Accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board and open to students with an undergraduate degree, the two-year professional Master in Urban Planning (MUP) degree program engages with critical issues facing cities and regions in coming decades.
Drawing on the strengths of the department, school, and university, GSD planning students learn how to understand, analyze, and influence the variety of forces—social, economic, cultural, legal, political, ecological, and aesthetic, among others—shaping the built environment. Four key areas of concern animate the learning environment: how planning can manage change in complex environments; dealing with multiple scales and systems; engaging ethically with problems now and in the future; and planning as an active practice where implementation matters.
A two-year enrollment of roughly 80 students and a core, interdisciplinary faculty of scholars and practitioners generate an intimate, engaged educational atmosphere in which students acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for leadership positions in their future professional careers. Graduates of the program work in local city planning departments, state and national agencies, private consulting firms, not-for-profit organizations, development companies, and other public and private institutions in the United States and internationally.
See our profile series for views from current students on why they chose to study planning at the GSD, and from alumni on how they have used their planning studies in their careers.
Connections within Harvard, Cambridge, and Beyond
The planning program administers joint degree programs with the Law School, the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. Planning students often cross-register in courses offered by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Kennedy School, and the schools of business, law, education, engineering, and public health. Students in the MUP program also take courses offered by the GSD’s other degree programs in architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, design studies, and design engineering. They can cross-register in courses offered by the neighboring Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Loeb Fellowship program is a terrific resource for students bringing mid-career professionals, many of them in planning and related areas, to the GSD for a year. Each year, the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy, collaborating with the American Planning Association and Harvard, convenes planning directors from the 30 largest cities in the U.S. to discuss emerging issues. MUP students interact with the directors informally and in a classroom setting.
Studio, thesis, and class projects link students to communities in the Boston area and beyond. The school’s Community Service Fellowship Program (CSFP) provides both summer internships in the U.S. and small overseas travel grants. Various Harvard units provide summer and winter opportunities relevant to MUP students including the Public Policy Summer Fellowship, Edward M. Gramlich Fellowship in Community and Economic Development, and Presidential Public Service Fellowships. There is also funding for research travel (e.g., thesis data collection) or independent internships in Latin America, Africa, South Asia, and elsewhere.
In 2017-2018, 92% of MUP students received some form of financial aid. MUPs received over $3.8 million in total including $1.2 million in loans and the rest in other forms such as grants, fellowships, work study, and assistantships. Harvard provides grants to international students as well as U.S. students, though funds available for international students are more limited. Grant funds are awarded on a two-tier system based on need. The Tier 1 grant is based solely on the student’s financial information. In order to be considered for more substantial Tier 2 grant, students must provide parental information (submitting information for Tier 2 funding will not adversely affect the amount granted through Tier 1).
In addition MUPs can take advantage of a number of other fellowships, work study allocations, and student assistant jobs both for semester-time and summer activities. In the past this has included multiple recipients of funds from the Presidential Scholars Program for students in public service areas. More information about funding is available in the Financial Aid section.
MUP Degree Requirements
A candidate will be recommended for the MUP degree upon satisfactory completion of 80 units, normally completed as 20 units of required and elective courses each term. Lecture and seminar courses are usually four units, studios are usually eight units. Over the two years, students must take 28 units of core studio and required lecture courses, 12 units satisfying three Methods Requirements (Analytic Methods, Economic Methods, and Implementation Methods), 12 units satisfying one of the Areas of Concentration, and 8 units of project-based learning (an option studio, an independent thesis, or two 4-unit pre-approved project-based courses). Students complete the remainder of the program with elective courses and, if they choose, additional studio or project-based options.
Current students should refer to the current MUP Degree Requirements based on their date of matriculation.
At the beginning of each year, students are assigned a faculty advisor with whom they discuss curricular schedules and other academic matters. Concurrent and joint degree students must consult the rules governing such programs for additional information on curricular requirements.
Here you’ll find a summary of the documents and materials that you will need to prepare and submit with your online application.
Jan 2, 2020
1.- Gather Your Transcripts
You are required to submit transcripts from all colleges and universities from which you’ve received credit. You should request either an official paper transcript or a digital version from your school. You will then upload it to your application. Make sure the scanned version is legible and oriented properly. Transcripts not in English must be accompanied by a certified English translation. If the university or college does not issue transcripts, a certified letter and certified English translation must be provided. It should list courses and examinations taken, grades, and degrees and dates of degrees received. Applicants are only required to submit hard copies of official transcripts, sent directly from their previous institution to the GSD, if they are admitted and decide to enroll at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Do not mail paper copies of transcripts prior to receiving an admissions decision; we do not retain any transcripts received prior to March 1. All previous degrees must be conferred by August 15 in order to enroll in the fall. Please note that if you are currently enrolled at another graduate school, the GSD does not accept transfer credits for work completed at another institution.
