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Policy and Guidelines for the Thesis or Professional Project

Master of Urban and Regional Planning students are required to complete an integrative academic project for the MURP degree.

Master of Urban and Regional Planning students are required to complete an integrative academic project for the MURP degree. This requirement may be filled in one of three ways, each of which involves six credit hours:

  1. URP 603 – Capstone Studio
  2. URP 601 – Planning Thesis
  3. URP 602 – Professional Project

Common to all is their "integrative" nature: they rely on knowledge and skills developed across the urban and regional planning curriculum rather than through a single course.

The defaul option is the capstone studio (URP 603). These courses mirror real-world practice most closely compared to the thesis or the professional project, and the program dedicates substantial teaching resources to them. 


Thesis or Professional Project Option

The Urban and Regional Planning Curriculum Committee grants permission to do a thesis or professional project in response to a student-initiated proposal. 

A thesis and a professional project share a common set of expectations:

  • Integrative: You must demonstrate an ability to use knowledge and skills developed from across the urban planning curriculum, not just from a single course.
  • Planning-oriented: You must contribute to the theoretical or conceptual foundation of planning, with work that improves the link between planning and successful policy implementation.
  • Writing and Communicating: You must show an ability to communicate effectively through a professional-quality written product and receive feedback on it.

Students contemplating a thesis or professional project should be aware that these options require extraordinary initiative and effort, and they normally require a substantial time commitment beyond that of the capstone options. Students who choose to pursue a thesis or professional project have a higher probability of a delayed graduation than students in URP 603. Therefore, these options are reserved for students who can demonstrate (via the proposal) the appropriateness and value of the option to their professional education. In addition, it is important to note that not all proposals submitted to the curriculum committee are approved; students seeking to do a thesis or professional project should plan to enroll in a capstone or physical planning studio as a back up in case the proposal is not approved.

Both a thesis and a professional project require approval of a proposal by the student's advisory committee and by the URP Curriculum Committee. Because of this review process, it is possible to register for URP 601 or URP 602 following the approval of your proposal after the normal course registration period ends (i.e., for Fall term credits you might register in late October). Students normally enroll for three credit hours for each term of the second program year, for a total of six credit hours, although all six hours may be taken during a single semester. In either case, the timing of the credit hours should correspond to the actual project work schedule.



A thesis is a creative, scholarly work developed from independent research. The research usually includes a literature review to delineate a problem or gap in knowledge, statement of objectives, formulation of hypotheses, explanation of methods, collection and analysis of data, report of results, discussion of conclusions, and an abstract. The student's thesis committee reviews the thesis, and it must meet the committee's standards for quality and scope.

The major objective of the thesis is to give students the opportunity to develop their creative abilities in one or more of the following areas: defining and understanding urban planning problems or opportunities; developing new knowledge and planning methods or strategies to address urban planning problems and opportunities; understanding the structure and function of urban systems.

Typically, students undertake a thesis only if they are contemplating continuing their academic studies through matriculation in a Ph.D. program following completion of their MURP.

Professional Project

The professional project involves the application of advanced planning approaches to a specific, real-world planning problem and is prepared for a particular client or community partner. Students undertaking professional projects normally work with one faculty member and one community partner, who together serve as the committee supervising the project. In exceptional circumstances, where it is unreasonable to find an actual client, the professional project may be prepared for a hypothetical client under the supervision of at least two faculty members.

The major objective of the professional project option is to provide students the opportunity to develop their creative abilities in planning and problem solving in a real world setting working with a particular client or on a topic of particular interest not otherwise provided by a capstone or physical planning studio.

The professional project should rely on and reflect knowledge of relevant literature and should exhibit attributes of urban and regional planning, as opposed to being a narrow technical exercise. That is, the project should deal with the formulation of policy goals and should consider multiple constituencies. Professional projects are not normally based exclusively on the implementation of predefined techniques, such as the calibration of a measurement that is required by governmental regulation or analysis of census data. A professional project is not a project that an employer tells the student to do and is not a part of employment; rather the project should develop from the student's and the community partner's perception of a need. The student's advisory committee reviews the project, and the product must meet the committee's standards for quality and scope. Meeting these standards often involves numerous drafts. Project results should be publishable as a project or technical report.


Thesis or Professional Project Advisory Committee

For a thesis, the advisory committee must be at least two faculty members, one of which must be a regular member of the Urban and Regional Planning faculty, with that URP faculty member serving as chair (or two as co--chairs). For a professional project, the advisory committee typically consists of one Urban and Regional Planning Program faculty member, serving as chair, and one client or community partner. Approval of the proposal and final product is required of all advisory committee members. Both the student and the advisory committee should clearly understand their mutual expectations with respect to the amount and timing of work to be done.

