Oct 20, 2020  
2013-2014 CU Denver Catalog 
2013-2014 CU Denver Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Design and Planning PhD

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►  Graduate School Rules apply to this program


Program Director: Osman Attmann
Telephone: 303-315-0032
Email: o.attmann@ucdenver.edu



The PhD in Design and Planning at the University of Colorado is a research-oriented degree offered by the College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) at the University of Colorado Denver. Initiated in 1997, the program is dedicated to the education of future architects, landscape architects, and urban planners who are intellectual leaders, and who have a critical understanding of the social, political, and global conditions that influence their profession.

It is the intent of the program to prepare students to excel in the planning and design of built environments through the incorporation of intellectual, analytical, and integrative aspects of the involved professions. Within this context, students and faculty seek to creatively shape the built environment and understand it in relation to institutional, political, economic, social, and natural environments.

Admission to the program is competitive and based on merit and available funded projects in the program. Excellent academic performance, references, and GRE scores are prerequisites. In the first two years of residence, students take courses to satisfy the requirements of a major and a minor field of study and the core requirement of the program, as well as additional electives.

The minimum residency requirement is four semesters, not including summer semesters. The first major step in their progress through the program is the completion of the course work required by the candidate’s selected major and minor fields of study. The second major step is the completion of the comprehensive examinations in the selected major and minor fields of study.

After satisfying program requirements, students move on to preparing a thesis topic and research proposal which is presented and defended in a public event. With the successful defense of the thesis topic and research proposal, students are admitted to candidacy. Finally, the completed thesis is defended in a public examination involving external examiners in addition to the members of the committee. Upon successful completion of the thesis defense the program recommends the awarding of the PhD degree.

One of the strengths of the College of Architecture and Planning PhD program is that students can take advantage of resources in all departments and fields in the College and elsewhere in the university. The program is a unique, joint program in which students may choose to focus in Architecture, Planning, or Landscape Architecture, or work in any combination of these disciplines. Interdisciplinary study and cross-disciplinary inquiry occur in a congenial work environment, drawing upon a wealth of faculty and resources in a range of campus units. The main mission of the program is to provide a foundation for scholarship in planning and design drawing from scientific, critical, historical, and creative modes of inquiry.

The PhD degree in Planning and Design is appropriate for those seeking careers in research and teaching or in roles in government or professional consultation, all of which require a research specialization. So far, over 40 graduates of the program have gone on to faculty positions at universities in the United States and elsewhere, post-doctoral work, and into private consulting, non-profit organizations, and the federal government.​


Admission Requirements


Applicants admitted to the PhD Program normally will have completed the requirements for the Master of Architecture, Master of Planning, Master of Landscape Architecture, or a related master’s degree program. Students from allied fields are also encouraged to apply. Field specialization and background are open. However, students will preferably have completed a program in planning or a design-related field, such as:
•    Architecture
•    Architectural Engineering
•    City and Regional Planning
•    Landscape Architecture
•    Urban Design
•    Environmental Studies​

GPA, GRE and TOEFL Scores

Consistent with the University requirements, applications are evaluated based on Grade Point Average (GPA) scores, Graduate Record of Examination (GRE) scores, and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores (where applicable). All exams must have been taken within a year before applying to the program:

  • Academic achievement as evidenced by an undergraduate grade point average of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale) or better, and a graduate grade point average of 3.5 or better.
  • The program looks for GRE scores of 158 or better on each of verbal and quantitative reasoning tests and for a minimum of a 4.00 score on analytical writing, unless a student’s record documents substantial professional or scholarly achievement as evidence of exceptional ability.
  • ​​Applicants whose native language is not English must take either the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam, or have a graduate degree from a university in the U.S. or another English-speaking country. The minimum TOEFL score required for acceptance by the University of Colorado at Denver is 80 or higher on the TOEFL (sub-scores of 20 in Reading, Listening, and Speaking, and 24 in Writing) or 6.5 on the IELTS (sub-scores of 5.5 in each area). However, the Ph.D. program typically does not accept a student with a score lower than 85 on the TOEFL and 6.8 on the IELTS.

Application Checklist

The following documents must be submitted before an application will be considered:

  • Application Forms - Apply online​!
  • Application Fee
  • Three Letters of Recommendation
  • Examples of previous research and written works
  • Official transcripts from all previously attended institutions of higher learning
  • Statement of Personal and Professional Goals
  • Scores of Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) for non-U.S. residents whose native language is other than English
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score
  • Financial Statement (for non-U.S. residents/citizens)

Program Requirements


Successful completion of the PhD program requires fulfilling course requirements, passing the comprehensive examinations, preparing and defending a dissertation proposal, and undertaking research, writing and defending a dissertation. This is a multi-year process that involves a close mentoring relationship with the student’s advisor. The Checklist that follows summarizes the major requirements of the program.

A student’s program of study must include:

  • at least 12 credit hours of PhD Program core classes,
  • 15 credit hours of study in a Major field, and
  • 9 hours in a Minor field.

