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    Doctoral Program


    The doctoral program in planning trains students in urban and regional social theory and research methods. The program is situated in one of the largest, most diverse planning departments in the country.  Our graduates contribute to the understanding of urban and regional issues, formulate innovative public policy, and manage research programs in domestic and international contexts. The program is highly selective and individualized.  Most doctoral students have previous graduate training and work experience in planning or a related field.

    Each year between three and six students begin the Ph.D. program, with about 20-25 Ph.D. students in residence at any given time. They come to Chapel Hill from all regions of the United States and the world. Students specialize in a variety of substantive areas such as transportation, housing and community development, economic development, international development, and environmental planning. Our Ph.D. students also study social theory and gain qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methods research training. About 50 percent of the program’s graduates become faculty members in research universities. Others pursue careers in international agencies, think-tanks, government, or consulting. Twenty percent work outside of the United States or are engaged in multinational projects. Our Ph.D. graduates include department chairs, deans, officers of national academic and professional organizations, and many well-published scholars.

    Visit our Doctoral Student page to learn more about our current students.

    Course of study

    Each student develops an individualized program statement to reflect his or her specific area of interest and career aspirations. Students and their program committees jointly determine the area of specialization and appropriate course work during the first semester in the program. The Ph.D. degree requires a minimum of 30 credits of course work, though additional credits may be required depending upon prior preparation. The written comprehensive exams, taken at the end of coursework, require knowledge of planning theory, research methods and a specific area of specialization.  Finally, students must conceptualize, carry out and defend a significant independent research project that contributes to knowledge in the field of city and regional planning.

    For more details about program requirements, please read the Ph.D. Program Guidelines.


    In the first two years, students take courses in advanced planning theory, policy-oriented research design, and data analysis techniques. The program draws on the intellectual resources of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a leader in the social sciences. Students often take courses in Departments of Anthropology, Economics, Political Science, Public Health, Sociology, Environmental Sciences and Engineering, and Public Policy. Students may also take courses in any department at Duke University, North Carolina State University, or North Carolina Central University. Doctoral students take three one-credit Ph.D. seminars that train students in research, teaching techniques, and career development.  Adequately prepared students with master's degrees in planning or related fields generally need between three and four semesters of formal course work leading to comprehensive exams.

    Comprehensive exams

    Students take a set of written and oral comprehensive exams shortly after completing their coursework. The written exams cover the student's area of specialization, research methods, and planning theory. Each Ph.D. student also takes an oral exam in which the student can further demonstrate his or her knowledge of the material and ability to converse on topics of the written exam.

    Dissertation requirement

    A student’s dissertation committee supports and approves the scholarly value and feasibility of the dissertation topic. The dissertation is expected to be a significant contribution to the field and must be successfully defended at a final oral examination.  Dissertation research and writing typically takes 1.5 to 2 years to complete.

    Click here for more details on the Ph.D. program guidelines

    Contact the program director:

    Todd Bendor

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