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M.S. Vs. PhD in Urban Planning

Mar 27, 2019

Students interested in studying urban planning can pursue an M.S. or PhD in the field from several different institutions across the country. Find out about the unique features of each degree level and some of the common admission requirements.

Urban planning graduate programs are available at the master's and doctoral levels and typically allow students to further specialize in a particular area of interest within the field to prepare for a specific career. These programs usually require a final project/paper and may vary in their specific program title. Learn more about the master's and doctoral program options here.

M.S. vs. PhD in Urban Planning

Master of Science in Urban Planning

Master of Science (M.S.) in Urban Planning degree programs are fairly rare, while Master of Urban Planning (M.U.P.) degree programs are more common. Both programs are typically 2 years in length, usually provide hands-on field experiences and/or projects and require a professional capstone project. The M.S. degree program also offers a thesis option in place of the capstone, and may allow students to choose from concentrations in areas such as urban analytics, community and economic development, international planning and development, or built environment. Courses for master's programs in urban planning may include topics in planning methods/practices, theory of planning, planning law, analysis, and economics. Graduates of these programs may work as urban planners for nonprofit organizations, public planning agencies, or private practices.

Doctor of Philosophy in Urban Planning

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs in urban planning may go by various names, such as urban planning, urban and regional planning, urban design and planning, or urban planning and development. Students in these programs can usually complete coursework within the first 2 years and then begin work on their required dissertation and may need to fulfill teaching responsibilities. These programs usually allow students to further focus their studies in a particular area of concentration or through their research in areas such as economic development, urban development, international development, housing and real estate, inner-city revitalization, tourism, and more. Coursework usually consists of courses in research, theory, methodology and then specialization, with topics covered from advanced planning theory to advanced research design. Graduates of these degree programs can find careers in research, higher education, or as high-level policymakers.

Common Entrance Requirements

Applicants to master's degree programs in urban planning need to hold a bachelor's degree, while most doctoral programs require applicants to have a master's degree, but some programs may consider qualified students who have only a bachelor's degree. It is fairly common for these programs at both levels to require the GRE and some programs may also have a minimum GPA requirement, usually around a 3.0. The majority of these degree programs require students to include their transcripts, letters of recommendation, a resume, and a detailed personal statement with their application. The statement of purpose may need to address topics such as academic background, research experience, research interests, and career goals. Most PhD programs also require students to include a writing sample of some sort that demonstrates their writing and communication skills.

Students can pursue an M.S., M.U.P., or PhD in Urban Planning and focus their studies in a variety of areas, such as urban development, international development, or economic development. Master's programs usually conclude with a thesis or capstone project, while PhD programs require a dissertation.


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