Who Should Apply

We seek applicants who show promise as leading scholars. We also seek students whose interests match our faculty’s expertise and strengths. We place strong emphasis on personal statements, academic performance, Graduate Records Examination (GRE) scores, letters of recommendation, and communication skills. We look for applicants to highlight:

  • excellence in prior academic work and research
  • creativity and leadership in professional and other activities
  • a commitment and readiness for advanced research and teaching
  • a passion for problem solving
  • the capacity for original contributions to planning scholarship


Research Poster on Public Health

Who We Accept

We seek motivated students whose academic record demonstrates:
the ability to conduct advanced and independent research

  • academic excellence
  • leadership in fields of practice and research
  • intellectual creativity
  • a strong promise of scholarship

Our program is selective. On average, we admit only 2-4 students per year from a pool of 60-80 applicants. Most students enter with a master’s degree in planning or related field.

Research Poster on Public Health

Application Details and Admission Dates

Applicants should complete and submit the following:

  • An Online Application Form through the Graduate College
  • Statement of Personal History
  • Statement of Purpose
  • Transcripts
  • GRE and TOEFL/IELTS Examination Scores (for 2020-21 COVID-related adjustments see below)
  • 3 Letters of Recommendation
  • Resume or Curriculum Vitae
  • Writing Sample (Recent Publication or Report)

Online Application

The Graduate College online application opens September 15 and closes December 15. We only accept students for the following year’s fall semester.

Statement of Personal History and Statement of Purpose

We place significant emphasis on your Statement of Personal History and Statement of Purpose. Your Statement of Personal History should discuss your past. Your Statement of Purpose should focus on the future.

In 500 words or less, your Statement of Personal History should offer a narrative description of your life background. Discuss how your experiences have prepared you for this next stage in your studies. Describe the accomplishments and aspirations that have led you to your capabilities and interest in the program. Be selective in describing only those life experiences that relate to your academic goals and intellectual pursuits. Avoid general statements like, “As a child I always loved…” Instead, focus on specifics. Consider your social, cultural, and familial background. Discuss research, volunteer activities, and community or social service involvement. Highlight leadership experience and how it has prepared you for doctoral studies.

In no more than 1500 words, your Statement of Purpose should address your academic and professional aspirations. Focus on the future – what you propose to do at Illinois and how this program will contribute to your career goals. The Statement of Purpose should convey:

  • your reasons for pursuing a Ph.D. in Regional Planning in our department
  • your interest and experience in research and teaching
  • why the University of Illinois matches your research interests and career goals


Provide transcripts from all post-secondary educational institutions. You must have completed (or be in the final year of) a master’s program from an accredited college in the United States or a comparable degree from a recognized institution of higher learning elsewhere. If you are in a master’s program at the time of your application, indicate the date by which you expect to obtain your degree. If there is any change to your expected graduation date, you must notify us of your status change. Failure to do so will jeopardize admission.

Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

GRE scores for verbal, quantitative, and analytical ability are important. Take the GRE exam no later than the fall the year before you wish to enroll. If you have taken the exam within 5 years, you do not need to retake it. In general, we look for scores above the 75th percentile. Occasionally, we accept waivers in extraordinary cases.

Due to COVID-19, for next year's admissions (2021-22) we have made GRE scores optional. However, the admission committee highly encourages those applicants who have taken the test within the last 5 years to include their scores with their application material.

Language Proficiency

If your first language (native language) is not English, submit the results of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) as evidence of your English proficiency. We require the following scores:

  • TOEFL greater than 610 on the paper-based test
  • 102 on the internet-based test
  • 253 on the computer-based test
  • or IELTS scores greater than 6.5 in all sub-sections

You must take the test within 2 years of the date you enter the program.

Please note international applicants whose undergraduate or graduate degree is earned in the US, may be exempted from the language proficiency test requirement. More information can be found here.

For additional information and COVID-related adjustments to English Proficiency requirement, visit the Graduate College website here.

Letters of Recommendation

Arrange for 3 letters of recommendation from people who can evaluate your intellectual capability. These letters help us assess your prospects for conducting advanced research. At least 2 letters should be from faculty members with whom you have taken courses or have conducted research. All letters should be from people who know you well enough to address your abilities and accomplishments in detail.

Resume or Curriculum Vitae and Writing Sample

Please submit your professional resume or curriculum vitae (CV), as well as any writing sample you want to offer. Your resume should look clean and professional. List all relevant experience with month and year. For the writing sample, we recommend a recent publication, report, or unpublished term paper that highlights your academic writing abilities.

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