How To Become an Urban Planner

How To Become an Urban Planner

If you have a passion for creating and shaping the towns and neighborhoods we live in, becoming an urban planner may be the perfect career choice for you. Urban planners have the responsibility of developing and implementing plans that ensure the efficient and sustainable use of land and resources in a community. This includes forecasting future growth, designing neighborhoods, and creating environmentally friendly and economically viable spaces.

Before diving into the world of urban planning, it’s important to understand what the role entails and the necessary steps to become a successful planner. One of the first things to consider is your educational background. While a degree in urban planning is the best route, degrees in related areas such as geography, environmental sciences, economics, or public policy can also be relevant.



Once you have the necessary educational background, gaining practical experience is key. Many people start by working in community groups or volunteering in planning departments to get a feel for the profession and acquire additional skills. Working smart and networking with professionals in the field can also help open doors to job opportunities.

Obtaining licenses and certifications is another important step in becoming an urban planner. The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) offers a certification that requires passing an exam and meeting certain experience and education requirements. This certification ensures that you have the necessary knowledge and skills to be a competent planner.

When it comes to career pathways, there are many different routes you can take as an urban planner. Some people choose to work for government agencies, while others prefer to join private firms or work as consultants. There are also opportunities to specialize in specific areas such as transportation planning, land use planning, or environmental planning. The choice ultimately depends on your interests and career goals.

In terms of earning potential, the average salary for urban planners varies depending on factors such as experience, location, and level of education. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for urban and regional planners was $74,350 in May 2020. However, with additional experience and a doctoral degree, it is possible to earn a higher salary.



Research the Field

Before embarking on the journey to become an urban planner, it is important to thoroughly research the field to gain a better understanding of what it entails. Urban planning is a fast-growing industry that involves working on the development and improvement of cities and urban areas.

As an urban planner, your job will be to create plans and strategies that aim to enhance the quality of life in these areas. This includes considering factors such as infrastructure, transportation, housing, and public spaces. You will also be responsible for conducting research and investigations to gather data and information that will help inform your plans.

To gain a comprehensive understanding of urban planning, it is essential to study the field at a university or college. Many institutions offer undergraduate programs in urban planning or related fields such as geography, architecture, or landscape architecture. These programs provide a solid foundation in the principles and theories of urban planning.



Undergraduate Study

During your undergraduate studies, you will learn about the key concepts and theories of urban planning. You will also gain practical skills through hands-on projects and internships. Courses in subjects such as urban design, land use planning, transportation planning, and environmental planning will be included in your curriculum.

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It is important to note that while a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for entry-level positions in urban planning, many employers prefer candidates with a master’s degree. Therefore, it is advisable to consider pursuing a higher degree to enhance your career prospects.

Additional Steps

In addition to obtaining a bachelor’s degree, gaining relevant work experience is crucial in becoming a successful urban planner. This can be done through internships, apprenticeships, or entry-level positions in planning departments or related organizations. This hands-on experience will allow you to apply the knowledge and skills you have learned in a real-world setting.

Furthermore, obtaining professional certification can also be beneficial in your career as an urban planner. Several organizations offer certification programs that demonstrate your expertise and commitment to the field. These certifications can help you stand out in a competitive job market and increase your earning potential.

When considering a career in urban planning, it is important to keep in mind that the job market can be highly competitive. Therefore, it is essential to stay up to date with the latest developments in the field and continuously expand your knowledge and skills. This can be done through attending workshops, conferences, and seminars, as well as networking with professionals in the industry.

How to Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Urban Planning

If you are an aspiring urban planner, obtaining a bachelor’s degree is the first step towards achieving your career goals. A bachelor’s degree in urban planning provides you with the necessary knowledge and skills to work in this field.

When researching the best universities or colleges to pursue your degree, it is important to consider factors such as the curriculum, faculty, and resources available. Look for institutions that offer a comprehensive urban planning program that covers various aspects of the field.

Some of the courses that you might study as part of your bachelor’s degree program include urban design, community development, environmental studies, infrastructure planning, and zoning regulations. These courses will provide you with a strong foundation and understanding of the key concepts and principles of urban planning.

During your studies, you might also have the opportunity to participate in internships or apprenticeships with urban planning firms or government agencies. These experiences will give you valuable hands-on experience and allow you to apply the knowledge and skills you have learned in a real-world setting.

