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Pre-Candidacy Requirements

Students meet these requirements through coursework and exams over a two-year period.

Pre-candidacy requirements:

  1. Planning theory
  2. Analytic methods
  3. Research design
  4. Primary area of specialization
  5. Secondary area of specialization

Students meet these requirements through coursework and exams over a two-year period. During this time, a student's cumulative grade point average may not fall below a B without academic discipline or probation.


Analytic Methods Courses

Students are expected to be skilled in statistics, in at least two analytic research techniques, and reasonably knowledgeable about several others. Students qualify in analytic techniques by completing the following:

  1. Satisfactory performance (B or higher) in two cumulative graduate-level statistics courses.


    Students entering with previous statistics experience may wish to enter directly into a second semester statistics course. In the past, students have typically selected one of the following sequences:

    • Statistics 402 (Introduction to Statistics & Data Analysis), Statistics 403 (Statistics & Data Analysis II)
    • Sociology 510 (Statistics); Sociology 610 (Statistical Methods)
    • Natural Resources 438 (Natural Resources Biometrics), Natural Resources 538 (Natural Resources Data Analysis)
    • Biostatistics 503 (Introductory Biostatistics), Biostatistics 523 (Biostatistical Analysis for Health-Related Fields)
    • The sequence in political science

    NOTE: Students wishing to study statistics during the spring or summer terms may want to investigate the Summer Program in Quantitative Methods of Social Research sponsored by the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) and/or the Summer Institute in Survey Research Techniques conducted by the research staff of the Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research. Choice of courses to meet requirements should be discussed with your advisor.

  2. Competence in at least two analytic/research methods satisfied through nine credit hours of total coursework.


    These are methods used in planning research and should prepare the student for his/her likely area of dissertation work. The requirement is met through completion of nine credits of course work in two analytic/research methods (in addition to statistics), to be defined by the student in conjunction with his or her advisor. (The two methods may be interrelated.) Depending on the research method and the student's background, more courses may be needed. Courses in these two areas must be completed with a grade of B or higher in order to fulfill this requirement. Graduate level courses that are audited can count for this requirement, as long as the student completes all the work of the course and the instructor provides a letter indicating the grade the student would have received had he or she been enrolled. All plans for satisfying this requirement are the joint responsibility of the student and his or her advisor.

    The methods a student selects should relate to his/her dissertation area. Below are several analytic/research methods in which students have been examined in recent years. Numerous analytic/research methods are appropriate, and students need not be restricted to choices on the list: anthropological methods; case study methods; complex systems analysis; cost benefit & cost effectiveness analysis; decision theory & general risk analysis; demographic analysis; discrete choice analysis; differential equations; diffusion models; economic & other forecasting models; evaluation research; graph theory; historical analysis; institutional analysis; interview techniques; linear programming and general analysis using linear models; network & flow methods; population growth models; probability, both theoretical & heuristic; simulation/gaming & game theory; spatial analysis; survey research; time series.

Annual Review of Student Progress

At the end of each year of study, students are required to complete an Annual Review. The advisor and the Coordinator of Doctoral Studies may make recommendations for any modifications deemed necessary prior to the start of the following academic year. Note: financial support for the subsequent year, if applicable, depends on timely completion of a satisfactory annual review.

Annual Review Steps:

  1. By April 30, the student submits TWO COPIES (one copy to their advisor; one copy to the doctoral studies assistant) of the following:
    1. A completed annual review form, including a concise narrative of plans and goals for the upcoming academic year.
    2. An up-to-date compliance form.
  2. The advisor provides comments to the student and, where necessary, recommends changes in the academic plan. (This consultation between advisor and student may happen in person or by phone). If necessary, the student should provide the advisor and the doctoral studies assistant with copies of a revised version of this review form based on the advisor's comments.
  3. Once the advisor has approved the plan of study for the coming year, the advisor forwards (no later than May 14) to the doctoral studies assistant a copy of the "faculty evaluation form," which includes a short narrative of student progress (one paragraph).
  4. The URP Doctoral Committee reviews the materials, and sends a letter to the student, either confirming their good standing in the program or specifying additional requirements to be in good standing.

