Become a Town Planner: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Jul 11, 2018

Learn how to become a town planner. Research the job description and education requirements for the position, and find out how to start a career in town planning. View article »

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  • 0:04 Should I Become a Town…
  • 0:51 Career Requirements
  • 2:09 Step 1: Earn a…
  • 3:25 Step 2: Obtain a…
  • 4:09 Step 3: Gain Experience
  • 4:41 Step 4: Obtain a…

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Town Planner?

Town planners serve as a hub between the desires of developers or public officials and the needs of the town or area for which they're responsible. They must make complex assessments and analyze the variables involved with developing land and using its resources. They then must determine if the proposed use is appropriate and either approve or deny the request.

Many urban and regional planners work for local or state governments, affording them some job security and, generally, good benefits. The majority work on a full-time basis during regular business hours, although some overtime or weekend hours may be required, depending on the project. The job can be stressful, especially as deadlines approach.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree
Degree Field City and regional planning or urban planning
Licensure and/or Certification National certification is voluntary; licensure or registration as a community planner required in a few states
Experience 1-2 years in a related field or position
Key Skills Communication and interpersonal skills; ability to work within groups; strong problem-solving and critical-thinking abilities; good judgment; familiarity with specialized mapping software; experience with publishing, computer aided design (CAD), graphics and photo imaging software, such as Citilabs TRANPLAN, location allocation decision support system (LASSS) software, Autodesk, AutoCAD, Bently MicroStation, Adobe, Criterion Planners INDEX; and proficiency with GPS tools and equipment
Average Salary (2015) $68,200 yearly (for all urban and regional planners)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Most positions in town planning require a master's degree at minimum. A bachelor's degree program can provide students with the chance to begin exploring planning-related topics. Most master's degree programs in planning accept a wide variety of undergraduate majors. Typical bachelor's degree majors of aspiring planners include political science, geography, architecture, and environmental design.

Major in planning as an undergraduate. Though most master's degree programs will accept a variety of undergraduate majors, those who earn a bachelor's degree in planning, in conjunction with related work and field experience, are more likely to be eligible for junior or assistant planning positions.

Take communication and speech courses. Being able to confidently and effectively communicate in one-on-one settings as well as publicly is expected of town planners. These professionals must work intimately with policy makers, public officials, and other high profile leaders of the community and are expected to conduct themselves accordingly. Thus, coursework in interpersonal skills and communications, as well as public speaking and speech, can be valuable for a student to take while earning his or her undergraduate degree.

Step 2: Obtain a Master's Degree

Master's degree programs in planning are generally similar in their core curriculum but can differ in elective and advanced coursework. The focus of each program is generally related to the geographic location and environment of its school. Thus, schools located in highly-populated areas will likely have programs that focus on city and urban development, whereas more remotely-located schools often focus on planning for agricultural and rural communities. Students also might be able to specialize in a subfield, such as environmental planning, transportation policy, or international planning. Prospective students will want an idea of their intended focus so they can choose a school accordingly.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Entry-level positions usually require applicants to have significant experience. Thus, aspiring planners should gain experience at every available opportunity. Internships are often available through the planning degree program department at a student's college or university. Students can also search online job boards and other resources for additional internships. Prior experience does not necessarily need to be in planning; professionals can work in architecture or public policy to boost their resume and increase their job possibilities.

Step 4: Obtain a Planning Position

If a planner intends to work in New Jersey, he or she will need to become licensed before applying for positions. Similarly, those wishing to work as professional community planners in Michigan must first become registered. All other states do not require licensure, certification, or registration of planners. Thus, the vast majority of planners can apply for positions after gaining the necessary experience.

Earn certification. Obtaining optional professional certification can be helpful in obtaining advancement as a town planner. The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) is an organization that provides national certification for town planners. Individuals must possess a minimum amount of work experience and pass an exam to obtain certification. Additionally, continued education through workshops, training programs, and online coursework is required to maintain certification.

Town planners usually work for the local or state government and must work with developers and public officials, as well as the pubic, to develop land and utilize resources.

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