Careers with an Urban Planning Degree


Through a combination of theory-based study and practical application, an urban planning degree program will allow you to gain the skills, knowledge and competencies necessary for professional practice in the field.


It's importnat to realize however, that even though the primary purpose of a program in this field is to work in planning, you can also apply it to a career outside of the field, if you should so choose.



What a Degree in Urban Planning Can Teach You

A degree in urban planning is meant to prepare you to become a competent professional in the field of urban planning. To do so, an education in this field must provide you with a strong general grounding in the planning of communities, cities and regions. This means you’ll likely learn about planning topics and issues such as:


• Planning for the revitalization of local neighbourhoods

• Planning for extending transit further into a metropolitan area

• Planning for special community events

• The overall improvement of cities and regions

• The interconnections among buildings, transportation systems, the natural environment and local communities

• The role and importance of public aspirations as well as historical trends in urban planning

• The diversity of needs within a community

• The process of urban planning and land use decision-making


The curriculum of an urban planning program is usually composed of a mix of theory based academic study, and hands-on practical experience. Some of these programs may incorporate local institutional and geographic contexts to enhance the coursework.





Employable Skills You Can Gain

The ‘learning by doing’ emphasis of many planning degree programs allows you to pick up the skills you’ll need for effective professional practice, including:


• Knowledge concerning the aesthetic and ecological enhancement of communities

• Knowledge of the linkages of physical, economic, natural and social dimensions of communities

• Awareness of the linkages between public and private enterprise within communities

• Knowledge of the linkages among community sectors such as transportation and land use, or housing and economic development

• Ability to identify the diverse needs of communities

• Able to develop rationales for the equitable distribution of community resources

• Knowledge in dispute resolution, with regards to land use controversy hearings

• Ability to understand the historical momentum and events that shape planning policy



Careers Relevant to an Urban Planning Degree

The skills, knowledge and competencies you can gain from an urban planning degree program can be applied to many different professions, including (not a comprehensive list):


• Blogger

• Building Inspector

• Cartographer

• City Councillor

• Commercial Realtor

• Community Planner

• Development Permit Technician

• Economic Development Officer

• Election Officer

• Environmental Auditor

• Environmental Consultant

• Historian

• International Aid Worker

• International Development Officer

• Land Use Planning Advisor

• Lobbyist

• Parks Planner

• Politician

• Project Manager

• Real Estate Appraiser

• Real Estate Developer

• Realtor

• Regional Development Manager

• Regional Planner

• Research Assistant

• Social Policy Researcher

• Strategic Planner

• Sustainable Housing Policy Associate

• Tourism Researcher

• Transportation Planner

• University Professor

• Urban Landscaper

• Urban Planner

• Urban Planning Technician

• Zoning Inspector


Please Note: Some of the above listed careers require a graduate or professional degree, additional training and/or experience. Click on careers that are of interest to you to find out more about the specific requirements.



Who Hires Graduates?

Although urban planning graduates can technically work anywhere that will hire them, they are typically employed with municipal governments, consulting firms, non-profit agencies and private land development firms. 



Working as an urban planner employed by a municipal law firm:

Acting as an expert during land-use controversy hearings.


Working for a consulting firm that oversees the planning and development of retail complexes:

Finding an appropriate location, getting approval and overseeing the opening of retail facilities and restaurants.


Working for non-profit foundations:

Providing background research for social planning, fund-raising, and support for social agencies.


Working for telecommunications companies:

Getting permission to build telecommunications facilitates and infrastructure, such as cell phone towers and hydro transmission lines.


Working as a city planner with a municipality:

Developing communities for seniors that incorporate a variety of housing options as well as social programs.


Working as a city planner with a municipality:

Working on the planning and development of major projects such as airport facility development and expansion.


Working as a consultant with an engineering firm:

Become involved with city projects such as the planning, marketing and management of public transit systems.


Owning an urban planning consulting firm:

​Urban planners who have worked for private industry or municipal governments may choose to start their own consulting firm or partnership.





How Much Can You Earn as a Graduate?

One important aspect of any career is how effectively it can help you pay your bills. Having said that, the salary you could earn as an urban planning graduate first entering the workforce is very difficult to determine, and can vary drastically based on a number of factors, including (not an inclusive list):


• Your level of education (i.e. if you went on to graduate studies)

• The industry in which you find work

• The type of job you have, and your level of responsibility

• The size and type of your employer

• The region in which you work

• Other work experience you may have accrued


The bad news is it’s not easy to find salary numbers from reputable sources for urban planning graduates first entering the workforce. The good news is, that it’s easy to find reliable numbers for professional urban planners in general.


