Urban Planning Degree and Certification Program Information

Programs of study in urban planning are available both in the undergraduate and graduate levels. They teach students the fundamentals of the field and provide the necessary technical and practical skills for employment.

Essential Information

Urban planning is a combination of land use, housing and transportation planning in urban environments. Bachelor's degree programs give students a foundational knowledge in urban planning through classes and hands-on experience, preparing them for entry-level careers or further education. A master's degree program offers advanced instruction and research opportunities, while doctoral programs prepare graduates for careers in teaching, consulting or research.

Professional certification in urban planning, while optional, shows a candidate's expertise in the field. Urban planners may also earn specialty certification in various areas. Certification requires experience and passing a written examination. Fieldwork is required through most programs.

Bachelor's Degree in Urban Planning

Students with a high school diploma or the equivalent may apply to a bachelor's degree program in urban planning. A bachelor's degree program prepares students for a career in urban planning and development, both in public and private sectors. An understanding of design is combined with economics, environmental issues, history, and a focus on law and public policy.

In a bachelor's degree program in urban planning, a standard liberal arts course load is combined with urban planning classes. A few classes students can expect are:

  • Urban design history
  • Land use planning
  • Urban planning law
  • Environmental planning issues
  • Historic preservation

Master's Degree in Urban Planning

Master's degree programs in urban planning are usually offered by schools of architecture or public service. Master's degree programs in urban planning offer an in-depth study of the processes that form a city and how cities can be improved. Critical thinking is encouraged, and individuals may determine their own professional approach by deconstructing theories of leading designers and scholars in the field.

Many master's degree programs in urban planning require the research and completion of a thesis. A few typical course examples are:

  • Structure of cities
  • Planning negotiations
  • Land use for transportation
  • International sustainable living
  • Public financing

Doctorate in Urban Planning

Doctoral degree programs in urban planning tend to be research-heavy and interdisciplinary, bringing together architecture, social sciences and sociology. In order to graduate from a doctoral degree program in urban planning, students typically must complete a dissertation and go up for a review.

The coursework in a doctoral program in urban planning varies depending upon the specialization of the student. Some common subjects covered are:

  • Planning sustainable communities
  • Water supply planning
  • Construction management
  • Communications and planning
  • Changing form of the city

Popular Careers

The most common career path for a graduate holding a bachelor's degree in urban planning is to become a professional urban planner. However, there are other, more specialized career options as well. A few examples include:

  • Public park designer
  • Historic building restoration
  • Traffic management

Those with a doctorate have the option of working in professional, academic and research settings. Careers are available as:

  • Consultants
  • Professors
  • Researchers

Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics (BLS), urban and regional planning jobs are projected to increase by 6% between 2014 and 2024 ( As of May 2015, the BLS reported that urban and regional planners earned $68,220 as a yearly median wage.

Continuing Education

Some students may decide to continue their education by earning certification in urban planning. Certification in urban planning is available from the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). Advanced Specialty Certification (ASC) is also available for professionals who wish to be certified in specific areas of urban planning such as transportation or environmental planning.

Urban planning degree programs provide the necessary training in this field through classes, hands-on experience, and research opportunities. Graduates can work in different environments and may also take certifications for professional advancement.

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