PhD in Geography, Planning, and Design

Program Information

The College of Architecture and Planning offers one doctoral program: PhD in Geography, Planning, and Design. This research-oriented degree is also the only doctoral program in planning, architecture, or landscape architecture in the state of Colorado. Since 1997, the program has trained students to become high-impact faculty members, professionals, and intellectual leaders in fields that address urgent social and environmental issues.

By integrating the fields of Geography, Planning, and Design, our doctoral students receive an innovative educational experience that enables cutting-edge research and professional contributions. Solving critical urban and environmental problems in the 21st century requires that we move beyond traditional academic silos and modes of knowledge production. Our unique, interdisciplinary degree prepares students to be critical thinkers, engaged scholars, and innovative researchers capable of addressing complex and emergent issues. Our students explore interactions between society and the built and natural environment and engage in research aimed at promoting sustainable, healthy, and socially just communities at local, regional, and global scales. (See below our four Areas of Emphasis.)

Students can take advantage of resources in all departments and fields in the university system, with more than 35 acclaimed faculty members from 11 departments able to supervise and advise dissertation research. Interdisciplinary study and cross-disciplinary inquiry occur in a congenial work environment in one of the most dynamic and fast-growing urban regions in the United States. Students also have the benefit of pursuing their studies only minutes from the beautiful Rocky Mountains.

Students and faculty also have extensive access to cutting edge resources including: the Geospatial and Mapping Laboratory (GAMLab), The Facility for Advanced Spatial Technologies (FASTLab), The 13 Acre GES Urban Farm Field Research Station (Five Fridges Farm), Numerous Environmental Sciences Faculty Labs and Centers, CityCenter, the Colorado Center for Sustainable Urbanism, and many more. The region is also home to a broad and diverse community of professional planners and designers, hundreds of public, private, and non-profit planning and design organizations and firms, and national and regional labs and headquarters including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the National Parks Service (NPS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

PhD Program Contacts

Jeremy Nemeth

Jeremy Németh PhD

Professor & Director of PhD in Geography, Planning, and Design

Jodi Stock

Admissions and Recruitment Coordinator

Areas of Emphasis

The PhD program provides four interdisciplinary areas of emphasis that leverage diverse yet complementary faculty strengths. Collectively, they encompass the social, environmental, and spatial sciences and reflect our commitment to collaboration and integration across traditional academic disciplines.

To foster livable and resilient communities, cities, and regions, our students and faculty closely examine interactions between governing bodies, members of civil society, and the places they live, while also developing tools and approaches that enable more sustainable futures. Courses and research projects in this area draw from fields related to land use planning, housing and transportation policy, human geography, and community planning.

To protect our natural resources, promote healthy and safe communities, and improve the communication of environmental knowledge, our students and faculty examine diverse social-environmental relationships in built and natural settings. Within this area of emphasis, our courses and projects utilize insights from fields such as human-environment geography, landscape architecture, environmental planning, and physical geography.

To promote social justice and sustainable land use in both local and international contexts, our students and faculty contribute to planning practices and policy pathways that improve the lives and livelihoods of diverse communities and future generations. Within this area of emphasis, our courses and research projects draw on fields such as community planning, environmental justice, and political ecology.

When conducting cutting-edge research, advancing novel theories, and developing creative solutions, our students and faculty are encouraged to employ mixed-methods research approaches. Members of the program use a combination of innovative qualitative and quantitative methodologies, iterative design and decision-making approaches, advanced geospatial technologies, hands-on fieldwork, and engaged public scholarship.


Students choose their coursework and design original research in consultation with a faculty advisor and dissertation committee. Most students complete the program in four to five years, and all degree requirements must be completed within eight years of matriculation. The minimum residency requirement is four semesters, not including summer semesters.

The program requires a minimum of 66 hours of graduate work, 30 of which must be earned while in residence. Prior to advancement to candidacy, students complete a minimum of 36 credit hours in core requirements and elective courses in their area of focus, all of which must be at the Graduate level (5000 and above). All PhD students are required to take 12 credit hours of core courses. After coursework is completed, students pass a comprehensive exam, defend their dissertation proposal, and then write and defend their dissertation.

