What Is the Best Degree Path to Becoming an Urban Planner?

As a naturally creative person, you know that you want to put your resourcefulness and your unique way of seeing the world to work in whatever occupation you choose. However, careers in the arts aren’t known for being plentiful or particularly lucrative most of the time. You don’t have to choose between your creativity and a great job. Instead, you can consider an unexpected career path like urban planning. Believe it or not, urban planning is among the top 10 degrees for creative people. You can put your creative talents and resourcefulness to work imagining and creating models of physical spaces and structures that are well designed for all members of a community.

The Role of an Urban Planner

Urban planners determine how to use land to establish new communities, alter existing communities to handle population increases and revive the buildings and structures that make up cities. Urban planners analyze data and environmental factors to understand the options for using a particular patch of land. The creative aspect comes in when urban planners create new plans and programs for how to use that land and make models of those plans.

An Advanced Degree in Urban Planning

Aspiring urban planners typically need a graduate degree. Of course, like students in any field, they must begin with their undergraduate studies. About 15 colleges now offer accredited urban or regional planning degrees at the bachelor’s level, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Other popular choices of undergraduate majors among aspiring urban planners include economics, architecture, landscape architecture, environmental design, geography, political science and public administration, the BLS reported.

An undergraduate degree may be sufficient for students to attain entry-level positions like junior or assistant planner, but often will not be enough to qualify candidates for more established roles. For these jobs, candidates must earn a master’s degree from one of the more than 70 accredited graduate degree programs in urban and regional planning. During their master’s-level education, students should expect to develop analytical and problem-solving skills through classroom seminars, laboratory classes, workshops and real-world internship experiences. The subject matters they study may vary from one location to the next, so students should choose their graduate schools carefully to make sure they are learning the material that’s most relevant to their intended career. In certain states, candidates must also earn a license or registration to work as an urban or community planner, though this is not the norm.

The benefits of pursuing a career in urban planning are numerous. The pay for urban planning is substantially above the median salary for all occupations. Urban planners earn a median salary of $65,230 per year (compared to the median of just $34,750 for all careers), the BLS reported. In agricultural, engineering and consulting services, the median wage is even higher. Of course, the opportunity to use your creativity and resourcefulness to make a real, concrete difference in communities is fulfilling work.

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