Design and Urban Ecologies (MS)

  • The 60-credit Master of Science in Design and Urban Ecologies program radically reframes the study of cities and urban design methodologies. By combining research, fieldwork, and participatory action, students gain a broad understanding of the complex forces that influence urban growth and development. In accordance with The New School’s historic commitment to social justice and design, students develop and implement innovative strategic projects that bring about real, transformative urban change. 

    This studio-driven program is part of Parsons' School of Design Strategies (SDS), and shares a 12-credit core curriculum with the 36-credit, research-based MA Theories of Urban Practice program. Explore our blog to see what students, faculty, and alumni are doing in NYC and around the world.

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    Making Change in New York

    The first graduate program of its kind in the United States, the two-year Master of Science in Design and Urban Ecologies explores the urban complex and its interconnections with political, social, economic, and environmental systems. Using world cities like New York as a laboratory and working in transdisciplinary teams, students design processes for urban transformation alongside and with — not for — the communities most affected by these processes.

    Studio in the City

    Bringing together the academic strengths of Parsons and other schools and colleges of The New School, this studio-based program trains graduates to become agents of change, working with the communities and institutions that shape urban ecosystems. Guided by internationally recognized urbanists, designers, and activists, students confront urgent problems facing cities and develop new research methodologies, design frameworks, and critical practices, using the city as an urban laboratory.


    Engaging Urbanism from All Angles

    Focus areas include community organizing, the solidarity economy, food systems, public space, housing, infrastructure, public transportation, nonprofit management, cultural development, environmental equity, and socially engaged art and technology. Graduates are prepared for careers in urban design; urban and regional planning; public and urban policy; social, cultural, and environmental enterprises; community organizing; research; nonprofit management; teaching; government administration; municipal and regional development; and consulting. The program also provides a foundation for those who wish to pursue doctoral studies at top universities around the world.

    Future Opportunities

    Graduates are prepared for careers in urban design; urban and regional planning; public and urban policy; social, cultural, and environmental enterprises; community organizing; research; nonprofit management; teaching; government administration; municipal and regional development; and consulting. The program also provides a foundation for those who wish to pursue doctoral studies at top universities around the world.

  • Curriculum

    The Master of Science degree is awarded for completion of 60 credits. A maximum of six credits can be transferred from another institution. Students must maintain a 3.0 cumulative grade point average and fulfill all requirements in a timely manner.



    Featured Video

    Silvia Xavier presents her innovative ideas on trash collection, supporting both urban dwellers and the city’s goal of achieving zero-waste status.


    If you are thinking about pursuing an MS in Design and Urban Ecologies, please read below for answers to frequently asked questions about the program.

    Who applies to this program?

    Since this program aims to break with the disciplinary silos that characterize traditional urban and design practices, students who participate in this program have diverse backgrounds, including history, philosophy, geography, anthropology, law, community development and organizing, social art, economics, film, architecture, communication design, and environmental studies. Students entering this program may have work experience in their respective fields, while others begin their graduate studies directly following completion of their undergraduate degree.

    What sets this program apart from other urban-focused programs?

    While this program does draw on both urban planning and design, it is not a traditional urban planning or urban design program. Instead, the program examines the larger ecology of the city by bringing together the different disciplines that interact in the production of cities, including urban policy, planning, design, activism, and community practice. The MS in Design and Urban Ecologies calls into question urban processes and practices related to housing, food systems, health, education, livelihoods, transportation, community development, urban governance, and the environment as well as to the ever-changing spatial, economic, and social infrastructures that make up our cities. Dialectical analysis and understandings are encouraged and central to the program.

    Students identify issues within the built urban environment as well as the wider ecologies of the city in order to envision systematic change within different spatial, political, and institutional frameworks and at different scales. Students do not search for physical solutions to address systemic problems; instead, they conceptualize and use design as an instrument to catalyze change. In addition, using the notion of “urban ecologies,” students employ design to translate and communicate complex urban processes and transformations to those being directly affected and at the same time having the agency to shape the fate of their communities, neighborhoods, and cities. Rather than seeing New York City as an object of study, the MS in Design and Urban Ecologies interacts and collaborates with different neighborhoods, agencies, and communities throughout the city with the aim of immersing students in real-world urban questions, processes, and transformations.

