The department's primary degree is the master of science (M.S.) in urban and regional planning (URPL). This program normally requires two academic years of full-time work plus an internship. In addition to the M.S. program, the department offers a Ph.D. program. Some double-degree master's programs are offered, and provisions have been made, in all of the department's basic programs, to serve the specific needs of students from developing countries.The master's degree in urban and regional planning is intended primarily to prepare graduates for professional positions in government, nonprofit and community organizations and the private sector. We seek to train students with the knowledge, theories, skills and abilities to be leaders in shaping communities.

Master's degree coursework consists of 45 credits distributed among core planning skills and knowledge, an area of specialization, and elective courses. Students also gain practical experience in planning and problem solving through required internships.

The objectives of the professional masters of science degree are to:

  1. Prepare students to engage in planning processes that recognize a complex, pluralistic democratic society. Students develop the capacity to work with diverse publics, across government agencies, and in private and nonprofit sectors. Planning processes include the identification of objectives, design of possible courses of action, and evaluation of alternatives.
  2. Convey a set of planning literacies to enable students to perform effectively as planners in public, private or nonprofit sectors. These literacies include knowledge in the following areas:
    • Structure and function of cities and regions
    • History and theory of planning processes and practices
    • Administrative, legal and political aspects of plan-making
    • Public involvement and dispute resolution techniques
    • Research design and data analysis techniques
    • Written, oral and graphic communication skills
    • Ethics of professional practice
    • Collaborative approaches to problem solving
  3. Prepare students with the substantive knowledge foundation and tools, methods and techniques of planning associated with an area of specialization.

Details on administrative requirements for the degree are available in the department's Policies and Procedures, available on the department website or by request.

The M.S. program equips students with sufficient understanding of and training in the principal tools, methods, and techniques of planning to enable them to perform effectively as junior members of planning staffs from the start of their careers; in addition, UW–Madison's program in planning emphasizes concepts, perspectives, and practices that promise to be useful not only upon graduation, but even more so in later years for graduates who reach positions of major influence and responsibility.

Although the department stresses the development of general skills and mental attitudes that are common to all planning endeavors, students are required to specialize in an area of planning that is of interest to the student.

The department seeks students with high academic qualifications and the potential to become qualified professional planners. The department is especially interested in women and minority applicants. Since there are relatively few undergraduate planning programs in the country, students come into the field from a wide range of disciplines. In recent years, planning students have generally come from the social sciences, with geography, economics, political science, and sociology the most common undergraduate backgrounds. The range, however, runs from the arts to the sciences.

Double Degree Programs

It is possible for students to pursue two master's degrees simultaneously. No more than one-fourth of the credits being offered in the requirements of one degree can be used for the requirements of any other master's degree. Special arrangements have been developed for double degrees in the following areas: public affairs, water resources management, and landscape architecture. Interested students should consult with faculty in these program areas, as well as with the department.

For information about financial aid, see Financial Aid on the department website.

Minimum Degree Requirements and Satisfactory Progress

To make progress toward a graduate degree, students must meet the Graduate School Minimum Degree Requirements and Satisfactory Progress in addition to the requirements of the program.

Master’s Degrees

M.S.

Minimum Graduate Degree Credit Requirement

45 credits

Minimum Graduate Residence Credit Requirement

16 credits

Minimum Graduate Coursework (50%) Requirement

Half of degree coursework (23 out of 45 total credits) must be in graduate-level coursework; courses with the Graduate Level Coursework attribute are identified and searchable in the university's Course Guide.

Prior Coursework Requirements: Graduate Work from Other Institutions

A maximum of 21 credits are allowed from Planning Accreditation Board–accredited coursework taken at other institutions. In all other fields, 25% of credits completed up to a maximum of 11 transfer credits are allowed. Special conditions for applying prior coursework may be found in the program’s Policies and Procedures.

Prior Coursework Requirements: UW–Madison Undergraduate

Any course taken as part of an undergraduate degree (whether required or optional) may not be applied.

