The PhD in Urban and Regional Planning and Design is a 39-credit program that prepares students to teach at the university level in departments of urban planning, architecture, historic preservation, landscape architecture, or real estate development. The program will qualify graduates to conduct research and participate in high level decision making in the public, private, and non-profit sectors.


The PhD program is highly selective and individualized. Approximately five students will be admitted each year. Adequately prepared students will generally need four semesters of formal course work leading to comprehensive exams and all students are expected to spend a minimum of two years in residence. Students admitted to the Ph.D. Program will be expected to have completed a master’s degree in a related field including, but not limited to, urban planning, architecture, historic preservation or landscape architecture. Students are expected to enter the PhD program with two semesters of graduate level quantitative research methods.


The PhD program is integral to the University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education and our nationally recognized Architecture, Urban Studies and Planning, Historic Preservation, and Real Estate Development programs. These affiliations enable our students to take advantage of a rich interdisciplinary environment.

Fields of Specialization

Students are expected to develop two fields of specialization, a major and a minor field. The following major fields are based on the University of Maryland faculty's particular strengths. However, other fields can be developed with the guidance and approval of the faculty mentor. 


Land Use Planning

This field includes the theoretical underpinnings of land use and the segregation of uses, as well as the study of the theory, history, and practice of policies intended to regulate the amount, pace, location, pattern, and quality of growth in U.S. metropolitan areas. This includes the study of legal and constitutional issues, public costs and benefits, the role of externalities, political conflicts, equity concerns, and socioeconomic impacts of zoning and other forms of land regulation and growth management. 


Urban Spatial Structure

Students in this specialization will study the factors that determine and influence urban and regional spatial structure. Of special interest is the role that changing technology plays in shaping urban form. Courses that fulfill this specialization include:


Economic Development

Students in this specialization will focus on the theory and practice of local urban and regional economic development, including the study of theories of regional growth, intra-national population migration, business location decisions, and community development. This field also includes the study of economic development politics.


International Planning

This specialization explores the urbanization dynamics in other countries, particularly the third world. Students in this specialization explore planning, urban spatial structure, historic preservation, and urban design challenges in the newly industrializing countries and the newly independent states of Eastern Europe, and how the political, social, cultural, and economic conditions within and among regions and countries affect the development, design and implementation of plans. Within the proposed Ph.D. program there will be special emphasis on the relationship between social, cultural, and economic conditions and improving the quality of urban life. 


Urban Design

This specialization includes the study of both historical and contemporary issues of design in an urban environment, including the means by which urban form and design is regulated through codes, guidelines and review processes. Students in this specialization will explore the relationship between buildings, culture, context, the urban condition, and their influence on the making of the urban form. This field includes an emphasis on the relationship between human behavior and built form and also encompasses a special focus on design strategies and initiatives that revitalize cities and mitigate urban sprawl. It also includes the exploration of how sprawl and growth management can and do inform urban design.


Urban Community Social Development

This specialization focuses on revitalizing the central city to make it a more attractive place to live and work, and to slow the outward migration that necessitates suburban growth management. This specialization gives special attention to the social and cultural character of communities, in addition to their physical and economic requirements, and concentrates on developing strategies to draw more people to central city communities. Because concern about declining schools, fears about safety, and anxiety about racial differences are three strong forces motivating outward movement, education, public safety, and race relations will be central to this study. 

Tuition and Fees

Current tuition, fees and other expenses for degrees at the University of Maryland are posted on the Office of the Bursar website.

PHD Alumni

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PHD students Alumni (URPD_Alumni_List_2015 update.xlsx)

The program is highly selective and individualized. Approximately seven students will be admitted each year. While some students have been admitted as part-time students, full-time study is encouraged and given priority in the admissions process.


New students are admitted for the Fall term only.

  • December 15 for Part I (initial online application) and Part II (ASF) for all applicants
  • January 1 for transcripts and recommendations


Students admitted to the PhD program will be expected to have completed a Master's degree in a related field including but not exclusively urban planning, architecture, historic preservation or landscape architecture. Students are expected to enter the PhD program with two semesters of graduate level quantitative research methods. These courses can be taken after entrance to the program and prior to their advanced methods course. 


Application requirements

Online Graduate Application

Go to the Graduate Application website.

Read the latest instructions. When prompted, put in the four letter code that identifies the program for which you are applying.


The online code for the PhD in Urban and Regional Planning and Design degree is URPD.



A non-refundable $75 fee is required for each program to which you apply. Payment of your application fee must be made on-line in order for your application to be submitted. Your application will not be processed until you pay your application fee and it is authorized.




Unofficial copies of transcripts from each institution including the University of Maryland must be attached to your application. Applicants who are admitted will be required to request official transcripts be forwarded to the Graduate Admissions Office from each institution where undergraduate or prior graduate work was undertaken. Sealed envelopes of transcripts that meet the requirements below must be submitted. 


Transcripts must bear the signature of the registrar and seal of the granting institution and should include the years of attendance, courses taken, grades received, class standing and any degree, certificate or diploma received.


