M.S. in Urban & Regional Planning

The Master of Science in Urban and Regional Planning degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison is primarily intended to prepare graduates for professional positions in government, non-profit and community organizations and the private sector. We seek to train students with the knowledge, theories, skills and abilities to be leaders in shaping communities.


The department takes an integrated approach to academic studies. It's research and service goals reflect the university's combination of scholarly and applied work. The research activities of departmental faculty are diverse. They tend to cluster around the areas of: land use planning; economic planning; natural resources and environmental planning; community development planning; and international development planning; as well as on planning process themes. Faculty members are engaged in research on planning practice; the ethics and values of planners; community development planning, evaluation of economic development and social welfare programs; tourism and natural resources planning; comparative planning and public policy issues in the international area; integrated environmental planning and management; watershed planning, social conflict over land use and environmental issues; growth management; alternative dispute resolution; social justice in urban areas; and other related areas. These interests are reflected in the curriculum structure.


The Master's degree coursework consists of 45 credits distributed among core planning skills and knowledge, an individualized Area of Concentration, and elective courses. Students also gain practical experience in planning and problem solving through required internships. A summary of the department's requirements are outlined below; details are available in the Department's Master's Program Policies and Procedures.


The objectives of the professional Master of Science degree in Urban and Regional Planning are to:


(1) Prepare students to engage in planning processes that recognize a complex, pluralistic democratic society. Students develop the capacity to work with diverse publics, across government agencies, and in private and non-profit sectors. Planning processes include the identification of objectives, design of possible courses of action, and evaluation of alternatives.


(2) Convey a set of planning literacies to enable students to perform effectively as planners in public, private or non-profit sectors. These literacies include knowledge in the following areas:


  • Structure and function of cities and regions
  • History and theory of planning processes and practices
  • Administrative, legal and political aspects of plan-making
  • Public involvement and dispute resolution techniques
  • Research design and data analysis techniques
  • Written, oral and graphic communication skills
  • Ethics of professional practice
  • Collaborative approaches to problem solving


(3) Prepare students with the substantive knowledge foundation and tools, methods and techniques of planning associated with an area of concentration.


Master's Degree Program

Upon admission, each student is assigned a faculty advisor based on the student's area of interest. In consultation with the advisor, each student can shape an individualized course sequence. The Masters of Science program consists of 45 credits, and typically takes 2 full years of study to complete. An internship with a planning organization is normally undertaken in the summer between the first and second years of study. In addition to satisfactory completion of 45 credits, students must successfully demonstrate competence in planning through completion of either a thesis or a professional project, as detailed below.


The coursework for the Master of Science degree consists of core required courses, an area of concentration, and electives. Use the Plan of Study form (.pdf to fill out in Adobe Acrobat) with your advisor. It is recommended a first draft of this form be completed in the first semester to have a general idea of your course of study.


Core Planning Courses (required) - 19 credits

All students must satisfactorily complete 7 core courses:


  • URPL 590(1) Pre-Workshop Module (1 cr.) This five-week class taken at the beginning of the spring semester must be taken the semester before taking URPL 912 Planning Workshop. 
  • URPL 721 Methods of Planning Analysis. (3 cr.) This course covers research methods and statistics used in analyzing planning problems; conceptualization, design and implementation of planning research; statistical methods for analyzing data including review of inferential statistics and multiple regression; use of demographic, economic and linear programming models.
  • URPL 741 Introduction to Planning. (3 cr.) This course introduces students to the profession and practice of urban and regional planning; reviews the history of U.S. planning and more recent ideas, movements, trends and issues shaping contemporary planning practice; examines the political, institutional and governmental (emphasis on local) contexts of planning; and introduces regulatory tools (e.g., zoning and subdivision regulations, site plan and design review) and other tools for complementing plans and shaping development. Additional topics include alternative planning models and planner roles and styles.
  • URPL 781 Planning Thought and Practice. (3 cr.) This course offers an intensive examination of contemporary urban and regional planning thought, including major conceptual dilemmas in professional practice. This class is open to second-year URPL students or later; other students with instructor permission only.
  • URPL 833 Planning and the Legal System. (3 cr.) This course addresses the contexts in which planning takes place, focusing particularly on enabling legislation, agencies conducting planning or employing planners, and the processes by which plans are made and implemented. It includes zoning, general plans, planning law, political and organizational behavior, and public finance principles.
  • URPL 912 Planning Workshop. (3 cr. + 1 cr. module) A preliminary synthesizing experience that gives students the opportunity to apply newly acquired skills in socioeconomic analysis, physical planning and implementation in real world settings. Topics selected emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of planning practice. The entire class works on one or more specific planning projects. This course is preceded by a one credit professional practice module. This class is only offered in the Fall semester, and must be taken after Pre-Workshop the previous spring.
  • Structure and functions of cities and regions (3 cr.) Students, in consultation with their advisor, can select one 3 credit course from the following list of relevant courses:
    • URPL 601 - Site Planning
    • URPL 611 - Urban Design: Theory & Practice
    • URPL 731 - Introduction to Regional Planning
    • URPL 734 - Regional Economic Problem Analysis
    • URPL 751 - Introduction to Financial Planning
    • URPL 761 - Central City Planning: Issues and Approaches
    • URPL 839 - Transportation and Infrastructure Systems Planning
    • URPL 841 - Planning the Ecological City
    • URPL 844 - Housing and Public Policy


Electives (14 Credits)

Students complete the 45 total credits needs by taking elective courses on topics of interest to the student, in consultation with the advisor. These courses can be used to deepen the student's knowledge in their area of concentration or can be used to expand knowledge in other fields.


For students electing to write a Master's thesis, up to 6 credits of URPL 990 (Research and Thesis) may be taken as part of their elective courses.   Students electing to develop a Professional Project (rather than a thesis) may take up to 2 credits of URPL 999 (Independent Work) as part of their elective credits.


Students may also use their elective credits to complete an interdisciplinary certificate in Energy Analysis and Policy or Transportation Management and Policy.


Master's Degree Competency Requirement

To obtain a Master's of Science degree in Urban and Regional Planning, a student must be able to demonstrate a high-level of competency in the theories, methods, applications and ethics of planning. In addition to required coursework and an internship, students demonstrate competency through completion of the "competency requirement." Students have two options to fulfill the competency requirement: (A) preparation and defense of a Master's Thesis or (B) preparation and presentation of a major Professional Planning project.


A. Master's Thesis - a thesis is a significant applied or scholarly research effort, prepared and defended before a committee of 3 faculty members and governed by rules established by the Graduate School.


B. Professional Project.


The Master's degree is primarily intended as a professional degree and most students pursue careers as practicing planners in a variety of situations. Students preparing for a career as a professional planner normally take the professional project option, while students preparing for future research-oriented careers or the Ph.D. might take the thesis option.


Under the supervision of their advisor, students will prepare and defend a Professional Project Report before a faculty examination committee. Students may prepare the Professional Project Report in their area of concentration or may prepare Case-oriented projects of specific cases or places. The Report has a maximum length of 10 double-spaced pages, and students will prepare a professional quality presentation on their report.


Students may take up to 2 credits of URPL 999 (Independent Work) in support of the development and presentation of their Professional Project. These 2 credits of URPL 999 must be taken for a grade, and may count towards the elective coursework requirement.


For more details, please see the MS Professional Project Style Guide.