Prior Coursework Requirements: UW–Madison University Special

The Master’s Program Committee (MPC) will not accept a more than 12 credits of prior coursework taken as a UW–Madison University Special student. The MPC does not necessarily guarantee that all credits (up to 12) taken as a Special student may be applied. All courses accepted for must have a B or better. The decision as to what prior coursework may be applied will be made by the MPC on the recommendation of the student’s advisor, and must be based on information indicating that the courses for which credit is given fit logically into the student’s overall program.

Credits per Term Allowed

15 credits

Program-Specific Courses Required

URB R PL 741 Introduction to Planning3
URB R PL/​SOC WORK  721 Methods of Planning Analysis3
URB R PL 781 Planning Thought and Practice3
URB R PL 833 Planning and the Legal System3
URB R PL 590 Contemporary Topics in Urban and Regional Planning1-3
URB R PL 912 Planning Workshop3
Select one of the following:
Site Planning
Introduction to Regional Planning
Regional Economic Problem Analysis
Introduction to Financial Planning
Central City Planning: Issues and Approaches
Land Use and Communication Systems Planning
Urban Functions, Spatial Organization and Environmental Form
Housing and Public Policy

Overall Graduate GPA Requirement

3.00 GPA required.

Other Grade Requirements

In addition to Graduate School requirements, the Department of Urban and Regional Planning requires that all core courses and all courses in a student’s area of specialization (other than research credits) be taken on a graded (i.e., not satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis.)

In all core courses and all courses in a student’s area of specialization, a minimum grade of BC is considered satisfactory. Grades of C or below in core and specialization courses may not be counted toward degree requirements, but are still counted in the cumulative GPA. If a student receives a grade of C or below in a department required core course, the student must retake the course and achieve a satisfactory grade.

In elective courses, a grade of C or above is considered satisfactory.

Any course in which a student receives a grade of D or F may not be used to satisfy any department graduation requirements. However, these courses will still be counted in the cumulative GPA.

Probation Policy

The status of a student can be one of three options:

  1. Good standing (progressing according to standards; any funding guarantee remains in place).
  2. Probation (not progressing according to standards but permitted to enroll; loss of funding guarantee; specific plan with dates and deadlines in place in regard to removal of probationary status. To the extent possible, students admitted on probation are encouraged to take core courses as a part of their first semester schedule. In all other matters, students admitted on probation are subject to the same standards and requirements as students admitted in full standing (e.g. residency requirements, satisfactory student performance, minimum grades in core courses [BC], and so forth.
  3. Unsatisfactory progress (not progressing according to standards; not permitted to enroll, dismissal, leave of absence or change of advisor or program).

Advisor / Committee

Student should meet regularly with the advisor to plan academic career. The advisor is required to approve and sign the plan of study form, which is then submitted to the graduate coordinator prior to the student being allowed to graduate.

Assessments and Examinations

To obtain a master of science degree in urban and regional planning, a student must be able to demonstrate a high level of competency in the theories, methods, applications, and ethics of planning. Students must demonstrate competency over the broad field of planning in general, as well as within an area of specialization as defined by the student, in consultation with a faculty advisor.

For information on competency requirement options, including details regarding a master’s thesis or a professional project, see the program’s Policies and Procedures.

Time Constraints

The master’s program takes two full years of study.

Language Requirements

Prospective students whose native language is not English must also provide evidence of English language proficiency. A TOEFL score of 600 (paper-based) or above typically indicates an ability to successfully meet the written and spoken communication requirements of graduate level courses.

Application for admission to the department consists of the following materials: the online application, official transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate work, statement of purpose (applicants should submit a thoughtful, reflective one- or two-page statement discussing reasons for going into planning; applicants with an interest in a particular concentration should discuss this; applicants with planning or planning-related experience should include this), and three references from people familiar with the applicant's academic and/or professional work. The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is required for M.S. admission and Ph.D. admission.

Besides the general requirements for admission to the M.S. program, there are two additional requirements unique to the Ph.D. program. First, applicants to the Ph.D. program are expected to have a master's degree in planning or a related field. Second, because planning is a practice-oriented field, applicants are expected to have completed at least one year of full-time experience as a professional planner. The Ph.D. program is flexible and is intended to appeal to individuals from diverse academic backgrounds. Therefore, it is possible to be admitted without having met the professional practice requirements. Deficiencies may be made up once a student is in the program.

