Program Requirements

Please consult the Doctoral Student Handbook for City and Regional Planning for a detailed description of the doctoral program and its requirements.    

Penn's Ph.D. program in City and Regional Planning has a straightforward objective: to train thought-leaders and exceptional scholars. To this end, the Graduate Group aims to ensure your acquisition of strong research and communication skills. It is also committed to cultivating enduring faculty/student mentoring relationships and collegial networking among your peers, including other Ph.D. students in urban-focused disciplines.

Earning your doctorate requires completion of five steps: Coursework, Qualifying Examination, Preparatory Requirements, Candidacy Examinations and Dissertation.


You will complete 20 course units during two and half years of full time study at the rate of four course units per semester, or a shorter time depending on transfer credit. The Graduate Group in City and Regional Planning does not designate a formal list of required courses other than the Doctoral Seminar, fulfillment of two courses each in two subfields subject of your candidacy examinations (see below), and research methods, but allows you to work with the Graduate Group ­­­­Chair (GGC) and your principal advisor to develop a study plan consistent with your research and future teaching interests.

Doctoral Seminar: You will enroll in four (4) course units of CPLN 800 Doctoral Seminar in four consecutive semesters beginning with your initial enrollment in the program. This seminar explores how scholars define and answer important research questions and assists you in developing your research agendas, including selecting your dissertation topic and crafting your draft thesis proposal. Through its guest lecturer series, the seminar reviews cutting-edge research in City and Regional Planning. It also affords you the opportunity to discuss your research with your peers and Graduate Group Faculty.

Research Methods: You must also take and pass with a grade of B or better two (2) graduate-level methods courses relevant to your proposed field of research identified and submitted to the GGC. The Graduate Group maintains a list of courses in quantitative and qualitative methods and spatial analytics offered in various schools of the University.

Preparatory Requirements

The Preparatory Requirements (Writing and Presentation and Scholarly Preparation), provide experience in scholarly writing, research and instruction and assist you in timely completion of your degree.

Writing and Presentation: Possessing clear writing and associated analytical skills are essential for your career as a graduate student and later, scholar. The writing and presentation requirement is a systematic approach to strengthening your abilities in these areas. It has four elements:

a. Review Essay assessing several books related to your primary interest to be written and presented in your first semester to the Doctoral Seminar.
b. First Year Paper scoping a problem in your area of the primary interest as a literature survey to be presented to the Doctoral Seminar during the second semester of full-time study.
c. Second Year Paper containing original research of publishable quality in your area of interest to be presented at Doctoral Seminar in your third semester of full-time study.
d. Draft Dissertation proposal. You will present a draft dissertation proposal to the Doctoral Seminar in your fourth semester.

Scholarly Preparation: The faculty cultivates enduring mentoring relationships with you through your serving four semesters as an Research Assistant or Teaching Assistant. Minimally, you will serve one semester as a Research Assistant and one semester as a Teaching Assistant. You will decide the remainder in consultation with the GGC and your primary advisor.

Qualifying Examinations

By June 1 (after the completion of your second semester) you will have completed the Qualifying Examinations in the History and Theory of City and Regional Planning administered by faculty designated by the Graduate Group. The Qualifying Examinations demonstrates your readiness to continue your doctoral studies.

Candidacy Examination

After completion of your coursework, you must pass a Candidacy Examination consisting of two field examinations (see below) and defend your dissertation proposal (see below)  before your Examination and Dissertation Committees.  Your primary advisor chairs both committees. (The chair and one member must be person on each committee must belong to  the Graduate Group in City and Regional Planning.) You will organize this examination in consultation with the GGC and your primary advisor. You must complete this examination within the fifth semester of full-time study. After completing this examination, you may use the title of PhD candidate.

Field Examinations: The field examinations (written and oral) will cover either:

  • Two definable sub fields in City and Regional Planning in which you have completed two courses, one of which in each subfield will have been given by a faculty member in the Graduate Group in City and Regional Planning. Suggested fields are: History and Culture of Cities, Community and Economic Development, Land Use and Environmental Planning, Sustainable Transportation and Infrastructure Planning, Urban Design, Housing.


  • A definable sub field of City and Regional Planning as listed above and a related discipline supportive of your dissertation research or future employment undertaken with a faculty member who is affiliated with the Graduate Group.

The written examinations can take one of several forms. Among them are:

  • examiner may ask you a paper-length essay, a research proposal over a period of a week,
  • a lecture-length essay over several days or
  • a several-hour written “classroom” type of examination, consisting of a set of questions.

Regardless of its form, your examiners will ask you to demonstrate the ability to: describe and assess the literature of the field, deal critically with major issues,  conceptualize and organize research in the area.  In addition to the written examination, you will defend your answers at an oral examination with your examiners, held in conjunction with the defense of your dissertation proposal. 

Dissertation Proposal:  You will present your draft dissertation proposal to your Dissertation Committee two weeks prior to sitting for the subfield examinations or earlier. Your dissertation proposal should follow the format described in Appendix F of the Doctoral Student Handbook for City and Regional Planning referenced above. The Dissertation Committee will evaluate the dissertation proposal providing one of the following determinations: Accept, Revise and Resubmit to the chair, or Revise and Resubmit to the Committee. In the latter two cases, you have one (1) month from the time of the oral examination to make modifications to the proposal and obtain its acceptance by the Committee.


Your dissertation is an original piece of research of publishable quality that focuses on an important, currently unanswered question. Your Dissertation Committee supervises your dissertation from its proposal to its completion.

Dissertation Defense:  You will defend your dissertation to your Committee and, with their approval, offer a public Colloquium and deposit the dissertation according to rules specified by the University as indicated in the Doctoral Student Handbook for City and Regional Planning.