Letters of Recommendation

Three recommendations are required from professors or other unrelated individuals who can assess the applicant’s potential to succeed in this program. The online application provides an electronic recommendation form, which facilitates submission and receipt in most cases.


Statement of Purpose

(1000-2000 words)

Applicants must submit a statement of their goals and objectives in pursuing graduate study using the online application. The statement should give the reviewer a clear picture of why the applicant is choosing to pursue this degree and any specific area of interest.



Applicants must attach an up-to-date business-style resume via the online application.



All Ph.D. applicants must have a GRE. The Code for the GRE is 5814. You may submit your application prior to taking an exam. Scores are added to the application once received.


Application Submission

Online Graduate Application

Go to the Graduate Application website.


Visiting the School

The best way to learn more about the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation is to visit. Throughout the year, both the School and the University of Maryland invite prospective undergraduate students to "Visit Maryland Days" and prospective graduate students to attend our annual Graduate Open House. Whether you choose to visit on one of these special days and get the grand tour or you prefer to arrange an individual tour, a visit will certainly help you decide if the University of Maryland is the place to start your future. In addition, architecture studio reviews are always open to the public.




For more information about admissions to the PhD in Urban and Regional Planning and Design degree, contact:

Marie Howland
(301) 405-6791

Ruth Davis-Rogers
(301) 405-0753


This is a sample curriculum with a major field in Urban Spatial Structure with a minor in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for a student entering the program with a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's degree in urban planning. For the major field this student could take ursp688, ursp660, and ECON 790/Advanced Urban Economics. For the GIS Minor Field, the student could take ursp688 and GEOG 605/Quantitative Spatial Analysis.


Sample Coursework Schedule 


Semester 1

URSP804 Advanced Planning Theory (3)





Semester 2

URSP810 Contemporary Metropolitan Issues (3)




Semester 3

Advanced analytical methods course




Semester 4

URSP805 Seminar in Research Design (3)





Semester 5



Semester 6


Urban and Regional Planning and Design Sign Off Sheet


Comprehensive Exams Policy

Doctoral students are required to take a set of written comprehensive exams shortly after completion of their course work. In order to pass these exams, students will have to demonstrate a mastery of advanced planning and design theory, and the important work in their major and minor fields. At least four faculty members serve on the exam committee of which two must be from the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. The examining committee will include the student’s advisor, at least two additional members familiar with the student's major or minor fields, and the student’s planning theory professor. The selection of the committee is made by the student, with the approval of the student’s advisor. The comprehensive exam is a three-day take-home exam.


To prepare for the examination, in consultation with their advisor and committee members, students are required to prepare a reading list for their chosen major and minor fields plus urban planning theory. This reading list will reflect the agreed-upon scope of work that the students are expected to know for the exam. All of the committee members should have reviewed this reading list and agreed that it includes the important work in the student's fields.


Each committee member should write one question in the area of the student’s major or minor field. The committee member may write several questions among which the student should select one. The advisor should collect all questions from the committee members, review the questions for clarity, comprehensiveness and fairness, and pass the exam to the student. Generally the total exam includes two questions from the major field, one question from the minor field, and a planning theory question. At the end of three days (72 hours), the student should return the exam to his/her advisor. The advisor will pass the exam to the committee.


The questions will be graded by the committee, with each committee member responsible for grading the question he/she asked. The advisor is responsible for reading and grading all questions. The examining committee should take no longer than two weeks to assess the exam. The options are (1) pass, (2) rewrite and (3) fail. A student may receive a pass, rewrite or fail on each question separately. Students are allowed to rewrite a question one time only. Only one committee member is required for a decision to rewrite. At least two faculty members must concur if a failing grade is given. The case where the student fails one or more questions constitutes an exam failure. Once successfully passing the comprehensive exam, students will need to complete the required paperwork to be formally admitted to candidacy.


Faculty Procedure for URPD Comprehensive Exams


Advancement to Candidacy

Students must complete and pass their comprehensive exam before they advance to candidacy and begin to take URSP899 Doctoral Dissertation Research (6) dissertation research courses. Click here for information pertaining to termination of candidacy, time requirements, and advancement to candidacy. 


Dissertation Proposal

The student will assemble a dissertation committee, made up of at least five faculty members with expertise in the student's proposed research area. According to the university requirement: "The Committee must consist of a minimum of five members; additional committee members may be required or invited to serve at the discretion of the program. All members of the Dissertation Examining Committee must be members of the Graduate Faculty of University of Maryland under one of the following membership categories: Regular Member; Adjunct Member; Special Member. At least three of the committee members must be Regular Members of the University of Maryland Graduate Faculty. "Once a prospectus is finished, it must be approved and signed off by the student's Ph.D. committee. Students will orally defend their dissertation proposal. The oral defense is informal. Students are expected to propose planning-related research and theory construction, which will lead to significant, original and relevant contributions to the field. The core course Advanced Planning and Design Theory is designed to assist students in the preparation of a thesis proposal.



The dissertation must demonstrate the ability to do independent research, on an original topic approved by the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and the graduate program.