How to Become an Urban Planner

An urban planner may work for the government or in the private sector. You might follow several different programs or paths to become an urban planner.


According to "Becoming an Urban Planner," a book by the American Planning Association, 62 percent of planners have a master's degree, while 32 percent have a bachelor's degree. The disciplines of study include planning, geography, business and public administration.

Some architects will leave architecture to become urban planners. It is also a viable alternative for lawyers and civil engineers, to combine a career in law or engineering with a career in planning. In addition, psychology students are laying new ground in environmental psychology as they explore how human beings relate to their physical surroundings.

As you can see, many educational paths can lead to becoming an urban planner. It is not necessary to drop out of your music program, for example, to pursue a career in planning, provided that you gain the necessary work experience.

The American Planning Association, which offers certification for planners, will accept several different types of education in conjunction with experience as a planner, for eligibility to complete the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) examination. The completion of this examination is one step toward certification.

If you decide to pursue an undergraduate degree in planning, The Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning offers a directory of degree programs, from undergraduate to PhD programs. Most planners will possess, at minimum, an undergraduate degree, though statistics indicate the professional standard may be a master's degree.

Licensing and Certification for the Urban Planner

According to the American Planning Association's website, New Jersey is the only state that requires a planner to be licensed. Certification is available through the American Planning Association to join the AICP. The AICP requires differing levels of education, work experience and completion of an examination for you to attain certification.

Gaining Skills to Become an Urban Planner

If you are considering a career as an urban planner, you should develop some necessary skills and build some work experience. Skills needed by planners include public speaking and presentation, written communication, understanding basic statistics and mapping skills. You can develop most of these skills in the course of a planning degree or by taking some courses in geography and mathematics. During the summer or while in school, look for part-time work or an internship with the local government, a planning non-profit or a local developer that has a planner on staff. These experiences will help you decide if a career as an urban planner is right for you.

You should also join the local planning association. The American Planning Association does offer student membership to students currently enrolled in a planning degree program. You can also look for opportunities in local development or city improvement groups which you can join as an interested citizen. This involvement will help you develop your knowledge as an urban planner and about urban issues.

Growth in the Field

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for urban and regional planners is supposed to grow faster than average, with many opportunities in the private sector, as well as in state and local governments.