Become an Urban Planner: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Aug 15, 2019

Should I Become an Urban Planner?

Urban planners develop plans for the use of land in metropolitan areas, counties and small towns. These plans are designed to accommodate population growth, increase business or improve aesthetics. Urban planners create their plans after meeting with government officials, architects and the public to decide how best to utilize the land. They also review development proposals and stay up-to-date on building codes and zoning laws. These professionals must have strong negotiating skills and must be able to handle stress well. Some positions require urban planners to travel or work nights and weekends to attend public committee hearings.

These jobs require a graduate-level education, but also offer above-average pay, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While licensure is required by very few states, voluntary certification is available and may help with employment opportunities.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree (required)
Degree Name Urban planning
Licensure and Certification Licensure varies by state (rarely required); voluntary certification is available through the American Institute of Certified Planners
Experience 1-2 years of experience is necessary for entry-level positions
Key Skills Strong analytical skills, collaborative and willing to make decisions, good public-speaking skills, familiarity with geographic information systems (GIS)
Salary $66,940 is the median annual wage for urban and regional planners (2014)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Bachelor's degree programs in urban planning cover such topics as site planning, public and private development, urban neighborhood analysis and government budgets. Students interested in becoming urban planners may also pursue a bachelor's degree in a related subject, such as civil engineering, public administration or environmental design.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship. Many urban planning bachelor's degree programs offer internships with public development agencies and community planning departments. These opportunities allow students to apply their knowledge in a real-world setting and gain valuable experience.

Step 2: Obtain a Master's Degree

A master's degree program in urban or regional planning teaches students how to craft policies and plan urban spaces that meet people's needs. Topics of study include policy analysis, environmental law, urban transportation and building codes. In addition, some programs allow students to choose concentrations, like environmental planning, community development or housing and real estate.

Success Tips:

  • Consider a dual degree program. Some colleges and universities offer the opportunity to combine an urban planning master's degree with another graduate degree. This may provide additional employment opportunities after graduation. In addition to an urban planning degree, consider graduating with a degree in business, law, science or public policy.
  • Participate in an internship. An internship can provide students with some of the experience necessary for employment. In fact, some programs require that students complete an internship in order to earn their degree. Internships can take place with public agencies and private companies.
  • Get exposed to local issues. It may be beneficial to learn about the public policies and regulations of a local community and become familiar with any environmental problems unique to the area. Attending city council meetings or neighborhood assemblies may also help individuals gain an understanding of local matters.

Step 3: Obtain Certification

The American Institute of Certified Planners offers voluntary professional certification for urban planners interested in improving their job prospects. In order to earn certification, individuals must pass an exam after meeting professional experience and education qualifications. Continuing education is required in order to maintain the credential.

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