree in Urban Planning?

Certainly. Although some overlap between the undergraduate and graduate programs is unavoidable, students with a B.A. or B.S. in planning will be able to hone their skills, expand their knowledge and develop their portfolio of professional projects. Such students will also be able to specialise further in one or two areas and take many electives to that effect. One or more core requirements may be waived (and replaced by electives) for students who can demonstrate that they have passed equivalent courses in their undergraduate planning studies. Also, unless the Bachelor's degree was itself recognised by a professional association, earning the M.U.P. is necessary for professional accreditation.

 

Que me donnera une maîtrise en urbanisme de McGill, moi qui ai déjà un bac professionnel en urbanisme ?

Plusieurs choses. Premièrement, l’Université McGill a une réputation internationale et attire des étudiants de tous les continents ; les finissant(e)s du programme trouvent du travail dans le monde entier. Deuxièmement, le programme offre un pont entre les approches française/européenne et anglaise/nord-américaine à l’urbanisme et aux études urbaines. Troisièmement, comme l’université fonctionne en grande partie en anglais (voir ci-dessous), les étudiants francophones peuvent y développer leur maîtrise de l’anglais à un niveau professionnel. Quatrièmement, l’approche pédagogique utilisée permet aux détenteurs d’un bac de mieux se préparer à la pratique professionnelle. Finalement, le programme offre l’occasion de se spécialiser dans un domaine de recherche ou de pratique particulier. Ceci permet à certain(e)s finissant(e)s d’accéder à des études de doctorat ou a des postes professionnels de plus haut niveau.

 

What is the role of French in the program?
Quel est la place du français dans le programme ?

It is large, if you want it to be… Elle est grande, si c’est ce que vous désirez…

It is not necessary to know French in order to study at McGill. However, some knowledge of that language will enrich your experience as a student and as resident of Montréal. Over twenty per cent of professors and students are French-speaking and, as per university statutes (since the foundation of the university, in 1821), students may submit their papers, examinations and theses in either French or English. Students who know French will be able to read a wider array of reports and plans, attend a larger number of public meetings, etc. They will also be able to take on certain roles in the research and consulting activities of professors who work with planning agencies and community groups in the city and the province. Students who do not know French when they arrive but want to learn it will have a unique opportunity to do so during their stay in Montréal.

Bien que la plupart des étudiants francophones qui viennent étudier à McGill le font en partie pour parfaire leur maîtrise de l’anglais, certains rédigent leurs travaux et mémoires en français. Ceux qui se soucient de leur intégration dans le monde professionnel québécois n’auront pas de problèmes à le faire, puisqu’ils ont l’occasion de faire un stage dans une agence ou firme locale, de collaborer à des projets de recherche sur des problématiques locales, en collaboration avec des agences publiques et des groupes communautaires locaux, et de devenir membre de l’Ordre des urbanistes du Québec.

 

Will it be possible to take courses outside the School of Urban Planning?

Of course! In fact, students are encouraged to take upper-level undergraduate courses (500-level) or graduate-level courses (600-level) in other departments and even at other universities if these classes can complement their curriculum in a useful manner. Credits from other McGill units, from the other three universities located in Montreal (Concordia, Université de Montréal, UQAM), from other North-American universities and from overseas universities with which McGill has agreements will be transferred to the student’s transcripts if they have not been used toward another degree or diploma. Up to 12 credits may be earned at another academic institution.

 

Will I be able to write a thesis or do an individual project on a topic that is of particular interest to me?

By all means. As mentioned above, the final requirement of the program is a Supervised Research Project (SRP). At the minimum, it amounts to a 15-credit piece of work in which a student analyses an issue or designs a plan during his or her final semester of study. But it can also be the culmination of a year or even a year and a half of study during which a student devotes several electives, a summer internship and a semester of independent research to a topic of his or her choice. Subjects of SRPs in the past have included urban design plans for brownfield sites, approaches to community involvement in decision-making, policy prescriptions for environmental (or historic) preservation, strategies for suburban densification, evaluations of alternative scenarios for infrastructure development, sociological and political studies of megaprojects, and best-practice analyses of planning in various geographic locales and fields of actions.

 

Will I be able to participate in research and teaching activities?

Yes. Several Research Assistant positions and a few Teaching Assistant positions are available every year, mostly to second-year students who have demonstrated particular abilities for research or teaching in their first year of study. Students who enter the program with particular expertise may qualify for such positions in their first year of study as well.

 

Will I get a supervisor when I begin my studies?

Not immediately. Individual supervision of students occurs informally in the first year of study, and students feel free during that time to consult with those professors whose interests and/or personality seem most compatible to theirs. Supervision is more formal in the second year of study, when students develop an individual program of coursework and research, in particular for their Supervised Research Project. Each student is therefore given an academic supervisor at the start of the second year; attribution of advisors is based to the extent possible on relationships developed during the first year.

 

Can one follow the Master’s program on a part-time basis?