A student must have an URPL academic sponsor in order to be admitted into the Ph.D. program. Before final admission decisions are made, student applications are circulated among the faculty. Only when a faculty member agrees to serve as an academic sponsor for an admissible candidate is a final admission decision made. The sponsor is the student's academic advisor, and it is expected that the sponsor will become the chair of the student's Ph.D. committee.

In reviewing applications, the department gives extra weight to planning-related work, such as Peace Corps or professional planning experience. The department also considers graduate coursework, even if it is in another field. If students have such experience, it should be stressed in the application.

The success of international students enrolled in the program depends heavily on a good working knowledge of English. Prospective applicants who do not feel comfortable using the English language are strongly urged to consider further language study before applying for admission.

All applicants are required to have an introductory-level course in statistics. This requirement may be met by taking an introductory course, for no graduate credit, during the student's first semester of study.

Knowledge and Skills

  • General Planning Knowledge: comprehension, representation, and use of ideas and information in the planning field, including appropriate perspectives from history, social science, and the design professions.
  • Purpose and Meaning of Planning: appreciation of why planning is undertaken by communities, cities, regions, and nations, and the impact planning is expected to have.
  • Planning Theory: appreciation of the behaviors and structures available to bring about sound planning outcomes.
  • Planning Law: appreciation of the legal and institutional contexts within which planning occurs.
  • Human Settlements and History of Planning: understanding of the growth and development of places over time and across space.
  • The Future: understanding of the relationships between past, present, and future in planning domains, as well as the potential for methods of design, analysis, and intervention to influence the future.
  • Global Dimensions of Planning: appreciation of interactions, flows of people and materials, cultures, and differing approaches to planning across world regions.
  • Planning Skills: use and application of knowledge to perform specific tasks required in the practice of planning.
  • Research: tools for assembling and analyzing ideas and information from prior practice and scholarship, and from primary and secondary sources.
  • Written, Oral, and Graphic Communication: ability to prepare clear, accurate and compelling text, graphics and maps for use in documents and presentations.
  • Quantitative and Qualitative Methods: data collection, analysis and modeling tools for forecasting, policy analysis, and design of projects and plans.
  • Plan Creation and Implementation: integrative tools useful for sound plan formulation, adoption, and implementation and enforcement.
  • Planning Process Methods: tools for stakeholder involvement, community engagement, and working with diverse communities.
  • Leadership: tools for attention, formation, strategic decision-making, team building, and organizational/community motivation.
  • Values and Ethics: Values inform ethical and normative principles used to guide planning in a democratic society. The program shall appropriately incorporate issues of diversity and social justice into all required courses of the curriculum, including:
  • Professional Ethics and Responsibility: appreciation of key issues of planning ethics and related questions of the ethics of public decision-making, research, and client representation (including principles of the AICP Code of Ethics and other related principles, as appropriate).
  • Governance and Participation: appreciation of the roles of officials, stakeholders, and community members in planned change.
  • Sustainability and Environmental Quality: appreciation of natural resource and pollution control factors in planning, and understanding of how to create sustainable futures.
  • Growth and Development: appreciation of economic, social, and cultural factors in urban and regional growth and change.

Professional Conduct

  • Values and Ethics: Values inform ethical and normative principles used to guide planning in a democratic society. The program shall appropriately incorporate issues of diversity and social justice into all required courses of the curriculum, including:
  • Professional Ethics and Responsibility: appreciation of key issues of planning ethics and related questions of the ethics of public decision-making, research, and client representation (including principles of the AICP Code of Ethics and other related principles, as appropriate).
  • Governance and Participation: appreciation of the roles of officials, stakeholders, and community members in planned change.
  • Sustainability and Environmental Quality: appreciation of natural resource and pollution control factors in planning, and understanding of how to create sustainable futures.
  • Growth and Development: appreciation of economic, social, and cultural factors in urban and regional growth and change.

Faculty: Professors Jacobs, LaGro, Marcouiller, Ohm; Associate Professors Genskow (chair), Morales, Paulsen; Assistant Professor Gocmen