How to become an Urban Planner in the USA?

Are you thinking of becoming an urban planner, or have only just stumbled on this article and don’t know what an urban planner is? Whichever category you fall under, this article will share insights on everything you need to know about urban planners. Who they are, what they do, and how you can start a career in urban planning.

Who is an Urban Planner?

An Urban planner helps the city develop plans for the use of various areas in the city. They tell the city how to use space available to them and consider multiple factors in their plan. Factors like potential population growth, increased business in that area and even aesthetics.

An Urban planner is involved in creating the land use plan, reviewing the plan, approving it, and modifying it. They could have the power to reject a plan from developers. Their planning is not limited to land use alone. Urban planners are involved in creating plans for public facilities like schools and libraries as well.

Become Urban Planner in USA

Skills an urban planner must have

To become a successful urban planner, you should hone specific skills to help you in this career path. Some of these skills include;

  • Communication skills: As an urban planner, you will give key presentations to various interest groups, community leaders, and even public officials. So, having communication skills will help you thrive in this career path.
  • Managerial skills: Managing different projects and various groups is a significant duty of an urban planner. So, having organizational skills is essential to be successful in this role.
  • Writing skills: Writing reports, grant proposals, and correspondence to key stakeholders is an essential role of an urban planner. So, developing strong writing skills will help you become successful in this career path.
  • Decision-making skills: One primary task an urban planner will have to do regularly is consider every possible alternative and decide on the best route to take. This involves analytic and decision making skills.

I’m interested, how can I become an urban planner in the USA?

Becoming an urban planner is not a day’s job. You must master the skills mentioned above. There are also specific certifications you must attain, and some degrees, you should have to become an urban planner.

With that said, here is a step by step process to get started:

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor’s degree

As an Urban planner, you should obtain a Bachelor’s degree in urban planning. This is because this degree program will cover topics like site planning, government budgeting, urban neighborhood analysis, and public and private development. These are all topics that you will come across once you start your career in urban planning.

Alternatively, you can get a bachelor’s degree in related programs like public administration, environmental design, and even civil engineering.

Majority of these degree programs (urban degree or related) offer internships to students. These internships ensure that students can apply the knowledge taught in school in a real-life scenario. The experience students can get from this internships are invaluable, and thus should be taken seriously.

Step 2: Earn a Master’s degree

O*NET OnLine ran statistics that showed that over 80% of urban planners hold master’s degrees. This means that only 10% of urban planners have only a bachelor’s degree. With these stats alone, you can tell how important getting a master’s degree is to progress in your career.

For you to stand out from the crowd and progress in your career path, you should obtain a master’s degree.

During your master’s degree program, you will learn how to draw up policies that meet people’s needs. You will also learn how to plan urban spaces.

A master’s degree program in urban planning will cover building codes, policy analysis, environmental law, and even urban transportation.

Look for a master’s program that allows you to choose an area of concentration. Some areas of concentration include environmental planning, community development, or housing and real estate.

Some other tips to take into consideration when applying for a master’s program in urban planning include:

  • Participate in an internship. As mentioned earlier, internships open you up to real-world problems. This gives you the experience and training you will need to get a job.
  • Become familiar with environmental problems in your area. Learning about your community’s policies and regulations will help you understand local matters and solve them. You can do this by attending city council meetings and neighborhood assemblies.
  • If you have the option, pick a dual degree program. A double degree could provide you with additional employment opportunities in the future. So, if your school offers the chance to combine your degree with another graduate degree, do so.

Top colleges/ universities offering urban planning degrees

While a lot of colleges and universities in the United States provide urban planning degrees, here are the five top universities in the U.S. that have some excellent degrees in this field;

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Check these institutions to see the various urban planning degrees they offer in bachelors, masters, and doctorate levels.

Step 3: Acquire Certifications

The next step to becoming an urban planner in the United States is to get certified. There are a ton of certifications offered by The American Institute of Certified Planners.

These certifications will help you get better jobs in urban planning. The process of acquiring these certifications are pretty straightforward. All you have to do is write an exam.

Note that you cannot get certified by the AIC if you haven’t already earned a bachelor’s degree in urban planning and don’t have work experience. Also, to maintain these certifications, continuing education is required.

How to register with an American Planning Association

To register for certifications at APA, follow this link for detailed steps.

Job opportunities as an urban planner in the USA

Throughout the process of getting cemented in this career path, you will have a vast majority of job opportunities.

One such job opportunity will be to work for the federal, state, county, and city government agencies.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 65% of urban planners find local government jobs. While architectural, engineering, and other related companies hire 15% of urban planners. The state employs 10% of urban planners, and another 7% could find work at managerial companies or even technical consulting firms.

How much can you earn as an urban planner

Urban planning is such a focused career path that planners can earn more than the average yearly earnings in the United States.

For instance, an entry-level urban planner can earn up to $46,807. This is with just one year of experience in urban planning.

An urban planner with up to four years of urban planning experience can earn up to $53,233. As you grow in this career path, your chances of earning more increases. You can earn up to $90,000 as an urban planner, depending on how you negotiate your employers’ salary.

In conclusion

Although some would say the road to becoming an urban planner is a demanding one, it is also a very rewarding one. This career path is ideal for anyone looking to influence change in their community. Go through this article, and ensure you go through the steps of becoming an urban planner throughout the course of your career. This will help you stand taller amongst your peers, and distinguish yourself from the rest.

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

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