University of Southern California
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Doctor of Policy, Planning, and Development

Planning and development are critical concerns of the nation and the world today. Whether redesigning the health care system, reproducing economic innovation in our central cities, or facilitating economic and social relationships across the globe, planners and developers are on center stage.

Leading the way into the next century will be a group of experienced practitioners who have updated and expanded their professional achievements by developing additional conceptual and research competency through the Doctor of Policy, Planning, and Development (D.P.P.D.).

The goals of the program are: to create a unique educational environment that will forge these professionals into a cadre for urban change; to develop urban professionals who can merge development and planning tools to design new integrative policy planning and implementation systems; to establish a set of new problem solving paradigms for examining and altering planning and development decision-making and to equip professionals with sophisticated analytical tools and a sharper cultural awareness so they can practice planning and development anywhere in the world.


The program is intended for people with considerable professional experience and intellectual interests. Requirements for admission include: GPA of 3.0 (A = 4.0) for all post-high school academic work, and, for international students, submission of TOEFL scores; five letters of recommendation, including at least one academic and one professional; five or more years of professional experience; a resume and, if appropriate, a portfolio; and a study prospectus detailing a proposed field of study. Guidelines for preparing the prospectus are included in the application package. Additional requirements for international students are listed under Admission of International Students. The GRE and GMAT are neither accepted nor required for the D.P.P.D. program. Each application will be examined with the aim of admitting an applicant whose study prospectus suggests the ability and focus to produce an innovative approach to professional practice. 

Applicants are expected to hold a master’s degree in architecture, landscape architecture, public administration, real estate development, urban/city/regional planning, urban design or a closely related field. Applicants with master’s degrees in other fields will be expected to complete foundation courses prior to entering the degree’s core classes. 

Upon admission to the program, each student will be assigned a faculty advisor who will oversee his or her program. 

Curriculum Requirements

The Doctor of Policy, Planning, and Development is administered by the School of Policy, Planning, and Development for full-time and part-time students. The D.P.P.D. requires completion of 60 units of course work comprising the following elements:


Foundation courses20
Core courses8
Methods course4
Field of study20
Conspectus Preparation4
Planning, design and development project(minimum) 4
Foundation Courses

Up to 20 units of foundation courses are required. These courses may be taken from the school’s master’s degree programs or, with prior approval, from other USC graduate degree programs. Students who hold a related master’s degree may be admitted with advanced standing. Students are required to complete 36 units of course work and 4 units of PLUS 694 (project units).

Required CoursesUnits
Core Courses
PLUS 603Planning and Development Paradigms4
PLUS 623Politics of Planning and the Urban Environment4


Conspectus Preparation
PLUS 692Conspectus Preparation4

A student’s methods course should be approved by the student’s Professional Advisory Committee. Possible courses include: 

PLUS 612Analysis of Quantitative Data for Planning and Development4
PPD 627Design Skills for Urban Planners4
PPD 632Planning Analysis and Evaluation4
PPD 707Survey Research Methods4
PPD 708Qualitative Methods4
Screening Process
As quickly as possible, the student will form a Professional Advisory Committee consisting of the student’s advisor and two other school and/or USC faculty and up to five professionals whose activities are related to the student’s. This committee shall oversee the student’s program to its conclusion. 

At the completion of no more than 16 units beyond the foundation courses and/or PLUS 603 and PLUS 623, students will complete a written examination which will consist of responding to a short list of specific planning and development problems using appropriate professional paradigms. The student will then meet with the Professional Advisory Committee to formally review the student’s progress toward the degree. 

Field of Study

In consultation with their faculty advisor and Professional Advisory Committee, students will craft a field of study related to the professional arena of practice. The field may or may not reflect standard academic boundaries, such as transportation and land use planning. Students should take advantage of USC’s resources in developing the field, especially taking into consideration the relationship of practice to theory and context. Twenty units of course work are required for the field of study, 8 of which may be taken outside the School of Policy, Planning, and Development. 

Conspectus Preparation

In PLUS 692 students complete a professional conspectus that defines their field of study, its structure and place within professional practice, and other related questions. The conspectus will be presented to the student’s Professional Advisory Committee for acceptance. Only after it is accepted may the student proceed to the Planning, Design and Development Project.
Planning, Design and Development Project

The capstone project of the D.P.P.D. is the student’s completion of the Planning, Design and Development Project (PDDP). The PDDP is a study of an aspect, site, issue or other such element of professional practice. Each PDDP should be designed to present an innovative or original contribution to the practice of planning and development. The parameters of the PDDP are intentionally left wide, allowing the project to be produced as solely text, or text in conjunction with film, computer program, design or another multimedia format. 

The PDDP is supervised by the student’s Professional Advisory Committee. Students must maintain continuous registration in the PLUS 694 series until completion of the PDDP. Upon completion of an approved draft of the PDDP, students will present their findings in an open session, but the Professional Advisory Committee is the sole evaluator.

General Requirements

This degree is administered by the School of Policy, Planning, and Development. At least 24 units must be fulfilled in residence at USC. The total length of the study must not exceed six academic years. Students are encouraged to actively participate in a non-credit School of Policy, Planning, and Development doctoral workshop. Policies regarding time limits, leave of absence, scholarship standing, academic warning, and other issues not directly addressed are consistent with those of the Graduate School. Please consult the Academic Policies, Graduate and Professional Education and Graduate School sections for additional information.