Urban and regional planners held about 38,700 jobs in 2012, a majority of which—about 65 percent—were in local government.
Most other planners worked for state and federal governments; real estate developers; nonprofit organizations; and consulting firms. Planners work throughout the country in all sizes of municipality, but most work in large metropolitan areas.
The industries that employed the most urban and regional planners in 2012 were as follows:
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||65%|
|Architectural, engineering, and related services||14|
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||10|
|Management, scientific, and technical consulting services||7|
Most planners work with others. They often collaborate with public officials, engineers, architects, lawyers, and developers and must give presentations, attend meetings, and manage projects.
Because planners must balance conflicting interests and negotiate deals, the work can be stressful. Planners face pressure from politicians, developers, and the public to design or recommend specific plans. They may also work against tight deadlines.
Urban and regional planners often travel to sites to inspect the land conditions and use. Those involved in inspecting development sites may spend much of their time in the field.
Most planners work during normal business hours, but some also work evenings or weekends to attend meetings with officials, planning commissions, and neighborhood groups.
Urban and regional planners usually need a master’s degree from an accredited planning program to qualify for professional positions.
Most urban and regional planners have a master’s degree from an accredited urban or regional planning program. In 2013, 72 universities offered an accredited master’s degree program in planning.
Many master’s programs accept students with a wide range of undergraduate backgrounds. However, many candidates who enter master’s degree programs have a bachelor’s degree in economics, geography, political science, or environmental design.
Most master’s programs include considerable time in seminars, workshops, and laboratory courses, in which students learn to analyze and solve planning problems. Although most master’s programs have a similar core curriculum, they often differ in the courses they offer and the issues on which they focus. For example, programs located in agricultural states may focus on rural planning, and programs located in an area with high population density may focus on urban revitalization.
Some planners have a background in a related field, such as public administration, architecture, or landscape architecture.
Aspiring planners with a bachelor’s degree can qualify for a small number of jobs as assistant or junior planners. There are currently 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-world planning projects or part-time internships while enrolled in a master’s planning program. Often this includes summer internships. Others enroll in full-time internships after completing their degree.
Mid- and senior-level planner positions usually require several years of work experience in planning or in a specific planning specialty.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
As of 2012, New Jersey was the only state that required planners to be licensed, although Michigan required registration to use the title “community planner.” More information can be requested from the regulatory boards of New Jersey and Michigan.
The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) offers the professional AICP Certification for planners. To become certified, candidates must meet certain education and experience requirements and pass an exam. Certification must be maintained every 2 years. Although not required for all planning positions, some organizations prefer to hire certified planners.
Urban and regional planners typically have an interest in the Thinking, Creating and Persuading interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Creating interest area indicates a focus on being original and imaginative, and working with artistic media. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people.
If you are not sure whether you have a Thinking or Creating or Persuading interest which might fit with a career as an urban and regional planner, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Urban and regional planners should also possess the following specific qualities:
Analytical skills. 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. Planners must be able to communicate clearly and effectively because they often give presentations and meet with a wide variety of audiences, including public officials, interest groups, and community members.
Decision-making skills. Planners must weigh all possible planning options and combine analysis, creativity, and realism to choose the appropriate action or plan.
Management skills. Planners must be able to manage projects, which may include overseeing tasks, planning assignments, and making decisions.
Writing skills. Planners need strong writing skills because they often prepare research reports, write grant proposals, and correspond with colleagues and stakeholders.
The median annual wage for urban and regional planners was $65,230 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $41,490, and the top 10 percent earned more than $97,630.
In May 2012, the median annual wages for urban and regional planners in the top four industries employing planners were as follows:
|Architectural, engineering, and related services||$71,010|
|Management, scientific, and technical
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||64,380|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||63,300|
Most planners work during standard business hours, but many also work evenings or weekends to attend meetings with officials, planning commissions, or neighborhood groups.
Employment of urban and regional planners is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Population growth and environmental concerns will drive employment growth for planners in cities, suburbs, and other areas.
Planners will continue to be needed to make changes to plans, programs, or regulations to reflect demographic changes throughout the nation. Within cities, urban planners will be needed to develop revitalization projects and address problems associated with population growth, population diversity, environmental degradation, and resource scarcity. Similarly, suburban areas and municipalities will need planners to address the challenges associated with population changes, including housing needs and transportation systems.
Planners also will be important as new communities will require extensive development and infrastructure, including housing, roads, sewer systems, parks, and schools.
An increased focus on sustainable and environmentally conscious development also will increase demand for planners. Issues such as storm water management, environmental regulation, affordable housing, cultural proficiency, and historic preservation should drive employment growth.
Engineering and architecture firms are increasingly collaborating with planners for land use, development site design, and building design. In addition, many real estate developers and governments will continue to contract out various planning services to these consulting firms.
However, employment of planners in local or state government may suffer because many projects are canceled or deferred when municipalities have too little money for development. Expected tight budgets over the coming decade should slow planners’ employment growth in government.
Job opportunities for planners often depend on economic conditions. When municipalities and developers have funds for development projects, planners are in higher demand. However, planners often face strong competition for jobs in an economic downturn, when there is less funding for development work.
Although government funding issues will affect employment of planners in the short term, job prospects should improve over the coming decade. Planners will be needed to help plan, oversee, and carry out development projects that were deferred because of poor economic conditions. Combined with the increasing demands of a growing population, long-term prospects for qualified planners should be good.
Job prospects will be best for those with a master’s degree from an accredited planning program and relevant work experience. Planners who are willing to relocate for work also will have more job opportunities.
For more information on careers in urban and regional planning, visit
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For information on accredited urban and regional planning programs, visit