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Planning Admissions 2021: Discussion Thread


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I work at an Ivy in admissions and financial aid, and we did see an increase in app numbers this year across our programs, a bit higher in planning than in others. From what I can tell, the gains for

I feel like me commenting here earlier might have made some of you worried that admissions committees regularly lurk here, but I honestly don't think that's the case. Most adcoms are made up solely of

Speaking as someone who is in their 30s and has been working in the "real world" for a number of years before applying to go back to grad school, my advice is take on as little debt as possible. Go to

Hey guys I’m looking for some honest opinion between UIUC and USC, since UIUC is the only stem program that I know of it would be useful being an international student, but seems like a lot of prefer USC , can you tell me so my decision becomes easier? Also thoughts on Georgia Tech and UWashington?

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Is anyone here seriously considering Cal Poly Pomona or SJSU? I don't really hear either talked about much but I have a friend who works for LA Metro and CPP is a big feeder school into LA City and County agencies. And I've talked to a ton of alumni at SJSU + grad advisor/faculty and got the same impression for SJSU and Bay Area City/County agencies. I've talked to faculty, the grad advisor, and alumni at CPP too and it seems like a great program. The campus is also really nice, if far from LA.

Was curious if either school is in anybody's top choices? For CA schools as much as I'd love to get into UCLA - hard to beat the price and flexibility of SJSU and CPP. I just rarely see either talked about. I'm sure they both get overshadowed by their respective nearby UC competition.

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24 minutes ago, jbourne1 said:

Is anyone here seriously considering Cal Poly Pomona or SJSU? I don't really hear either talked about much but I have a friend who works for LA Metro and CPP is a big feeder school into LA City and County agencies. And I've talked to a ton of alumni at SJSU + grad advisor/faculty and got the same impression for SJSU and Bay Area City/County agencies. I've talked to faculty, the grad advisor, and alumni at CPP too and it seems like a great program. The campus is also really nice, if far from LA.

Was curious if either school is in anybody's top choices? For CA schools as much as I'd love to get into UCLA - hard to beat the price and flexibility of SJSU and CPP. I just rarely see either talked about. I'm sure they both get overshadowed by their respective nearby UC competition.

I did not apply to either of those programs, but my old Planning Director in CA was a SJSU grad and she always spoke highly of the program(and of her lack of debt lol). I also think CPP is really solid and you're right, LA metro planning orgs are full of their grads. I met their professor Richard Wilson at an APA event once and he seemed really cool, too. 

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37 minutes ago, jbourne1 said:

Is anyone here seriously considering Cal Poly Pomona or SJSU? I don't really hear either talked about much but I have a friend who works for LA Metro and CPP is a big feeder school into LA City and County agencies. And I've talked to a ton of alumni at SJSU + grad advisor/faculty and got the same impression for SJSU and Bay Area City/County agencies. I've talked to faculty, the grad advisor, and alumni at CPP too and it seems like a great program. The campus is also really nice, if far from LA.

Was curious if either school is in anybody's top choices? For CA schools as much as I'd love to get into UCLA - hard to beat the price and flexibility of SJSU and CPP. I just rarely see either talked about. I'm sure they both get overshadowed by their respective nearby UC competition.

My perception is that ranking, prestige, and such does not matter at all if :

  1. you are interested in working in the same state or local area as your school (i.e. if employers will have heard of your school at all)
  2. the program has a decent/good reputation

It's all about what you do while you are there. Just be sure to be aggressive for cool internships and other experience.

I'm assuming you are going for Masters. If SJSU and CPP are affordable, you like them, and you are looking to stay in the area, you should go for the affordable option imo. 

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23 minutes ago, cigkofte92 said:

My perception is that ranking, prestige, and such does not matter at all if :

  1. you are interested in working in the same state or local area as your school (i.e. if employers will have heard of your school at all)
  2. the program has a decent/good reputation

It's all about what you do while you are there. Just be sure to be aggressive for cool internships and other experience.

