Frequently Asked Questions:
Doctor of Policy, Planning, and Development Program

Who enrolls in this program?

Professionals who choose this program include city managers, civil engineers, elected officials and representatives, policy analysts, law enforcement personnel, social workers, real estate developers, architects, and philanthropy specialists. What they hold in common is a drive to spur innovation beyond the conventional practices of their fields. 

Students typically have 5-10 years of professional experience when they apply. They often have earned a master’s or law degree as well. View current student profiles for a snapshot of the DPPD community.

What will this program prepare me to do?

Our alumni craft impactful policies and programs throughout the United States and beyond. They create new models for affordable housing, make health-care delivery more efficient, foster strategic job growth, formulate strategies for environmental sustainability, develop green space in high-density neighborhoods, launch businesses with social impact, promote reforms in law enforcement, and align transportation systems with community needs.

In addition, our alumni disseminate knowledge through industry journals, professional boards, consulting roles, and university teaching assignments.

Will a prior graduate degree reduce degree requirements?

Students who enter the program with a prior graduate degree in a relevant field are awarded Advanced Standing. Advanced Standing reduces the unit requirement from 60 units to 40.

What support will I receive in designing my professional dissertation?

Students are assigned a faculty advisor during their first two years of coursework, and complete a research design course during that period. The faculty advisor and the research design instructor help students develop a research question and select a methodological approach.

In the third year of the program, students select a Price School faculty member to guide the writing of their research proposal. This faculty member chairs a 3-person committee, selected by the student, that supports and oversees the fourth year dissertation project. The additional two committee members can be USC faculty, faculty from other institutions, or professional experts on the topic of study.

Please see the Professional Dissertation page for examples of recent dissertations. Committee chairs are also listed.

What should I expect during the application process?

Following the application review, applicants may be invited to interview. These interviews add a more personal and interactive element to the selection process. A primary focus is to assess the degree of fit between an applicant’s interests and the Price School research profile.

Can the program accommodate distance or online learning?

Yes, students complete this program while living outside Southern California. The curriculum is designed for working professionals, and courses are offered in weekend intensive, evening, and online formats. Applicants need to be aware, however, that all of our core courses meet in person on weekends. In addition, the availability of online elective courses varies by field of interest.

Each student designs a customized elective sequence to prepare for the dissertation. These courses may be taken within the Price School or in other academic units such as Education, Political Science, Preventative Medicine or Communication. Prospective students, especially distance learners, are encouraged to carefully research course offerings and schedules within their field of interest.

USC’s Schedule of Classes is available online at

What is the cost of the DPPD degree?

Please see the Admissions page for estimated costs.

Who do I contact for further information?

For application information:
Marisol Rios, Assistant Dean of Admission and Scholarships, [email protected]

For program information:
Anna Parks, Student Services Advisor, [email protected]