PhD Programs in Urban Planning

Discover the ins and outs of urban planning Ph.D. programs, including an overview of these programs, courses you can expect to run into, and admission requirements.

Urban Planning Ph.D. Program Information

Students in Ph.D. programs in urban planning learn about the various practices, techniques, technologies, and philosophical/ethical approaches to urban planning. These programs often involve a heavy focus on research. The length of these programs can vary based not only on differences between programs but also based on the type of starting degree required for these programs, with advanced standing programs for those with a master's degree taking around 45 to 60 credit hours and other programs requiring as many as 96 for students entering with a bachelor's degree.

Students in these programs study topics in urban planning, such as economic development, globalization, sustainability, geographic information systems, and many more through core content and specialized courses, a sampling of which are described ahead.

Data Analysis for Planning and Management

This course provides an introduction to the statistics and data analysis methods commonly employed in this field. Students in this course gain skills in quantitative research, data gathering, and statistical interpolation. Students also delve into the computer skills associated with this type of data gathering, analysis, and application in the urban planning field. Students might also study variables, outliers, and conditions that might make data limited or prevent data from being perfect and learn how these issues impact decision making.

Planning Methods

This course introduces students to the various planning methods related to areas like urban planning, land use planning, and economic planning. Students study how cities grow, how socioeconomic status impacts city development, and what issues can arise during the planning process. Students might also learn about the potential environmental dilemmas that can arise in this field of work as well as the practical logistics of working in this field.

Geographic Information Systems

Students in this course study the various geographic information systems as well as their practical use in the field of urban planning and how they can help guide planning policy and help us understand spatial relationships. Students examine topics such as spatial data analysis, utility network analysis, and associated statistical information. Students also take a look at the various programs and technologies associated with geographic information systems, such as 3D imaging technology and computer-assisted planning and design technologies.

Geospatial Analysis and Visualization

Visualization methods, implementations, and techniques are discussed in this course, especially as they relate to spatial relationships and planning in the urban environment. Students look closely at web mapping or other geographic information systems techniques in more specific detail and in practical situations to gain a fuller understanding of how these methods of visual representation can assist and inform urban planning. Students also learn about how to most effectively communicate geospatial information through a visual representation of data.


Courses on sustainability instruct students on the practices and policies involved in sustainable planning, as well as what role urban planning has in maintaining the environment and increasing the sustainability of cities, developments, and housing. Students tackle sustainability as both a helpful concept for organizing planning as well as a difficult goal to strive for. Sustainability might also be examined in terms of affordable housing, especially for different demographics and socioeconomic groups.

Ph.D. Programs in Urban Planning Admission Requirements

For these degree programs, students generally need to have completed an undergraduate degree in urban planning or a related field, such as architecture, geography, sustainability, or public policy. Some schools limit admissions to those who have completed a master's degree program in these or related fields. Prospective students will also generally need to have maintained a 3.0 or greater GPA during all previous postsecondary schooling.

A statement of purpose is stressed as an important admission requirement for these programs, wherein students can describe in their own words their own objectives, personal history, and motivations within the field of study. Letters of recommendation help to further flesh out an applicant by providing perspectives from their previous educators. Students might need to submit GRE scores and will need to submit official transcripts. International students will also need to demonstrate English proficiency, usually through the submission of TOEFL scores.

In short, Ph.D. programs in urban planning offer a variety of courses to help students learn about the various techniques, technologies, and considerations involved in urban planning. Admissions requirements include the completion of a postsecondary degree, a 3.0 or higher GPA, and a statement of purpose.