After completing your bachelor’s degree, you can start looking for entry-level positions in urban planning firms, government agencies, or non-profit organizations. These positions might include roles such as assistant planner or junior planner, where you will work under the guidance of senior planners and gain further practical experience.

It is important to note that while a bachelor’s degree is essential, many urban planners choose to pursue a master’s degree to further enhance their knowledge and skills. A master’s degree in urban planning can open up more career opportunities and positions you for senior-level roles in the field.

Overall, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in urban planning is the first step in your journey to becoming an urban planner. It provides you with the necessary foundation and knowledge to transition into a career in this field. By researching the best programs, gaining relevant work experience, and continuing your education, you can position yourself for success in the urban planning industry.

Gain Relevant Work Experience

Once you have obtained a bachelor’s degree in urban planning or a related field, the next step is to gain relevant work experience. This is an essential part of becoming an urban planner, as it allows you to apply the knowledge and skills you have learned in a practical setting.

There are several ways to gain work experience as an urban planner. One option is to seek internships or apprenticeships with planning agencies, firms, or city/town governments. These opportunities will give you the chance to work alongside experienced planners and learn from their expertise.

Another option is to work in a related field before transitioning into urban planning. This could include working in architecture, engineering, finance, or environmental planning. Having a background in these areas can provide you with a broader understanding of the factors that influence urban planning decisions.

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When gaining work experience, it is important to take on projects and responsibilities that are relevant to urban planning. This could include conducting research, analyzing data, preparing reports, or assisting in the development of comprehensive plans for cities or towns.

It is also beneficial to stay updated on the latest trends and developments in urban planning. This can be done by attending conferences, workshops, or seminars, as well as by researching and reading about current planning issues and best practices.

Overall, gaining relevant work experience is a crucial step in becoming an urban planner. It not only helps you develop a sense of the responsibilities and challenges that come with the profession, but also allows you to build a network of contacts within the industry. This network can be invaluable when looking for job opportunities or seeking advice and guidance in your career.

How to Pursue a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning

Obtaining a Master’s degree in Urban Planning is one of the best routes to take if you are looking to pursue a career in this field. A Master’s degree not only provides you with the necessary knowledge and skills, but it also opens up more job opportunities and can lead to higher salary potential.

Why Pursue a Master’s Degree?

There are several reasons why pursuing a Master’s degree in Urban Planning is beneficial. Firstly, it allows you to acquire a deeper understanding of the field and its key concepts. You will study subjects such as environmental planning, spatial analysis, land use planning, and transportation planning, among others. This knowledge is essential for becoming an effective and ethical urban planner.

Secondly, a Master’s degree provides you with the opportunity to specialize in a particular area of urban planning. This specialization can help you stand out in the job market and pursue careers in specific sectors such as transportation planning, economic development, or environmental planning.

How Long Does it Take to Complete a Master’s Degree?

The duration of a Master’s degree program in Urban Planning varies depending on the university and whether you choose to study full-time or part-time. Typically, it takes around two years to complete a full-time program. Part-time programs may take longer, usually around three to four years.

Choosing the Right Program

When selecting a Master’s degree program in Urban Planning, it is important to consider several factors. Look for programs that are accredited by recognized planning associations or agencies. These programs adhere to high standards of education and are more likely to provide you with the necessary skills and knowledge.

Other Considerations

While a Master’s degree is not always required to work as an urban planner, it is becoming increasingly important in the industry. Many employers prefer candidates with a Master’s degree due to the advanced knowledge and skills they possess.

Furthermore, some states or cities may require urban planners to be licensed. In such cases, a Master’s degree is often a prerequisite for obtaining a license. Therefore, if you plan on practicing in a licensed state or city, it is essential to pursue a Master’s degree.

Obtain Professional Certification

Obtaining professional certification is an essential step in becoming an urban planner. It not only demonstrates your commitment to the field but also enhances your credibility and opens up more opportunities for career advancement.

There are several professional organizations that offer certifications for urban planners, such as the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP). These certifications typically require a combination of education, work experience, and passing a comprehensive exam.

AICP Certification

The AICP certification is one of the most recognized and respected certifications for urban planners in the United States. To become AICP certified, you must meet certain eligibility requirements, including a combination of education and work experience. You must also pass the AICP exam, which tests your knowledge and understanding of urban planning principles, ethics, and practices.

