PhD Handbook

A Guide to the Policies, Procedures, and Practices of the Urban Planning PhD Program at UCLA

University Policies

All doctoral students at UCLA are subject to university-wide policies and procedures governing study for the PhD degree.  These policies and procedures are administered by the UCLA Graduate Division, which is a campus-wide unit dedicated to ensuring high quality graduate degree programs at UCLA.  Some of the most important of these requirements are summarized below.  For additional details on these and other policies and procedures, refer to Standards & Procedures for Graduate Study at UCLA.

Students are required to complete at least two years of academic residence in graduate status at the University of California, including one year, ordinarily the second, in continuous residence at UCLA. Students who earn a Master’s degree at UCLA may have met one year of the residence requirement for the doctorate as well. Academic residence is defined as completing one course (4 units) in graduate or upper division course-work during a quarter.

The Graduate Division has very strict policies regarding Leaves of Absence and In Abstentia Registration. Please refer to the Graduate Division website then consult with your Graduate Advisor before submitting a petition.

Students who have not yet advanced to candidacy must be enrolled in minimum of 12 units per quarter. Students who have advanced to candidacy need to enroll in only 8 units with the exception of students who have a fellowship/GSR/TA/Reader position which requires that he/she is enrolled in 12 units.

The grade of Incomplete (I) is given only for good cause. If the course work is not completed by the end of the next full term in residence, the (I) grade will lapse automatically to an F or U. In addition to completing the coursework, to remove an Incomplete, students must request that the Graduate Advisor submit a UCLA Report of Academic Revision to Graduate Division.

Students must maintain a grade point average of at least 3.0 (B) in all course work undertaken. Students failing to do so are placed on probation. Students whose cumulative GPA is below 3.0 for any three quarters will be dismissed from the Program.

A student who fails to meet the degree requirements may be recommended for termination of graduate study. A graduate student may be disqualified from continuing in the graduate program for a variety of reasons. The most common is failure to maintain the minimum cumulative grade point average (3.00) required by the Academic Senate to remain in good standing (some programs require a higher grade point average). Other examples include failure of examinations, lack of timely progress toward the degree and poor performance in core courses. Probationary students (those with cumulative grade point averages below 3.00) are subject to immediate dismissal upon the recommendation of their department. University guidelines governing termination of graduate students, including the appeal procedure, are outlined in Standards and Procedures for Graduate Study at UCLA. See the Departmental Policies for additional information.

Department Policies

The Department of Urban Planning at UCLA is famous for producing outstanding planning scholars and teachers through its distinct mix of three program elements: top faculty in critical fields, a flexible curriculum, and superb opportunities for important and progressive research. Approximately 3-6 doctoral students are enrolled in the program each fall.

UCLA is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and by numerous special agencies. Information regarding the University’s accreditation may be obtained from the Office of Academic Planning and Budget, 2107 Murphy Hall.

The doctoral degree typically can be obtained after 15 quarters (5 years) of full-time study. While the length of the course of study depends upon the academic background and experience of the candidates, students must complete the degree in no more than 18 quarters (6 years).

The Urban Planning program is a full-time program and students are expected to take a minimum of 12 units (3 courses) in each term in order to complete the program. Students are generally not permitted to take less than 12 units (full time) in a term. See University Enrollment policy for additional details.

Students who plan to enroll in only one or two formal courses in any given quarter should also enroll in the appropriate number of units of 500-level, independent study courses (see below) to equal a full load.

  • URBN PL 596
    Research in Planning. To be used for independent study courses that are not related to degree progress examinations or dissertation.
  • URBN PL 597
    Preparation for Ph.D. Qualifying Examinations. To be used until the student Advances to Candidacy
  • URBN PL 599
    Dissertation Research in Planning. To be used once the student has Advanced to Candidacy until graduation.

Upon admission to the program the department faculty will assign each entering student an advisory committee. The committee is composed of two faculty members, one of whom is the primary advisor. Students may amend their committee with approval from the current committee, new committee, and PhD Program Director.