I'm assuming you are going for Masters. If SJSU and CPP are affordable, you like them, and you are looking to stay in the area, you should go for the affordable option imo. 

Oh yeah definitely, I'm fairly realistic about the whole thing I just rarely hear people discuss those schools online and I can't imagine I'm the only one who doesn't want to pay $25-50k per year like most of the other schools I see named on here (not to loan shame anyone! haha) so was just curious if anyone else had them towards the top. Cheers!

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55 minutes ago, cigkofte92 said:

My perception is that ranking, prestige, and such does not matter at all if :

  1. you are interested in working in the same state or local area as your school (i.e. if employers will have heard of your school at all)
  2. the program has a decent/good reputation

It's all about what you do while you are there. Just be sure to be aggressive for cool internships and other experience.

Yep, Planetizen rankings and such shouldn't be treated as an explicit ordering, but just as a general idea of which programs have more resources and do the most prominent work in their respective regions. Their info can be incredibly useful in distinguishing if one school is clearly better than another (like if it's significantly larger, gives much more aid, more faculty with publications, etc.) but schools with similar "ranks" are likely very similar in outlook so factors like location and cost become hugely important.

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4 hours ago, alliecask said:

The Berkeley rejection hurt but wasn't surprising and I'm just glad the wait is over! What other programs are you all legitimately considering?

Same here. I feel much more relieved. :) I’m considering UCLA, CP SLO, UMich, and UNC.

2 hours ago, jbourne1 said:

Is anyone here seriously considering Cal Poly Pomona or SJSU? I don't really hear either talked about much but I have a friend who works for LA Metro and CPP is a big feeder school into LA City and County agencies. And I've talked to a ton of alumni at SJSU + grad advisor/faculty and got the same impression for SJSU and Bay Area City/County agencies. I've talked to faculty, the grad advisor, and alumni at CPP too and it seems like a great program. The campus is also really nice, if far from LA.

Was curious if either school is in anybody's top choices? For CA schools as much as I'd love to get into UCLA - hard to beat the price and flexibility of SJSU and CPP. I just rarely see either talked about. I'm sure they both get overshadowed by their respective nearby UC competition.

SJSU is technically my backup, but the program has been highly recommended to me, and the professors do stand out to me. Great location and price point too. I guess I’m just coming from a big research university and kind of want the same vibe in my graduate school.

I didn’t apply to CPP but applied to its sister school, CP SLO. Truthfully, I thought why apply to both when I can apply to the more reputable one. (Also, wasn’t a fan of the website, and websites that look old or don’t have much info like UIUC don’t make me want to apply.) But I have heard good things about CPP from my professor, so maybe if I wanted another safety school besides SJSU and SLO, I should’ve went with that.

Edited by yellowsurf
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14 hours ago, numenor said:

My partner teaches at UBC and just received an update from the administration that hints at the possibility of a hybrid environment come fall–though I certainly wouldn't be surprised if classes remain online.

I just got this email (the Head of my department forwarded it very late at night). If anyone else is wondering, it sounds like UBC (as a whole) is pushing for some sort of in-person arrangement, but all options are still on the table. They will make a final announcement in May. 

The two possible options they list are 100% return to in-person teaching, or allowing small classes to return in classrooms 3x the size of the class. In the latter, large classes will still be online. 

It's definitely possible that the planning program will meet in person, as the classes are small and can be scheduled into large teaching spaces. 

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9 minutes ago, CanPlan said:

I just got this email (the Head of my department forwarded it very late at night). If anyone else is wondering, it sounds like UBC (as a whole) is pushing for some sort of in-person arrangement, but all options are still on the table. They will make a final announcement in May. 

The two possible options they list are 100% return to in-person teaching, or allowing small classes to return in classrooms 3x the size of the class. In the latter, large classes will still be online. 

It's definitely possible that the planning program will meet in person, as the classes are small and can be scheduled into large teaching spaces. 

Did they have an increase in the number of applicants? If so, by what percentage? 

