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Online Urban Planning Degrees: Information by Degree Level

Find out about online urban planning courses and in which degree programs they're most commonly offered. Get course descriptions, program info and online requirements to make an informed decision.

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Essential Information

Online master's degree programs in urban planning are very rare. One available program in this field is designed for planners currently in the workforce and can be completed fully online; it offers specializations in geographic information systems (GIS) and sustainable planning. Another program in sustainable urban planning offers coursework through a hybrid of classroom and online training.

Master's Degree in Urban Planning

Aspiring professionals seeking online programs in urban planning can earn a Master of Arts in Urban and Regional Planning or a Master of Professional Studies in Sustainable Urban Planning through distance learning. An online program in urban planning can provide students with the experience and knowledge they need to determine and develop the best use of a city's land. These are self-paced courses of study, through which students watch lectures and videos, as well as use chat rooms and message boards to interact with professors and peers or complete group projects. While it is possible to find a fully online program, some schools offer the program in a hybrid format that requires some on-campus attendance.

In general, a master's degree in urban planning from an accredited program and at least one year of internship-based or professional experience are the minimum requirements for obtaining a position in the field. Graduate students may also be able to find compatible or related programs in infrastructure systems planning and management, transportation and urban systems, geographic information systems (GIS) or public administration.

Program Information and Requirements

An online master's program in urban planning may include up to 52 credits and take around three years to complete. In addition to a foundational core, the curriculum may include a specialization in GIS or sustainability, electives and capstone or studio projects. To meet the technical requirements, online students should have a computer with high-speed Internet access and a current Web browser. They may also have to purchase additional materials, such as textbooks or CDs.

List of Common Courses

Although course titles can vary, an urban planning curriculum covers topics in statistics and data analysis, land use, planning, transportation policies and urban economies. Descriptions of some common core courses are found below.

Land Use Planning Law

As an introduction to growth management, this course covers the regulatory and non-regulatory procedures used to implement urban development plans. Topics include the relationships between law enforcement and regulation, as well how the planning process can be influenced by law and politics. Mandatory planning will also be discussed.

Planning Theory and History

Students learn how some of the main theories of policymaking have developed over time. Course topics compare the concepts of formal synoptic and disjointed incrementalism, as well as the political context of comprehensive planning.

Quantitative Data Analysis for Planners

In this course, students can develop their quantitative research skills while formulating planning problems and learning how to gather data. Content emphasis is on the use of computer applications and statistical analysis.

Transportation Policy and Planning

Students are introduced to the basics of transportation planning and policymaking within a historical context. Policymaking procedures and tools in the urban environment are covered, as well as some of the critical transportation issues we face today.

Urban Economy

This course helps students become acquainted with the principles associated with urban networks, including their operational and organizational attributes. Additional topics include economic basis analysis, such as the basic and non-basic or service industries that attract and support an area's wealth.


Career Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment prospects for urban planners are expected to increase at an average rate of 6% from 2014 to 2024. As of May 2014, urban and regional planners earned a median annual wage of $68,220, as reported by the BLS. During the same period, professionals in the lowest 10% earned $42,940 or less, with those in the highest 10% earned $102,200 or more. As of May 2014, roughly 66% of urban and regional planners worked in local government.

Continuing Education Information

As of 2014, New Jersey is the only state in the country that requires urban planners to have a license; however, those in Michigan must register as community planners. Voluntary certifications are available through the American Institute of Certified Planners and provide proof of professional competency. Requirements include completion of an accredited undergraduate or graduate program in planning, professional experience, a passing score on the institute's exam and membership in the organization. Candidates without a college degree must have eight years of relevant experience.

The only fully online master's degree for urban planning is for existing planners, all others are a hybrid of classroom and online training. Common courses cover planning related theory, analysis, and policy.

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