Frequently Asked Questions


What are the differences between the Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) and the Master of Urban Studies (MUS) programs?

The Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) program is a 72-credit graduate program that prepares students for professional planning practice. Graduates of the program will acquire skills suiting them for employment in public agencies, private firms, and non-profit organizations involved in the urban development process. The Master of Urban Studies (MUS) program is a 52-credit graduate program that gives students skills to study and interpret urban phenomena from a variety of viewpoints, also suitable for employment by public agencies, private firms, and non-profit organizations. Since the core curriculum of the MUS program mirrors that of the Urban Studies Ph.D. program, MUS students can make a relatively easy transition into the doctoral program, if they apply and are accepted. In any case, the MUS program is academically focused on researching the urban environment.

The Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) defines planning as:

"a systematic, creative way to influence and respond to a wide variety of changes occurring in a neighborhood, in a city, in an entire region, or around the world. Planners assist communities to formulate plans and policies to meet their social, economic, environmental, and cultural needs in the face of societal forces. Planners do so by identifying problems and opportunities, evaluating alternative solutions or plans, communicating their findings in ways that allow citizens and public officials to make knowledgeable choices about the future." (Choosing a Career in Urban and Regional Planning, 2000. page 1.)

To find out more about the profession of planning, check out the American Planning Association. The Occupational Handbook from the U.S. Department of Labor has additional information.

What sorts of jobs are available to those with a MURP degree?

Many planners work for cities, counties, regional agencies, and state agencies dealing with land development, environmental issues, housing, and transportation. A number of positions are available in the non-profit sector, where many organizations work on such issues as affordable housing and sound environmental policy. In addition, graduates work for private firms that are involved in the land development process.

What jobs are available to those with a MUS degree?

Recipients of the MUS degree have skills in social and policy research and analysis, and frequently work with private and nonprofit organizations in the identification of needs and analysis of data. They may also be involved in staff support and management of community-based organizations.

Do I need to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for MURP or MUS admissions?

The GRE is required for admission into the Master of Urban Studies (MUS) program.

The exam is recommended but not required for admission into the Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) program.

Codes for the GRE are:

4610 PSU
4402 MURP
2205 MUS

How much will it cost and how long will it take to get the MURP or MUS degree?

Current fees are available on the Financial Services webpage. In addition, students from western states are eligible for in-state tuition through the WICHE program.  Both the MUS and MURP program can be completed in two years of full-time study.

Does the School of Urban Studies and Planning offer financial aid?

The School offers financial aid to a limited number of incoming students in the form of Graduate Research Assistantships (GRA). GRA positions cover the cost of tuition (less some student fees) and pay a small monthly stipend. There are usually only 5-8 departmental GRA positions available to entering students. GRAs spend their time assisting faculty with research, assisting in course preparation, doing literature reviews, and other tasks. In addition, individual faculty and research institutes often hire GRAs to work on specific projects funded through external grants and contracts.  Students are sometimes hired on an hourly basis, without tuition coverage.

Additional financial aid information is available from PSU's Financial Aid Office and the Office of Graduate Studies.

What about part-time work when I'm getting my MURP or MUS degree?

Many students find part-time paid work through internships related to planning (which are required for the MURP degree). About 95% of our MURP students are paid for their internships. MUS students may also participate in internship programs, although it is not required for the MUS degree.

My undergraduate background is in Journalism [or some other seemingly-unrelated field]. What should I do to make myself a more qualified candidate for admission for the MURP program?

If your undergraduate work is in a field other than urban studies and planning, it is important that you clearly describe your decision to pursue your desired academic and professional path in your Letter of Intent. You may mention how you became interested in this field and what you plan to do with your degree and knowledge. You might consider taking a few USP courses at the graduate level as a non-degree post-baccalaureate student (see below) to get a sense of what will be expected of you, and to demonstrate to the Admissions Committee that you will be a successful graduate student. Additionally, volunteer participation in planning activities or community organizations is an effective means of demonstrating a serious interest in planning.

My undergraduate GPA is lower than the ideal. What should I do to make myself a more qualified candidate for admission to the MURP or MUS program?

The minimum GPA requirement for full admission to the MURP program and to any graduate program at Portland State University is a 3.0. In certain cases, students with undergraduate GPAs below 3.0 may be granted conditional admission to the program and/or University.  The MURP program is increasingly difficult to gain admission to without excellent undergraduate grades. The median GPA of admitted students is typically 3.5 or higher. If your undergraduate GPA is not strong you will likely have difficulty getting admitted to the program without gaining significant related experience and raising your GPA. You have the option of improving your chances by taking graduate level courses as a post-baccalaureate or graduate certificate student. Taking some classes at the graduate level and earning a strong GPA (3.5 or higher) may increase your chances of admissions. Please note, however, that the students admitted to the program generally show excellent academic performance, and most have some relevant internship/volunteer experience in the field.