The Major and Minor requirements are minimums; the particular field of study may require additional work.
Based on these and other requirements, students shall complete a minimum of 36 credit hours in their Major and Minor fields, and PhD Program core requirements prior to advancement to candidacy. This is the equivalent of four semesters (two years) of coursework.
Students must maintain a 3.0 GPA in all their coursework. A grade of less than B in any PhD Program requirement (Core, Major and Minor) will not be accepted as meeting those requirements. For Program Core courses, the student must retake the course. A Program Core course may only be retaken once. The student will be terminated from the program if a grade less than B is received more than once in a PhD Program Core course.
In addition, students must pass a comprehensive exam as well as write and defend a dissertation proposal and dissertation.

Residency and Enrollment Requirements

The minimum enrollment requirement at CU Denver for doctoral students is six semesters of full time scholarly work beyond the attainment of a bachelor’s degree. Two semesters of enrollment credit may be allowed for an earned Master’s degree from another institution however, at least four semesters of credit must be earned for work performed while enrolled at CU Denver.
The doctoral program requires a minimum of two years of residency (not fewer than four semesters enrolled in a minimum of six credit hours each, excluding summer) devoted to coursework and other preparation for advancement to doctoral candidacy status. Ordinarily, research for the dissertation will also be completed while in residence. After that time, special arrangements can be made with the CAP PhD Committee if substantial work needs to be performed elsewhere.
Students must complete the comprehensive examinations and dissertation proposal within four years from the beginning of their first semester in which they are enrolled as a PhD student at University of Colorado Denver. In addition, University of Colorado Denver requires that all degree requirements be completed within eight years of matriculation.

Active Status

To remain actively enrolled, students must register for six credit hours or more each academic semester (excluding summer) until they become a doctoral candidate. Students who are not so registered are automatically withdrawn from the University of Colorado Denver and must apply for readmission to the program. The readmission decision will depend on the student’s academic record and progress toward the degree.
Doctoral students must register for a minimum of one hour of dissertation credit in the term of graduation. If all requirements for graduation, including submission of the final approved dissertation, have been completed prior to the last day of registration, and the student was registered for the preceding term, the student may apply for a waiver of the enrollment requirement.

Advising and Committees


Each student entering the program will have a PhD advisor. Students wishing to change their Advisor should do so during their first year. All appointments of advisors must be approved by the PhD Program Director. Students wishing to change their Advisor after the first year must petition the PhD Program Director for approval.

The Advisor

The advisor guides the student through the completion of the course requirements, the preparation for the comprehensive examinations, the dissertation proposal, and the dissertation. The advisor must have a doctoral degree and be a tenured/tenure-track member of the CAP PhD program.

Dissertation Advisory Committee

The Dissertation Advisory Committee provides guidance for the investigated dissertation topic, comprehensive examination, dissertation, and the final dissertation examination.
This committee includes at least three faculty members: the Advisor and two additional members. The members must have a PhD degree and at least one member must be a full-time faculty of CAP. For the comprehensive examination, at least one member represents the student’s major field of study, and at least one member represents the minor field of study.
Membership of this committee may change if the student’s interests and needs change. Any changes should be developed in consultation with the student’s advisor, and must be approved by the PhD Program Director.

Final Dissertation Examination Committee

This committee consists of a minimum of five members, including the Advisor, the Dissertation Advisory Committee for the dissertation, and at least two additional external members, with at least one from outside the University of Colorado Denver. External members must be full time faculty members in a degree-granting institution and must have PhD degrees.

Special Circumstances

If the advisor leaves the faculty of CAP before the comprehensive exam and/or thesis topic is approved, the PhD Program Director will work with the student to identify a new advisor for the committee.
If the advisor leaves the faculty of CAP after the comprehensive exam and/or thesis topic is approved, and both the advisor and the student wish to continue in the advising relationship, there will be no change of advisor. The advisor may be appointed as adjunct faculty in the School, in order to recognize his or her continuing role, with approval of the PhD Program Director.
If a member of the dissertation committee other than the advisor is unable to continue in this role, for any reason, the advisor will work with the student to identify a new member for the committee. Upon accepting to serve in this role, the new member of the committee must sign on the dissertation topic and dissertation proposal documents as they were previously approved.

Typical Course of Study


Students develop their degree plan, take six credit hours of the required Core Curriculum, complete additional courses in their specialty area, and any prerequisite courses.


Students take the remaining core courses, continue to take electives in their minor and specialty areas, begin literature surveys and reviews, and prepare for their comprehensive exam.


Students complete their specialization papers, prepare a dissertation proposal, complete literature review, and take the comprehensive exam.


Fourth and fifth years are spent researching and writing the dissertation.

PhD Degree Time Limit: Eight Year Completion Requirement

University of Colorado Denver requires that doctoral students, whether enrolled full time or part time, must complete all degree requirements within eight years of matriculation. Students who fail to complete the degree in this eight-year period are subject to termination from the Graduate School upon the recommendation of the program director and concurrence of the Dean. For a student to continue beyond the time limit, the program director must petition the Dean for an extension and include:

  1. reasons why the program faculty believes the student should be allowed to continue in the program and
  2. an anticipated timeline for completion of the degree.

Approved leaves of absence do not automatically extend the time limits for earning a degree, but they may be used as a reason to request an extension if needed.

For more information on the PhD in Design and Planning, visit the College of Architecture and Planning website.


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