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Urban Planner: Job and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for urban planners. Get the facts about education requirements, job duties, certification and salary to determine if this is the right career for you.

What Is an Urban Planner?

Urban planners are responsible for helping plan and develop roads, schools, public buildings and other structures within a city area. They typically work with communities that are expanding due to population growth or those trying to revamp their buildings or facilities. Urban planners get input from the public, city officials and developers to begin the planning process, and then review policies and market research concerning land use. They will sit with officials to review development plans and advise them on the approval or disapproval of proposals. Urban planners present the finalized projects to the public and various officials. They must be up-to-date on legal issues, regulations and construction codes. The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's and master's degrees
Education Field of Study Bachelor's: urban planning, economics, geography; master's: urban planning
Key Skills Research/develop projects, allocate land for projects, effectively communicate with public and government agencies
Licensure Required Not required except in New Jersey; voluntary certification available
Job Growth (2018-2028) 11% growth*
Average Salary (2018) $76,240*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Type of Education Will I Need?

If you are interested in becoming an urban planner, you will most likely be required to have both a bachelor's and a master's degree before you can gain an entry-level job in a local, state or federal government. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Planning Accreditation Board accredited 15 U.S. bachelor's degree programs and 71 master's degree programs in urban planning as of 2016 (www.bls.gov). Some other undergraduate degrees you might find appropriate to the field include those related to economics or geography.

A Master of Science in Urban Planning degree program will take you two years beyond an undergraduate degree to complete, and will teach you about the political processes, regulations and economic conditions that can help shape the way a city is built. You will also learn about urban planning techniques, processes and planning law, and will probably be required to complete a thesis paper or project.

What Job Duties Might I Have?

As an urban planner, you will be responsible for helping to shape and develop urban and suburban areas. You will analyze the various economic, social and political factors that influence a particular community and then use those factors when deciding where to build roads and schools. You will also need to decide which land should be allocated for residential development as opposed to land used for commercial or public buildings.

When you work as an urban planner, you must have strong people skills in order to be able to work well with government agencies and address the needs of an entire city population. You should also be able to synthesize information into computer databases and spreadsheets.

Will I Need Certification?

You will not be required to have certification to become an urban planner. However, some organizations do offer voluntary certification that might help you to gain a promotion or advance in your career. The American Planning Association (APA) offers certification through its American Institute of Certified Planners.

To qualify for certification, you must be a member of APA. If you have a graduate degree in urban planning, you must have at least two years of professional experience before you are eligible to sit for the certifying examination. If you have just a bachelor's degree, you will need to have three years of experience before you meet eligibility.

What Will My Salary Be Like?

According to BLS statistics, urban planners made an average annual salary of around $76,240 in May 2018. The highest-paying states in the field include the District of Columbia, California, Alaska, Massachusetts and Oregon. You can expect to earn a higher yearly salary if you work for land subdivision developers or for the federal government, while local and state governments tend to pay a slightly lower than average salary.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Economists and survey researchers are similar careers that require a master's degree. Economists study trends and data concerning resources and services. This includes looking at the production and distribution of these goods and assessing any problems. Survey researchers create surveys and analyze the responses. Their findings may be used to interpret factual data, public opinion or personal beliefs.