What are you looking for in a Statement of Purpose for the MURP program?

The Statement of Purpose is an important part of the evaluation process. Aside from demonstrating your writing ability, it gives the Admissions Committee the opportunity to get to know you. Think about how you would present yourself in a face-to-face interview, and discuss your interests and qualifications. Additionally, you should consider covering some of the following topics in your letter:

  • The basis of your interest in graduate work in urban studies and/or planning
  • Your career objective; the field you plan to specialize in
  • Any relevant academic, professional or volunteer experience that you will bring to the program.

Keep in mind that we receive more than 200 applications per year for the MURP program. Each person reviewing the applications reads more than 70 files. That's a lot of personal statements to read. You should be able to write an excellent statement in no more than 1000 words. Writing clearly and concisely is a trait of an excellent planner. Demonstrate that here. At the same time, don't be too brief. Explain why you want to pursue a planning degree, why you want to do it at PSU, how what you've done already has led to and supports that decision, and what you would like to do when you're finished with your degree. The selective use of examples is good. Planning is often about telling stories. Tell your unique story; just be sure to be direct, clear, and concise. Planning is a broad field, but be as specific as possible regarding what you might want to focus on within the MURP program and why. Make it clear that you understand what the field of planning is and how it relates to your long-term objectives. Explain how this degree will help you achieve your goals.

Don't forget to proofread carefully. Don't rely on spell- and grammar-check. It doesn't look good when you name another school in your statement or leave in obvious typos.

Who should write my letters of recommendation for the MURP or MUS program?

Since we're most interested in knowing that you will make a strong candidate in a graduate program, we recommend that at least one or two of your three letters are written by your previous instructors, and all letters should come from someone who supervised you in some capacity. Try your best to avoid letters from family friends, pastors, and peers - even if they are distinguished professionals. It is best to have three letters from people who supervised you in some manner, through employment, volunteer work, or coursework.

Can I take graduate level courses without having graduate standing in the MURP or MUS degree programs?

Yes. PSU policy allows you to take 1/3 of your total graduate degree credits without being admitted as a degree student. Thus, you may transfer up to 24 credits to the MURP degree or 17 credits to the MUS degree before being admitted to the School. This is a good strategy for potential applicants who have a weak undergraduate record.

How do I take graduate courses as a non-admitted student?

Non-admitted students may take up to 8 units per term via Non-Degree Entry Form registration.

What is the typical incoming MURP and MUS student class size?

Every fall 35-40 students enroll in the MURP program. The incoming MUS class size is 8-12.

What courses should I take to help prepare me for the MURP program?

It helps to have taken and done well in courses on statistics and economics, particularly microeconomics. Courses in planning and related to planning, e.g., public policy, environmental studies, urban studies, etc., are also helpful. Many people enter the field of planning from seemingly unrelated disciplines. If so, consider strengthening your application by taking graduate-level courses in planning at PSU (or elsewhere) and/or gaining some experience in the field.  Volunteering for a community or planning organization will make you more competitive as well.

Are there opportunities to study abroad in the MURP or MUS program?

During the summer term, several MURP students are given the opportunity to intern at the Chinese Academy of Urban Planning and Design, a 500-planner group that is responsible for much of the municipal planning in China.  Interns work on projects both in Beijing and throughout China alongside Academy staff planners. The Academy covers in-country living expenses and any internship-related in-country travel, food, and lodging. Students pay for airfare to and from Beijing, and for their visas. Note: Chinese language ability is not required. CAUPD staff members either speak English or need English speakers with whom to work in order to improve their own English language skills.

Additionally, MURPs have studied abroad in a number of other countries (including Cuba, Namibia, and Nicaragua) and have been able to work their experiences into the degree program in consultation with their advisors. The PSU Office of International Affairs can be of assistance.

When will I find out if I am accepted into the MURP program?

The MURP Admissions Committee tries to complete the review of applications in mid-March in order for letters to be mailed by the end of March.

Can I attend the MURP program part-time?

Yes, though most students do attend full-time.

What can I do with a MURP degree?

Click here to see a collection of vocational biographies, professional associations, places of employment and more.