Students may request a waiver for one or more of the required courses if they took an equivalent course at another university or UCLA department.  Students who wish to waive a course must submit the syllabus (or syllabi if there was more than one course) and official grade report for the course they took. Requests will be reviewed by the course instructor, primary advisor, PhD Program Director, and the Graduate Advisor.

Students choose a major field by the end of the first quarter in the program in consultation with his/her faculty advisor and the Ph.D. Program Chair. Expertise in the major field is primarily reflected in an ability to teach a sequence of Urban Planning courses at a major university, from introduction to the field to an advanced research seminar. Within each major field, students should identify two to three subdisciplines that reflect their particular interests and approach. Each of these sub-fields must have established body of research literature associated with it which the student is expected to master prior to the major field examination. Students are encourages to select from the following list of major fields:

Community development: social, economic, and physical

Comparative international development

Critical studies of cities and regions

Economic development planning

Energy policy

Environmental policy

History of the built environment

Housing affordability

Housing markets

Housing policy

Labor markets and workforce policy

Land use policy and planning

Planning and designing the built environment

Planning history

Planning theory

Political economy and the built environment

Political economy of urban and/or regional development

Pollution and environmental hazards

Regional economic development

Resource-based development

Rural development

Social justice and the built environment

Social Policy

Transportation policy

Transportation, land use, and urban form

Urban Design

Urban policy

Urban public finance

Urban transportation planning

Urbanization in the developing world

Water policy and planning

Additional Major Fields

In special circumstances, students may devise their own field in consultation with appropriate faculty members. Final approval of the proposed additional major field must be obtained from the faculty advisor and department chair. Further details may be obtained from the graduate adviser.

Urban Planning doctoral students are encouraged to join and contribute to PhD Student Shared Drive. This is a shared forum so students can learn from each other. Documents uploaded to the site are meant to serve as examples for newer students, not as final drafts. Please contact authors directly if you would like to share their work with others. Students will find:

  • Advanced Methods & Research Design Course List
  • Advanced Methods & Research Design Syllabi
  • Plan of Study Examples
  • Field Exam Question Examples
  • Field Paper Examples
  • Dissertation Proposal Examples
  • CV Examples
  • Grant Proposal Examples
  • Faculty Presentations on Research Methods

Students are free to upload their own materials as examples for others!

Generally, entering doctoral students are automatically provided access to the drive. If you cannot access it please contact the Graduate Advisor.

A foreign language is not required either for admission to or completion of the doctoral program. However, if students are expecting to do dissertation research abroad, they are strongly advised to obtain the necessary language skills prior to beginning such research. However courses below 100-level cannot count towards a graduate degree.

Not required. Because not all Urban Planning PhD graduates go into teaching following graduation, there are no formal teaching training requirements.  However, those students planning a career in teaching following graduation should work out a plan for teaching training with their advisers.

A counseling board of three faculty members is established for every student whose grade point average is below 3.0 or who fails to make sufficient progress toward the degree. The board is responsible for reviewing the student’s record, determining strengths and weaknesses, and aiding the student to raise academic performance to minimum standards. In addition, the faculty and the graduate counselor meet each winter and spring quarter to discuss the progress of all registered students.

A student whose grade point average is below 3.0 for any three quarters may be subject to a recommendation for termination. Recommendations for termination based on other reasons may be made by (1) the counseling board submits a written statement to the department chair; and (2) the department chair, acting in consultation with the student’s adviser, recommends termination. In certain circumstances a student may be given the option to withdraw from the program. A student may appeal a recommendation for termination to the three-person faculty review board.


The Urban Planning Program at UCLA, established in 1969, initiated a democratic form of governance, unique to the university system, which involves the active participation of faculty, staff, and students in the various administrative and programmatic functions of the school including admissions, financial aid, and staffing.   Working Groups for each of these concerns, chaired by ladder faculty (faculty with titles of Assistant, Associate, full, and Distinguished Professor or Professor Emeritus), meet regularly throughout the school year to discuss relevant issues and to make proposals and/or designate action.   The Working Groups derive their mission and authority from the Assembly of Working Groups (a variation on the “town meeting” which meets at least once every quarter) both for ensuring a common information base within the program and to hear the proposals for changes in policy and/or degree requirements.   The Assembly is open to the entire Urban Planning community with each member given voting privileges.   The Working Group system has endured as a progressive approach to program development.   Working Group membership is by voluntary sign-up.

