The Ph.D. is open to a limited number of quality students who intend to teach, or do research in a university, in an independent research agency, or in large planning organizations.

Generally, students spend two years of full-time coursework before being advanced to candidacy, and an additional one to two years in preparation and defense of a dissertation. Details on administrative requirements for the degree are available in the PhD URPL Handbook.

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.

Please consult the table below for key information about this degree program’s admissions requirements. The program may have more detailed admissions requirements, which can be found below the table or on the program’s website.

Graduate admissions is a two-step process between academic programs and the Graduate School. Applicants must meet the minimum requirements of the Graduate School as well as the program(s). Once you have researched the graduate program(s) you are interested in, apply online.

Fall Deadline February 1*
Spring Deadline October 15*
Summer Deadline The program does not admit in the summer.
GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) Required.
English Proficiency Test Every applicant whose native language is not English or whose undergraduate instruction was not in English must provide an English proficiency test score and meet the Graduate School minimum requirements (
Other Test(s) (e.g., GMAT, MCAT) n/a
Letters of Recommendation Required 3

Applications submitted past the deadline will be considered on a rolling admissions basis as space allows.

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.

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. 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, the department’s preliminary examinations, and the dissertation.

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.

Graduate School Resources

Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and restrictions related to funding.

Program Resources

The PhD URPL Program Committee will help students look for funding for their graduate study, though the program cannot guarantee funding. Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School and from the PhD URPL Program Committee. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and restrictions related to funding.

Minimum Graduate School Requirements

Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition to the program requirements listed below.

Major Requirements


Face to Face Evening/Weekend Online Hybrid Accelerated
Yes No No No No

Mode of Instruction Definitions

Accelerated: Accelerated programs are offered at a fast pace that condenses the time to completion. Students are able to complete a program with minimal disruptions to careers and other commitments.

Evening/Weekend: ​Courses meet on the UW–Madison campus only in evenings and/or on weekends to accommodate typical business schedules.  Students have the advantages of face-to-face courses with the flexibility to keep work and other life commitments.

Face-to-Face: Courses typically meet during weekdays on the UW-Madison Campus.

Hybrid: These programs combine face-to-face and online learning formats.  Contact the program for more specific information.

Online: These programs are offered 100% online.  Some programs may require an on-campus orientation or residency experience, but the courses will be facilitated in an online format.


Minimum Credit Requirement 51 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 32 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement 26 credits must be graduate-level coursework. Details can be found in the Graduate School’s Minimum Graduate Coursework (50%) policy (
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.00 GPA required.
This program follows the Graduate School's GPA Requirement policy (
Other Grade Requirements The minimum average GPA in courses satisfying the Structure and Processes of Cities and Regions requirement shall be 3.5. If a student does not achieve this GPA in the three courses s/he identifies, they may continue to take courses (within the general departmental Ph.D. program policies of how long a student may be a pre-dissertator) from the list provided until they have three courses where their average GPA is 3.5.
Assessments and Examinations The department administers three preliminary field examinations. The purpose of the preliminary examinations is to satisfy the department that the student is knowledgeable about the central theoretical and methodological perspectives common to the field of planning, and has sufficient knowledge about the design and conduct of research to undertake the dissertation.
Language Requirements No language requirements.
Breadth Requirement All doctoral students are required to complete a doctoral minor or a Graduate/Professional certificate.

If choosing a doctoral minor, Option A requires a minimum of 9 credits in a single department/major field of study. Selection of this option requires the approval of the minor department under the guidelines of that department and on forms developed for that purpose by the selected department. Option B requires a minimum of 9 credits in one or more departments and can include coursework in URPL. Selection of this option requires the approval of the department’s Ph.D. program committee. Forms for the filing of Option B minors are available from the Ph.D. program committee.

Ph.D. students and their advisers are responsible for filing copies of executed minor agreements with the Ph.D. program committee. The minor field requirement must be satisfied prior to filing the warrant for the preliminary examination.

Required COURSES

All doctoral students are required to complete 9 credits on the structure and processes of cities and regions. These courses shall cover the nature of urban and regional development processes over time and the impact of urban and regional development on the social, economic, environmental, institutional, and physical structure of cities and regions. They should also cover the response of federal, state and local governments to the issues and problems generated by such development and the planner’s role in developing public policy and programs to deal with those problems and issues.

Courses satisfying the requirement for this component of doctoral studies must be approved by the student’s Ph.D. advisor and then by the Ph.D. program committee, and shall be recorded on a form provided by the committee.

The remainder of the required credits to reach a minimum of 51 typically are made up of research credits (990).

