Degree Program Options for Aspiring Urban and Regional Planners

Oct 10, 2019

Students interested in a degree in urban and regional planning can find bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs in the field. Learn about coursework, specializations and other requirements offered through these degree programs.

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Essential Information

Bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs in urban and regional planning offer students the chance to apply their studies in practical ways through internships, fieldwork and research studies. A high school diploma or GED and pre-major coursework is typically required to enroll in a 4-year bachelor's degree program, and hands-on experience could be part of the program through internships.

Master's programs often require a bachelor's degree and specific coursework as well. Students in these 2-year programs may be able to select a specialization or electives to focus their studies, such as policy development, urban design, natural resource management, land use, international planning or economic development. To qualify for a PhD program, applicants may need a master's degree in a related field of study and some professional or field experience. Doctoral programs can take 4-5 years to complete and offer flexible studies to focus on a concentration. A thesis or dissertation is commonly required for a graduate program.

Bachelor of Science in Urban and Regional Planning

Students in bachelor's degree tracks can learn to evaluate the negative and positive impacts of future development plans. Urban planning often involves large-scale changes that will impact indigenous species as well as the human population. Factors of interest to planners include economic development, public services, environmental concerns, population growth and education. Participation in a substantial amount of fieldwork is required for students to gain practical experience and better understand the impacts that planners have on real-world environments.

In addition to understanding social change, students in planning programs learn to safeguard environmental health and mitigate potential damage to indigenous species of plants and animals. Commonly offered courses include:

  • Community development
  • Economic geography
  • History of cities
  • Natural resource management
  • Planning law
  • Quantitative methods

Master of Science in Urban Planning

The Master of Science in Urban Planning is a professional degree that teaches students to learn how planning affects the long-term health of cities and towns, including development, job creation, growth and access to resources.

Planning involves a significant amount of teamwork, report writing, presentation of findings, data analysis and creative thinking. Courses in communication are offered in addition to training in subjects like:

  • Economic modeling
  • Ecology
  • Site planning
  • Statistics
  • Zoning laws

Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Planning

Doctoral students in urban and regional planning learn to guide regional development by solving problems in housing, transportation and physical design. Since planning is an interdisciplinary field, students are required to choose a minor in a relevant field such as industrial engineering, political science, sociology or geography. Continuing on to the doctoral level is most relevant for individuals interested in careers in academia or research as well as for those interested in working in large-scale planning organizations.

Planners collaborate with community officials and other planning professionals. Doctoral programs offer courses in subjects related to research design, planning theory and data collection. Common topics of study include:

  • Historic preservation
  • Immigrant communities
  • Social experiments
  • Statistical techniques
  • Urban planning issues

Popular Career Options

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 39,100 urban and regional planners employed across various fields, as of May 2018 ( Among these, entry-level workers found work as:

  • Assistant pedestrian planners
  • Housing development project assistants
  • Planning assistants
  • Transportation planners

Local governments employed the vast majority of urban and regional planners, according to May 2018 BLS statistics. Other planners find employment in non-profit agencies, and consulting firms. Job titles available to Ph.D. program graduates include:

  • Conservation officer
  • Consultant at a non-governmental organization
  • Planning analyst
  • Urban planning professor

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

BLS forecasts anticipate a 11% growth in job opportunities for urban and regional planners from 2018-2028. The BLS reports showed that these professionals earned an average annual wage of $76,240 as of May 2018.

Continuing Education and Certification Information

The American Institute of Certified Planners, a division of the American Planning Association (APA), administers a certification program for professional planners who are members of the APA. Applicants must have a certain amount of professional planning experience before taking a written exam. Experience requirements vary from two to eight years depending on the highest degree level an applicant has earned.

Bachelor's, master's and PhD programs in urban and regional planning often include coursework and hands-on learning opportunities. Graduates can pursue voluntary certification and a variety of occupations, and though the job growth is expected to be just average, the mean salary is above average.

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