Comprehensive Exam

The comprehensive exam tests a student's knowledge of both their primary and secondary areas of specialization. The exam consists of a take-home, written examination followed by an oral exam. The examination normally occurs before the start of the third year in the Ph.D. program, after completion of all relevant coursework.

  1. The Committee: The student convenes an examination committee of three faculty members, choosing faculty who have expertise in the areas of specialization. At least one member of the committee should be a member of the urban and regional planning faculty. The chair or co-chair of the committee must be a regular member of the planning faculty and cannot be an affiliate faculty member. At least one committee member should represent the student's secondary area of specialization. (If the student has identified a secondary area of specialization that is traditionally housed in another department on campus, then the student is encouraged to select a faculty member from that outside department as their third committee member.) On occasion, examiners from outside the university have served on students' examining committees. While this practice is generally not encouraged, written requests for an outside examiner by students are treated on an individual basis by the director of doctoral studies.
  2. The Field Statement: The student meets with the committee chair to plan for the exam and agree on expectations prior to the construction of the exam. In consultation with the chair and committee members, the student identifies appropriate readings and prepares a detailed "field statement" that defines the primary and secondary fields, contains a detailed bibliography of readings, organizes the readings into subfields, and outlines a set of major questions for the fields. The field statement is normally designed principally with the chair and is sometimes analogous to a detailed syllabus that one would prepare for a year-long graduate-level course on the selected specializations. The student often writes possible exam questions that he/she feels are appropriate for the area the exam will cover. The questions are not the questions the committee asks the student; their major function is to help the committee and the student to agree on the scope of the exam.
  3. Scheduling the Exam: The exam must be completed by May 20 of the second year in the program, and it is scheduled on the student's initiative. Prior to the exam, the student should have completed all coursework (including all incompletes). A student may delay the exam for exceptional circumstances with approval of the faculty adviser and the Director of Doctoral Studies. Students must notify the Director of Doctoral Studies of their intent to take the exam, with a date and time, location, and names of committee members at least one month prior to the exam.
  4. The Exam: The written part of the exam is in the form of a take-home essay. The committee chair typically solicits exam questions from the committee, selects questions to be used, and composes the final examination. The allotted time period to write the exam is determined by the chair, and typically is over three days. The student must submit the exam in the form as directed by the chair (usually as a Word document submitted by email), plus one copy to the program administrator to be placed in the student's records. The written exam is followed by a two-hour oral exam, generally scheduled to take place within about one week after the written exam. The exam is evaluated on a "Pass/Fail" or "Conditional Pass" basis. If the student does not achieve a passing evaluation, he/she may take the exam one additional time to achieve a "Pass" or "Conditional Pass" status. A "Conditional Pass" indicates that additional requirements must be met, but the exam need not be retaken. Upon completion of the oral portion of the exam, please refer to the Applying for Candidacy page for next steps.

Language Requirement

Foreign Language Requirement
There is no foreign language requirement for doctoral planning students. However, work in some areas of specialization and on certain research/dissertation topics may require knowledge of one or more foreign languages.

English Language Proficiency Requirement
Prior to taking the qualifying examinations, students are also expected to demonstrate writing skills in the English language of the sort required to produce a doctoral dissertation. Such writing skills will be demonstrated in the process of completing routine written assignments in core courses. Students having difficulty doing so are encouraged to take course work at the English Language Institute and/or other units as appropriate, and may be required to take an English Proficiency Examination prior to taking the qualifying examinations.

