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Urban Planner Training and Qualifications

A master's degree from an accredited planning program provides the best training for a wide range of planning positions. Experience and acquiring certification lead to the best opportunities for advancement.

Education and training. Most entry-level jobs in Federal, State, and local governments require a master's degree from an accredited program in urban or regional planning or a related field, such as urban design, environmental planning, or geography. Students are admitted to master's degree programs in planning with a wide range of undergraduate backgrounds, such as a bachelor's degree in economics, geography, political science, or environmental design. Several schools offer a bachelor's degree in urban planning, and graduates from these programs qualify for some entry-level positions, but their advancement opportunities are often limited unless they acquire an advanced degree.

In 2009, 67 colleges and universities offered an accredited master's degree program, and 15 offered an accredited bachelor's degree program, in planning. Accreditation for these programs is from the Planning Accreditation Board, which consists of three sponsoring organizations: the American Institute of Certified Planners, the American Planning Association, and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning.

Most college and university planning departments offer specialization in areas such as community development and redevelopment, land-use or code enforcement, transportation planning, environmental and natural resources planning, urban design, and economic planning and development.

Highly recommended also are courses in related disciplines, such as architecture, law, earth sciences, demography, geography, economics, finance, health administration, and management. Because familiarity with computer models and statistical techniques is important, courses in statistics, computer science, and GIS also are recommended or required.

Graduate students spend considerable time in seminars, workshops, and laboratory courses, learning to analyze and solve planning problems. They are often required to work in a planning office part time or during the summer. Local government planning offices frequently offer students internships, providing experience that proves invaluable in obtaining a full-time planning position after graduation.

Licensure. As of 2009, New Jersey was the only State that required planners to be licensed, although Michigan required registration to use the title "community planner." Licensure in New Jersey is based on two examinations—one testing general knowledge of planning and another testing specific New Jersey planning laws. Registration as a community planner in Michigan is based on professional experience and national and State examinations.

Other qualifications. Planners must be able to think in terms of spatial relationships and visualize the effects of their plans and designs. They should be flexible and be able to reconcile different viewpoints and make constructive policy recommendations. The ability to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing, is necessary for anyone interested in this field.

Certification and advancement. The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP), a professional institute within the American Planning Association, grants certification to individuals who have the appropriate combination of education and professional experience and pass an examination. Professional development activities are required to maintain certification, which can be very helpful for promotion.

After a few years of experience, planners may advance to assignments requiring a high degree of independent judgment, such as designing the physical layout of a large development or recommending policy and budget options. Some public sector planners are promoted to community planning director and spend a great deal of time meeting with officials, speaking to civic groups, and supervising a staff. Further advancement occurs through a transfer to a larger jurisdiction with more complex problems and greater responsibilities or into related occupations, such as director of community or economic development.

Source:  Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition

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Urban Planner Job outlook     Urban Planner Income

 

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