Become an Environmental Planner: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become an environmental planner. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in environmental planning.

Should I Become an Environmental Planner?

Environmental planners research how urban development will affect environmental issues. These workers may determine how to construct roads and buildings without causing significant damage to the environment. They also recommend building sites or eco-friendly construction materials and assist policymakers in writing environmental protection laws. In addition to working for local, state, and federal government offices, these planners may work with architectural and engineering firms, consulting firms, nonprofit agencies, and real estate developers. Balancing the wants and needs of these varied stakeholders while on deadlines can be stressful for environmental planners.

Environmental planners carry out their duties through office and fieldwork, including activities like meetings, public forums, and community outreach, which can take place outside of typical daytime work hours. Employment of environmental planners can be dependent on the economy; a slower economy can mean fewer building projects and less need for environmental planners. Employers typically expect environmental planners to have a graduate degree; additional licensure and certification options may apply.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree
Degree Field Urban or regional planning or another closely related field
Licensure/Certification Only New Jersey and Michigan regulate such workers; optional certification is available through the American Institute of Certified Planners
Experience 1-2 years of related experience required for entry-level work
Key Skills nalytical-thinking and decision-making skills, attention to detail, verbal and oral communication skills, ability to manage projects and use statistical technology such as geographic information systems
Salary The median salary for all environmental planners was $66,940 in 2014

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The first step on the academic path to a career in environmental planning is to complete undergraduate school. Graduate programs in planning accept undergrads from a variety of majors, though bachelor's degrees in political science, economics, environmental design, or geography are particularly common.

Step 2: Complete Graduate School

While a master's degree in urban planning or regional planning might qualify one for a career in this field, some schools offers master's degrees specifically in environmental planning. Curricula typically take two years to complete and consist of didactic and laboratory courses as well as workshops and seminars. Students can expect to study topics like environmental ethics and policies, planning theory, sustainability, and landscape planning. These programs also tend to incorporate internships and require completion of a thesis project. To enter a graduate school for urban planning, a student must take and submit their GRE scores.

Success Tip:

  • Explore internship opportunities. Practical experience is extremely valuable in this profession, so students can begin to gain such experience early on by completing internships during graduate school. Internships related to environmental planning may be available through local branches of government or with architectural firms. In addition, such internships could lead to full-time employment after graduation.

Step 3: Earn Post-Graduate Experience

Obtaining even an entry-level position in this field requires 1-2 years of experience relevant to environmental planning. For example, some aspiring planners work in the architecture or public policy fields after finishing their master's degree programs. Students can also choose to enter into full-time internship programs after graduate school. In either case, such work may lead to employment as an environmental planner within the starting company or with another company.

Step 4: Get Licensed

According to the BLS, New Jersey is the only state that requires environmental planners to be licensed as of 2012. Individuals in this state can pursue licensure through the New Jersey State Board of Professional Planners, which requires that applicants complete a training period before obtaining licensure. Additionally, Michigan requires those involved in urban or community planning to register with the state as a Community Planner. Registration requires at least two years of professional experience in addition to education.

Step 5: Consider Certification

Certification is voluntary for this profession, though some employers will only hire planners who hold certification. The American Planning Association's American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) offers the Certified Environmental Planner (CEP) designation to AICP members who have at least eight years of experience in the field. Candidates must also pass a certification exam. CEPs must renew certification every two years by earning 32 certification maintenance credits.

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