    The MA Theories of Urban Practice program and the MS Design and Urban Ecologies program share themes and curriculum elements. What are the differences?

    The two programs are run by the same faculty, use the same space for courses, and share an educational philosophy that fosters social justice and community engagement. In addition, the faculty encourage cooperation between the two programs in the form of events and activities, both formal and informal. The MS in Design and Urban Ecologies offers a six-hour studio in addition to a methods course every semester; the MA in Theories of Urban Practice does not. The methodological coursework equips students to analyze, visualize, and transform cities, with the studio component of the program serving as a platform for employing and testing various methods in projects addressing real-world urban issues and transformations. Students often work in ongoing projects with local residents, community-based organizations, and city agencies. In other words, the MS in Design and Urban Ecologies offers hands-on design instruction, while the MA in Theories of Urban Practice provides a more theoretical and research-driven course of study.

    What kinds of projects will I work on in the studio courses?

    Studio courses provide hands-on and collaborative research and design experience throughout the program. The first studio course offers an introduction to New York City by engaging students in long-term projects with local community partners in a specific neighborhood. Through a number of urban investigations focused on different aspects of the selected neighborhood, this studio provides a comprehensive understanding of agents acting at both the macro and micro levels and affecting the area in question. Students in turn propose design strategies to address pressing issues affecting the neighborhood’s communities.

    The second studio course addresses larger issues affecting areas such as a city borough or a waterfront and offers more flexibility to students in deciding which topic to address and which community partners to work with. While Studio 1 provides a structured research and design framework, Studio 2 is more open in terms of direction. During the second year, Studio 3 offers students a platform to start their own research and design project. Students are guided by faculty during this process and have the freedom to decide on the place, topic, theoretical framework, methodology, partners, and design approach of their project. The final studio, Thesis, is the continuation of Studio 3. During the last semester, students are guided by faculty in developing their thesis project, which should include detailed research and actionable design strategies for urban interventions involving local communities and institutions. Students are required to design ways to test and implement these strategies.

    Will my research be focused in New York City?

    During the first year, many projects are based in New York City and the surrounding areas. In the second year of study, students' research and design projects may go outside of New York, depending on the interest of the students. For instance, international students may choose to work on a project related to their home countries or towns. In addition, the program sponsors a course, Global Urban Studio, in which students travel abroad and gain experience in particular urban conditions, topics, and practices in other cities.

    Will my work be individual or group oriented?

    During the first year, group work is encouraged, particularly in the studio courses. In other courses, students may be organized into teams to take advantage of the wide range of experience and skills offered by each student. Individual work is more common in lecture courses and during the second year of the program, although some thesis projects have been developed by two or more students.

    What will my final year in the program look like?

    The second and final year of the program consists of the thesis, in which all students complete a six-hour studio class alongside a methods course. Students also have the ability to choose their electives, which support their individual research and thesis projects. Each student chooses the format and organization of their thesis work. The fall semester consists of rigorous research, while the spring semester is dedicated to the use of individual research findings and development of design propositions.

    Are there any travel opportunities available through this program?

    Travel opportunities within the program are available in the form of individual exchange agreements, graduate student travel funds, and other possibilities through centers within The New School. Students interested in traveling for their research may also work with the Tishman Environment and Design Center and the India China Institute at The New School. Both of these groups offer fellowships, travel grants, and scholarships ito contribute to students' scholarly work. The urban programs at The New School also offer a 3-credit global intensive elective each semester (locations vary) that provides students with a two-week international travel component to their coursework.

    Admission Requirements

    Application and Financial Aid Deadlines

    Application Deadline

    The application deadline is January 1. To be most competitive for admission and merit scholarship consideration, please apply before the deadline. We will continue to review applications submitted after the January 1 priority deadline pending space availability in the program. The Admission Committee will make a decision on your application only after all the required materials have been received. Spring term admission is not offered for this program.

    Financial Aid Deadline

    All applicants selected for admission into our program are considered for a merit scholarship award that is determined by the strength of their application. Scholarship award notification is communicated at the same time as the admission decision. International students are eligible only for merit scholarships. If you are a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen, we encourage you to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which can be found on the Web at The FAFSA is available each year on October 1. You do not need to wait for an admission decision to apply for federal aid; we recommend submitting by our FAFSA priority deadline of February 1 for fall applicants. (The New School’s federal school code is 002780.)