This working group was established to discuss general issues relating to the structure and functioning of the Ph.D. program. Student participation in the Working Group is limited to those in the Ph.D. program, and the Working Group meets once a quarter or more often if necessary.

Each year one doctoral student is elected to represent all Urban Planning doctoral students at the week faculty meetings. The elected student, along with an elected MURP student, are invited to attend Urban Planning Faculty Meetings in order to share student news/concerns/updates with the faculty, and conversely, share news/concerns/updates from the meeting with the student body.


Continuing doctoral students have several funding opportunities available to them outside of the financial offer provided at the time of admission. Regardless of the admission offer, students are encouraged to take advantage of these opportunities, and any other opportunities that they find. If a student secures additional funding they should consult with the Graduate Advisor ASAP to confirm that their awards do not conflict or exceed the annual maximum limit of merit-based support.

Doctoral students are encouraged to present their work and network at conferences in their field, travel for off-campus research and to take advantage of off-campus professional development opportunities. The Graduate Division will support these efforts by providing each new and continuing doctoral student with up to $1,000 total in reimbursements that can be used, in whole or in part, at any time through the student’s seventh year in the doctoral program, as long as the student and the activities meet the eligibility requirements.

For more information on these travel grants please visit the Graduate Division website.

The UCLA Graduate Division provides substantial support for graduate students through fellowships and traineeships. Financial support information and application forms for campus-wide fellowship programs are available at the Funding for Continuing Students website. Applications for the Graduate Division Awards typically open during Winter Quarter.

In addition to the UCLA Graduate Division awards, student can search for awards from among 625 scholarships, grants, fellowships, and postdoctoral awards at the UCLA GRAPES website. See the PhD Student Shared Drive for proposal examples.


Doctoral students in the department of Urban Planning typically spend years one and two completing the required coursework. A high level of competence in a major field and in planning theory and history, as measured by course work and doctoral examinations, is required.

Coursework Quarter Students with an Urban Planning
Students with a Masters in a field other than Urban Planning
UP 207: Applied Microeconomics for UP Fall


UP 208A: Colloquium in Planning Research Fall



UP 208B: Intro to Research Design ** Spring



UP 208C: Advanced Research Design Fall



UP 211: Law & the Quality of Urban Life Spring


UP 220A: Quantitative Analysis in Planning I Fall


Up 220B: Quantitative Analysis in Planning II*** Winter



Up 222A: Intro to Histories and Theories of Planning Fall


UP 222B: Advanced Planning Theory I Winter



UP 222C: Advanced Planning Theory II Spring



Urbanization Requirement (choose one):

  • UP 236A
  • UP 242
  • UP M250
  • UP 265A
  • UP 281


Three Advanced Research Methods courses related to your major field (selected in consultation with your faculty advisor) Various



Three related courses in an area outside the major field (selected in consultation with your faculty advisor) *** Various


*Can be substituted for UP M204: Research Design and Methods for Social Policy (quarter varies)

** Students who do not have a Master’s degree in Urban Planning must complete the master’s core. A placement examination is required before enrolling in UP 207 and UP 220A. Please see your Graduate Advisor for details. These courses will replace the outside field course requirement

*** Students who have had a basic statistics course in their Master’s program may waive UP 220B.

Research Design Requirement: 208A, B, and C
The PhD in Urban Planning requires a mastery of research design, with a focus on the applied questions central to the field of planning.  To satisfy this requirement, students are required to complete a three-course sequence in research design:  UP 208A, UP 208B, and UP 208C.  The PhD Plan of Study must be completed and approved in order to pass UP 208A.  Only UP 208B may be waived with prior coursework, with approval of the PhD Program Director.  Students who have passed their major field examination, but have not yet advanced to candidacy must take UP 208C each time it is offered.  UP 208C may be waived if the student advances to candidacy before the term that UP 208C is offered.

