Doctor of Philosophy in Urban Studies and Planning

The PhD is the advanced research degree in urban planning or urban studies and is focused on training individuals for research and teaching in the areas of applied social research and planning.

The program emphasizes the development of fundamental research competence, flexibility in the design of special area of study, and encouragement of joint student/faculty research and teaching. The program is tailored to the needs of individual students, each of whom works closely with a mentor in the Department. A standard program involves four semesters of classes (with a minimum of 36 units each semester) and four semesters to complete a dissertation.

Admission requirements are essentially the same as for the master's degree, but additional emphasis is placed on academic preparation, professional experience, and the fit between the student's research interests and the department's research activities. Nearly all successful applicants have previously completed a master's degree. Admission to the doctoral program is highly competitive. Each year we accept 10-12 doctoral candidates from an applicant pool of approximately 125.  Each program group admits its own students, who are only admitted if their interests match that of a faculty member. The Department seeks to balance the number of doctoral candidates among these groups.

DUSP graduates are well prepared for (and go on to work in) a wide range of careers in academia, government, and industry; for a list of recent PhDs and doctoral candidates soon to be on the market, click here.


Degree requirements for the PhD program

First Year: First Semester

Coursework during the first semester entails four to five classes, including a seminar on research design and methodology.

First Year: Second Semester

Students participate in a doctoral seminar and a mid-year review, and begin work on a first-year doctoral paper. At this time, students prepare and present a Program Statement that organizes their work for subsequent years.

Second Year

Students with a strong background in a chosen field can begin to prepare for the general examination during the summer following the first year. Students who require more preparation will use the third and, if necessary, the fourth semester to take additional course work.

General Examination

The general examination is taken sometime between the third and fourth semesters. All PhD students are expected to prepare for an examination in two fields. Traditional first fields include: city design and development, international economic development, urban information systems, public policy and politics, urban history, urban and regional economics, and urban sociology. The second, applied field is developed by each student and a committee, based on individual interests.The General Exams is given twice a year: at the end of the spring semester and at the beginning of the fall semester. Students should plan to take general examinations after the completion of their fourth semester, although they can be taken earlier with approval of the student's advisor. These examinations contain a written and an oral component.


After completing the general examination, each student assembles a dissertation committee. A candidate is expected to submit a five- to six-page preliminary dissertation research proposal within a semester of passing the general exam. Within one year after passing the general exam, a full proposal must be submitted for approval by the PhD Committee, and the student presents the proposal in a departmental colloquium.

In addition, some students complete additional requirements for the department's Environmental Planning Certificate and/or Urban Design Certificate.



Admissions to the PhD program

Admission to the doctoral program is highly competitive. About one in nine applicants is accepted and there are generally 10-12 doctoral candidates accepted each year. The percentage of men and women is usually equal, and approximately 30 percent are from abroad. The Department is committed to the active recruitment of minorities. Most incoming doctoral students hold a Master's degree in a field related to urban studies or planning, and have a year or more of work experience. However, candidates holding a bachelor's degree and demonstrating a strong commitment to research and teaching are also seriously considered. Each program group admits its own students, who are only admitted if their interests match that of a faculty member. The Department seeks to balance the number of doctoral candidates among these groups.


Applications for Fall 2013 will be available on September 15th. All online applications and supporting materials must be postmarked and/or submitted electronically by January 3rd, 2013. Students are accepted for September admission only. It is the responsibility of the applicant to submit all forms and supporting materials by the application deadline.

Detailed application instructions can be found in the Admissions section

For an application to be considered, the following materials must be submitted:

  • A completed Graduate Application for Admission which includes:
    • Statement of Objectives
    • Record of Courses
    • Financial Statement
    • Resume or CV
  • Three letters of recommendation from teachers, professionals, and/or others who know the applicant's work (can be submitted online or by mail).
  • Official and scanned transcripts from the registrar of each undergraduate and graduate college or university you attended.
  • Official and scanned GRE scores
  • Official and scanned TOEFL or IELTS scores (required for all applicants whose native language is not English, regardless if you have attended school in the United States). No exceptions will be made for this requirement. Permanent residents or US Citizens do not need to take the TOEFL exam.
  • A non-refundable application fee of $75 paid by credit card at the time of submission of your online application.

MIT is committed to the principle of equal opportunity in education and employment and abides by its nondiscrimination policy in administering the admissions process.




The doctoral program is designed for full-time study and students must register and pay tuition fees each semester until the dissertation is completed. Students may acquire nonresident status when they have been enrolled for at least two years, have passed the general examination, and when the dissertation proposal has been approved. Nonresident students are not eligible for MIT financial aid or employment and are precluded from using MIT housing, offices, or computer facilities. They may, however, use the libraries and continue to work with advisors. When ready to submit their dissertations, they must file for resident status.