About Master’s in Urban Planning
Urban planning programs are typically small programs that are part of a college at a school, such as design or architecture. These programs used to be rare, but have found growth in the past decade. Urban planning focuses on many aspects of architecture and design, and is considered an interdisciplinary field because of its broad range of subjects and courses. Often a student has an area of concentration when studying for a master’s in urban planning, such as:
- Community development
- Urban design
- Transportation planning
- Land use
- Historical preservation
- Economic development
Urban planning master’s programs are available through both traditional and online schools.
What is a Master of City Planning Degree?
The Master of City Planning degree and the Master of Urban Planning are very similar programs, and in some cases, have interchangeable course requirements. Usually schools offer one or the other; it is just the title of the degree that changes. Graduates of either program are fit to work in city planning. Other names for these degrees are Master of Community Planning, Master of Town Planning (MTP), Master of Planning (MPlan), Master of Regional Planning (MRP) and Master of Environmental Planning (MEP). The master’s degrees for these planning and development programs are considered the highest education for those in the field. PhD programs are available through many schools, but are typically reserved for those who will go on to work in education and teach these subjects at the college level versus working in city planning.
What Do I Need to Enter a Master’s in Urban Planning Program?
Students need a bachelor’s degree in a related field. These degrees include a bachelor’s degree in urban planning, environmental planning, city planning, architecture, or environmental studies. Many programs also require a portfolio of undergraduate work. If the student has been in the work force for a while, they can include projects they have worked on. Most schools require a letter of recommendation and the Graduate Records Exam (GRE), which are both common for master’s degree programs in nearly any field.
What Should I Consider in an Urban Planning Program?
There are several things to consider when researching an urban planning degree. You want to find a program that is regionally accredited and accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB). This is the organization that accredits planning programs in the United States and Canada, and allows you to sit for the exam required to work as an urban or city planner. Like architects and others working in the planning field, urban planners are required to have a license to work. There are far more graduate programs accredited by the PAB than undergrad programs. There are several organizations that comprise the PAB and create the rules and regulations programs must abide by to maintain accreditation. When choosing a school sanctioned by the PAB, a student knows he or she is getting a high quality education that will properly prepare them for a position in urban planning for their careers. Without graduating from a program with this particular group, you may limit your employment opportunities.
Why the PAB?
Schools accredited by the PAB allow you to sit for American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) Certification Exam early on in a student’s career. If you do not graduate from a PAB-accredited program, you can still sit for the AICP exam, after you have a certain level of experience as a planner. It can be difficult to land a position without this certification, which means accumulating the experience is a difficult task. Schools must renew their accreditation with the PAB every few years, which means the institution is staying on top of their credentials, student experience and quality of instructors on a regular basis. All of these things ensure a good education and experience for the student.
Can I Complete an Urban Planning Master’s Degree Online?
There are fewer programs that are PAB-certified online, but they do exist. Take your time researching programs. Most students seeking a master’s degree apply to anywhere from three to five programs. Because there are so few urban planning master’s programs online, it can be very competitive to get into the programs. Most of these programs require the same things that traditional schools do. Some are extensions of traditional schools, which offers the same quality of education for students who are distance learners.
Do I Have to Have AICP Certification?
It is not required in any state to have AICP certification to work as an urban planner. However, this is regularly used as proof of someone’s professional experience and know-how. It is very common for managers in the city planning community to overlook planners who are not AICP certified. While not all students are able to sit for the exam right away depending on the degree program they attended, it is expected for an aspiring planner to obtain AICP certification once they qualify.
What Do Urban Planners Do?
Urban and city planners help plan how space is used for a city. In some cases, this is specific to urban planning, where the planner focuses on restructuring or more efficiently using existing space in an urban city. The majority of urban cities are working with a small amount of space and have many things to fit into that area, which is where a planner comes in. Planning how general land will be utilized is also the job of an urban planner, even if this space falls outside of the typical urban space. As long as it is within the city limits, the space is usually under the jurisdiction of the government and the urban planner. Urban planners study social and economic trends to make the best plans for the designated space. Planners take things like environmental hazards, traffic flow, zoning codes and crime into account when planning a space. Planners must also be well-acquainted with legislation and any land or property law changes in their areas of jurisdiction.
Is There a Demand for Urban Planners?
Most urban planners stay at their jobs for a long time, but the baby boomer generation is retiring which will open up many career opportunities for new planners. These positions will primarily be in mid-size to large cities. The highest demand in urban planning is for green planners. These are planners who are planning and building with the environment in mind. Green planners also use sustainable materials and aim to work with the land versus damaging it. Green careers should experience substantial job growth all around, and this is especially the case for urban planners. Many schools have special programs for those who are seeking a master’s in urban planning and allow them to concentrate on green planning and architecture. Some students have green backgrounds and focus on this area starting in their undergraduate degree.
How Can I Learn More About Green Planning?
If the bachelor program you graduated from did not have a green planning area of concentration, you can volunteer with numerous organizations to gain experience in green planning. While much of this volunteer work does not involve direct planning, it does give you an idea of the materials green planners work with and how land is assessed for green builders and construction sites. Green planners are needed because of population growth, the changing environment, drastic changes in weather and unsustainable development from the past. Cities are looking for ways to improve their community through proper planning, including layouts and materials used in new projects.
Where Do City Planners Work?
The majority of city planners are employed by the local government. This means most work for the city or county. You might also work for private architecture firms, since some work needed by the government is contracted out to third parties. City planners can also be employed by the state or work as freelance consultants for contract projects. Because there is so much local activity for planners, this is a prime way for undergraduate and graduate students to intern or volunteer with the city to work on projects. This is nearly always done for free, but some college programs may issue credits for students devoting a large number of hours to planning projects.
How Much Do Urban Planners Earn?
Within the past few years, urban planners have averaged about $62,000 per year. This is the median, although salaries can be slightly lower in small to mid-sized cities. Salaries can be higher for those working for private architecture firms or consulting agencies. The latter is usually done by city planners who have many years of experience working at the local level. Most jobs for urban planners will be in expanding areas of already well-populated cities. Job growth is expected to be higher than average for this industry. Those with a master’s degree in urban planning, certification and experience are sure to have many opportunities to utilize their skills.