Planning Theory and History Requirement: 222A, B, and C
Planning theory is concerned with the ways that philosophers and social scientists have examined the question of how scientific and technical knowledge is to be joined to practice and action, with particular emphasis on the field of urban and regional planning. Planning history looks at how planning has evolved in the U.S., Western Europe, and elsewhere in the world as a form of institutionalized practice. Students are expected to acquire an understanding of both and become familiar with the several styles and forms of planning and the major debates in the field. To satisfy the planning theory and history requirement students must complete a three-course sequence in planning theory and history:  UP 222A, UP 222B, and UP 222C.  UP 222A may be waived by prior coursework with approval of the PhD Program Director.

Research Methods Requirement
Urban Planning PhD students must complete or waive out of UP 220A (if they do not have a masters in urban planning) and UP 220B and, in addition, must complete three graduate-level methods courses beyond basic statistics with grades of B or better. These three courses must be related to the major field, must be approved in advance by the student’s adviser and the PhD Program Director, and cannot be waived by prior coursework.  A list of recommended methods courses is included in the Ph.D. handbook.  One of the three methods courses may be an upper division undergraduate course, if approved in advance by the PhD Program Director.

Students can search for methods course options on the PhD Student Shared Drive.

Outside Field Requirement
Urban planning is an explicitly multi-disciplinary field that draws from a variety of intellectual traditions and academic disciplines.  As such, part of the training of Urban Planning PhD students at UCLA includes in-depth study of an outside field that supports and supplements the student’s chosen field of study in planning.  To satisfy this requirement, students must take and complete at least three closely related graduate courses in departments outside of the Urban Planning program with a grade of B+ or better.  These courses may all be taken in one department or in multiple departments, as long as they are closely related to one another and the student’s defined outside field.  For example, students studying community organizing might take three graduate courses in labor organizing offered in Law, Management, and Sociology to satisfy their outside field requirement.  Or students interested in environmental policy might take three graduate courses in atmospheric sciences and air pollution in Environmental Sciences and Engineering, the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, and Public Health.  With advance approval of both the student’s Faculty Adviser and the PhD Program Director one of these three outside field courses may be an upper division undergraduate course offered by a department outside of Urban Planning and one may be a graduate Urban Planning course – provided that the Urban Planning course is logically part of the student’s outside field defined in the Plan of Study and is closely related to the other two outside field courses***. Methodology courses taken in other departments do not count toward satisfying the outside field requirement.  PhD students who hold a master’s degree in a field other than planning are exempt from this outside field requirement.  But otherwise, none of the three outside field courses may be waived by prior coursework.

*** An Urban Planning course that is cross-listed with another department counts as an Urban Planning course, even if the student enrolls in the course through the other department.

YEAR ONE: Plan of Study

During the first quarter of the PhD program, students work with their advisers and the PhD Program Director in order to develop a detailed Plan of Study for their doctoral program as part of UP 208A.  The plan details the student’s major field, coursework plan, timeline, and proposed dissertation topic.  Each plan must include:

  • A one to two-page description of the major field and its sub-fields
  • A short indicative bibliography for each of the sub-fields
  • A list of courses and research papers to be completed to help the student prepare for each of the sub-fields
  • A course plan showing how the student plans to satisfy all of the PhD course requirements
  • A timetable indicating expected completion dates for all requirements and examinations
  • A brief statement identifying a possible dissertation research topic. Once approved, the plan is filed with the graduate adviser.

Once completed, the Plan of Study must be approved by the student’s faculty advisor and by the Ph.D. Coordinator, and filed with the Graduate Advisor. Every effort should be made by faculty advisors and the Ph.D. Coordinator to have students file their Plan of Study by the end of the fall quarter of their first year. If this does not happen, a Counseling Board should be established by the Fall of the second year.

See the PhD Student Shared Drive for plan of study examples.

The major field is the planning subject area in which a student will be prepared to teach three courses and conduct advanced research. The Major Field subject area should be generally recognized by academics in other planning schools and should be substantially broader than a dissertation topic. The normal time for completion of the major field requirement is two academic years. The actual timing for the Major Field Examination is set by agreement between the student and the advisory committee.

See the PhD Student Shared Drive for field paper examples.

By the end of the first year, students must ask a third faculty member to join the advisory committee for the purpose of administering the Major Field Examination.