2.- Collect Three Letters of Recommendation
Applicants are required to obtain three letters of recommendation: at least two from college or university instructors and, if appropriate, one from an employer. Pay close attention when selecting your option about waiving your right to see your recommendation. If you wish to change your waiver selection, then you will need to exclude that recommender and add them again. Recommenders will receive instructions via email once the applicant has registered them via the online application; only online recommendations are accepted. Up to five recommendations may be submitted. You can still submit your application even if your recommenders have not sent in their recommendations.
3.- Have your GRE Scores Sent to the GSD
The general test of the Graduate Record Examination is required for all applicants to degree programs (with the exception of the GMAT option below), including international students. Although recent scores are preferred, tests taken within five years of the test date are acceptable. When requesting that scores be sent to Harvard University, use the institution code for the Graduate School of Design: 3455. Please note, we will store scores in our database until they expire. Applicants are urged to register early to obtain an appropriate test date for the GRE, so that scores are received by the application deadline. Test dates no later than November are recommended for January applications. It takes 10-15 days for the GSD to receive scores after you take the exam. We do not have a cut-off point for GPA or GRE scores, although successful applicants typically have at least a 3.4 GPA. The average GRE scores for incoming students are 157 for the verbal, 159 for the quantitative, and 4.0 for the analytical writing sections. We encourage you to apply whether or not you meet these guidelines, keeping in mind that all components of the application are taken into consideration.
4.- Have your TOEFL Scores Sent to the GSD
International Students Only
TOEFL scores are required for all international students. Scores are valid for 2 years. When requesting that scores be sent to Harvard University, use the institution code for the Graduate School of Design: 3455. Read our TOEFL FAQ for more details. As with GRE scores, we will save TOEFL scores in our database until they expire. (Please note we do not accept MyBest TOEFL score reports.)
5.- Edit your Resume
Upload a resume that includes: employment; education; extra-curricular collegiate and community activities (note whether an office held was elected or appointed); honors, awards, professional registration, professional societies, publications; avocations, hobbies, travel; if you served in the military, indicate rank on entry and rank on separation.
6.- Write Your Essay
The requirements of your essay depend on the program you’re applying to.
Submit an essay that addresses your background as it relates to your academic and professional interests, and why you wish to pursue the GSD degree program to which you are applying. Limit responses to approximately 1,000 words.
7.- Prepare Your Portfolio
Portfolios must be uploaded as a single PDF and include your most important and representative visual arts, design, research, and/or professional work. Projects should include a description as well as any supporting documentation, which may include images or a video. All work must indicate the date of the project and whether the project was academic, office-related, or personal. In the case of collaborative work, the contribution by the applicant must be described precisely. Embedded links are deactivated when you upload your portfolio. Please note, we do not accept materials from third party services such as Interfolio. We do not have any sample portfolios. A wide variety of design work and portfolio styles are submitted; there is no one type of correct or successful portfolio.
Recommended File Set-up:
Pages: 30 max (Cover pages or table of contents don’t count)File Size: 40MB max
Page Layout: 12” x 18” or A3, two-page spreads should be combined into one page. (recommended)
Color Format: RGB (recommended)
Resolution: 150 dpi (recommended)Video Requirements:
You have the option of submitting one video as a supplement to the PDF portfolio. In exceptional cases where video has been a primary focus of an applicant’s previous design work, up to three video files may be submitted.
Format: .MOV or .WMX
Length: 60s max
Dimensions: 640px x 480px
Submitting a portfolio is optional, not required.
8.- Pay the Application Fee
There is a $90, non-refundable fee for each application submitted. In order for your application(s) to be reviewed, the fee(s) should be paid, by credit card only, immediately after submitting your application. Try again with a different credit card should the system reject your card.
9.- Apply for Financial Aid
Prospective students interested in receiving aid should complete the Financial Aid application. Read more information about paying for your program.
After you Submit
Once submitted, changes, additions, or any other edits cannot be made to the application and/or portfolio. Application materials, including the portfolio, become the property of the GSD and cannot be returned or forwarded to any other party.
All decisions are released within the first week of March. You will receive an email indicating that there is an update on your Applicant Status Page. We will not give out decisions over the phone. If you have not received notification by April 1, please contact the Admissions Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note, the GSD does not grant deferrals. If you are admitted but unable to attend, you would need to reapply.