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How to Become an Urban Planner

Urban planning and development play an instrumental role in the formation of communities throughout the country. The mammoth buildings, snaking roads, and organizational structures and facilities that are indigenous to all cities don’t just materialize on their own. With this guide, you’ll learn about what urban planning is and how to become one, so you can decide if it’s a career worth pursuing.

Urban Planner Fast Facts:

Education Requirements 4-Year Bachelor’s Degree and a 3-Year Master’s Degree
Recommended Degree Program M.S. in Urban Ecology and Sustainable Planning
Median Salary (2018) $73,050
Microbiologists Employed in U.S. (2018) 39,100
Projected Job Openings by 2028 4,200
Projected Growth Rate 11% (Much faster than average)
Other Job Titles Regional Planner, Land Use Planner, Municipal Planner
Related Careers Environmental Engineer

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018 Wage Data

What Is an Urban Planner?

What is urban planning? Through research, analysis, and evaluations, urban planners invest much thought and effort to develop sustainable land-use proposals and plans. This is often termed sustainable urban planning. These plans include modifications to existing infrastructure such as roadways, buildings, power lines, and green spaces and the innovation of new structures and systems.

It takes a lot of hard work and skill to be a successful urban planner. Becoming a city planner requires several years of undergraduate and postgraduate education in an urban planning major. After the completion of a degree and securing a position as an urban planner, urban and regional planners work with government agencies, developers, and community members. They often function as a liaison between stakeholders to resolve community concerns.

Urban Planner Definition

What is urban and regional planning all about? Urban planners create and develop programs and plans for land use. To an urban planner, an empty plot of land is like a blank slate, ripe for innovation. Urban planners focus on building infrastructure, adding and rezoning schools, and creating community programs while factoring in population growth. Urban planning helps attract business owners and homeowners, keeping residential and commercial communities thriving.

What Does an Urban Planner Do?

What is the purpose of urban planning? Urban planners play a vital role in the planning, development, and growth of communities. This may be at a city, regional, or even federal level. They collaborate with a variety of individuals and groups including community members, developers, and government agencies to optimize city development.

Through research, inspections, and reviews, urban planners devise plans for land use. These plans have a significant impact on communities as they often include the construction or enhancement of schools, libraries, and parks. Urban planners work closely with developers to alter and modify infrastructure.

They must have the social skills to work well in a group capacity and be comfortable approving, modifying or rejecting land use plans that are presented. Strong computer skills and time management abilities are some other essential qualities that urban planners must possess.

Where Do Urban Planners Work?

Urban planners often work for government agencies at city, county, state, and federal levels. Most urban planners work within cities, though there is some demand for planners in rural areas as well. Urban planners typically work standard business hours but must be flexible for evening or weekend meetings with developers or community members.

While there are numerous day to day tasks that urban planners complete in an office setting, they are also often at work in the field. Fieldwork is necessary for researching and inspecting existing and future land use plans in a real-world setting.

What tools do urban planners use? Urban planners use a variety of computer technologies such as forecasting and GIS programs. They also utilize basic software to create spreadsheets and documents.

Urban Planner

Urban planners generally work within a single city or town. They develop new plans or restructure existing plans to allow for population growth by improving roads, public schools, housing, and enhancing the overall infrastructure of the city.

What is a city planner? An urban planner may also be referred to as a city or town planner. Other than the job title, there is no practical difference between the two.

Regional Planner

A regional planner has responsibilities that are similar to those of an urban planner but are larger in scope since they work with a bigger area of land. A region often consists of a sizable area of land with multiple cities, towns, and structures. Regional planners may encounter lengthier projects and more frequent land use disagreements since they usually work within more than one jurisdiction.

Urban Planner Job Description

What is the role of an urban planner? Urban planners have multiple day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. Planners must have a number of skills to successfully complete daily demands. Urban planning skills include knowledge of computer programs for forecasting and creating reports, competency with navigating complex relationships for working with stakeholders, and time management skills to ensure deadlines are met.

