My Experience as an urban studies major
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Many colleges ask you to choose a major as early as your senior year of high school, on your admissions application. Yet there?s a good chance you?ll change your mind. The Department of Education says that about 30 percent of students switch majors at least once.
I changed my mind several times about what I wanted to major in ? economics, philosophy, politics, and economics (PPE), mathematics, and psychology.
I ultimately settled on Urban Studies because I found it to be a fascinating interdisciplinary major that offered a wide range of intellectually stimulating classes.
One of the major concerns of students and parents is ? what kind of job can I get with this major? This is a totally valid concern given the astronomical cost of many degrees and the impact that student loans will have for years to come.
While many dismiss liberal arts degrees as worthless ? I not only received dozens of job offers ? but based on the self reported salary data from my classmates at Penn, I had one of the highest starting salaries of anyone in my class.
While I am only one data point, I wanted to shed some light on a major that is often overlooked as impractical or too academic ? Urban Studies.
What is an Urban Studies Major?
Urban Studies is an academic concentration that is made up of a variety of disciplines. The major, sometimes called Urban and Environmental Planning (depending on the institution), covers history, sociology, humanities, business and other facets critical to a well rounded education.
Urban Studies is the attempt to understand cities and city life. An interdisciplinary program of study, it encompasses the political institutions, economic and social relations, physical landscapes, and cultural frameworks that constitute the city.
Using the conceptual tools supplied by architecture, sociology, art history, anthropology, environmental studies, economics, history, literature, and political science, urban studies both focuses on cities as distinctive entities and explores the meaning and function of cities in the larger society. Urban studies also examines the processes that produce certain patterns of human settlement and charts the changing relationships among areas shaped by urbanization, such as metropolis and countryside, city and suburb, and municipality and region.
If you have an interest in how people, businesses, and government interact, you will likely find Urban Studies fascinating.
For me, one of the most surprising things about being an Urban Studies major was that I began to view cities and urban environments from a systems approach, which has proved invaluable in my professional experiences.
A systems approach focuses on the linkages, interconnections and interrelationships between different parts of a system. The urban system includes economics and livelihoods, politics and governance, society and culture, infrastructure and services, and space and settlements. These aspects of the urban context are all interconnected, dynamic and changing.
It also became apparent that urban systems also requires that we look at the various stakeholders in an urban environment, including their functions and responsibilities, capacity and vulnerability, power and influence, access, interests and perceptions, and the relationships between different actors.
Sample Coursework and Classes
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One of the best things about being an Urban Studies Major is the wide range of courses. Some of my favorite courses included:
- Who Gets Elected and Why
- Real Estate Development and Urban Housing
- The Politics of Housing and Urban Development
- Bankers, Activists, & Government: The Making Of Urban Housing Policy In America
- The City (A class focused on Baltimore that utilizes HBO?s The Wire as its core text)
- Neighborhood Dynamics of Crime
- Urban Research Methods
These programs are offered at many colleges and universities, including: Penn, MIT, and Brown. Even though these courses were specific to Penn, below are some sample course descriptions for Urban Studies courses that are offered in most Urban Studies programs:
The Political Foundations of the City
This course examines the history of urban and social welfare policy in the United States and abroad. It reviews major theories accounting for the origins and subsequent development of welfare states, explains the ?exceptional? nature of American public policy, and employs a combination of historical texts and case studies to analyze the connections between politics and the urban environment.
Housing in America
An examination of why housing matters to individuals, communities, and the nation. This course examines the unique qualities of housing and associated American cultural ideals and norms. The changing role of the government in housing is considered, along with other factors shaping the provision of housing, and the success and failure of housing programs. While housing is a necessity, for many in America housing choices are constrained as costs are unaffordable, discriminatory practices remain, and physical features do not align with needs. This course deliberates how well America meets the challenge of providing decent shelter for all residents.
Poverty and Economic Security
This course explores the evolution of poverty and economic security in the United States, within a global context. It examines the impact of recent economic restructuring and globalization, and reviews the current debate about the fate of the middle class, sources of increasing inequality, and approaches to advancing economic opportunity and security. In this class, students will study the topic of poverty and economic security through the lens of the lived experience of Americans: individuals, families, and households; exploring the history, geography, and forces shaping the likelihood of being poor in America.
The Impact of Globalization on the Built Environment
The course is designed to provide a better understanding of the built environment, globalization, the current financial crisis and the impact of these factors on the rapidly changing and evolving international architecture, engineering, construction fields.
Infrastructure and Energy Technology Challenges
This seminar examines efforts in developing and advanced nations and regions to create, finance, and regulate infrastructure and energy technologies from a variety of methodological and disciplinary perspectives. It is conducted with intensive in-class discussions and debates.
What Can I Do With A Degree In Urban Studies?
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Urban Studies majors go on to successful careers in academics, advocacy, business, government, law, politics, public policy, research, education, and many other fields of work. Below are a sample of some of the fields and specific jobs that someone with an Urban Studies degree might pursue, based on my experience as an Urban Studies graduate and the paths many of my classmates have taken:
Government, Law, Public Policy, and International Planning
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- Urban Planning
- Coporate Lawyer
- Think Tank/Policy Advisory
- Municipal Government
- Foreign Service Officer
Nonprofits, Human Services, and Social Justice
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- Nonprofit Coordinator
- Social Worker
- Affordable Housing Advocate
- Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)
- Environmental Design
- Community Organizing
Business, Consulting, Marketing, and Sales
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- Real Estate Development
- Private Equity/Venture Capital
- Transportation and Logistics Coordinator
- Management Consultant
- Marketing Manager
- Sales Coordinator
Thanks for reading this article! Leave a comment below if you have any questions and be sure to check out Black Edge Consulting.
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Casey Botticello is a partner at Black Edge Consulting. Black Edge Consulting is a strategic communications firm, specializing in online reputation management, digital marketing, and crisis management. Prior to founding Black Edge Consulting, he worked for BGR Group, a bipartisan lobbying and strategic communications firm.
Casey is the founder of the Cryptocurrency Alliance, an independent expenditure-only committee (Super PAC) dedicated to cryptocurrency and blockchain advocacy. He is also the editor of several Medium publications, including Making Money Online, Blogging Guide, and Black Edge Consulting. He is a graduate of The University of Pennsylvania, where he received his B.A. in Urban Studies.