Becoming a Planner
How Are Planners Educated?
Three main degrees are awarded in the field. The first is an undergraduate degree in planning. Many with undergraduate degrees will go on to receive a master's degree in planning. However, planners with undergraduate degrees do work in planning practice, often in entry level positions. A degree from a Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) accredited university in Urban Planning or City and Regional Planning is the most thorough educational preparation for the planning field. PAB accredits undergraduate programs.
A master's-level graduate degree is considered the standard for those who are planning practitioners. Some planning graduate students have an undergraduate degree in planning, but others may have studied geography, urban studies, architecture, or sociology. PAB also accredits master's degree programs in planning.
When hiring for professional planning positions, many organizations require or give strong preference to candidates holding graduate degrees. In 2004, 43 percent of all APA members (note: approximately one-sixth of the APA members are planning commissioners, officials, or students, who do not have a degree in planning) had earned a master's degree in planning. Many employers also give preference to those who are certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP).
The third level of planning degree is the Ph.D. Most often, those who obtain a Ph.D. in planning pursue a career in academia or with research or policy institutions. Ph.D. programs in planning are not certified by PAB.
Planning Schools and Accreditation
Lists of schools offering degrees in planning are maintained by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP). ACSP is a member organization of the academic community in planning. It maintains current information on schools providing degree planning education.
Visit the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) website to see the lists. To view the complete list of accredited schools, click on "Accredited Planning Programs." To view the complete list of non-accredited schools, visit www.acsp.org/education_guide/education_and_careers_in_planning.
ACSP conducts an annual national conference on research and education in planning. Visit the website for more information: www.acsp.org.
Undergraduate and Master's Degree Programs
The undergraduate and master's degree programs are listed together under each school. Review these listings.
Planning Accreditation Board
Planners routinely complete degree programs — both undergraduate and master's level — through universities accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB). The PAB regularly reviews programs and helps maintain the standards for the profession of planning. All people considering a career in planning are encouraged to attend a PAB-certified school. PAB accreditation ensures that, at a minimum, graduates have demonstrated knowledge of:
- Structure and Functions of Urban Settlements
- History and Theory of Planning Processes and Practices
- Administrative, Legal, and Political Aspects of Plan-making and Policy Implementation
- Knowledge of a Particular Specialization or Planning Issue
To complete a degree in planning, students must be skilled in:
- Problem Formulation, Research Skills, and Data Gathering
- Quantitative Analysis and Computers
- Written, Oral, and Graphic Communications
- Collaborative Problem Solving, Plan-making, and Program Design
- Synthesis and Application of Knowledge to Practice
APA, AICP, ACSP, and PAB do not rank schools. Instead, APA encourages students to consider PAB accreditation in their decision of what school to attend. At least one outside vendor has published a ranking of graduate urban planning programs in the United States. Neither PAB nor any of its sponsors, however, formally recognizes this ranking or the criteria underlying it.
10 Tips for Selecting a Planning Program
Would you like to further your education in the field of planning, but are not sure how to select the right program for you? It is important to remember that no two planning programs are alike, and that the exact "right" program might not exist. Rather, the decision to enroll in a particular program involves a number of academic and personal considerations. Here we list 10 of these important considerations for selecting a planning program.
1. Areas of Interest
Write down a series of topics and issues that interest you in planning. Consult the course catalogs from the schools you are interested in enrolling. See whether the courses offered and the emphasis of the programs match your list of concerns. Review recently published articles and reports by university faculty to determine whether their interests might match yours. If you do not find a fit between your interests and those of the program or the faculty, you might consider enrolling in another school or another academic program.
2. What Are the School's Graduates Doing Now?
Contact the planning department in the colleges and universities that interest you. Ask for the names and phone numbers of several recent graduates and ask for permission to contact them. Call these graduates to find out what types of jobs they got and how they view their graduate school experience.
3. Investigate Library Resources
Call the university library and find out the size of its holdings and areas of greatest strength. Does the library participate in share agreements with other universities? Does the library offer a range of accessible information sources, including online resources? Compare the size of library resources from university to university.
4. Look at Other Programs Offered by the College or University
Are there allied programs that may help you extend your education? Would a dual-degree program best meet your educational goals? Consider whether or not the school has architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, political science, geography, environmental management, public administration, or law programs. Ask the planning school if students take courses in other departments.
5. Does the School Offer Internships?
Gaining work experience can be a great asset in orienting you to the field and the job market. It can also enhance your resume when you start hunting for that first job. Do students at the school regularly participate in internships? Does the school have an established internship program?
6. What Is the Makeup of the Student Body?
Ask the department about its students. Is there a mix of ages and ethnic backgrounds? Is this important to you? Is the school a residence or a commuter school? Which environment is more agreeable to you?
7. Geographic Compatibility
Some students choose schools based on proximity to their parents, or other friends and relatives. Perhaps more importantly, however, consider what type of environment matches your personality. Does living in an urban environment excite you? Or are you interested in a more rural setting? Through their planning courses students may learn a great deal about a particular city or region. That knowledge, along with interpersonal connections made through project-based classes, may lead to potential job opportunities. Would you consider living in the area, even for a short time, upon graduation?
8. Are Practicing Planners Involved in Teaching?
Does the school have practicing planners among its faculty? What courses do they teach? Does the school emphasize the practice of planning and preparing you for the workplace? Or, is the school more research oriented and more suited to those going on for a Ph.D.?
9. Consider Faculty Accessibility
Many students flourish by establishing sound relationships with faculty. However, in any given program, some professors or lecturers may be more accessible than others. Consider what relationship you seek with the program's faculty. If you have previously identified certain professors with interests matching your own, you should consider whether other commitments might prevent him or her from meeting your expectations. Strongly consider meeting with faculty on campus before enrolling in any program.
10. Financial Considerations
Paying for education can be a challenge. Depending on the university, a number of need-based and merit-based scholarship opportunities exist. Read the section "Scholarships for Students" below. Particularly at the graduate level, teaching assistantships and research fellowships are a common way to reduce or waive the cost of tuition. If applicable, inquire about establishing in-state residency for tuition discounts. Ask for all available financial information from the school to make an informed decision.
Scholarship for Students
The scholarships available for studying planning are as plentiful as the institutions providing education. Each institution will have its own opportunities and requirements for obtaining student funding. General information is provided below as a guide to what may be available. Please check with each college or university to find out what funding opportunities exist.
For many undergraduate degree programs, students receive scholarships that are not restricted by major. Therefore, high school grades, extracurricular activities, and test scores will generally be considered as the basic criteria for receiving scholarships. Scholarships may require that a student maintain a particular Grade Point Average to continue receiving the scholarship. Schools often require a financial aid application that doubles as a scholarship application for any grants and scholarships available from that institution. When applying for your undergraduate degree program, contact the financial aid office and familiarize yourself with the scholarship application process.
Funding for graduate level study is often in the form of assistantships, fellowships, and scholarships. These titles vary by institution. Contact graduate planning programs to find out what opportunities are available for graduate funding.
University researchers or professors create research assistant positions through grant funding for a particular project or program. The research assistant works on that project or program, receiving a wage, usually a stipend, and some assistance with tuition.
Teaching assistant responsibilities range from teaching introductory or lab classes to assisting professors with classes by grading or holding help sessions. Teaching assistants also receive a wage and tuition assistance.
Fellowships can refer to project dependent funding, similar to a research assistantship, or grant funding with no work requirement.
Grants and scholarships also vary by institution. These financial awards most often do not carry work requirements, but do require good academic performance to maintain.