Normally not. The program is geared at full-time students who come to McGill for two academic years. Exceptionally, however, the School will allow a person to complete the program in four years, on a part-time basis. This possibility is generally given only to top candidates who, because of professional and/or family responsibilities, are not able to take two years off. Again, part-time status is granted on an exceptional basis, to a maximum of one person per year.

 



Life after graduation

 

What can I hope to do with an M.U.P. degree from McGill University?

Many different things. The school has a very good track-record in terms of post-graduation employment. Graduates find work in the public, private and community sectors. Depending on their interests and expectations, they join municipal, regional or provincial agencies, consulting firms, not-for-profit organisations or international development agencies. Students with a background in architecture, engineering, landscape architecture or law will often use their dual professional education to enter practice in rather specialised functions, as will students with strong technical skills. The timing and nature of a first job after graduation depends on the individual’s contacts developed during his or her studies, prior experience and the strength of the economy, but career opportunities are very varied. The multi-disciplinary character of the field of planning, the project-based learning experience in the M.U.P. program and the good name of McGill University all help in this respect.

 

Will a degree from McGill University be adequate for working in the U.S. or overseas?

Yes--more than adequate in fact. A large number of students come from outside Canada and go back to a successful career in their home country. As said, the university and the program have a good reputation worldwide, and the M.U.P. degree will be recognised by most national planning associations as equivalent to a local degree for the purpose of professional accreditation. Graduates of the program who work in the US can become (and many have indeed become) members of the American Institute of Certified Planners.

 

Will graduating from McGill’s planning program help someone from another province or country find a planning position in Montréal?

Yes, provided this person speaks French well enough. The School is very well connected to the local professional milieu, and many of our graduates work in public agencies, private firms, and not-for-profit organisations in Montréal. However, a good command of spoken and written French is necessary for most positions. Students who do not have French as their mother tongue and who wish to live and practice in Montréal should make it their priority to develop their language skills during and after their studies. (Courses are available at McGill and elsewhere, but they cannot be counted toward degree requirements.) This being said, there are positions, for instance in international organisations and in consulting firms that do work abroad, for which knowledge of French is less important, and some of our graduates have found work there, too.

 

Should I specialise during my studies in order to find work more easily after graduation?

Not necessarily. As mentioned above, good generalists are in high demand. Also, specialisation can limit one’s employment options (in terms of location for example) and may set a career on a specific path in a premature manner. On the other hand, specialisation may provide a clearer sense of direction. Some students have indeed used their internship, second year of coursework and SRP to acquire skills, knowledge and professional contacts in a specific area of planning and have been able to capitalise on that after graduating. The School welcomes and supports students whose interests and temperament fit both models.

 



Admissions

 

How competitive is admission to the M.U.P. program?

It is very competitive. An average of 250 people apply for admission each year; a maximum of 25 people eventually make up the entering class. Applicants who apply to the program typically apply to other programs in Canada (at UBC, Queen’s, etc.) and in the US (MIT, Columbia, etc.). The selection process is therefore very competitive. But as is explained below, academic excellence is not the only criterion for admission.

 

What aspects of an application increase the likelihood of admission?

All required elements of the application package are important: grades in undergraduate and other studies, letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, portfolio (for architects and landscape architects) and evidence of special capabilities. The ideal applicant is someone who has already demonstrated a capacity for leadership and a commitment to improving our living environment, who has some professional experience (not necessarily in urban planning), who possesses a strong academic record (as shown by grades and by letters from former professors) and who has a good command of English and some mastery of other languages (in particular French and Spanish). Volunteer experience and coursework in planning or a related area are also positive elements, as are skills in graphic communication, GIS and other tools of the trade.

 

Should I still apply if my undergraduate major or earlier professional degree was not in field related to urban planning?

Yes. Although most people who enroll have a first degree in architecture, landscape architecture, geography, environmental studies and connected fields, individuals with academic backgrounds in law, political science, commerce or fine arts also get admission to the program. A person with a degree in a field that is not directly related to planning or who has had a non-traditional trajectory until the time of application should use the statement of purpose to explain his or her desire to shift to urban planning and to earn a professional degree in the field. Evidence of general leadership potential, participation in planning-related activities (urban-design charrettes, public hearings on controversial projects, environmental advocacy, municipal election campaigns, etc.) or independent coursework in urban studies and planning will also be taken into consideration.

 

Are grades major determinants in the selection process?

Yes and no. McGill University requires that all applicants have a minimum Cumulative Grade Point Average of 3.0 for their undergraduate studies, or at least of 3.2 for the last two years of those studies. (This translates into a Second Class Upper Division in the British system.) Applicants who earned their Bachelor’s degree a long time ago and do not meet this standard, but who have since shown excellence in other ways, may still apply if they have since then completed a year of full-time studies in gradable courses (i.e., not pass/fail) at the undergraduate or graduate level. The required minimum CGPA for this extra course-work is 3.2. Again, all else being equal, a candidate with higher grades will be preferred over one with lower grades, but grades are only one of several factors that are taken into account.

 

What is expected from the Statement of Purpose?

