2023 Best Online Masters in Urban Planning Programs

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Explore the best online masters in urban planning programs. Learn how to influence a city’s development and create sustainable, equitable communities.

With a masters in urban planning, you can influence the places where people live, work, play, go to school, and do their shopping.

Best Online Masters in Urban Planning Programs

In this college graduate program, you’ll explore community strengths and deficits as you consider ways to make cities the best they can be. The field of urban planning involves principles from various sectors, such as public health, environmental science, architectural design, and public policy.

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You’ll gain knowledge in these areas as you prepare to influence people and their communities as an expert in urban planning.

Online Masters in Urban Planning Programs

Woman taking Online Masters in Urban Planning

Urban planning is the practice of developing functional cities that meet the needs of the people who live and work there. To succeed in this field, urban planners must be knowledgeable about social dynamics, political negotiations, and persuasive communication.

To prepare students, a masters degree program in urban planning may cover:

  • Geography
  • Economics
  • Environmentalism
  • Land use
  • Laws and regulations
  • Social justice

There may be classes that cover specific aspects of urban planning, such as housing and transportation. In fact, because there are so many different subfields or specializations within the field of urban planning, concentrations are common for this degree.

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You might be able to focus your studies on business development, environmental sustainability, land use, or historic preservation. Some students complete one or more internships during this program. Your school may even require an internship as a graduation requirement. Other steps on the path toward graduation may include a thesis or a capstone project.

A degree in this field may be a Master of Urban Planning (MUP) or a Master of Science (MS) in Urban Planning. There are also degree programs that focus additionally on regional or rural planning. After graduating with an urban planning degree, you may qualify for a job as an urban or regional planner.

Other positions for which you might qualify, depending on your background or specialization, include project management specialist, surveyor, civil engineer, or grant writer. To advance your career options, you may want to pursue certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) when eligible. Some professional experience will be required.

Common Online Urban Planning Masters Degree Specializations

Environmental Scientists taking samples of water from the river

Degree concentrations provide the opportunity to become an expert in a particular area of the regional planning field. By specializing, you might be able to set yourself apart during a job search.

Here are some common urban planning specializations:

  • Economic Development. Courses in finance and real estate may help you address issues related to housing, business development, and unemployment in your community.
  • Environment. Responsible land use requires an understanding of the impact that development can have on natural resources and a commitment to planning with long-term sustainability in mind.
  • Equity and Social Justice. To create equitable communities, it’s necessary to recognize the effects that injustice has had over the years and to develop greater access to hospitals, schools, and other community-building resources.
  • Housing. Many of the courses in this track will focus on helping marginalized communities gain access to safe, affordable housing.
  • Transportation. In this specialization, you’ll learn about implementing safe, environmentally responsible transit methods that meet community members’ needs.

Instead of a pre-planned series of courses, some colleges might let you develop a customized specialization track. There are also schools that offer dual degree programs in urban planning and a related field, such as water quality or public policy.

Urban Planning Careers & Salaries

Urban Planning Careers & Salaries

With a masters degree in urban planning, graduates tend to go on to work as urban or regional planners. Some planners specialize in a certain area. Examples include being a transportation planner or an environmental planner.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that nearly 70% of urban and regional planners work for local governments. Others are employed by architectural and engineering firms. Some work for consulting groups or federal agencies.

An urban planning master’s degree could also pair well with other careers in which you may already have education and experience. Examples include cartography, civil engineering, surveying, and landscape architecture. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are some career paths related to the field of urban planning.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Economists $105,630
Top Executives $98,980
Project Management Specialists $94,500
Civil Engineers $88,050
Urban and Regional Planners $78,500
Environmental Scientists and Specialists $76,530
Social and Community Service Managers $74,000
Writers and Authors $69,510
Landscape Architects $67,950
Surveyors $61,600

Many of these careers may require other training and certification in addition to a masters degree in urban planning.

There are other jobs related to urban planning that you might be able to pursue as well. For example, grant writers may help secure funds for urban projects, especially those that are beneficial for the health and happiness of the people in a community.

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Working as an economist, you could pay attention to the resources in a community and people’s access to them. Your work might involve data collection and analysis. An economist’s findings might influence decisions that are made about schools, transportation, and other community needs.

Being a project manager or planning manager might be another role for professionals in this field. They oversee the implementation of urban development projects, and they make sure that the pieces come together on time and under budget.