The Major Field committee consists of three Urban Planning faculty members- a Chair and two other members. At least two of the members must be Urban Planning ladder faculty (0% appointment or higher). One of the members may be a UP non-ladder faculty who has been granted approval to serve on committees by the UCLA Graduate Council. Any exception to this policy must be approved by the student’s advisor(s), the PhD Coordinator, and the Department Chair. Please see the Graduate Advisor if you have questions or need additional information.

Students typically convene a first meeting of the advisory committee to discuss how to prepare for the examination. The exam should be held no more than six months after the meeting, therefore the meeting should be held either in Spring Quarter of the first year or no later than the Fall Quarter of the second year.

YEAR TWO: Major Field Examination

Exam preparation can include courses, papers, practice questions, specific readings, and so forth. Prior to the formulation of the written examination, students typically present their committees with a list of topics on which they are prepared to be examined. The chair of the examination committee then parcels out the task of writing the questions. No more than six questions shall be asked on the examination.

At this time the chair, in consultation with the other members of the committee, works out a tentative schedule for the examination, its format (required questions, choices and so forth), and whether the exam will be open or closed book. The entire committee should review a draft of the examination to ensure that the questions are fair and unambiguous, that they cover the appropriate range of topics, and that they adequately prove the student’s knowledge.

Students may prepare for the field examination in several ways. Many find it worthwhile to write answers to questions asked on previous examinations. Best of all, groups of students may meet regularly to critique each other’s’ responses to these questions. Some committee chairs meet periodically with students to discuss readings and other types of preparation. Others organize the meetings around discussions of a series of papers prepared by the student in advance. These papers should not be seen as original research work aimed at eventual publication, but as comprehensive and critical review essays that synthesize and integrate knowledge and literatures around major themes and key debates in the Major Field. They will serve as the basis for informing the chair and other committee members of how comprehensively the student has investigated those themes and debates, and identify the main areas for which the student is prepared to be examined.

The committee decides whether the written examination will be closed or open book. Each format has its merits. A closed-book examination by definition is one in which the student brings to the examination venue no documents or notes, books or periodicals, nor other prepared materials including those on data storage devices (such as flash drives, CDs, etc.). A closed-book exam is arguably more a measure of the candidate’s quality of mind rather than his/her ability to “research” a topic from available materials. Because the open-book option allows access to, in principle, any documentation, the option presumes a generally higher standard of performance that the committee should take into account in its evaluation of the written work. Open-book examinations may distract students into reviewing documents for evidence to cull rather than to think through the issues raised in the questions.

Students may not copy and paste any pre-written text to their written examination answers. Under no circumstances are prepared discs or flash drives allowed.

In consultation with the committee, the candidate sets the date/time for both the written and oral parts of the examination. The oral examination should be administered within the ten days of the written examination.

The student will then work with the Graduate Advisor to book rooms and select a student observer for the oral examination. The Advisor will send an email reminder to the committee 1-2 days before and prepare the exam report which will be signed by all committee members at the end of the exam.

The Chair of the examination committee provides to the Graduate Advisor an electronic copy of the examination prior to the start of the written exam. The Graduate Advisor delivers the examination questions to the candidate, and the candidate returns the completed examination paper to the Graduate Advisor or the delegate. The Graduate Advisor or the delegate distributes the examination paper to the committee members.

Six hours (including breaks) are allowed for writing the examination. Students whose first language is not English are allowed seven hours. The examination should be written on a computer.

See the PhD Student Shared Drive for exam examples.

All three committee members must be present during the oral exam. In exceptional cases, when an exam committee member is unavailable for a face-to-face meeting, the faculty member may be part of the oral exam via conference call. The student or the faculty member must bear the expense of the call. The Graduate Advisor, in conjunction with the student, must invite a non-voting Ph.D. student observer to sit in on the exam. An oral examination has no time limit but generally runs about two hours.

The oral examination, a continuation of the written examination, provides the candidate and the examining committee with the opportunity to clarify and expand on answers to questions on the written examination and, of course, other issues in the field. The candidate’s overall performance on the oral and written portions is reported to the Graduate Advisor as “fail, re-examination,” he/she has one more chance to take the full exam should be immediately determined by the examining committee, and this timeline should be submitted to the Graduate Advisor.

