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PhD in Urban Planning: Degree Program Information

In a Ph.D. in Urban Planning program, students acquire an advanced understanding of the human and physical environments in a variety of regions to enhance living conditions through specialized courses and research.

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Essential Information

In an urban planning doctoral program, students learn to understand the process of designing and developing urban areas from economic, environmental, political, spatial and social vantage points. The flexible nature of these programs allows for an individualized education tailored to the student's own investigative study and occupational goals.

Enrolled students often focus on a specific area, such as planning history and theory, transportation planning, economic development or urban spatial theory. In order to create a unique learning experience, some schools require the selection and integration of a second specialization outside of urban planning. Completion of the program generally takes four years, with the first two dedicated to coursework and directed study, and the last two focusing on dissertation proposal, research and defense.

For admission, most schools require a master's degree in urban planning or a similar planning-related field. Some institutions offer the option of earning a master's concurrently with a PhD.


Ph.D. in Urban Planning

The curriculum in this program is highly customizable, with most classes selected by the student and very few required courses. Students can explore social urban theories, processes and policies, or topics such as urbanization dynamics and articulation of public space. Other courses that a student may encounter include:

  • Contemporary challenges in planning and urban development
  • Planning research reasoning and epistemology
  • Community planning for neighborhoods
  • Planning in newly industrialized countries
  • Analytic research methods and designs

Popular Careers

Although many positions in the field of urban and regional planning require only a master's degree, earning a Ph.D. can increase one's chances of occupational advancement. Ph.D. graduates tend to work in research-oriented positions and often pursue academic or scholastic career paths. Other possible options are:

  • Community development planner
  • Regional planner
  • Building, planning and zoning director
  • Neighborhood planner
  • Urban planning professor

Salary and Career Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts 6% job growth for urban and regional planners between 2014-2024. As of May 2015, the average mean annual salary for these workers was $70,680.

Continuing Education

Urban planners have the option of receiving certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). To qualify, one must be a member of the American Planners Association, hold a professional planning job and meet requirements for education and experience. To maintain certification status, planners engage in professional development activities, like courses and seminars.

A Ph.D. program in urban planning allows students to further study areas of specialization that interest them through independent research. Graduates could be prepared for their desired careers as planners or professors.

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