How to Become an Urban or Regional Planner
Urban and regional planners meet with companies to hear proposals for land use projects.
Urban and regional planners usually need a master’s degree from an accredited planning program to qualify for professional positions. These jobs often require several years of related work experience.
Most urban and regional planners have a master’s degree from an accredited urban or regional planning program. In 2012, 73 colleges and universities offered an accredited master’s degree program in planning.
Many programs accept students with a wide range of undergraduate backgrounds. Many people who enter master's degree programs have a bachelor's degree in economics, geography, political science, or environmental design.
Although most master’s programs have a similar core curriculum, they often differ in the courses they offer and the issues on which they focus. For example, programs located in agricultural states may focus on rural planning and programs located in an area with high population density may focus on urban revitalization.
Most master's programs include considerable time in seminars, workshops, and laboratory courses, in which students learn to analyze and solve planning problems.
Some planners have a background in a related field, such as public administration, architecture, or landscape architecture.
Aspiring planners with a bachelor’s degree but not a master’s degree can qualify for a small number of jobs as assistant or junior planners. There are currently 15 accredited bachelor’s degree programs in planning. Candidates with a bachelor’s degree typically need work experience in planning, public policy, or a related field.
Entry-level planners typically need 1 to 2 years of work experience in a related field, such as architecture, public policy, or economic development. Many students get experience through real-world planning projects or part-time internships while enrolled in a planning program. They often complete summer internships during their master's program.
Others enroll in full-time internships after completing their degree.
Mid- and senior-level planner positions usually require several years of work experience in planning or in a specific planning specialty.
As of 2011, New Jersey was the only state that required planners to be licensed, although Michigan required registration to use the title “community planner.” More information can be requested from the regulatory boards of New Jersey and Michigan.
The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) offers the professional AICP Certification for planners. To become certified, candidates must meet certain education and experience requirements and pass an exam. Although not required, certification can show a level of professional expertise in the field. Some organizations prefer to hire certified planners.
Analytical skills. Planners analyze information and data from a variety of sources, such as market research studies, censuses, and environmental impact studies. They use statistical techniques and technologies, such as geographic information systems (GIS), in their analyses to determine the significance of the data.
Collaboration skills. In making planning decisions, urban and regional planners must collaborate with a wide range of people. They often work with or receive input from public officials, engineers, architects, and interest groups. Some may act as mediators when these groups have conflicting opinions.
Decision-making skills. Planners must weigh all possible planning options and combine analysis, creativity, and realism to choose the appropriate action or plan.
Management skills. Planners must be able to manage projects, which may include overseeing tasks, planning assignments, and making decisions.
Speaking skills. Urban and regional planners must be able to communicate clearly and effectively because they often give presentations and meet with a wide variety of audiences, including public officials, interest groups, and community members.
Writing skills. Urban and regional planners need strong writing skills because they often prepare research reports, write grant proposals, and correspond with colleagues and stakeholders.