Urban Planning PhD

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Student Handbook

The Urban Planning PhD program at the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning educates scholars for positions in leading universities, research institutions, nongovernmental organizations, international multilateral institutions, national, state and local governments, and high-level consulting firms. The program provides a strong foundation for undertaking research in planning, urbanism, urban design and urban sustainability. Our planning program works closely with the School of Sustainability, and many of our faculty have joint appointments in that school. 

The School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning maintains close relationships with many of the communities in the Phoenix-metropolitan area that are leading the way on issues like urban climate change, sustainability, and transportation planning. Our students take advantage of opportunities to interact with planning leaders, mentors, and community organizations. Students conduct research alongside our faculty, take classes focused on current issues in the field, conduct research and reports for local clients, and start building their professional network across the public, private, and non-profit sectors.

The School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning is unique. We place our focus on location – the heart of geography, urban planning, climatology, and GIS – and from that foundation, we develop cutting-edge techniques and solutions to the complex issues facing society. With our unique approach of combining geography and urban planning, you will be prepared to not only navigate the planning world but also plan for a more sustainable and equitable future for our cities.

Note: This program may lead to a professional licensure or certification. For more information, visit: https://asuonline.asu.edu/about-us/licensure/. 

4 years to degree
12 tenure and tenure-track faculty
5 specialization topics

Degree Overview

The 84-hour program of study includes a written comprehensive exam, a prospectus and a dissertation. Prospective doctoral candidates should have a passion and interest in planning, have demonstrated research skills, have a minimum of a 3.00 cumulative undergraduate and graduate GPA and score in the upper quintile of GRE scores. Incoming students must demonstrate successful completion of a master’s degree.

Focus Areas

As active scholars in an accredited planning program, our faculty have a wide range of interests and expertise, including in the areas of:

Climate change | Disasters and resilience | Environmental planning | Housing and community development | Infrastructure planning | International development | Public engagement | The sharing economy | Smart cities | Social equity | Sustainability | Transportation and land use

Our program also focuses our courses on five interest areas that we call 'topical areas.' Students will become well-versed in the areas of: city building and urban structure; environmental and resiliency planning; housing, neighborhoods, and community development; spatial analytics and smart cities; and transportation planning and policy. Learn more about our topical areas

How to apply

The School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning application process is completed online through ASU Graduate Admission. The application deadline for Fall admission is December 15. Prospective students must submit the admission application and fee along with official transcripts and required supplemental application materials. Detailed instructions

Learn more about our financial support options

The Urban Planning PhD program is small but diverse, both in terms of the students enrolled in it and their research interests. Working alongside different faculty members has been a rewarding privilege, as discussions cover a wide range of topics in Urban Planning and Sustainability; it has been inspirational for my own research.

Feifei Zhang
Urban Planning PhD student


Training in urban planning follows an apprenticeship model. Students work closely with a mentor to complete required coursework, research training, a comprehensive examination and a doctoral dissertation. The goal of the program is to prepare students to become independent and creative scientists who publish advancements and findings in major, peer-reviewed outlets.

A minimum of 84 hours is required.

Core courses6
Other required courses2
Total hours required84

*Thirty (30.0) credits from a previously-awarded master’s degree can be applied toward the doctoral plan of study.

Courses and electives

Students benefit from a wide variety of course work and research opportunities in five broad interdisciplinary themes that span the expertise of the faculty and allow for the specialization of your own skills and research.

PUP 710Current Planning Theory and Practice3
PUP 724Planning Methods3
PUP 701Urban Planning Colloquium2

Any graduate level GCU, GIS, GPH, or PUP course may be taken as elective, including Research and Reading & Conference credits. Interdisciplinary courses may be taken, but must be approved by the department.

Thirty (30.0) credits from a previously-awarded master’s degree can be applied toward the doctoral plan of study.

The doctoral dissertation is an extensive piece of original research that demonstrates the capability of the student to act as an independent scholar and use experimental methods. The student is required to submit a written dissertation proposal to the supervisory committee. As part of the proposal, the student is required to submit a publication plan (including research question(s) posed and motivation, assumptions made and methods employed, and anticipated time to completion) indicating the strategy for completing publishable papers, intended for the peer-review literature, from the dissertation. Upon successful defense of the proposal, the student advances to candidacy for the PhD. Upon approval of the dissertation manuscript by the supervisory committee, the student will schedule an oral defense of the completed dissertation.

PUP 799Dissertation12

The written portion of the comprehensive exam consists of three papers. The papers are intended to demonstrate advanced knowledge of the planning field. The written exam is not focused on the student’s dissertation topic, but is intended to test general knowledge in the student’s general areas of interest. All papers shall be approved by the supervisory committee. The papers shall cover the following three topics:

Planning theory

The goal of this paper is to situate oneself within one of the sub-disciplines of planning and discuss in some detail two areas of specialization within this sub-discipline.

Planning methods

The goal of this paper is to demonstrate understanding of the research methods used in the student’s areas of specialization indicated in the theory paper submitted in the fourth semester.

Substantive topic

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the ability to conceive and execute a research project in the student’s chosen area of planning specialization.

After approval by the doctoral committee of the written comprehensive exam, students may have an oral exam intended to test a student’s mastery of geographic thought and methods, and area of specialization. The oral exam requirement is at the supervisory chair’s discretion. The oral exam (if required) will be based on the written portion of the exam, and students will be expected to be able to articulate and clarify the content of the written component. The oral exam is an assessment of whether a student is ready to participate in scholarly discussions, to proceed towards candidacy, and to submit a dissertation proposal

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