With experience, some may work their way through advancing management roles to the top of a company. These experienced workers might become a chief executive in a consulting firm or a community organization, for instance.

Master of Urban and Regional Planning Curriculum & Courses

People taking Masters in Urban Planning, in a group study

Master in urban planning programs usually incorporate a mix of classes related to economics, law, design, statistics, and more.

You may take courses similar to the following:

  • City Leadership: This course may explore what’s involved in promoting communication across various city departments, engaging local stakeholders, and working together for the sake of a community.
  • Economic Factors in Urban Planning: This class may look both at the ways that financial factors influence planning decisions and at the influence that urban planning has in shaping the economy of an area.
  • Fundamentals of Urban Planning: An introductory course near the beginning of your program can survey key terms, important ideas, and professional pathways related to the field of urban planning.
  • Geographic Information Systems: Also known as GIS, geographic information systems could be an influential tool that helps you plan landscape architecture and more.
  • Historic Preservation: You might have a class on old buildings, laws associated with them, and methods of maintenance and restoration.
  • Planning Laws and Ethics: Legal regulations will influence your planning decisions, and ethics should play a role, too, especially when it comes to equity and sustainability.
  • Project Leadership: During your time in a project management class, you’ll gain a better understanding of what’s involved in seeing urban or rural planning projects through from beginning to end.
  • Sociological Factors in Regional Planning: You may study how characteristics like race, economic status, and cultural attitudes have shaped—and continue to influence—communities’ resources and development.
  • Sustainability: This class will encourage you to consider environmental impacts and long-term sustainability as you make decisions about transportation, landscaping, and other aspects of city planning.
  • Urban Planning Data: There could be a course on using data and statistics to guide the decisions you make as an urban planner.

While programs usually share some similar courses, your studies may be largely shaped by the concentration you choose.

Admissions Requirements

Woman preparing requirements for Masters in Urban Planning

You don’t usually need to have earned a specific bachelor’s degree to enroll in urban planning graduate programs. Students enter this field of study from all different backgrounds.

Rather, admissions committees usually require:

  • Application form
  • Personal statement about your goals
  • Recommendation letters from professional or academic leaders
  • Resume
  • Transcripts from all college programs you’ve been enrolled in

While some colleges do look at GRE scores, many schools no longer use standardized testing for their grad school admissions. Before taking the GRE, you may want to check the admissions requirements for the schools that interest you.

Urban Planning Masters Programs Accreditation

University offering Masters in Urban Planning

Regional accreditation is a credential that’s given to qualified schools. Accrediting organizations grant it to colleges and universities that demonstrate their competence in educating students well.

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Choosing a regionally accredited school may help you transfer credits elsewhere in the future. It will also increase your chances of getting into a doctoral program someday if you wish. Hiring committees value regionally accredited studies, too. In fact, a regionally accredited degree may be a prerequisite for becoming certified or licensed in this industry. The US Department of Education maintains a list of accredited schools.

Urban Planning Licensure and Certifications

Licensed Urban and Regional Planners working on a new project

You may be able to pursue both professional certification and state licensure in this field. The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) offers industry certification to qualified applicants who pass an exam. Those with urban planning graduate degrees need 2 to 3 years of professional experience.

For the quickest path to certification, you can choose a graduate program accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB). A few states license urban and regional planners, but many do not. Before enrolling in a college program, you can check your state’s licensing requirements and whether a school’s curriculum meets them.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Masters in Urban Planning Financial Aid

For help with your urban planning tuition, you can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form can help determine whether you’re eligible for state or federal loans. Government loans often have lower interest rates than private loans.

Grants may be a possibility, too, but they aren’t especially common for grad students. The college you attend—as well as other organizations—may offer scholarship opportunities. You could choose to put out multiple scholarship applications to increase your chances of being awarded funds.

In addition, you can talk to your employer about the possibility of tuition help. A master’s degree may count as professional development.

What Is a Master of Urban Planning?

Urban and Regional Planner reviewing some documents

A Master of Urban Planning (MUP) is a graduate degree that focuses on developing strong, healthy cities that meet the needs of their residents. This type of master’s degree program usually lasts about 2 years.

MUP curriculum may cover topics like transportation, housing, and land use. Students also learn about economic development, sustainability, and social equity. The program may include internships or research projects. Sometimes, the degree encompasses both urban and regional planning.

