About Penn Urban Studies


URBS coffee mug

What is Urban Studies?

Urban Studies is an interdisciplinary program drawing on faculty and resources across the university and the city to offer students a multi-faceted approach to the study of urban trends. Our students are interested in applying what they learn in the classroom to the real world, so our program is driven by a commitment to the connection of theory and practice in its curriculum.

 Why Urban Studies?

More than half of the world's population live in cities, and the pace of urbanization in most of the world is accelerating.  According to the World Bank, by 2050,  7 in 10 people will live in urban areas.  Cities generate much of the wealth of nations and they are critical nodes in the world economy.  When we travel, we visit cities for their cultural assets and social vibrancy. 

These past few years have revealed some of the worst and most intractable problems that our society as a whole faces – residential segregation, income inequality, homelessness or housing precariousness, unequal access to high quality (or any) health care, climate change and other environmental threats, criminal injustice, lack of investment in public goods such as schools, transportation, infrastructure. These are not just the problems of cities – but cities are at the center of solving them. 

Understanding these issues and finding solutions  are what  urban scholars and practitioners do. Urban Studies helps us understand how these problems arose, to find and create promising solutions, and to learn how we can make change happen. 

If you want to be part of the solution -- helping fix these kinds of problems while nurturing what we love about cities -- Urban Studies is for you.  

Want to hear from Urban Studies Majors?

Watch these videos to hear directly from current Urban Studies majors Faith Applegate and Grace Busser:

What does the Urban Studies Major look like?

The major has three components (14 cus):

Core: Urban Studies majors all take a set of core requirements (4 cus) that include 1) a research course that teaches quantitative and qualitative methods for studying cities, 2) an internship for credit and accompanying Fieldwork Seminar, and 3) a senior year original research project,

Themes courses: Majors can shape their experience through choosing 7 courses that reflect their particular interests and that cover the range of themes in the field - 1) the history of cities, 2) theory and global concerns, 3) the built environment, 4) urban economics, and 5) urban politics and policy.

Discipline focus:  Finally, because it is interdisciplinary, the Urban Studies major requires students to take 3 courses in a particular discipline as a kind of focus or anchor.  Students choose these courses in consultation with the Urban Studies advisor, and the courses can overlap with a second major or a minor.  For example, students might choose courses in economics, sociology, political science, art history, or anthropology (or others) as their discipline focus.

Urban Studies is a flexible and intimate program. You can shape your experience through courses that reflect your particular interests and that cover the range of concerns in the field.   Urban Studies is the only major on campus that requires students carry out an internship for academic credit. Our students experience a strong sense of community in the program as a result of small classes, an active Undergraduate Advisory Board, lots of extra-curricular activities, and the opportunity to learn directly from people working in the field of urban studies.  Urban Studies also has a strong alumni network and opportunities for mentorship and career exposure.

What careers does an Urban Studies major lead to?

Urban Studies graduates can become lawyers, transportation planners, public policy advisors, educators, health professionals, city managers, community developers, architects, real estate professionals, non-profit managers, social entrepreneurs, and creatives - artists/poets.  We have an Urban Studies LinkedIn group that has more than 500 members.

About half of our graduates end up going to graduate school and most of those take a year or more before applying. 

Among the most common graduate degrees that Urban Studies alumni pursue are a Master of City Planning, Law, Public Policy or Public Administration, Mater of Business Administration, Education, Master in Social Work, Certificate in Real Estate, Master in Architecture, and assorted other specializations.

There are many routes that our graduates take after college.  What they share is a love of cities and a desire to get involved in the nitty gritty of making cities better – for everyone. 

Contact Us

Urban Studies Program
University of Pennsylvania
426 McNeil Building
3718 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6209


David Grazian
Professor of Sociology and Communication
Faculty Director, Urban Studies Program

Julia McWilliams
Associate Director, Urban Studies Program

Victoria Karkov