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Urban Design and Planning

Program Overview

The PhD in Urban Design and Planning at the University of Washington is one of 39 PhD programs in urban and regional planning in North America, and one of the oldest, founded in 1967. This program brings together faculty from disciplines ranging from architecture to sociology to focus on the interdisciplinary study of urban problems and interventions. Covering scales from neighborhoods to metropolitan areas, the program addresses interrelationships between the physical environment, the built environment, and the social, economic, and political institutions and processes that shape urban areas. The breadth of this program permits students to pursue doctoral studies in the various aspects of urban design and planning as well as in a number of related social science, natural resource, and engineering areas.

The program seeks to prepare scholars who can advance the state of research, practice, and education related to the built environment and its relationship to society and nature in metropolitan regions throughout the world. It provides a strong interdisciplinary educational experience that draws on the resources of the entire University, and on the laboratory provided by the Seattle metropolitan region and the Pacific Northwest. The program emphasizes the educational values of interdisciplinarity, intellectual leadership and integrity, and the social values of equity, democracy, and sustainability. It seeks to promote deeper understanding of the ways in which public decisions shape and are shaped by the urban physical, social, economic, and natural environment. The program envisions its graduates becoming leaders in the international community of researchers, practitioners, and educators who focus on improving the quality of life and environment in metropolitan regions.

Graduate Program

Graduate Program Coordinator
311 Loew, Box 352192
(206) 543-6398

Doctor of Philosophy

Admission Requirements

Admission to the PhD program is based on evidence of promise of high scholarly achievement and research orientation. The applicant's statement of purpose, Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test results, letters of recommendation, and examples of past work constitute the basis for the admission evaluation.

Applicants typically have a master's degree in fields ranging from planning and public affairs to natural and social sciences. Students interested in a professional degree in urban design and planning should apply to the master's program in urban design and planning.

Application Deadline: All application materials are due by February 1. International applicants are encouraged to submit the Graduate School on-line application form by November 1.

For more information, see the program's website.

Degree Requirements

90 credits, divided into three phases.

Phase I: The Core Curriculum

The core curriculum defines the intellectual foundation of the program. While the program retains considerable flexibility in defining a research agenda within urban and environmental planning and policy, it provides a common foundation for all students to build upon. Students enter the program with a master's degree, in fields ranging from planning and public affairs to natural and social sciences. Depending on the academic preparation of the student, the core requirements can be met within one to two years.

Required Courses: Five courses, normally completed during the first year unless schedule conflicts make this infeasible. Courses from Phase II requirements may also be taken in the first year.

  1. Core Sequence: URBDP 591, URBDP 592, URBDP 593
  2. Restricted Electives (before completion of Phase I):
    1. Qualitative Research Methods - one of the following: URBDP 598, GEOG 425, HIST 598, HSERV 526, POL S 493.
    2. Quantitative Research Methods - one of the following: CS&SS 594, CS&SS 504, CEE 584
Phase II: Area of Study

Students develop with their Supervisory Committee a description of their proposed areas of study. These areas of scholarship must demonstrate an interdisciplinary research approach to an application within urban and environmental planning and policy. The description should develop a curriculum proposal approved by the Supervisory Committee that addresses the following advanced study requirements:

Curriculum Requirements: Seven courses and a teaching seminar, in addition to advanced courses directly related to the area of study selected by the student. Some courses may be taken in the first year.

  1. Urban Processes and Patterns: Three courses For course options, see program website at
  2. Research Design and Methods: Two courses For course options, see program Website at
  3. Urban and Environmental Design and Planning: Two courses For course options, see program Website at
  4. Teaching Methods: One teaching seminar and experience as a TA for at least one quarter, before completion of Phase III.

General Examination: A critical review of the literature in the area of study, developed by the student, which integrates interdisciplinary research on that area of study and identifies areas of potential research opportunity that may subsequently form the basis for a dissertation proposal. The review should demonstrate broad familiarity with relevant research in the chosen area, and with the range of theory and methods applied within the reviewed literature.

Phase III: Dissertation

Once the student passes the general examination, he or she is advanced to the level of doctoral candidate, and is expected to build on the critical review of the literature to develop a dissertation proposal. The dissertation proposal should demonstrate the characteristics of interdisciplinarity, relevance to urban and environmental planning and policy, and potential for contribution to scholarship.

Financial Aid

The interdisciplinary PhD program in Urban Design and Planning attempts to provide funding for doctoral program applicants in a way that makes the program attractive to the strongest potential applicants, ensures their effective mentoring while in the program, and actively engages and energizes faculty to improve the program and to bring research funding to support students.