Primary Specialization

Students are expected to demonstrate an understanding of the literature, theory, and methods from a primary area of specialization. Each student defines this area of specialization in consultation with his/her faculty advisor(s). An area of specialization might be, for example, transportation planning, community development planning, regional planning, environmental planning, and so on. (If appropriate, a student may further focus their area of specialization by demarcating a subfield within a broader planning topic, such as economic development finance within local economic development.) Students take graduate-level course work in the appropriate discipline(s) and complete a comprehensive examination (described below). During the first semester in the program, each student should meet with his/her advisor(s) to:

  1. Identify Specialization: Discuss the student's goals and interest in doctoral study and identify an area of specialization.
  2. Coursework: Develop a program of study indicating courses to be taken, or courses that have been taken, covering the appropriate literature (theory and method) for the area of specialization. Students will normally take coursework totaling approximately 12 to 15 credit hours for the area of specialization. (Note: One or two courses taken for the master's degree may apply for either the primary or secondary areas of specialization, but master's level work normally should not be relied upon too extensively for the purposes of doctoral-level study.)
  3. Directed Study: As three of these credit hours, a student is expected to take a directed study course with his/her primary advisor and a second faculty reader during either the winter term of the first year or the fall term of the second year of study. The purpose of this directed study is to conduct a literature review that will demonstrate the student's ability to review and synthesize a body of academic work and that will advance the student's efforts toward identifying a topic for dissertation research. The directed study is evaluated on a pass/fail basis; initial drafts must be revised until they are of passing quality.

Required Courses

Four courses are required of all Ph.D. students: two doctoral-level planning theory courses and a two-course research seminar sequence.

The two theory courses, Advanced Urban Theory (URP 700) and Epistemology and Reasoning for Planning Research (URP 701), are offered during the fall term in alternating years. These courses are designed to provide doctoral students a solid theoretical foundation for conducting rigorous scholarly inquiry within the planning field.

First-year students are required to take URP 801 (Research Design) during the winter term of the first year.

Second-year students are required to take URP 802 (Ph.D. Research Seminar) in the winter term of the second year. This two-course sequence seminar has three objectives. First, it exposes students to various approaches to research related to planning. Second, it enables students to formulate and test out researchable topics among faculty and student peers. Finally, it enables students to gain experience in developing an appropriate research design, in writing a detailed research proposal, and in formally presenting the proposal to an audience of faculty and students in the seminar during the second winter semester.

Full list of courses and descriptions

Secondary Specialization

In addition to the primary area of specialization, each student must also identify a secondary area of specialization (i.e., a "minor field" or "outside field") in consultation with his/her faculty advisor(s). The secondary area of specialization is frequently from a discipline outside urban and regional planning (examples include urban politics, urban history, urban sociology, demography, development economics, environment, and behavior, etc.). Students normally take at least six to nine credit hours in this secondary area. Students demonstrate sufficient knowledge in this secondary area (and their ability to integrate the secondary area into their main area of specialization) through their comprehensive examination.

Typical Schedule

View the Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Planning sample schedule (PDF)

The following tables show the typical schedule for Ph.D.

First Year

URP 700 or 701 Advanced Urban Theory (700) or Epistemology and Reasoning for Planning Research (701) (offered fall term in odd number years)
URP 500 (for non MURP students) and/or Elective
[Statistics I]
Elective (methods/specialization)
URP 612 Directed Study (Literature Review) or Elective
[Statistics II]
2 Electives
URP 801 Research Design

Second Year

URP 700 or 701 Theory
URP 612 Directed Study (Literature Review) or Elective
URP 802 Ph.D. Research Practicum
3 Electives
Spring - Summer
Planning Theory Exam (normally given in May)
Comprehensive Exam (scheduled by student; typically taken at the end of summer)
Advanced to Candidacy (by the start of the third year of study)

Years Three - Four

Dissertation Proposal Presentation (reviewed and approved by student's dissertation committee and the URP Doctoral Committee)
[dissertation research and writing]
Informal"Full Draft Review" (at least 6-8 weeks before the formal defense)
Dissertation Defense
Submittal of final version of dissertation
Plan Your Future
Housing, Community, and Economic Development
Land Use and Environmental Planning
Physical Planning and Design
Transportation Planning
Global and Comparative Planning