We expect that it be interesting and well-written. The statement must display the applicant’s personal engagement with issues at stake in urban planning. The text, which should be one or two pages in length, need not contain a detailed research proposal nor explain why the student wishes to study at McGill University. It must, however, show clearly why the author wants to earn a Master’s degree in urban planning, what s/he hopes to achieve with it, and what issue(s) in particular will receive his/her attention as a student and as a planner.

 

What language requirements exist for local and foreign students?

As stated in the 'Admissions' section of the School’s website, most foreign students have to submit documented proof of competency in oral and written English. Foreign applicants whose mother tongue is English and who completed an undergraduate or graduate degree from a recognised foreign institution where English is the language of instruction are exempt from this requirement. Also exempt, of course, are all graduates of a recognised Canadian institution, including graduates of a French-language university in Canada.

Proof of competency in English must be submitted directly from the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing Systems) office. An institutional version of the TOEFL is not acceptable. Minimum acceptable exam results for the TOEFL are an overall score of 100 on the iBT, and a score of at least 23 on each of its four components (or a minimum score of 250 on the computer-based test, or 600 on the paper-based test); for the IELTS the minimum overall band is 7.0. Applications will not be considered if a TOEFL or IELTS test result is not available.

Note that, even if their TOEFL or IELTS scores meet minimum requirements, students whose reading and writing skills in English are weak will experience difficulty in completing the program. For French-speaking students, there is always the possibility, mentioned earlier, to submit papers, examinations and theses in French; but they, too, will have to work on team reports in English.

 

How will I know that my application file is complete?

You will know when you receive an email message saying so. Although we do our best to answer queries about the state of an application, we cannot inform each applicant whenever an element of the application package has reached us. It is the applicant’s responsibility to make sure that all documents, including transcripts and letters of recommendation, have been received by the deadline. We will only confirm that an application is complete.

 



Doctoral Studies

 

Does the School of Urban Planning grant doctoral degrees?

Yes, but these are in effect granted by the university at large, as the School itself does not (yet) have a formal doctoral program. This is why the degree program is called the “Ad-Hoc Ph.D. in Urban Planning, Policy, and Design.” Each year, the school takes in a small number of doctoral students (from two to four), each of which is given a tailor-made supervision committee. The committee necessarily includes one or more members from other academic units.

 

What do doctoral studies in Urban Planning entail?

The program of study has a basic structure that is to a certain extent adapted to the needs of each student: the first year is devoted to coursework and the second to the comprehensive examination and the research proposal; dissertation work will ideally be completed before the end of the fourth year. A detailed description of the Ph.D. program is available on our Programs page.

All doctoral students participate in research seminars and, aside from these two common courses, take courses in various McGill departments and even at other institutions in Montreal to build up their knowledge of particular theories, methods and substantive issues. Together with their supervisors and supervisory committee, they define the contents of their comprehensive examinations, the research question and methodology of their dissertation and the format that the latter will take.

 



Student Funding

 

What funding is available to Master’s students?

The school offers several scholarships and other forms of financial support; funding is also available from other sources. Each year, the school awards three or more major fellowships (worth $5,000 or more), a number of smaller fellowships and a number of Teaching and Research Assistantships. Students can also enter the program with a major fellowship from a Canadian or foreign granting agency, e.g., SSHRC, NSERC, FQRSC, and FQRNT (for Québec Permanent Residents). Professors will also help students write grant applications during their studies, for instance to obtain financial support from provincial or federal granting agencies for work on their Supervised Research Project in Canada or aboad.

 

What funding can doctoral students obtain?

Funding comes mainly from doctoral fellowships, although Ph.D. students can also some receive financial support in the form of Research or Teaching Assistantships. In all cases, students can work with their (prospective) Supervisor to write applications and set objectives for research and teaching opportunities. 

Upon recommendation of the School, the most highly qualified doctoral students may be offered a one-year Schulich doctoral fellowship or a three-year McGill Engineering Doctoral Award (MEDA) to be awarded once they are registered in the program. Canadian students can also enter the program with major fellowships from federal or provincial granting agencies described in the previous section, while foreign students can benefit from funding from their home country. Once registered in the program, students with the best records of academic achievement and leadership potential may be invited to apply for the prestigious Vanier and Trudeau fellowships.

 

Where can I find additional information on Fellowships and Awards?

The bulk of the information is in the Fellowships and Awards section of the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office (GPSO) website, which also contains all necessary information on university regulations for Master’s and Ph.D. students. Details on the McGill Engineering Doctoral Award (MEDA) can be found here.

 



Visiting researchers and professors

 

Does the School welcome scholars from other universities?

We have limited capacity for visiting scholars, including professors from abroad and doctoral students doing local research. Up to two visitors can be welcomed at the same and receive a desk, library privileges, and Internet access. Inquiries about sabbaticals and shorter visits for research should be sent directly to the Director of the School of Urban Planning.

Does the School provide funding for visiting scholars?

We regret that we don’t. Visitors should come with funding from their home institution or country. However, visiting scholars may be invited to teach a course for a stipend, depending on existing needs and resources.

 


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