Coursework Satisfying Requirement for Structure and Processes of Cities and Regions

ECON 475 Economics of Growth3-4
ECON 712 Economic Theory-Macroeconomics Sequence3
ECON/​REAL EST/​URB R PL  420 Urban and Regional Economics3
URB R PL/​ECON/​REAL EST  420 Urban and Regional Economics3
REAL EST/​ECON/​URB R PL  420 Urban and Regional Economics3
A A E 731 Frontiers in Development Economics 23
A A E/​REAL EST/​URB R PL  520 Community Economic Analysis3
GEOG/​URB R PL  505 Urban Spatial Patterns and Theories3
I SY E 516 Introduction to Decision Analysis3
PUB AFFR 873 Introduction to Policy Analysis3
PUB AFFR/​POLI SCI/​URB R PL  874 Policy-Making Process3
POLI SCI/​PUB AFFR/​URB R PL  874 Policy-Making Process3
URB R PL/​POLI SCI/​PUB AFFR  874 Policy-Making Process3
REAL EST/​URB R PL  720 Urban Economics3
REAL EST 978 Research Seminar in Real Estate and Urban Land Economics1
URB R PL/​ECON/​PUB AFFR  734 Regional Economic Problem Analysis3
URB R PL 751 Introduction to Financial Planning3

Graduate School Policies

The Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures provide essential information regarding general university policies. Program authority to set degree policies beyond the minimum required by the Graduate School lies with the degree program faculty. Policies set by the academic degree program can be found below.

Major-Specific Policies

Prior Coursework

Graduate Work from Other Institutions

Requests for prior coursework to be applied to credit requirements should be submitted to the Ph.D. Committee for evaluation. The committee may approve up to a maximum of 18 credits of prior coursework toward program requirements. No graduate work taken at other institutions counts toward the program's minimum graduate credit requirement.

UW–Madison Undergraduate

No credits from any undergraduate degree may be applied toward the Ph.D. program.

UW–Madison University Special

A maximum of 15 credits may be applied from the UW–Madison University Special career; requests for prior coursework to be applied to credit requirements should be submitted to the Ph.D. committee for evaluation.


A semester GPA below 3.0 will result in the student being placed on academic probation. If a semester GPA of 3.0 is not attained during the subsequent semester of full time enrollment (or 12 credits of enrollment if enrolled part-time) the student may be dismissed from the program or allowed to continue for 1 additional semester based on advisor appeal to the Graduate School.


All students are required to conduct a yearly progress report meeting with their thesis committee after passing the preliminary examination.


15 credits

Time Limits

All courses for the Structure and Processes of Cities and Regions requirement must be taken and successfully completed within the doctoral student’s first five semesters (i.e., two and one-half academic years) in the Ph.D. program. This coursework requirement must be met before the student is advanced to candidacy (awarded dissertator, ABD status).

grievances and appeals

These resources may be helpful in addressing your concerns:

Students should contact the department chair or program director with questions about grievances. They may also contact the L&S Academic Divisional Associate Deans, the L&S Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning Administration, or the L&S Director of Human Resources.


The PhD URPL Program Committee will help students look for funding for their graduate study, though the program cannot guarantee funding. Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School and from the PhD URPL Program Committee. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and restrictions related to funding.

Graduate School Resources

Take advantage of the Graduate School's professional development resources to build skills, thrive academically, and launch your career. 

  1. Acquire and demonstrate knowledge about the professional field of planning, as exemplified in the accreditation guidelines for the master's program in urban and regional planning and the Planning Accreditation Board. These include knowledge about: the purpose and meaning of planning, planning history, planning theory, planning law, the structure and function of cities and regions, and global dimensions of planning. Students demonstrate this knowledge through entrance requirements (a master's degree in planning or acceptable cognate field), through completion of coursework, and through completion of preliminary examinations in planning theory, planning methods, and planning specialization.
  2. Acquire and demonstrate knowledge about the role and use of planning theories in both practice and research, including the historical development of planning theory, major theoretical approaches within planning, and the application of theories from other disciplines as applied to planning. Students demonstrate this knowledge through coursework and completion of a planning theory preliminary examination.
  3. Acquire and demonstrate knowledge of social science research methods, including research design, data collection, and quantitative and qualitative methods used in planning research. Students demonstrate knowledge through completion of graduate coursework in research methods and through completion of a research design and methods preliminary examination.
  4. Acquire and demonstrate knowledge of a substantive research and practice field within planning. Students demonstrate specialized knowledge in one of the major fields within planning through completion of coursework and through a research-specialization preliminary examination.
  5. Acquire and demonstrate skills in conducting academic research and scholarly inquiry in the field of urban and regional planning, including ability to summarize and critique extant research, ability to develop a research proposal, skills in seeking funding, skills in completion of research projects, and skills in written and oral presentation of research findings.
  6. Acquire and demonstrate specialized skills in research for their chosen major field within planning. This will include skills in particular research methods and data analysis specific to their chosen field within planning.
  7. Acquire and demonstrate general knowledge about planning suitable to teaching master's-level planning students in accredited programs. Students will acquire and demonstrate specific knowledge about their chosen field of specialization within planning.
  8. Acquire and/or demonstrate competence and experience in the professional practice of planning. Students demonstrate this skill through the requirement of previous professional work experience within the field of planning.
  9. Acquire and demonstrate knowledge of planning values and planning ethics, as exemplified in the accreditation guidelines for the master's program in urban and regional planning and the Planning Accreditation Board. This would also include awareness of rules of ethical professional conduct as exemplified in the Code of Ethics of the American Institute of Certified Planners.
  10. Demonstrate and be held to the highest standards of academic citation and attribution in all their coursework and published work.
  11. Demonstrate understanding of professional conduct through required professional work experience in planning.
  12. Be given opportunities for training and experience in classroom teaching, presentation of research at academic conferences, and development of research proposals for funding agencies.
  13. Demonstrate ethics and values consistent with the "Wisconsin brand" of urban and regional planning, which includes participation, transparency in governance, environmental protection and social justice.