Junior Urban Planner Job Description

What does a city planner do? The duties of an urban planner at a junior level typically include:

  • Researching and developing reports
  • Assisting in the review of proposals or site plans
  • Helping to resolve community concerns regarding land use proposals or plans
  • Collecting and reporting population and tax data
  • Acting as a liaison among groups at a variety of levels, including community and government agencies
  • Communicating updates to the public regarding land use and development
  • Attending meetings including some during the evening or over the weekend
  • Overseeing the work of interns and acting as a resource for consultants
  • Completing assessments and evaluations in the field
  • Coordinating community reviews of land use plans

Senior Urban Planner Job Description

The job description of a senior level urban planner includes many of the junior planner tasks in addition to more complex duties. A senior urban planner must:

  • Review and recommend the approval, denial, or modification of land use proposals
  • Present projects and reports to planning commissions
  • Stay up to date on current city codes for building and zoning
  • Be familiar with environmental regulations and other legalities
  • Review site plans presented by land developers
  • Conduct field investigations to analyze issues with current land use
  • Develop short and long-term plans to improve and grow areas in the community
  • Oversee completion of projects
  • Use computer programs such as GIS to analyze data
  • Collaborate with developers, engineers, community members, and government agencies

What Is the Career Outlook for Urban Planners?

According to the BLS, the job demand for urban and regional planners is expected to grow by 11%, which is considerably higher than average.

an infographic showing the career outlook for urban planners

How Much Does An Urban Planner Make?

The average city or town planner salary is about $73,050 per year.

The annual salary hinges on many factors including job location, experience, and level of education.

Junior Urban Planner Salary (With Bachelor’s)

A typical city planner career path begins at the junior level. Junior urban planners have a bachelor’s degree at a minimum. Junior planners generally work at the lower end of the salary range.

A city planner salary will increase as the individual gains experience or completes a master’s program. Junior-level workers just starting out can expect an average salary of about $44,241.

Senior Urban Planner Salary (With Master’s)

The salary of a senior-level planner is much higher than a junior-level worker. Senior urban planners generally have a master’s degree as well as a few years of work experience under their belts.

Senior planners can expect an average salary of about $98,342 depending on industry and location.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2018, urban and regional planners earned the following salaries in each state:

State Low Salary Median Salary High Salary
Alabama 36,140 $58,530 $85,810
Alaska 61,910 $79,120 $116,470
Arizona 45,930 $68,720 $100,490
Arkansas 33,270 $48,960 $82,740
California 57,820 $89,680 $135,980
Colorado 50,490 $74,900 $103,660
Connecticut 47,490 $76,260 $116,410
Delaware $48,450 $60,810 $84,200
Florida $45,690 $69,850 $106,870
Georgia $38,650 $56,470 $87,660
Hawaii $51,650 $74,310 $102,840
Idaho $39,100 $58,200 $91,680
Illinois $38,940 $69,770 $115,900
Indiana $34,930 $55,660 $79,170
Iowa $42,510 $64,620 $93,170
Kansas $41,910 $63,830 $99,910
Kentucky $31,590 $48,720 $83,160
Louisiana $42,230 $68,250 $111,760
Maine $47,340 $67,110 $92,470
Maryland $48,730 $75,970 $108,190
Massachusetts $56,950 $80,410 $106,060
Michigan $41,290 $66,700 $87,640
Minnesota $53,180 $73,040 $97,950
Mississippi $35,600 $53,430 $84,810
Missouri $43,990 $69,520 $101,840
Montana $40,730 $57,500 $80,640
Nebraska $40,750 $63,740 $99,940
Nevada $53,660 $82,070 $109,190
New Hampshire $40,430 $60,920 $84,930
New Jersey $36,830 $71,240 $117,630
New Mexico $35,760 $55,210 $91,410
New York $50,580 $73,210 $113,930
North Carolina $44,560 $64,120 $95,150
North Dakota $48,840 $70,230 $95,090
Ohio $44,170 $66,560 $101,340
Oklahoma $38,440 $60,630 $94,200
Oregon $52,870 $81,130 $109,200
Pennsylvania $40,610 $64,670 $100,980
Rhode Island $51,500 $75,000 $99,490
South Carolina $41,150 $59,100 $98,890
South Dakota $38,870 $55,200 $77,550
Tennessee $39,430 $56,220 $90,480
Texas $41,490 $62,740 $103,000
Utah $38,270 $64,850 $100,200
Vermont $42,710 $57,900 $86,030
Virginia $45,300 $70,370 $112,270
Washington $57,560 $80,910 $103,770
West Virginia $37,880 $52,130 $90,490
Wisconsin $51,240 $68,650 $95,990
Wyoming $42,660 $61,110 $88,470

What Are the Education Requirements for Urban Planners?

