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Urban planners are responsible for the design, construction and planning of cities and communities all over the world. They have knowledge of a wide range of factors involved in the development and maintenance of urban centers.

Graduate students in Urban Planning learn to understand the interrelationships between social, economic and political systems to transportation and spatial patterns. Students will learn techniques for critically assessing and developing urban areas. They also study developmental policies, problem identification and how to effectively generate and implement building plans. Focus is placed on the planning process along with critical analysis, evaluation, problem solving, development strategies and implementation.

Students may choose a concentration for a more focused study. Concentrations may include economic development and planning, international development and planning, physical planning, urban design, transportation planning, environmental planning and urban geographic information systems.

Degree Information

A Master of Urban Planning (M.U.P.) or Master of Science in Urban Planning (M.S.) takes from one to three years to complete and usually requires a thesis. Some universities have programs in which students can earn a joint master’s degree in planning and an allied field, such as architecture, with approximately three years of full time study. A Ph.D. in Urban Planning can take from two (if the student already possesses a master’s degree) to five years and normally require a dissertation as well as oral and written exams.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program

  • Will the program’s geographic location provide me with access to the kind of environments that interest me?
  • Who are the faculty members and what projects have they worked on?
  • Where do the alumni end up working? Have they stayed local? Do they support the school once they've left?
  • With what other departments does the urban planning department cooperate? Is it independent, or is it housed in the public policy or architecture departments?
  • What kind of field research do the students typically do?
  • What sort of assistantships, grants, and other financial aid opportunities are available?

Career Overview

At this point, anyone who’s ever played SimCity may think they’re equipped to redesign Detroit, but it’s not that easy. Because cities are the nexus of diverse economic, social and environmental forces, urban planners—problem solvers at heart—must be well-versed in all those areas of discipline.

Urban planners must have not only an architect’s appreciation for design, but also a sociologist’s understanding of how communities interact with their physical environment. Urban planners have been deeply involved in major projects like the re-building of the World Trade Center, the development of the Philadelphia skyline, and Boston’s infamous Big Dig. Planners can find themselves working as consultants for anyone from architects to bankers to school districts to city councils, figuring out the physical form a city will take.

Career/Licensing Requirements

You don’t need a license to practice urban planning, but if you plan on working for the government (as many planners do) you may need to pass the civil service exam.

Salary Information

Entry-level planners with a master’s degree can expect to make anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 more than those without a master’s degree. The median salary for people with less than 5 years of experience is about $33,000. You can probably expect to make a little more working in an urban area: the median for planners working in cities is almost $50,000, while the median salary of all planners is about $43,000. According to Department of Labor statistics, only about ten percent of urban planners make more than $80,000 a year.

Related Links

American Planning Association
The American Planning Association has advice on planning in urban and rural areas as well as fellowship and conference information.

American Institute of Architects
News, conferences, education, government affairs and everything else an architect needs to know from the American Institute of Architects.

Planners Network
Planners Network is an association of professionals, activists, academics, and students involved in physical, social, economic, and environmental planning in urban and rural areas, who promote fundamental change in our political and economic systems.


  • The Urban Form

  • Advanced Urban Planning Studio

  • Graphic Analysis And Communication

  • History Of Urban Planning

  • Land Use Planning And Regulation

  • Legal Framework For Urban Planning

  • Quantitative Methods/Techniques

  • Survey Of Urban Planning

  • Urban Planning Policy

  • Urban Planning Studio

  • Urban Planning Theory