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Urban and Regional Planning

Administrative Unit:Urban and Regional Planning
College/School: College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, College of Letters & Science
Admitting Plans:M.S., Ph.D.
Degrees Offered:M.S., Ph.D.
Minors and Certificates:Doctoral Minor

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


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 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.

Master's Degree 

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.

    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, geography, and landscape architecture. Interested students should consult with faculty in these program areas, as well as with the Department of Urban and Regional Planning.

    Interdisciplinary Certificate Programs 

    Certificate programs are offered in Energy Analysis and Policy, and Transportation Management and Policy in conjunction with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

    Ph.D. Degree 

    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 department's Policies and Procedures, available on the department website or by request.

    Financial Aid 

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


    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.

    For more information: Urban and Regional Planning, 925 Bascom Mall, Madison, WI 53706; 608-262-1005; emreynolds2@wisc.edu; urpl.wisc.edu/.