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All universities have had a large increase in graduate level applications due to the pandemic and economic turndown.  Grad school becomes an option with low opportunity cost when the economy is slow. 

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I emailed my PI today to ask if decisions would be posted by the end of the month; it is time to re-enroll in benefits with my husband’s employer and our decisions will be slightly different depending on if I will be attending in the fall. He replied right away and didn’t answer the question but did ask for a zoom meeting tomorrow. I guess I’ll have some further guidance soon. 

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14 minutes ago, GMK said:

All universities have had a large increase in graduate level applications due to the pandemic and economic turndown.  Grad school becomes an option with low opportunity cost when the economy is slow. 

Yes. But some programs are experiencing a larger volume of applicants than other programs. At this point, this all seems so opaque, so any insight on applicant would be appreciated. 

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5 minutes ago, planningfor2021 said:

Yes. But some programs are experiencing a larger volume of applicants than other programs. At this point, this all seems so opaque, so any insight on applicant would be appreciated. 

I don't work in the urban planning program at UBC (I work in an unrelated department), but my understanding at the university was that the number of applications has pretty much been normal. 

This recent article from the New York Times seems to imply that top programs are experiencing a surge in applicants because they have waived testing requirements (SAT, ACT, GRE, etc.): https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/20/us/colleges-covid-applicants.html

Standardized tests aren't really a thing up here, so I imagine things are more or less the same. Canada tends to see a surge in applications depending on the US political situation. There was a big spike after Trump was elected (US students looking to get out), but that won't be the case this year.  

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2 hours ago, yellowsurf said:

Same here. I feel much more relieved. :) I’m considering UCLA, CP SLO, UMich, and UNC.

SJSU is technically my backup, but the program has been highly recommended to me, and the professors do stand out to me. Great location and price point too. I guess I’m just coming from a big research university and kind of want the same vibe in my graduate school.

I didn’t apply to CPP but applied to its sister school, CP SLO. Truthfully, I thought why apply to both when I can apply to the more reputable one. (Also, wasn’t a fan of the website, and websites that look old or don’t have much info like UIUC don’t make me want to apply.) But I have heard good things about CPP from my professor, so maybe if I wanted another safety school besides SJSU and SLO, I should’ve went with that.

The program at SJSU, from what I gathered, seems a bit like a factory to get you what you need to know to be a planner and get you out in the field. I don't mean that in a bad way, it's highly practical. I just mean that in contrast to schools like Cal and UCLA which are probably just as (if not more) concerned with the program's contributions to the planning field's body of academic work.

The CPP website is straight out of like 2009 haha. Somehow, Columbia's also somehow manages to channel 2009 looking like it tried to imagine 2099 with those colors and font choices lol: https://www.arch.columbia.edu/

But yeah, I skipped SLO mainly because of location. I just didn't want to live in a small town. Can't beat the school's reputation though. There are plenty of USC/Cal/UCLA haters out there but SLO seems to be universally respected/beloved (the school itself not necessarily just the planning program).

Oh and just a quick edit. I don't think SJSU/CPP are really entertaining the idea of more esoteric theory like Edward Soja might have at UCLA for example.

Edited by jbourne1
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18 minutes ago, planningfor2021 said:

Yes. But some programs are experiencing a larger volume of applicants than other programs. At this point, this all seems so opaque, so any insight on applicant would be appreciated. 

I don't know about y'all but I (erroneously) sort of assumed planning wouldn't experience such a big spike because it's not like people go into planning for money (or idk I guess somebody might). But from my contact with admissions offices thus far in the process / the amount of time they're taking to release decisions, it's evident that the volume is way high. From speaking to my friends applying to masters' in other subjects, planning seems to have been hit sorta bad, too, which is surprising to me. 

It also probably doesn't help that MIT shut its doors, and that a lot of programs allowed deferrals before it was clear how long COVID would last, so that probably compounds the issue further. 

