How to Become an Urban or Regional Planner
Urban and regional planners must be effective communicators when they meet with public officials, developers, and the public regarding development plans and land use.
Urban and regional planners need a master’s degree from an accredited planning program to qualify for most positions.
Urban and regional planners typically need a master's degree from an urban or regional planning program accredited by an organization such as the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB). Master's degree programs accept students with a wide range of undergraduate backgrounds, including economics, geography, political science, or a related field, such as architecture.
Most master’s programs have students spending considerable time in seminars, workshops, and laboratory courses, in which they learn to analyze and solve planning problems. Although most master’s programs have a similar core curriculum, there is some variability in the courses they offer and the issues they focus on. For example, programs located in agricultural states may focus on rural planning, and programs located in larger cities may focus on urban revitalization.
Bachelor’s degree holders can qualify for a small number of jobs as assistant or junior planners. In 2016, there were 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.
Although not necessary for all positions, some entry-level positions require 1 to 2 years of work experience in a related field, such as architecture, public policy, or economic development. Many students gain experience through real planning projects or part-time internships while enrolled in a master’s planning program. Others enroll in full-time internships after completing their degree.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
As of 2016, New Jersey was the only state that required urban and regional planners to be licensed. More information is available from the regulatory board of New Jersey.
The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) offers the AICP certification for planners. To become certified, candidates must meet certain education and experience requirements and pass an exam.
Analytical skills. Urban and regional 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.
Communication skills. Urban and regional planners must be able to communicate clearly and effectively because they interact with colleagues and stakeholders, prepare research reports, give presentations, and meet with a wide variety of audiences, including public officials, interest groups, and community members.
Decisionmaking skills. Urban and regional planners must weigh all possible planning options and combine analysis, creativity, and realism to choose the appropriate action or plan.
Leadership skills. Urban and regional planners must be able to manage projects, which may include overseeing tasks and planning assignments.