Salary - Alberta: According to the 2013 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working as part of the Urban and Land Use Planners occupational group earn an average of $94,625 per year.


Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of Americans working in the Urban and Regional Planners occupational group is $65,230 per year.



Careers and Degrees Outside of the Field

A degree in urban planning doesn't limit you to careers in the field. This degree also enables you to develop a set of general skills you can apply to almost any career outside of the field of planning. A bachelor’s degree in urban planning also serves as an excellent foundation for a graduate degree in many fields.



Do I Need a Graduate Degree in Planning?

The educational requirements for working in a planning can vary by employer, and by the level of responsibility you’ll have in the job. Typically, the minimum requirement to get an entry-level job in urban planning is a bachelor's degree in urban planning or a related degree such as geography, economics, political science, engineering or environmental studies.


Many urban and related planners have a Master's degree in planning in addition to their bachelor’s degree. A master’s is typically earned by completing a two-year program. Planning programs in Canada and the United States generally accept students out of urban planning or related undergraduate programs.


Success Tip: Even if a master’s degree is not an explicit requirement to get a job in planning with the employer of your choice, it is a good idea to pursue one, as it can open doors to higher salary levels, senior-level positions and give you an edge over other applicants for many planning jobs.






Gain Career Experience as a Student

If you’re thinking of pursuing a career in planning, you should do everything you can to get work experience in the field before you graduate. Working an internship (also known as a practicum, co-op or field placement opportunity) is the best way to gain such experience, because of the many benefits:


Meeting other people who share your professional interests

If you are lucky enough to land an internship in a career related to planning, you will meet others who share the same professional interests. You can see them operate on daily basis, you can ask them what it is they like about what they do, you can learn how they got where they, and you can get idea of the dynamics of the environment they work in.


For example, if you intern with the municipal government of the city you live in, you may be surprised to find out how closely the planners work with city councilors on a weekly basis.


Making your own conclusions about a career in urban planning

Have you heard a career in urban planning involves too much paperwork? Have you been warned not to pursue a career in urban planning because it consumes your personal life?


If you’re interested in urban planning careers, gaining experience in the field before you graduate can help you either prove or disprove such rumors, and even if they’re proven you may have such a passion for what you are doing that you may decide that’s where you want to be anyway.


Gaining valuable career experience

Are you worried that your internship will be similar to those on TV, where interns are unpaid and overworked, performing tasks such as coffee runs and picking up dry cleaning? 


If your school has any role in facilitating the opportunity or introducing you to the opportunity, odds are the employer has been carefully screened and will only provide you with valuable on-the-job experience; internships, co-ops and other forms of work experience are meant to add practice to the theory you’ve been learning, while simultaneously giving the employer a valuable team member.


Getting your foot in the door with an employer

If you’re fortunate enough to have earned an internship, you may have already begun your career without knowing it. This may be a little bold to suggest, but it’s true that many employers offer their interns a full-time, or even part-time, position upon graduation if they are satisfied with the work of the intern.


Hiring an intern upon graduation is a very efficient financial move for employers, as it saves them from bearing the cost of recruiting, interviewing and hiring someone new. 



How Do I Find an Internship?

Your college or university may or may not require you to participate in an internship or other form of work experience program. However, if it is an academic requirement, you will likely have the opportunity arranged for you.


If it is not a requirement, speak with your professors, other departmental staff as well as your school’s guidance and career counselors to help you find a suitable opportunity.


Please Note: If you’re seeking an internship from an outside source, be cautious. Many internship opportunities operate in the grey area of employment law, and are designed to use students as free labour in order to perform mundane tasks. 



Urban Planning Scholarships

Our scholarships database has Canadian and American scholarships that are specific to your field of study, as well as scholarships that are open to any field of study.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any and all scholarships for which you qualify, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships in Canada and the United States that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants.



Professional Associations

To find out more about careers directly related to your degree, consult the following professional association websites. They offer career-related information, and many have opportunities for student membership, as well as job placement and mentoring opportunities.



Canadian Institute of Planners

Canadian Urban Institute


United States

American Planning Association

Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations

Environmental Design Research Association

National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials



Community Development Society

Global Planners Network

International Downtown Association

International Economic Development Council



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