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Admissions Overview

Three to six students per year will be admitted to the BE Ph.D. in the Built Environment (1–2 per specialization). This represents the availability of faculty and financial support resources, and an equitable distribution across the three areas of specialization.

The expectation is that students will normally take five to six quarters to complete their coursework and two to three years to complete their dissertations (very likely a shorter time for students with an engineering or computational background than for students with a design or humanities background). Thus, each cohort likely will be enrolled for approximately four or five years.

Applicants to our Ph.D. Program largely come from two major groups.

  • Applicants with a graduate professional degree in a relevant field who are seeking the final credential for an academic career or pursuing research and
  • Applicants with a Master’s degree in a relevant field and a “liberal” interest in pursuing a core area that actually focuses—as a mode of specialization—on the built environment as a complex, unified phenomena in its own right (rather than as “atomized” or somewhat incidental to the goals of other disciplines and practices).

There are a substantial number of such professionals who are finding either that they now need the Ph.D. given the increased requirements of universities or who are interested in mid-career transition (inquiries frequently come from already-employed faculty who want to go on to complete a Ph.D.). In the academy, there is an increased demand for people who can teach the professional core curriculum and also direct advanced research; in the non-academic research sector, there is increasing interest in sophisticated researchers who understand the concerns and speak the languages of professional practice.

Students will come who want to focus on the built environment itself, since in this program the subject matter would be studied within the context of the explicit integration of the relevant elements, rather than as a fraction of the larger set of different concerns proper to art history, art, engineering, or as an isolated “silo” in the world of professional and industrial activity. There is a substantial body of theory and research literature that demonstrates that it is precisely because of the disciplinary specialization that now exists, a unified understanding of the built environment is now occurring (for example, Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space); similarly, the professional practitioners and firms who provide counsel to the College contend that just such a unified focus is what is needed to change practice as well as research.

Admission to the Ph.D. program is based on evidence of promise of high scholarly achievement and research orientation. The applicant’s statement of purpose, TOEFL score when appropriate (see the Graduate School’s English Language Proficiency Requirement), letters of recommendation, and examples of past work constitute the basis for the admissions evaluation. Note that the program is not requiring GRE scores for the 2021 admissions cycle (for more detailed information see

Further, to ensure the highest level of faculty support and proper level of faculty guidance, the program accepts those students whose research interests match areas of specialized faculty competence. Applicants are requested to identify faculty whose interests coincide with theirs in their statement of purpose. At least one of the faculty identified must be a part of our core faculty group (see the Core Program Faculty tab at

Applicants must have a master’s degree in a discipline that either is one of the College’s central areas of specialization (such as architectural studies or urban design and planning) or a normal area of expertise in the College’s activities (e.g. engineering, energy studies, real estate, geography, environmental psychology, computer aided design or GIS, and so on), or that is congruent with one of the three Fundamental Areas integrated into the Built Environment Program (such as environmental or sustainability studies, or materials science, or visual culture-representation studies).

The applicant’s statement of purpose often proves to be the most important document in the application process. While other documents help establish general qualifications and background, the statement of purpose is a personal expression that distinguishes an applicant from other applicants and relates her or his specific interests to those of program faculty. Please see further details about the statement of purpose.

All applications for the Ph.D. in the Built Environment will be reviewed and evaluated by the program faculty in their areas of interest. Decisions to admit or deny admission will be based on a combination of a) the ranking in light of the number of admissions that are possible that year, and b) distribution across the three areas of specialization and available faculty (in light of then existing student enrollment and “placement,” faculty availability and willingness to mentor in areas anticipated to be students’ focus for dissertation research, and resource availability).

The PhD in the Built Environment strongly believes in and affirms its participation in the University of Washington’s Equal Opportunity and Reasonable Accommodation policy as described in the following paragraph.

The University of Washington reaffirms its policy of equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, disability, or status as a protected veteran. This policy applies to all programs and facilities, including, but not limited to, admissions, educational programs, employment, and patient and hospital services. Any discriminatory action can be a cause for disciplinary action. Discrimination is prohibited by Presidential Executive Order 11246 as amended, Washington State Gubernatorial Executive Orders 89-01 and 93-07, Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Washington State Law Against Discrimination RCW 49.60, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, State of Washington Gender Equity in Higher Education Act of 1989, Sections 503 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 as amended, Age Discrimination Act of 1975, Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act of 1972 as amended, other federal and state statutes, regulations, and University policy. Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action compliance efforts at the University of Washington are coordinated by the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, University of Washington, 442A Gerberding Hall, Box 351240, Seattle, Washington, 98195-1240, telephone 206.543.1830 or email

The University of Washington is committed to providing access and reasonable accommodation in its services, programs, activities, education and employment for individuals with disabilities. To request disability accommodation in the application process, contact the Disability Services Office at least ten days in advance at: 206.543.6450/V, 206.543.6452/TTY, 206.685.7264 (FAX), or


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