Urban Planning Degree

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What is Urban Planning?

Urban planning is the field responsible for determining how living settlements will be constructed and maintained, including methods of transportation, resource management, utility availability and zoning. Degrees in urban planning are offered from the associates level to PhD.

Urban planning programs typically do not have their own school and are normally part of an architecture, design or public policy school. Urban planning requires students to have an education in multiple disciplines and the ability to utilize those disciplines in a cohesive manner.

Why Become an Urban Planner?

Urban planners are an important piece of land development and land use management in large cities, counties, and rural areas around the country.  Diligent planning and resource organization are requisite to accommodate for future population changes, incite business growth, enhance aesthetics, and improve a city’s functionality.

Urban planners meet with architects, engineers, and city officials to understand how to best utilize land.  From these decisions come conceptual designs, plans, and documents to support the proposed changes.  Additional administrative paperwork include reviewing land proposals with a lens of applicable zoning and building codes.

How to Become an Urban Planner

In order to become an urban planner, you must follow a series of steps outlined below.  Like many other professions, it is mission critical to know the steps before you start to avoid backtracking or stopping short of your goals.  As such, we will cover the steps involved in becoming an urban planner below to help you through the process.

  1. Research: The first step in your journey to become an urban planner is to research accredited colleges and universities.  This step will involve you finding the right program for you including degree programs, learning modalities, and financial aid.  To make the most of this step, you will need to create a priority list for your career and education.  This beacon of light will help direct you towards the right school for you.  To learn more about online programs and on-site degrees, simply request information from the programs below.
  2. Education: The next step in the process after selecting the best college for you is to earn a college degree. In most cases, you will need to earn a master’s degree or doctorate degree to work for a municipality government agency.  You can accomplish this through a two-step process of first earning a bachelor’s degree in urban planning or similar degree followed by a master’s degree in urban planning or a single step dual-degree process that accelerates the process towards degree completion.
  3. Experience: While earning your degree, you will want to obtain work experience through an internship or externship. The work experience, knowledge transfer, and professional networking opportunities are essential on your path to becoming an effective planner.  Packaged into this process is a recommendation to get involved in local issues, regulations, policies, politics, and environmental issues.
  4. Certification: Many agencies will require you to earn a professional certificate for urban planners while others make it optional. To make the most of your career, invest the time to take the most applicable certificate for your state or region.  Popular options include the AICP’s certificate for urban planners along with eligibility requirements and membership benefits.
  5. Continuing Education: After joining an organization as a urban planner or certified urban planner, you will need to keep up your credentials by taking approved continuing education credits and/or recertification every two years.

Urban Planner Requirements

An education in urban planning will cover various aspects of city building and management, particularly in the areas of law making and policy. Individuals in such programs will learn how to implement studies, utilize research, understand social behavior, and recognized the methods for implementing policies gleaned from such research.

Some courses will involve the breaking down and explanation of theory used in urban planning, while others will use case studies to identify where policies succeeded and failed in a practical manner.  Courses in urban planning may include:

  • Land Use and Physical Planning
  • Race, Class and Gender
  • Planning Concepts
  • Housing and Community Development
  • Public Policy
  • Historic Preservation Planning

Though some schools offer a bachelor's program which may provide entry level work, career advancement will be limited unless higher education is pursued. It is advised that interested individuals pursue a master's degree and certification in geographic information systems in order to increase hiring potential. Jobs are expected to grow faster than average due to turnover and increased interest from the private sector.

Employment in Urban Planning

Individuals working in urban planning may find employment in either the public or private sector, either through government, non-governmental organizations, or firms and businesses involved in development and growth. Some individuals may choose to pursue a career in politics in order to affect policy at a decision making level rather than through proposal.

A career in urban planning allows for a variety of positions and specializations, and can be used to pursue career in other related fields as it utilizes techniques and methods that can be applied elsewhere.

Common Job Titles of an Urban Planner

As you think about a career in urban planning and map out your future, you are best served to understand some of the titles you may see in the field or during a job search.  While not a comprehensive list, the job titles below represent the most popular job titles for an urban planner across industries and geographic bounds.

  • City Planner
  • Housing Grant Analyst
  • Regional Planner
  • Urban Design Consultant
  • Community Development Director
  • Neighborhood Planner
  • Planner
  • Community Development Planner
  • Housing Development Specialist
  • Planning Director

Top Job Duties of an Urban Planner

In a recent survey performed by the U.S. Department of Labor, professional urban planners from around the country provided insight into their work.  The biggest take-away from the survey was a list of the top job duties of an urban planner summarized below:

  1. Discussing highest and best use land use projects for public transportation, conservation, residential, commercial, or industrial use
  2. Holding public meetings with government officials, social scientists, lawyers, developers, public members, or special interest groups in an effort to formulate, develop, or solve land use plans
  3. Recommending approval, denial, or conditional approval of planned land use proposals
  4. Designing and managing plans and policies for effective land use, zoning, public utilities, community facilities, housing, or transportation issues
  5. Advising planning officials and city officials on project feasibility, cost-effectiveness, regulatory conformance, and alternatives

Largest Employers of Urban Planners

  1. Local Government Agencies
  2. Architectural & Engineering Firms
  3. State Government Agencies
  4. Management & Technical Consulting Firms
  5. Federal Government Agencies

States with the Most Employed Urban Planners

  • California          6,770
  • Texas                 2,130
  • Washington     2,070
  • Florida              1,920
  • Pennsylvania   1,640

Top Paying States for Urban Planners

  1. District of Columbia   $97,360
  2. California                      $86,860
  3. New Jersey                   $83,990
  4. Nevada                          $82,940
  5. Connecticut                  $81,590

List of Urban Planning Organizations

Urban Planner Salary

The average salary for an urban planner is $70,020 per year, with the lowest 10% receiving below $42,000 per year and the highest 10% receiving over $93,500 per year.  The range of salaries for urban planners reveals a wide range of possible outcomes.  Salaries are driven by experience, job type, entity, and scope of duties.  Those interested in an urban planning degree may also like to look into a degree in architecture, public policy, and sociology.

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Related Areas of Study

Career Summary: Urban planning Major




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