    Application Instructions

    All applicants are required to apply online. Save your work frequently and print a copy for your records. You must complete all required fields and uploads prior to submission.

    Any additional supporting documents that need to be sent by mail must include an Application Materials Cover Sheet. All supporting materials must be received before your application can be reviewed.

    See below for additional information regarding submission of transcripts and recommendations.

    Some of your required materials will be submitted through SlideRoom:

    1. In addition to submitting the online application, Parsons requires that you submit a portfolio using SlideRoom.
    2. Finalize your portfolio at the time you submit your application. Doing this will help prevent any delays in reviewing your application, as we need to receive all required materials before we can place your application under review.
    3. Once you have submitted the required SlideRoom materials, a confirmation number will be emailed to you. Save this for your records and enter it on the online application when requested.

    Required Application Materials

    1. Application Form: Complete the online application. All applicants are required to apply online.
    2. Application Fee: A nonrefundable $50 application fee paid as part of the online application. A $10 SlideRoom fee is also required.
    3. Transcripts:
      Unofficial Transcripts: Applicants must upload an unofficial transcript, mark sheet, or academic record for each institution attended (even if you didn’t receive a degree) in the Educational Background section of the online application.
      • All transcript uploads must be accompanied by a key, a legend, or the back copy of the transcript.
      • Non-English transcripts must be accompanied by an English translation. Records from non-U.S. institutions must have grades or marks and contain a copy of diploma if the degree has been conferred.
      • Make sure your name appears on the transcript/record. Scans must be clear and legible.
      • Do not mail materials that have been uploaded with the online application or any other materials unless requested by the admission office.
      • If you experience trouble uploading your transcript, email and give a detailed description of the issue and attach the document in question.
      The New School reserves the right to require official transcripts at any time during the admissions process. Any fraudulent activity or discrepancies found between uploaded and official transcripts will result in the immediate revocation of admission and/or dismissal from The New School. Transcripts uploaded with the online application are considered unofficial.

      Official Transcripts: Applicants offered admission will be required to submit official transcripts (as well as official certified translations and evaluations of the transcripts/mark sheets and degree certifications if the degree was earned outside of the United States) to The New School. Admitted applicants must submit all official transcripts pertaining to their entire academic career.

      Your offer of admission will be contingent upon the receipt and verification of these official documents. New students will not be permitted to register for their second semester of study until all official transcripts (including degree-awarding transcripts) have been received by the Office of Graduate Admission. Transcripts uploaded with the online application do not satisfy this requirement.

      By Mail: Official transcripts should have an original signature or a raised university seal, and must be in a sealed envelope that has been signed or stamped by the issuing university’s registrar or records office. Applicants can either send official transcripts with an Application Materials Cover Sheet or request that institutions send transcripts directly to The New School. See “Mailing Address for Supplemental Materials” for our mailing address in the Additional Instructions and Information section below.

      Electronic Transcripts (U.S./Domestic Institutions Only): The New School accepts electronic transcripts only from our approved vendors. The New School’s approved vendors, in order of preference, are
      • Parchment Exchange
      • SCRIP-SAFE International
      • National Student Clearinghouse
      We do not accept electronic transcripts sent directly by a student or school offices. Note: All international academic credentials must be submitted as indicated in the International Academic Credentials sections below.

      International Academic Credentials: All transcripts not written in English must be accompanied by a certified English translation or be evaluated by World Education Services (WES), or by another member of the National Association of Credit Evaluation Services (NACES). A course-by-course evaluation must be prepared for each transcript. In the absence of an evaluation, the Admission Committee will do its best to render a decision. Please note: In some cases, a review cannot be made without an evaluation, and a committee decision will be delayed. The Admission Office reserves the right to request a transcript evaluation if necessary.

      If using WES, visit for instructions and to begin the application process. The “Required Documents” section will explain what to send. If you request your report online, search for “The New School” when selecting our institution. WES will send your completed evaluation directly to The New School.

