The 2021 Guide to Online Master’s in Urban Planning Programs

You probably know what an architect is. But what exactly does an urban planner do?

Here’s a simple comparison: Architects design buildings and infrastructure. Urban planners design cities and regions. An online master’s degree in urban planning is a pathway to this dynamic, growing profession. Urban planners straddle many fields, including architecture, design, history, economics, natural environment, and policy.

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Urban Planning Degree Comparison

You can earn a graduate degree in different areas within the field of government and urban planning. Which planning degree is best for you depends in part on what aspect of urban planning stirs the most passion in you. You might love design. Or you may be dedicated to the idea of building vibrant, livable communities. You can find the right planning degree for you.

What is Urban Planning?

Urban planning is about making the best use of space for the benefit of residents, businesses, and the greater community. Urban planners help write blueprints for how to create healthy neighborhoods and cities for now and for the future. That can encompass land-use planning, economic development, and protecting the natural environment. Some of these areas are also the focus of public administration master's degrees.

Let’s explore the difference between urban planning and several adjacent fields.

Master of Urban Design vs Urban Planning

These two graduate degrees share a lot of things in common. But they differ in a couple of key ways. One is that a master’s degree in urban design arguably puts a greater emphasis on aesthetics than urban planning, which in turn has a stronger orientation toward policy and regulation than urban design does.

Master of Urban Studies vs Urban Planning

The crux of urban studies is to understand the lives of city dwellers. Specifically, how residents interact with their environment – physical, economic, racial and otherwise — and how those forces shape societal issues such as affordable housing, quality education, and joblessness. At some colleges, urban studies is an academic department within the school of architecture or urban planning.

Master of City Planning vs Urban Planning

The difference between a degree in city planning vs urban planning is largely one of scale and geography. A city planner is primarily involved with issues at a municipal level, such as public transit, housing or retail development. An urban planner, on the other hand, often deals with matters at a larger regional level.

Master of Real Estate Development vs Urban Planning

The difference between someone with a degree in real estate development and in urban planning is that real estate developers can leave a much more physical footprint. Real estate developers may help revitalize shopping centers, build commercial and residential complexes, and convert land for new uses.

Master of Architecture vs Urban Planning

The one big difference between someone who is interested in becoming an architect and someone who is interested in becoming an urban planner is that you need a license to work as an architect. Urban planners don’t need a license to practice their profession. If you don’t have a bachelor of architecture degree, you’ll need a master’s degree in architecture and certain amount of work experience to apply for your license.

Executive Master’s Degree in Urban Planning and Development

An executive master’s in urban planning and development is for rising executives with several years of work experience. The courses for executive master’s in urban planning and development students are designed to give students a comprehensive, practical understanding of how urban planning works in both the private and public sectors.

Why Obtain Your Master’s in Urban Planning Online?

One benefit to earning your urban planning master’s online is the flexibility. For online programs, you may be able to access your coursework anytime from a connected device. That may make it easier for you to complete your degree while maintaining a job. Or juggle dual degrees in related fields. It’s not uncommon for urban planners to also be licensed as architects or hold a degree in urban design.

Another advantage is that you can enroll in schools located anywhere in the country, without having to relocate. An online program opens more choices for you among the nation’s top master’s programs in urban planning.

Find the Best Online Urban Planning Master’s Programs for You

Only a handful of universities offer a master’s in urban planning online. Pick your school carefully to find one that offers a strong program in your area of interest, whether it’s urban design, real estate development, or city planning.

How to Get an Urban Planning Degree Online

More than 70 master’s programs are accredited by the national Planning Accreditation Board (PAB). It typically takes two years to earn a master’s in urban planning. But earning a master’s degree in urban planning can take as little as 16 months with full-time study.

Online Master of Urban Planning Admissions Requirements

The most common prerequisite for applicants is that they have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college. Usually, you’ll need to submit your resume, transcripts, recommendation letters and an application fee (early applicants may get their fees waived). You also may need a personal essay explaining your goals for the program.

GRE-Optional Urban Planning Master’s Online Programs

Some urban planning programs do not require the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), or will waive the requirement starting soon. Schools may give preference to those who have relevant work experience, but it’s not necessarily required.

Online Urban Planning Master’s Curriculum

Urban planning is a highly interdisciplinary degree. Students who enter a master’s program may have majored in sociology, geography, architecture, or many other areas as undergraduates. The master’s curriculum is designed to give you a well-rounded understanding of how to design for robust, equitable cities.

Core classes for master’s urban planning vary by universities. But they cover a wide range of topics, including:

  • History and ethics of urban planning
  • Spatial analysis
  • Public and private development
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Legal and regulatory framework

What Can You Do with a Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning?

A graduate degree in urban planning can be your gateway to a host of different careers. A master’s degree is usually required to work professionally as an urban planner. Like a public administrator career, an urban planning career can prepare you to work for government agencies, private employers, or nonprofits. International aid organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations also hire planners. Your field might be public policy, law, research, education, advocacy, or even politics.

Is a Degree in Urban Planning Worth It?

Employment demand for urban planners is projected to grow by 11%, or about 4,300 jobs, from 2018 to 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s more than twice as fast as the overall job market during the same period.

Why Should You Become an Urban Planner

Urban planning is a creative, challenging profession with a noble mission: To help people imagine – and to live – a better, more sustainable future. Building communities that are happier, healthier and more equitable and prosperous is the ultimate goal in urban planning.

As Amit Price Patel told the American Planning Association, he knew at age six that he wanted to be an architect. But once he enrolled at architecture school at Washington University in St. Louis, Patel grew disillusioned and almost switched his major to geology.

But under the tutelage of professors who stressed the community aspect of design, Patel discovered and fell in love with urban planning.

“The confluence of design with social equity, economics, the natural environment, and history was so much more interesting to me than designing individual buildings,” he said.

Urban Planning Jobs and Career Outlook

Urban planning can be a lucrative career. The median salary for urban planners in 2018 was $73,050. Compare that to the median wage of $51,960 for all jobs in the U.S.