While a bachelor’s degree may be sufficient for some assistant and junior level roles, most entry-level planning jobs require a master’s degree.

Urban Planner High School Requirements

The journey of becoming an urban planner can begin as early as high school. Students seeking urban planning career information will find that strong math skills are important for analysis and forecasting. Computer skills are also essential for building models and presentations. Urban planning classes that a student may take include trigonometry and computer applications. High school students may also consider an internship or part-time job at a local government agency to gain insight into how cities are managed.

Urban Planner College Education Requirements

How long does it take to become a town planner or city planner? A college degree is required to pursue a career in urban and regional planning. At a minimum, a bachelor’s degree is required, though planners with this type of degree typically work as an assistant or junior planner.

Most urban and regional planners have a master’s degree in urban planning. Master’s degree programs will accept students from many undergraduate bachelor’s programs.

unity environmental university logo

How long does it take to become an urban planner?

It takes a minimum of four years in college to complete a bachelor’s program to become a junior or assistant planner. Most urban planners spend 7 years in school, first completing their bachelor’s degree, then continuing on to a 3-year master’s program. Depending on the position you are seeking, some entry-level jobs require 1 to 2 years of experience in areas such as public policy or economics.

Some students choose to take on part-time internships while working on their master’s. Others opt to first complete their degrees and then apply for a full-time internship.

Urban Planner Undergraduate Degrees

Since there isn’t a bachelor’s degree in urban planning, these professionals hail from many diverse educational backgrounds. Most urban planners complete a bachelor’s degree program in economics, geography, environmental studies, or political science.

Urban Planner Postgraduate Degrees

Once a bachelor’s degree program is completed, students pursuing a career as an urban planner enter a postgraduate program to earn a master’s degree in urban planning. Throughout the program, students can expect to attend workshops, seminars and take lab courses to hone their analytical skills by solving complex planning problems.

There are two Master’s degrees at Unity Environmental University for aspiring urban or regional planners. The Master’s in Urban Ecology and Sustainable Planning provides students with a critical view of the relationship between humans and their environment. Unity’s Master’s degree program in Environmental GIScience can also be a smart way to carve out your career path in urban planning.

Related Degrees

  • M.S in Urban Ecology and Sustainable Planning: Through an examination of the relationship between humans and nature in urban environments, this program prepares professionals to improve the livability, vitality, and sustainability of urban communities.
  • M.S in Environmental Geographic Information Science (GIS): This 100% online GIS degree is big data visualized and put into the environmental context that matters. Students are expected to be highly inquisitive about the ramifications, motivations, and cost of global responses to environmental issues while exploring their own individual ideas.

Additional Certifications and Licenses

Typically, only a master’s degree in urban planning is required. However, a few states have additional requirements. In Michigan, urban planners need to register with the state as a community planner. New Jersey requires a license in addition to a degree. In order to become licensed, the planner must meet educational and experience requirements and pass an exam.

Related Careers for Urban Planners

What can you do with an urban planning degree? When researching how to become an urban planner, it’s important to consider the different career paths available. A city planning degree prepares you for other worthwhile careers that are similar to urban planning. These related careers are listed below.


Economists research, collect and examine data to evaluate economic issues. They analyze population, taxes, and other data to ensure that the distribution of resources and services is adequate.


Geographers study the land and features of the earth as well as the political and cultural structures across all regions. They may work at a local, national, or global level.

Landscape Architect

The design of open areas such as parks and other recreational areas is completed by landscape architects. These architects also plan green spaces at businesses, school campuses, and neighborhoods.


Surveyors play an important role in the development and expansion of projects that impact land use. They measure and document property lines and are essential in engineering and construction.

Next Steps

Learn more about how you can turn your passion into a career with a degree from Unity Environmental University.
Take the next step with the Green Careers Quiz or reach out to admissions today. 

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