      If using another NACES provider, follow instructions for that provider. Mailed evaluations and translations should be sent to the mailing address provided for supporting materials. Applicants forwarding these sealed documents should include an Application Materials Cover Sheet.
    4. Résumé: Submit a brief résumé/curriculum vitae summarizing your academic qualifications, relevant work experience, volunteer/community work, travel, exhibitions, public speaking, or any other relevant experiences as they may relate to your field of study, including dates and positions held. Please also note any special language or computer skills that you have.
    5. Statement of Purpose: Please outline your reasons for applying to this program. In what ways will you contribute to the subject matter of the program? You should include a thoughtful description of your background, tentative plan of study or area of inquiry in the field as you now envision it, your professional goals, and an explanation of how this graduate program will help you realize those goals. If you have not been enrolled as a student in the past five years, please address anticipated opportunities and challenges in pursuing the degree and future career expectations upon completion of the program. (500–750 word limit)
    6. Recommendation Letters: You are required to submit two letters of recommendation from faculty or people with whom you have worked professionally. Recommenders can submit recommendations online; instructions are included with the online application. If preferred, the recommendation form can instead be sent by mail in a signed, sealed envelope. To send by mail, download the PDF recommendation form found in the online application, complete the personal information, save the form, and forward it to the recommender for completion and submission. Applicants can also send signed and sealed recommendations to the Office of Admission using an Application Materials Cover Sheet.
    7. Portfolio: The portfolio must be completed in SlideRoom only. The Design and Urban Ecologies program welcomes applications from designers, researchers, professionals, and academics. Submit up to 20 items that you believe best represent your background, interests in urbanization, activism, work process, and writings. These may include research outcomes, design strategies, articles, publications, photography, interviews, presentations, video clips, websites, blog URLs, essays, or other media. Where appropriate, include descriptions of the projects, explanations of your role (if the project involved a team), and/or a thoughtful description of the context of the project. If you have dynamic media or other time-based work, you can upload it using SlideRoom.
    8. Test Scores:
      TOEFL, IELTS, and PTE: All applicants whose first language is not English must submit valid TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE scores. The minimum score required for TOEFL (IBT) is 92, for IELTS is 7.0, and for PTE is 63. Our TOEFL institution code is 2638.

      The New School does not require TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE scores for applicants:

      • Who have attended a secondary school for a minimum of three years where English is the primary language of instruction
      • Who have successfully completed two full semesters of non-ESL college-level expository writing
      • Who have earned a four-year degree from a U.S. college/university or from a university where English is the primary language of instruction (minimum of three years attendance)
      Upon review of your application, the Office of Admission reserves the right to request a TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE score.

      Arrange for the testing service to send your test scores directly to The New School using the codes listed above. We accept scores from the past two years. If your scores are older, you must retake the test. For more information, visit TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE.

      Applicants also have the option of enrolling in The New School English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Students must pass Level 6 in order to waive the TOEFL/IELTS/PTE requirement. Visit the ESL website for more information.
    9. Interview: In some cases, the Admission Committee may contact you to arrange an in-person or telephone interview. This will be determined after review of your application.

    Additional Information and Instructions

    1. Applying to More Than One Program: In any given term, a student can apply to only one department or program within The New School. Applicants who file more than one application in a given semester will be required to withdraw one of the applications, and application fees will not be refunded.
    2. Application Materials: All materials submitted in association with The New School application become the property of The New School and cannot be returned to you or transmitted to a third party.
    3. Application Status: Applications become complete and ready for review once all required items have been received by the Office of Admission. You can check your application status online at the Admission Hub.

      Allow at least 14 days from the date you submitted your application for items to be matched and shown as received on the Hub. Applicants are responsible for following up with schools and recommenders to confirm that items have been sent.

      The Office of Admission will periodically notify applicants by email if their file is missing any documents and again when their file is complete for review. These notifications are sent to the email address provided in the online application.
    4. Readmission:
      The Application for Readmission should be completed by students who wish to return after an absence of four semesters (fall and spring). If you would like to apply for readmission, review the readmission deadlines and requirements in the Readmission section of our How to Apply information.
    5. Mailing Address for Supplemental Materials:
      Parsons School of Design
      Office of Admission (PS 300)
      79 Fifth Avenue, 5th floor
      New York, NY 10003

    Program News

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