Responsibility of the Student

The student is responsible for knowing and meeting all deadlines, submitting the proposal, establishing an advisory committee, and preparing the thesis or professional project in an acceptable way. Successful completion of the thesis or professional project is a requirement for graduation for students selecting these options.

Writing a Proposal

The Curriculum Committee expects a highly refined and detailed proposal. It requires a substantial commitment in time and effort. Time invested in writing a successful proposal leads to a more efficient and productive research effort (in some cases, the proposal writing phase can constitute over a third of the overall thesis or professional project effort). Plan to write several drafts over two to three months. 

Although the elements of your proposal should be based on consultation with your advisor, these are some elements commonly found in proposals:

  • Problem Statement: Provide a concise statement that clearly identifies the problem that you will help us come to understand through your study. It should indicate why the problem is important (the rationale for why you're doing this), and how it relates to the field of urban and regional planning.
  • Research Questions or Hypotheses: Many projects seek to answer specific questions or hypotheses (although some inductive research designs do not). These are statements written in carefully constructed language that specifies relationships of variables in explicit and testable terms. They should be stated in a way that is appropriate to your research design and methods.
  • Literature Review: This locates your research question (or, in the case of a Professional Project, the problem you seek to understand) within the context of what we already know. It identifies the particular gap in knowledge or practice that your work will help to fill. It provides a conceptual framework that will guide your inquiry.
  • Data Collection: Identify the data sources you will use. If you will be collecting your own data, explain how (e.g., as interview questions, as a survey, etc.).
  • Methods: Explain what you will actually do, which techniques or tools you will use to analyze your questions, and why they are appropriate. Concepts should be defined and variables clearly operationalized. Describe criteria for how you will make sense of what you find.
  • Policy Relevance and Expectations: Describe what you expect to find and how it will be useful; tell us how planning might be improved as a consequence of your work.

Submitting the Proposal

Proposals are normally reviewed by the Curriculum Committee in the middle of October (the exact deadline will be announced early in the fall term). 

Submit five hard copies to the URP Program Administrator by the deadline announced in the fall term.

The Curriculum Committee may not approve the proposal even though it has been recommended by the advisory committee for approval. The decision of the Curriculum Committee will be strictly an approve or not approve decision; the committee will not be providing comments and allowing multiple re-submittals. If a proposal is not approved by the Curriculum Committee, the student will need to take a capstone or physical planning studio in order to satisfy the integrative project experience requirement for the MURP degree.

Submitting the Final Product

A complete draft should be submitted to the advisory committee no later than three weeks before the last day of classes of the semester during which the student intends to graduate. Many advisory committees will want to see a complete draft much earlier than this; be sure you have consulted about deadlines with your committee. The student should expect to revise the draft or drafts extensively based on the advisory committee's comments. A final draft of the completed project should be submitted to the advisory committee no later than one week before the last day of classes of the semester during which the student intends to graduate. Later submission will result in delayed graduation.

Thesis: The thesis must meet academic standards and be of publishable quality. The formatting must conform to the style used by the Rackham Graduate School for doctoral dissertations. After final approval from the advisory committee, submit to the URP Program Administrator: two bound hard copies; one electronic PDF document; and a signed copyright form allowing URP to post the work online. It is customary to present a hard copy and PDF to each advisory committee member.

Professional Project: The style for professional projects may follow the style of a thesis, the style of a professional plan or report, or may vary with the consent of the advisory committee. After final approval from the advisory committee, submit to the URP Program Administrator: one electronic PDF document and a signed copyright form allowing URP to post the work online. The student must provide the final product to the client or community partner, in hard copy and PDF form. The client may request additional hard copies. The student should also present a hard copy and PDF to each advisory committee member and provide a hard copy to the advisor to give to the UM library.

Sample Steps in the Process

  1. Students considering a thesis or professional project should discuss possible topics with, and seek support from, faculty members. The student is responsible for recruiting faculty members who are willing and able to serve on the advisory committee. The decision to serve on an advisory committee rests with the faculty member; faculty will not necessarily be available for each proposal. The process of planning for the thesis or professional project typically starts during the student's second term in the program.
  2. Attend a mandatory briefing meeting during the winter term prior to the second year. (normally announced by email)
  3. Normally, students will work with an advisory committee before the fall semester of the second year begins and will have a proposal that the advisory committee has approved by the first weeks of the fall semester.
  4. Submit the proposal to the URP Program Administrator. The Curriculum Committee will approve or deny the proposal, and decisions are final. A student may register for URP 601 or URP 602 only if the Committee has approved the proposal.
  5. The advisory committee provides appropriate guidance to the student, monitors progress, provides feedback on drafts, and approves the final product of the thesis or professional project.
  6. When the thesis or professional project is complete, the faculty on the advisory committee assign the grade, and the student submits the final product as outlined above.

URP Thesis Professional Project Form (PDF)