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44 minutes ago, jbourne1 said:

The program at SJSU, from what I gathered, seems a bit like a factory to get you what you need to know to be a planner and get you out in the field. I don't mean that in a bad way, it's highly practical. I just mean that in contrast to schools like Cal and UCLA which are probably just as (if not more) concerned with the program's contributions to the planning field's body of academic work.

The CPP website is straight out of like 2009 haha. Somehow, Columbia's also somehow manages to channel 2009 looking like it tried to imagine 2099 with those colors and font choices lol: https://www.arch.columbia.edu/

But yeah, I skipped SLO mainly because of location. I just didn't want to live in a small town. Can't beat the school's reputation though. There are plenty of USC/Cal/UCLA haters out there but SLO seems to be universally respected/beloved (the school itself not necessarily just the planning program).

Oh and just a quick edit. I don't think SJSU/CPP are really entertaining the idea of more esoteric theory like Edward Soja might have at UCLA for example.

Oh wow. That website design from Columbia, with that neon green — no thanks.

Fair point with SLO. Location is a concern of mine as well. And good points with the Cal State vs UC divide. People have different opinions about the UCs — I’ve met a planner who regretted his education at a UC because it was so theory-based, and another who said that the theory you learned at the UCs made them stand out from people who only learned “cookie-cutter” planner skills.

 

Edited by yellowsurf
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I work at an Ivy in admissions and financial aid, and we did see an increase in app numbers this year across our programs, a bit higher in planning than in others. From what I can tell, the gains for planning were mostly due to 1) GRE being waived, and 2) MIT not accepting apps (but I think that is more likely to increase our enrollment rate, not the app rate). We did NOT see the kind of spike in app numbers that we did after 2008 recession, so I don't think the economy weighed in too much as far as apps increasing, at least not in our professional programs. Though, some schools may accept fewer students this year depending on how many students they allowed to defer last year, so the overall acceptance rate may go down.

On another note, before this discussion thread was created, some folks were asking on the results thread about whether they should feel comfortable contacting admissions to check in on decisions. I can only really speak for how that is interpreted and handled at my institution, though I do think it is similar at our peer schools. My advice is to contact the admissions staff rather than a faculty member or academic department/program staff. The admissions team is used to getting these emails and may be able to provide some insight depending on the question. As long as you are respectful and mention that you understand if we cannot provide an update or further information at this point, then no one will think twice about the fact that you reached out. We have gotten a number of emails from applicants that have heard emails have gone out but they haven't received one. Faculty are sending out unofficial early notices by email in some of our programs but not in others, and those that are sending early notice seem to be sending them out in dribs and drabs, so the fact that you haven't heard does not mean you are necessarily rejected at this point, at least from my institution's perspective.

If you have a pressing reason for wanting to know your decision earlier, like you have an offer from another school that they are asking for an enrollment decision sooner than official decisions are being released, or there is a housing application deadline or something, then mention that, but again, expect that they may not be able to give you an early decision. If the school does rolling admissions, they may be able to accommodate you more than a school that works on deadlines and reviews everyone at once (like my school).

Just trying to be helpful! I know it's a really stressful time for grad applicants and I like to support any student any way I can! If you have other questions or want advice, I'm happy to give my input.

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35 minutes ago, lululadybug said:

I work at an Ivy in admissions and financial aid, and we did see an increase in app numbers this year across our programs, a bit higher in planning than in others. From what I can tell, the gains for planning were mostly due to 1) GRE being waived, and 2) MIT not accepting apps (but I think that is more likely to increase our enrollment rate, not the app rate). We did NOT see the kind of spike in app numbers that we did after 2008 recession, so I don't think the economy weighed in too much as far as apps increasing, at least not in our professional programs. Though, some schools may accept fewer students this year depending on how many students they allowed to defer last year, so the overall acceptance rate may go down.

