Become a City Planner

Urban and regional planners work to determine the short and long-term plans for growth and development within a community. Ultimately, their job is to determine how to best make use of an area’s land and resources. As most planners are employed by local municipal governments, they are often referred to as city planners. To become a city planner, you need to hold an advanced degree in a relevant discipline, and gain experience in the field. The following steps will help guide you through the different steps required to become a successful city planner.


Getting an Education in City/Urban Planning

  1. Earn a degree. If you have not already done so, you will need to earn your undergraduate degree in a relevant area. Some universities offer undergraduate degrees in planning; however, most students who go on to earn graduate degrees in planning have backgrounds in areas such as sociology, architecture, geography, or urban studies. If you already have an undergraduate degree in a relevant area, you will very likely need to continue on to earn a graduate degree.
    • Research the specific job you want to pursue. Learn about the expectations regarding education and experience for the specific jobs you are interested in. This can help you determine what education requirements you still have to complete. While about 80% of city planners hold a master's degree,[1] the specific job you are interested in may have opportunities for candidates with undergraduate degrees to enter the workforce as well.
    • Understand that while it may be possible to become a successful city planner without a graduate degree, the competition will be higher, and opportunities for advancement may be smaller.
  2. Research planning programs. While there are many programs available, not all of them are accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB). The PAB reports that, as of January 2015, there are a total of 72 master's programs and 16 bachelor's programs with accreditation. Throughout North America, there are 76 universities with PAB accreditation.[2] A list of these universities is available on the PAB’s website.
    • If you find a program that is interesting to you, but is not accredited, first find out why they are not accredited. You may still able to become certified and get a job with a degree from a non-accredited university, but it may require more time and effort on your part.
    • Consider what area you might like to specialize in. Many schools allow you to choose a specialization in an area such as land use, environmental planning, economic development, transportation or housing. When considering a program, think about whether or not they can offer you specializations you might be interested in.
    • Consider the costs of attendance of each program. Some programs will be significantly more expensive if they are not in your state, or if they are offered by a private university. Calculate the costs you will incur in each program you are considering, and keep this under consideration when choosing the program that is best for you.
    • Search for programs that assist students in finding internships and jobs, both during the program and after graduation.
    • Consider the make up of the faculty. Will you be able to form relationships with the program faculty? Is the faculty made up of practicing planners, who can provide you with real world information and contacts?
  3. Research licensure requirements in your state. Most US states do not require licensure or registration. However, as of 2013, New Jersey and Michigan require planners to become licensed or registered. In both cases, this requires passing an examination.[3]

Gaining Real World Experience

  1. Get involved in the planning profession. Having good connections with other people involved in the planning community can lead to new opportunities and ideas you might otherwise miss out on. You never know who might be able to help get you your dream job.
    • Attend annual planning conferences, such as the APA National Planning Conference. Doing so can also help keep you up to date on current trends and new ideas.[4]
    • Keep in touch with professors from your studies. If you are able to form good relationships with your professors during your studies, do your best to maintain that relationship and ask them to help you get in touch with other practicing professional planners.
  2. Search for internships. If you did not complete an internship as part of your degree, now is the time. An internship offers the opportunity to gain real world experience, can help with establishing connections, and may sometimes even lead to a job.
    • Even if you did complete an internship during your studies, it may be valuable to look for other internship opportunities, especially if you struggle to find a job right away.
  3. Look for volunteer opportunities. If an opportunity arises to assist people working in your local government office, take it! You may end up doing the work nobody else wants to do, without getting paid, but you will open yourself up to gaining valuable experience, seeing what the reality of your job will be, and getting to know people who might be the key to getting you the job you want later on.

Becoming a Certified City Planner

  1. Consider earning a certification through the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP), once you have gained enough experience through internships or jobs, and have completed your education. This certification attests to your skills and professional experience. While not formally required, employers often look for this certification when considering someone for a planning position or promotion.[5]
  2. Understand what content is covered by the test, and when the test is offered.
    • The exam consists of 170, multiple choice questions and covers: history, theory, and law; plan making and implementation; functional areas of practice; spatial areas of practice; public participation and social justice; as well as the AICP code of ethics and professional conduct.[6]
    • The AICP exam is offered twice a year:
      • For the exam offered in May, you must submit your application in December of the previous year.
      • For the exam offered in November, you must submit your application in June.[7]
  3. Determine whether you have met all of the eligibility requirements for becoming certified.
    • Become a member of the American Planning Association (APA).
    • Have experience in professional planning.
    • Have an eligible combination of education and experience, as explained on the AICP website.
  4. Submit an online application to take the examination and pay the exam fees. This can all be accomplished directly on the AICP website.[8]
  5. Upload documents required to verify your eligibility to take the exam. In order to be approved for the exam, you have to submit proof that you have met the education and experience requirements. This usually means submitting a letter of reference from previous internships and employers.[9]
  6. Wait for approval from the AICP. This normally takes between 8 and 10 weeks; however, be aware that it can sometimes take longer.[10]
  7. Prepare for the exam. While you are waiting for your application to be approved, begin preparing for your exam. Be sure that you understand what content will be on the test. You can review your old notes and textbooks from your studies, and the AICP has multiple resources to help you prepare.
  8. Carefully review the requirements for the test. Specific requirements can be found on the AICP website
  9. Take the examination. Be sure that you are well rested on the day of the exam. Eat a nutritious breakfast, and be sure to use the bathroom before sitting down for the exam. Prepare a folder with all of the documentation you will need to take with you to the exam.
  10. Maintain your certification. Once you have earned your certification, be sure to keep it current by earning continuing credits through the American Planning Association. Doing so will help keep you connected and up to date on current trends and policies.[11]

Finding a Job

  1. Search for jobs. It may possible to find a job in your local community, if you wish. However, if you are having trouble finding positions in your area, consider jobs in areas that are: affluent, rapidly growing suburbs or urban areas that are being revitalized.
    • Consider what type of job you want to do. Most planning jobs are located within local, state, or federal governments. However, planners might also be hired by non-profit organizations, and in the private sector, for example, as consultants.
    • Search the internet for job postings that may interest you.
  2. Check the APA Job Board. The American Planning Association offers a job search board on there website with many different opportunities.
  3. Tell your contacts that you are on the hunt for a job. They might know of job openings not posted online, or have ideas about where you should look.
  4. Consider taking an entry level position. While the outlook for planning jobs is expected to grow up to 14% over the coming years,[12] the competition for good jobs can be fierce. If you are struggling to land your dream job, consider jobs that may be less prestigious, but can help you work towards your dream job.


  • Internships are a valuable and often necessary experience. They are also often unpaid. If possible, get a part-time job while you are studying that will allow you to save some money that can cover the costs of living during your internship.


  • Obtaining a university degree can be very costly. Keep this in mind when choosing a university, and always look for scholarships, grants, and part-time jobs that might help finance your studies.
  • Be prepared for the costs of applying for and taking the AICP’s certification examination, as it is can be quite expensive depending on your specific situation.

Related Articles


Quick Summary

You may like