How Do You Become an Urban Planner?

Urban PlannerA person who is interested in helping their local communities to use available land and design maps for future use often investigates the requirements to become an urban planner. Modern cities face many challenges that include the accommodation of normal growth as well as unpredictable population increases due to new migrants. The leaders of these metropolitan areas also have to consider environmental management concerns as well as supporting economic growth without sacrificing a city’s historic character. High school students may be introduced to the career field of urban planning through guidance counselors, mentors or as a result of career aptitude testing. Here are some steps that successful students take to become urban planners once they decide that the career field is the right one for them.

Education and Training

Earning a four year Bachelor of Science in Urban and Regional Planning is one of the first steps to become an urban planner. The courses offered during this type of degree program focus on topics like statistical analysis of urban planning data, introduction to geographic information systems and the fundamentals of planning regulations and law. Urban planners do not need licenses to gain employment in most states. However, these planning professionals must get advanced degrees in the discipline just to gain entry level employment in most cases. Master of Urban Planning (MUP) degree programs expose students to course topics like the impact of transportation in planning, risk assessment within urban planning policy, historic preservation and neighborhood revitalization. Traditional MUP degrees take about two years to complete.

Obtain Internships

Most employers put high value on graduates who also have relevant work experience, and many accredited urban planning academic programs require students to complete internships as part of their curricula. Students who do not have that requirement should consider obtaining as many internships as possible independently. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the career field, aspiring urban planners find that available internship positions vary widely in scope, job descriptions and employment location. For example, urban planning students and new graduates can find internships with the Federal Lands Transportation Institute in places like Kauai, HI as well as the rest of the continental United States. They can also intern with any number of city governments to assist mapping specialists and neighborhood planners.

Join a Professional Organization

While joining a professional association like the American Planning Association (APA) is not mandatory to begin a career in urban planning, membership certainly has its benefits. The APA has resources to help urban planners throughout the various stages of their careers. They have memberships that are specifically designed for students and recent graduates; membership benefits include networking and career placement opportunities. The APA offers regular members an avenue to become professionally certified within urban planning specialty areas like urban design, environmental planning and transportation planning.

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The barriers to entry for the urban planning career field are moderately high, but the above average salaries that are associated with the job category provide adequate compensation for the education and time investments that are made by urban planning professionals. One of the best ways for a student to determine whether or not they really want to become an urban planner is to interview an experienced urban planning professional about daily operational tasks and career growth opportunities.