On another note, before this discussion thread was created, some folks were asking on the results thread about whether they should feel comfortable contacting admissions to check in on decisions. I can only really speak for how that is interpreted and handled at my institution, though I do think it is similar at our peer schools. My advice is to contact the admissions staff rather than a faculty member or academic department/program staff. The admissions team is used to getting these emails and may be able to provide some insight depending on the question. As long as you are respectful and mention that you understand if we cannot provide an update or further information at this point, then no one will think twice about the fact that you reached out. We have gotten a number of emails from applicants that have heard emails have gone out but they haven't received one. Faculty are sending out unofficial early notices by email in some of our programs but not in others, and those that are sending early notice seem to be sending them out in dribs and drabs, so the fact that you haven't heard does not mean you are necessarily rejected at this point, at least from my institution's perspective.

If you have a pressing reason for wanting to know your decision earlier, like you have an offer from another school that they are asking for an enrollment decision sooner than official decisions are being released, or there is a housing application deadline or something, then mention that, but again, expect that they may not be able to give you an early decision. If the school does rolling admissions, they may be able to accommodate you more than a school that works on deadlines and reviews everyone at once (like my school).

Just trying to be helpful! I know it's a really stressful time for grad applicants and I like to support any student any way I can! If you have other questions or want advice, I'm happy to give my input.

Thank you for your insight. I did actually contact my PI this morning before you posted. I wanted to know if results might be posted by the end of the month, as it is time to re-enroll in benefits with my husband’s employer and the admission decision will determine some of our benefit decisions. He didn’t answer me in the email but did ask to set up a zoom meeting with me for tomorrow.  Hopefully I didn’t bother him with my question! I wish I had known your information and insight before asking him. 😬

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1 hour ago, lululadybug said:

I work at an Ivy in admissions and financial aid, and we did see an increase in app numbers this year across our programs, a bit higher in planning than in others. From what I can tell, the gains for planning were mostly due to 1) GRE being waived, and 2) MIT not accepting apps (but I think that is more likely to increase our enrollment rate, not the app rate). We did NOT see the kind of spike in app numbers that we did after 2008 recession, so I don't think the economy weighed in too much as far as apps increasing, at least not in our professional programs. Though, some schools may accept fewer students this year depending on how many students they allowed to defer last year, so the overall acceptance rate may go down.

On another note, before this discussion thread was created, some folks were asking on the results thread about whether they should feel comfortable contacting admissions to check in on decisions. I can only really speak for how that is interpreted and handled at my institution, though I do think it is similar at our peer schools. My advice is to contact the admissions staff rather than a faculty member or academic department/program staff. The admissions team is used to getting these emails and may be able to provide some insight depending on the question. As long as you are respectful and mention that you understand if we cannot provide an update or further information at this point, then no one will think twice about the fact that you reached out. We have gotten a number of emails from applicants that have heard emails have gone out but they haven't received one. Faculty are sending out unofficial early notices by email in some of our programs but not in others, and those that are sending early notice seem to be sending them out in dribs and drabs, so the fact that you haven't heard does not mean you are necessarily rejected at this point, at least from my institution's perspective.

If you have a pressing reason for wanting to know your decision earlier, like you have an offer from another school that they are asking for an enrollment decision sooner than official decisions are being released, or there is a housing application deadline or something, then mention that, but again, expect that they may not be able to give you an early decision. If the school does rolling admissions, they may be able to accommodate you more than a school that works on deadlines and reviews everyone at once (like my school).

Just trying to be helpful! I know it's a really stressful time for grad applicants and I like to support any student any way I can! If you have other questions or want advice, I'm happy to give my input.

Thank you for your help and insight. Do you have any advice on asking for additional funding? Should we contact the department or the financial aid office? 

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56 minutes ago, austinplanning256 said:

Thank you for your help and insight. Do you have any advice on asking for additional funding? Should we contact the department or the financial aid office? 

A good friend of mine (in planning gschool currently) got a large merit package from a university. He used this as leverage to get money from the two other (higher ranked) schools where he was admitted and did not receive aid. He sent them proof of this package as requested, and his offers at those two schools increased significantly. I think if you have a good offer somewhere, but you'd ideally like to attend elsewhere, this strategy works. At the end of the day, all of these schools want us to attend, and if you were admitted, they absolutely want to do what they can to get you there (within reason). With the exception of a few schools (and PhD programs), masters in planning programs don't typically reserve a ton of available funding for their incoming cohort, most likely because these are technically 'professional' degrees.