The principles are similar, but the curriculum addresses both cities and rural areas. In that case, the degree might be called Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP).

What Can You Do with a Masters in Urban Planning Degree?

Civil Engineers checking the blueprint of the new project

With a master’s degree in urban planning, most graduates go on to work as urban or regional planners. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these jobs are typically offered by government agencies, especially municipal ones. There may also be positions available within architectural or engineering firms.

Some MUP graduates qualify for management roles in the planning field. That might involve being the head of development projects or a chief executive of a consulting firm. Depending on your background or your degree specialization, you could also work in a field related to urban planning. Examples include civil engineering, environmental consulting, and cartography.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Urban Planning Online Masters Degree?

Woman pursuing Urban Planning Masters online

Most graduate programs in urban and regional planning last 2 years. During that time, you may need to earn between 48 and 64 credits, depending on your program. Just like an online MBA in Public Administration, your experience might also include an internship, a capstone project, or a thesis paper.

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Similar to an online master’s in public administration, a few online master’s degrees in urban planning are designed for faster completion. In fact, you may be able to finish in 1 year or so with full-time study. A quicker program may have a lower credit hour requirement—such as 24 to 36 credits—and offer courses year-round.

What’s the Difference Between a Masters in Urban Design vs. Urban Planning Program?

If you’re interested in city development, you might want to study either urban design or urban planning. Here are some comparisons between the two.

Urban Design Urban Planning
  • Focuses on appearance and usability
  • May require a bachelor’s degree
  • Requires having a designer’s eye and strong listening skills
  • Focuses on function
  • May require a graduate degree
  • Requires negotiation skills and the ability to navigate policies and politics

Both urban designers and urban planners contribute to making cities compelling places to live. They aim for health, safety, sustainability, and equity.

Is an Urban Planning Masters Worth It?

Economists having their quarterly meeting

Yes, an urban planning masters is worth it for many students. In this field, you can help shape the places where people live and work. Your efforts could lead to healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable communities for all.

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 4% growth rate for urban and regional planners over the next ten years. That’s in line with the national average for job growth. Even still, gaining a competitive edge could help. You might consider a degree concentration in transportation or environmentalism, as those are two specialization areas that are expected to be in high demand over the next decade.

Universities Offering Online Masters in Urban Planning Degree Program

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Elmhurst University

Elmhurst University campus

Elmhurst University offers an MS in Geographic Information Systems. The program uses a flexible online format and can usually be finished in 2 years. Students have the option to complete a capstone project, a thesis, or an e-portfolio. Graduates of the program often pursue careers in urban planning, data science, or cartography.

Elmhurst University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Goucher College

Goucher College campus

Goucher College offers a low-residency program for a Master of Arts in Historic Preservation. It is flexible and designed specifically for working professionals. Students in the program take 1 to 3 online courses each semester and come to campus during the summer for face-to-face components. To graduate, students must also complete a thesis.

Goucher College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Iowa State University

Iowa State University campus

Iowa State University offers a Master of Community and Regional Planning. The program requires the completion of 48 credits. Students can typically complete it in 2 years, but those with relevant bachelor’s degrees may be able to waive some course requirements and finish sooner. Dual degree options are available in business, sustainable agriculture, urban design, sustainable environments, architecture, and landscape architecture.

Iowa State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University campus

Johns Hopkins University offers a Master’s in Environmental Planning and Management that can be earned online. This flexible, part-time program teaches up-to-date technological skills and emphasizes how urban planning affects climate change. Online courses at Johns Hopkins are designed to be interactive and engaging. Applications for the program are accepted year-round.

Johns Hopkins University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Kansas State University

Kansas State University campus

Kansas State University offers a Master’s in Community Development that can be earned 100% online. To graduate, students must complete 36 credit hours and a thesis and pass a written examination. The curriculum consists of courses such as Foundations of Community Development, Organizing for Community Change, and Community Analysis: Introduction to Methods.

Kansas State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Liberty University

Liberty University campus

Liberty University offers a 100% online program for a Master of Public Administration in Urban Planning. Courses are each 8 weeks long and have no set login times. Completion of a thesis is optional. The curriculum consists of courses such as Introduction to Geographic Information Systems, Geography and Urban Planning, and GIS for Urban Planning. The university also offers an online graduate certificate in public administration.

