Study Urban Planning: Master's Degree, PhD & Online Certificate Info

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What will you learn in a master's degree or PhD program in urban planning? Read about the program requirements, the pros and cons of a master's degree and PhD and potential careers.
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Urban Planning Master's Degree and PhD at a Glance

As an urban planner, you work on creating plans for how to best use land. Urban planners find ways to build communities, as well as revitalize cities and counties and work with the growth of a community. As a student in master's degree and PhD programs, you will learn the theory and practice of urban planning through the study of a wide range of subjects, such as economics, legal aspects of planning and physical planning. Urban planning typically is an interdisciplinary field, so students may have the opportunity to take classes in other fields as part of the master's degree or PhD program.

Graduates work for local and state governmental agencies, non-profit organizations and consulting firms. Demand for urban and regional planners is projected to grow 16% from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Who is this degree for?Individuals who want to work as urban planners People who are interested in becoming professors of urban planning or planners with additional advancement opportunities
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Urban and regional planner in local government ($64,000)*
- Urban and regional planner in architectural, engineering and related services ($76,000)*
- Urban and regional planner in management, scientific and technical consulting services ($78,000)*
- Urban and regional planner in state government ($63,000)*
- Urban and regional planner in social advocacy organizations ($59,000)*
- Professor ($68,000)*
- Urban and regional planner in management of companies and enterprises ($92,000)*
Time to Completion2 years full-time 3-8 years
Common Graduation Requirements - Fieldwork
- Comprehensive exam
- Master's thesis
- Doctoral research and research methods courses
- Courses in specialization
- Dissertation
- Comprehensive exam
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree Master's degree
Online Availability Yes No, but coursework is available online

Master's Degree in Urban Planning

In a master's degree program in urban planning, you will have the opportunity to concentrate in areas such as land use and environmental planning, transportation, physical planning and design and housing. Your coursework will span theory, research methods, economics and statistics. Some urban planning programs are interdisciplinary and enable you to take courses in other fields of study, in addition to your core coursework. Master's degree programs in urban planning help students develop critical thinking skills in order to do well in urban design, economic and community development, land use, and other areas in planning. In addition to a master's degree, several years of experience may be necessary to obtain senior-level positions.

Pros and Cons


  • You will learn how to assess community needs and how to revitalize communities and regions.
  • You can focus on an area of concentration such as planning in developing countries or transportation planning.
  • Planners will be needed in urban areas to help with the increase in number of people moving to metropolitan areas.


  • Working as a planner can be stressful, since the public, as well as developers and politicians put pressure on them to approve certain plans.
  • Planners may need to attend neighborhood group or planning commission meetings.
  • You will need to work for several years in planning before earning a mid- or senior-level position as a planner.

Courses and Requirements

In a master's degree program in urban planning, you will take core courses and also focus on an area of concentration. You may need to take courses in other departments to fulfill requirements to graduate. Some courses you may take include:

  • Research methods
  • Statistics
  • Land use
  • Economics
  • Planning concepts

Online Certificate Info

You can find an online master's degree programs in urban planning, but they are not very common. It is also possible to find an online graduate certificate program that offers training in regional and local planning, as well as planning theory. Credits from a certificate program may transfer to master's degree programs. This online training is available for students who need more flexibility in their schedules because of work and family commitments.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

One way to stand out is to complete internships while in school to work on real-world planning projects. If it's impractical to participate in an internship during the school year, you may find one during the summer. Planners generally need 1-2 years of experience in a field related to planning in order to get an entry-level job.

PhD in Urban Planning

In a PhD in Urban Planning program, you will focus on theory and analysis, as well as real-world applications. You will study environmental, social, political and economic factors involved in planning. As a PhD student in urban planning, you will have the opportunity to specialize in a wide variety of topics such as inner-city revitalization or the effect of tourism on historical cities. During the PhD program, you will also develop an expertise in the research, theory and literature of your particular specialization. In addition, you may also be able to take courses in other fields, including political science and sociology, as part of the PhD program. Competition for PhD programs are very competitive, and graduates may compete with master's degree graduates for urban planning management positions.

Pros and Cons


  • You will be able to develop expertise by focusing on a specialized area of study for your dissertation.
  • As a graduate in urban planning, you will have the opportunity to work in the US or abroad at a university, non-profit organization, government agency or in the private sector.
  • You will have the opportunity to learn about many different perspectives by taking courses in other fields of study.


  • As a professor, it may be difficult to find balance between teaching and conducting research.
  • Professors may need to teach nights or weekends in order to accommodate students' schedules.
  • PhD programs can be very competitive

Common Course Topics

In a doctoral urban planning program, the focus will be on research design, theory and analysis, as well as examination of environmental, political, economic and social factors in planning. Some courses you might take include:

  • Planning theory
  • Research methods
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Research design

Online Certificate Info

Although it is difficult to find PhD programs in urban planning, you can take courses in urban planning over the Internet. PhD students are often required to complete courses and research projects on campus.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

It may be beneficial if you develop your public speaking skills, because urban planners frequently give talks to interest groups, the community and public officials. You can also have a competitive advantage if you hone your writing skills, since as an urban planner or professor, you will write research reports and grant proposals in order to gain funding.

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