Learning Outcomes

The program is committed to developing and implementing efficient and effective processes of assessment and evaluation to advance student learning, teaching effectiveness, and program quality. The program’s five student learning outcomes provide the faculty and students with a shared understanding of the goals directing the curriculum. Upon graduation with a PhD in Geography, Planning, and Design, students will be able to:

  • exhibit a comprehensive understanding of content area(s) of focus;
  • anchor ideas in scholarship and identify novel areas for scholarly pursuit;
  • conduct quality research appropriate to the field;
  • create written products that are clear and logical in form; and
  • present clear and convincing ideas orally that demonstrate a strong understanding of the areas of focus.


The minimum requirement is 36 credit hours of coursework, all of which must be at the Graduate level (5000 and above) and 30 hours of dissertation credits. All PhD students are required to take 12 credit hours of core courses.

The curriculum is divided into four stages:

The program requires a minimum of 66 hours of graduate work, 30 of which must be earned while in residence.

Each student’s curriculum is tailored to his/her individual needs and is determined in close consultation with the dissertation advisor. Within their area of specialization, students will identify a major area of study and an outside field of study. All students are required to enroll in the PhD colloquium and Research Methods core courses during the first and second years of course work.

Travel Study Opportunities

Tuition & Fees

The University of Colorado Denver has one of the most affordable tuition rates in Colorado.  Our tuition and fees are set by the Board of Regents, the governing body of the University of Colorado.  Tuition is based on student classification (undergraduate, graduate, academic program, resident or nonresident) and you can find out what rates will apply to your situation here.
All CAP Graduate Programs have WICHE-WRGP (Western Regional Graduate Program) status, which grants in-state resident tuition to students from 15 western states including California, Washington, Oregon and Arizona.

Typical Course of Study

Independent Studies

All independent or directed studies must be related to the student’s major or minor area of study, comprehensive examinations, and/or dissertation topic. The number of credit hours for independent studies is limited to a maximum of three per semester over the first four semesters of coursework. Independent study course work cannot exceed 25 percent of the 66 credits of course work required for the PhD degree.

Transfer Credits

Incoming students may request transfer credits from previously-completed graduate-level courses by following the regulations outlined in Section 4 of the Graduate School Policies and Procedures document, with the exception that the PhD program only allows up to nine (9) transfer credits for each student.


Admission is competitive and based on merit. We do not admit students directly into research groups; all prospective students go through a single application process. If your background and qualifications are a good fit to the current needs and interests of the program’s faculty, they may accept you with funding from one of their research projects. In your statement of interest, please be sure to describe your research interests and skills, as they will be important for determining whether you receive an offer of admission.

Applicants admitted to the PhD Program must already hold a Master’s degree and will normally have completed the requirements for the Master of Architecture, Master of Planning, Master of Landscape Architecture, Master of Geography, or a related program. Students from allied fields are also encouraged to apply, and field specialization and background are open.

Consistent with the University requirements, applications are evaluated on previous work/life experience, research interests and abilities, prior academic success, and, where applicable, Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores. 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.

For more information, please visit our International Admissions office

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

  • Online Application
  • 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 (Statement of Purpose)
  • Scores of Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) for non-U.S. residents whose native language is other than English. For more information, please visit our International Admissions office 

For Fall 2022 Admittance:

Application Opens: September 1, 2021
Application Deadline: December 15, 2021 *The deadline has been extended to December 22, 2021.

*Please note all materials, including letters of recommendation, transcripts and English language proficiency scores (if applicable) must be received by the deadline.

Apply to the PhD program

If you have questions about applications requirements for the PhD program, please contact our CAP Admissions Coordinator, Jodi Stock.

Questions on how to submit your application should be addressed to:

Lindsey O’Reilly
Graduate School Admissions
Phone: 303-315-5843

Nearly all accepted students receive multi-year financial packages that cover some or all tuition and fees and a living stipend. PhD students also have opportunities to teach their own courses or work as research or teaching assistants alongside faculty from the college and across the university.

Current students are funded by grants and contracts from agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the U.S. Forest Service, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, the Babbitt CenterDenver Housing Authority (DHA), the Water Research Foundation, and the Gates Family Foundation.

The doctoral program also provides two additional internal funding opportunities:

  • $5,000 Dissertation Completion Fellowships for candidates in the dissertation phase
  • $1,000 Conference Travel Fellowships for students/candidates presenting papers at national conferences

Living in Denver

Student & Alumni Profiles

Master of Urban and Regional Planning Students at Orientation

PhD Student Profiles

MURPAA Board Member Eugene Howard

PhD Alumni Profiles