What Does It Take to Become a Licensed Urban Planner in the USA?

If you’re interested in becoming an urban planner, you may already know that these professionals are responsible for planning the development of land use as well as city-funded programs that serve to expand, renovate, and redesign local facilities and neighborhoods within cities, towns, and metropolitan areas. 

This is an interesting and fulfilling career path, but one that will also require the study and implementation of advanced concepts related to engineering and planning. More specifically, here’s exactly what you’ll need to do to become an urban planner in the US:

Role of Planners

What Kind of Degree Will You Need?

Most urban planners possess a master’s degree in urban planning. However, that is not a strict requirement, as it’s possible to be hired as an urban planner even if you only have a degree and work experience related to public policy or planning. 

You can only enroll in an urban planning master’s degree program if you’ve already obtained a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field such as engineering, economics, environmental studies, political science, architecture, or geography. 

For example, you could start your career path by getting certified as an Engineer in Training. As you can see, the diversity of urban planning makes it a career advancement option that is available to many kinds of professionals and students in related fields. 

What Kind of Skills Will You Be Developing?

To be an urban planner, you’ll need to have advanced skills in communication, analysis, decision-making, and leadership. You’ll be analyzing large amounts of data coming from a wide variety of sources, such as market research studies, census data, and environmental studies. 

You’ll also be communicating with and overseeing large teams of professionals, so you’ll need to know the lingo and speak it well to ensure everyone is on the same page. You’ll also be meeting and collaborating with other public officials, members of the community, special interest groups, and local businesses. 

As a key decision-maker, you would also need to exercise your creativity, innovation, and problem-solving abilities in a realistic and practical manner, while also considering all options on the table. Finally, as the designated planner of a program or project, you’ll learn how to manage and coordinate teams as an effective leader. 

 How Long Does It Take to Become an Urban Planner?

While there’s no set time frame that applies to everyone, becoming a city planner is typically a lengthy career path that involves earning a master’s degree. It’s also possible to take a shorter path to an entry-level position on an urban planning team by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in a related field. 

However, in order to actually obtain the title of an official city planner, you would need to have at least 1-2 years of professional experience after obtaining your master’s degree. 

How Much Do Urban Planners Make?

The annual salary for an urban planner can vary widely, ranging anywhere from $45,000 for small towns, up to $115,000 or more for senior positions in the largest cities. However, the job difficulty typically increases as you go for higher-paying positions. Most urban planning salaries range from $50,000-$75,000. 

Of course, there will always be more work to be done and more factors to consider within bustling metropolises, so keep that in mind before you set your sights on becoming an urban planner in New York City. Then again, if you’re up for the challenge and you’re to make more than a hundred grand a year in a position of authority, urban planning in a major city might be right up your alley. 

Keep in mind that even smaller urban projects can involve lots of intricacies and obstacles, so don’t expect it to be an extremely easy job, regardless of how low or high the pay rate is. 

What is a Typical Day as an Urban Planner Like?

So, now that you’re ready to become an urban planner, you’re probably thinking to yourself “I wonder what a day in the office would be like as an urban planner.” 

For starters, you’ll definitely be composing and responding to official emails on a regular basis, as 100% of surveyed urban planners said they send at least one email within the course of a typical workday. There’s also a 94% chance that you’ll be having a telephone conversation on any given day. Here are some of the other things you’ll be doing during a typical day as an urban planner:

  • You’ll be having group discussions on about 89% of all workdays
  • You’ll be working with teams about 57% of the time
  • You’ll have to meet strict deadlines in about 15% of urban planning job positions
  • You’ll be communicating with customers, clients, or suppliers about 65% of the time

As you can see, most of your work will involve communicating and collaborating with other people to complete multi-faceted projects in a satisfactory and timely manner. 

Reasons to Become an Urban Planner

Now that you know how much urban planners make, what they do, and how to become one, you’re probably still looking for a few extra perks that will convince you to take this career path. Here’s a quick summary of the top reasons to consider a career in urban planning:  

  • Plenty of Jobs – According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of employment opportunities available to urban planners is expected to increase by 13% during the decade from 2016-2026. This positive outlook means that graduates can look forward to an easy job search process. 
  • A Fulfilling Career – Urban planners leave a lasting impact on their communities by creating and overseeing advanced programs and policies, which have profound effects on the physical and economic landscapes of the area. Just knowing that you’re improving the lives and environments of the people around you can be a great feeling and an admirable reward in and of itself. 
  • The Opportunity for Career Advancement – Experienced urban planners can become politicians, architects, event planners, CEOs, or virtually any other kind of high-ranking professional thanks to the prestige that this job adds to your resume. 

Those three reasons alone are usually enough to help interested students realize that urban planning is the job they’ve been looking for.  

Editor’s Choice

For further reading and getting more information about Urban Planning you can read the following articles (all articles open in new tab/ window):

  1. Urban Planning Job Description
  2. Why political agendas never actually solve your problems whereas planners can!
  3. Planning process without planners
  4. Loss to community because of incompetent planners
  5. Planners as knowledge workers
  6. Understanding the limitations of planning
  7. Urban Planning – Largely Unknown Profession