Obtaining AICP certification can significantly enhance your career prospects. It demonstrates that you have met rigorous professional standards and have the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively plan and design communities and cities.

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CIP Certification

The CIP certification is the leading professional designation for urban planners in Canada. Similar to the AICP certification, it requires a combination of education, work experience, and passing a comprehensive exam. The CIP certification is recognized nationally and demonstrates your expertise in urban planning and your commitment to professional standards.

Both the AICP and CIP certifications require ongoing professional development to maintain certification. This ensures that certified urban planners stay up-to-date with the latest trends, regulations, and best practices in the field.

By obtaining professional certification, you can differentiate yourself from others in the field and showcase your commitment to quality urban planning. It also increases your earning potential, as certified urban planners tend to earn higher salaries on average compared to their non-certified counterparts.

Furthermore, professional certification can open doors to a variety of career opportunities. Many government agencies, private companies, and nonprofit organizations prefer to hire certified urban planners for their projects and initiatives. It also gives you the opportunity to work on high-profile and impactful projects that shape the future of cities and communities.

How long does it take to become an urban planner?

When considering a career in urban planning, it is important to understand the time and dedication required to progress in this field. Becoming an urban planner involves gaining relevant education, work experience, and professional certification. The length of time it takes to become an urban planner can vary depending on several factors.

Undergraduate Degrees

Obtaining a bachelor’s degree is the first step towards becoming an urban planner. Most urban planning positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in urban planning or a related field such as geography, environmental studies, or public policy. The duration of an undergraduate program typically ranges from three to four years.

Master’s Degrees

While a bachelor’s degree can provide a foundation in urban planning, a master’s degree is often required for more advanced positions and career progression. Pursuing a master’s degree in urban planning can take an additional one to two years of study. Some schools offer accelerated programs that allow students to complete their master’s degree in a shorter timeframe.

Work Experience

Gaining relevant work experience is an important aspect of becoming an urban planner. This can be done through internships, volunteering, or entry-level positions in planning departments or related organizations. The duration of work experience can vary, but it is recommended to gain at least two to three years of experience before pursuing more senior positions.

Professional Certification

Obtaining professional certification is not always required to work as an urban planner, but it can greatly enhance job prospects and career advancement. Certification programs are offered by various organizations, such as the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). The process of obtaining certification typically involves passing an exam and meeting certain experience requirements. This process can take several months to a year to complete.

In summary, the time it takes to become an urban planner can vary depending on the individual’s educational background, work experience, and pursuit of professional certification. On average, it can take around five to seven years to complete the necessary education, gain relevant work experience, and obtain professional certification. However, this timeline can be shorter or longer depending on the individual’s circumstances and the specific requirements of their desired career path.

FAQ

What qualifications do I need to become an urban planner?

To become an urban planner, you typically need a bachelor’s degree in urban planning or a related field such as geography or environmental studies. Some employers may also require a master’s degree in urban planning.

What skills are important for an urban planner?

Important skills for an urban planner include analytical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and project management. It is also important to have a strong understanding of urban design principles and knowledge of relevant laws and regulations.

How can I gain experience in urban planning?

You can gain experience in urban planning through internships, volunteer work, or entry-level positions in planning departments or consulting firms. Additionally, participating in community development projects or joining professional organizations can also provide valuable experience.

What are the job prospects for urban planners?

The job prospects for urban planners are generally positive. The demand for urban planners is expected to grow as cities continue to face challenges related to population growth, infrastructure development, and sustainable planning. However, competition for jobs in highly desirable locations may be strong.

What is the average salary for urban planners?

The average salary for urban planners varies depending on factors such as experience, location, and the size of the organization. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for urban and regional planners was $74,350 in May 2020.

Dave Pennells

By Dave Pennells

Dave Pennells, MS, has contributed his expertise as a career consultant and training specialist across various fields for over 15 years. At City University of Seattle, he offers personal career counseling and conducts workshops focused on practical job search techniques, resume creation, and interview skills. With a Master of Science in Counseling, Pennells specializes in career consulting, conducting career assessments, guiding career transitions, and providing outplacement services. Her professional experience spans multiple sectors, including banking, retail, airlines, non-profit organizations, and the aerospace industry. Additionally, since 2001, he has been actively involved with the Career Development Association of Australia.