The written and oral portions of the examination are usually “graded” as a unit. If members of the committee disagree on the evaluation of answers to specific questions or on the overall recommendation, it is the committee chair’s responsibility to reconcile those differences.

YEAR THREE: Oral Qualifying Examination & Advancement to Candidacy

Advanced Research Design is required of all PhD students who have passed their Major Field examinations but have not yet advanced to candidacy. The advanced research design course guides students in selecting problem/question to study, reviewing previous research on problem/question, framing specific research questions/hypotheses, and selecting methodology and plan for testing hypotheses. The aim of this course is to help students complete their dissertation proposal and prepare for the oral defense.

If a doctoral student advances to candidacy before the start of the Fall Quarter they do not have to take the course. If they plan to advance in early fall (first three weeks) they must enroll in the class until the exam is scheduled. If they plan to advance beyond the first three weeks of the quarter they must enroll and participate in the class until the exam is complete and approved.

See the PhD Student Shared Drive for dissertation proposal examples.

University Minimum Standards

  1. Minimum of four members
  1. At least three members must hold current UCLA Academic Senate faculty appointments limited to Professor (any rank), Professor or Associate Professor Emeritus, Professor in Residence (any rank), or Acting Professor or Acting Associate Professor.
    • Two of the three current UCLA members must hold the rank of Professor or Associate Professor
    • One of the three current UCLA members may be an Adjunct or Professor of Clinical X series who is certified and approved by the Committee on Degree Programs (CDP).
  1. One member may hold an Academic Senate faculty appointment or its academic equivalent from another university (without need of an exception petition).

Departmental Minimum Standards

In addition to the above University Minimum Standards, the Department of Urban Planning also requires that doctoral committees meet the following criteria.

  1. The doctoral committee chair must be an Academic Senate faculty member from the Department of Urban Planning at UCLA.
  1. A second committee member must be a faculty member in a department of Urban Planning, either at UCLA or another institution.
  1. One of the four committee members must hold an appointment in a department “outside” of the student’s major department. Faculty who hold multiple appointments count as “inside” if one of those appointments is in the urban planning department.


Registration Requirements
Students must be registered during the quarter in which they take this examination. Students who are registered Spring quarter may take the examination during the summer.

Format of Exam
Students defend their dissertation proposal. All four committee members must be present in the room during the oral exam. By exception only, one committee member (not the chair) may teleconference into the examination, see Graduate Advisor for more details. Students may pass the exam with one negative vote. The examination has no time limit but generally runs about two hours.

Scheduling of Exam
In consultation with the committee, the candidate sets the date/time for the examination. The student will then work with the Graduate Advisor to book a room. The Advisor will send an email reminder to the committee 1-2 days before and prepare the exam report which will be signed by all committee members at the end of the exam.

Students who have not passed the oral qualifying examination by the end of the fifth year (except those with approved leaves of absence) will be dismissed from the program. However students are entitled to request that a review board be established to consider their case.

Advancement to Candidacy
Once the Graduate Division receives the examination report form, students are advanced to candidacy. An international student who has advanced to candidacy will then have his/her non-resident tuition reduced fully for up to three years after the date of advancement.

YEARS FOUR & FIVE: Dissertation

The doctoral committee guides students in preparing the dissertation, a monograph representing an original contribution to planning knowledge. Students may receive academic credit for dissertation research by enrolling in UP 599.

The dissertation typically requires one to two full years of work, including field research (if any), data analysis, and the final writing. To enable students to devote this time to their research, every effort should be made to obtain extramural funding.

This examination, taken only at the discretion of the doctoral committee (the necessity of this requirement is noted on the Advancement to Candidacy form at the end of the Oral Qualifying Examination), involves a defense of the completed dissertation. All members of the committee must attend the final oral examination and submit a vote. A student may pass with one negative vote. Passing the final oral examination does not imply final approval of the dissertation document.

Students must submit their finalized dissertation via the Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) Filing System by the filing deadline for the quarter in which they wish to graduate. ALL committee members must approve the dissertation via the ETD system.