Edited by jgiara
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5 minutes ago, jgiara said:

A good friend of mine (in planning gschool currently) got a large merit package from a university. He used this as leverage to get money from the two other (higher ranked) schools where he was admitted and did not receive aid. He sent them proof of this package as requested, and his offers at those two schools increased significantly. I think if you have a good offer somewhere, but you'd ideally like to attend elsewhere, this strategy works. At the end of the day, all of these schools want us to attend, and if you were admitted, they absolutely want to do what they can to get you there (within reason). With the exception of a few schools, planning programs don't typically reserve a ton of available funding for their incoming cohort, most likely because these are technically 'professional' degrees.

I met with a professor last week from one of the programs I applied to, and he told me the same thing. 

If I'm accepted to a different program and they offer me more money, I should let him and his department know so they can make a competitive offer. 

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2 hours ago, GMK said:

Thank you for your insight. I did actually contact my PI this morning before you posted. I wanted to know if results might be posted by the end of the month, as it is time to re-enroll in benefits with my husband’s employer and the admission decision will determine some of our benefit decisions. He didn’t answer me in the email but did ask to set up a zoom meeting with me for tomorrow.  Hopefully I didn’t bother him with my question! I wish I had known your information and insight before asking him. 😬

Oh I think you are fine! I think many faculty are open to communicating with applicants, especially if you have connected with them previously. My advice was generally for those that are really hesitant to reach out AT ALL. It sounds like your PI is interested in you and totally willing to discuss, so that's great! I hope your meeting with them tomorrow goes well 🙂

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1 hour ago, austinplanning256 said:

Thank you for your help and insight. Do you have any advice on asking for additional funding? Should we contact the department or the financial aid office? 

This really depends on how scholarships and financial aid are handled at the particular institution. At our school, the chairs and program directors handle the scholarship offers because it is all based on merit. For schools that consider financial need, then it may be different, though usually it is the merit funding that I think can be negotiated rather than the need-based funding that is likely allocated based on a needs analysis formula.

In general, if you feel like the scholarship offer was determined by the chair, program director, or faculty admissions committee and not by the financial aid office, then you should reach out to them to discuss your scholarship offer. I very much agree with what the poster jgiara said above - if you have a competing offer, definitely leverage that as much as possible, and express that while the school/program may be your first choice academically, the competing offer is making it difficult to accept the offer from a financial standpoint and nicely ask if there is any additional funding that may be offered to you so that you can feel confident enrolling in the program. Negotiating scholarships is something that I personally hate is a thing at all because usually those that feel confident and comfortable negotiating are usually those that do not need the money as much but have had the privilege of being brought up knowing not to take no for an answer ("the squeaky wheel gets the grease" as I refer to it!). HOWEVER, it is a thing that happens so you should feel comfortable inquiring in a respectful manner. You've already been admitted at that point so you have nothing to lose by asking as long as it is done respectfully.

Also, something I see happen A LOT - at our institution, whatever scholarship you are offered is what your scholarship will be annually for however many years your program is and we cannot increase scholarships for your second year. I often have continuing students that did not receive scholarship their first year, or received a lower scholarship the first year, ask if they can get a scholarship or increased scholarship for their second/remaining years. Unless the school/program you applied to EXPLICITLY states that they have a process for awarding additional scholarships to continuing students, DO NOT COUNT ON THIS HAPPENING. Make sure you negotiate your offer BEFORE you pay a deposit or complete your enrollment/decision form, because that is more than likely what you will be locked in with for the duration of your program.

If you aren't sure if you should reach out to the chair, program director, or faculty to negotiate scholarship, then reach out to the admissions or financial aid office and ask them who you should speak with regarding your scholarship offer and they should let you know.

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