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

North Dakota State University

North Dakota State University campus

North Dakota State University offers a Master of Science in Community Development. This is a multidisciplinary program that requires the completion of 36 credits. The curriculum consists of courses such as Community Development I: Principles and Strategies of Community Change and Community and Regional Economic Analysis. Prospective students may apply to begin in fall or spring semesters.

NDSU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Pennsylvania State University

Pennsylvania State University campus

Pennsylvania State University’s online Master of Professional Studies in Community and Economic Development program requires the completion of 30 credits of coursework. The program is open to students with relevant work experience and those who are new to the field. The curriculum emphasizes collaborative experiences and practical applications.

Pennsylvania State University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Rowan University

Rowan University campus

Rowan University offers a Master of Science in Urban and Regional Planning that is designed to meet the needs of working adults through online and evening courses. This 46 credit program requires the completion of nine required courses and five electives. Students may choose a specialization in either Environmental and Sustainability Planning or Geospatial and Physical Planning.

Rowan University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Salisbury University

Salisbury University campus

Salisbury University offers a Master of Science in Geographic Information Systems Management. This online program is designed to allow students to work full-time while receiving a practical, hands-on education. Graduates of the program often pursue careers in public planning, resource management, economic development, environmental protection, and more.

Salisbury University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Unity College

Unity College campus

Unity College offers a Master of Professional Science in Environmental Geographic Information Science. This immersive online program is designed for students who also work full-time. There are five start dates every year. The program provides students with opportunities to make professional connections and offers job placement assistance.

Unity College is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

University of Alabama – Birmingham

University of Alabama Birmingham campus

The University of Alabama—Birmingham offers an online program for a Master’s in Sustainable Smart Cities. Its classes are highly interactive and include weekly live meetings, while also providing flexibility and convenience. The program is designed to be completed in 5 semesters, or 2 full years, on a part-time basis.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Connecticut

University of Connecticut campus

The University of Connecticut offers an online program for a Master of Energy and Environmental Management. The program requires the completion of 27 credits of coursework and a 3 credit internship to help students gain real-world experience. Students may also earn a certificate in either Geographic Information Systems or Sustainable Environmental Planning.

The University of Connecticut is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

University of Denver

University of Denver campus

At the University of Denver, students can earn a Master’s in Environmental Management through 10 week online or evening classes and potentially graduate in just 18 months. It consists of courses such as Environmental Finance and Economics, Environmental Protection Law, Research Practices and Applications, and Introduction to Ecology.

The University of Denver is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of Florida

University of Florida campus

The University of Florida’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning can be earned 100% online. Students usually take two courses during each 16 week semester and finish in 2 or 3 years. The program’s courses are asynchronous. The curriculum consists of classes like Urban Economy, Transportation Policy and Planning, and Quantitative Data Analysis for Planners.

The University of Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Nebraska – Omaha

University of Nebraska Omaha campus

The University of Nebraska—Omaha offers an MS in Urban Studies. This professional degree program aims to teach urban planners how to solve practical problems. Courses are available both online and in person, and students can usually finish within 2 years. Graduates often pursue careers in public policy, city planning, project management, and related fields.

UNO is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of New Hampshire

University of New Hampshire campus

The University of New Hampshire’s MA in Community Development Policy and Practice is available 100% online and usually takes 14 months to complete. Students must complete 36 credit hours to graduate. The curriculum consists of courses such as Integrative Approaches to Development Policy and Practice and Economic Analysis and Development.

The University of New Hampshire is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

University of Southern California

University of Southern California campus

The University of Southern California’s Executive Master of Urban Planning program is intended for professionals with at least 5 to 7 years of relevant work experience. The program is primarily online but does include two in-person intensives on campus. To graduate, students must complete 24 units of coursework, which can typically be done in 16 months.

USC is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

University of Washington

University of Washington campus

The University of Washington offers an online program for a Master of Infrastructure Planning and Management. The degree can typically be earned in 2 years of part-time study. Students take two courses each semester, and the program culminates with a capstone project that provides real-world problem-solving experience. Courses are asynchronous to provide maximum flexibility.

The University of Washington is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

West Chester University

West Chester University campus

West Chester University’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning uses an in-person format, but some courses do have online or blended options available. Students in the program have access to internship opportunities, state-of-the-art labs, and a fully equipped planning studio. The curriculum emphasizes sustainability and environmentally friendly design.

West Chester University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Getting Your Masters in Urban Planning Online

Man getting his Masters Degree in Urban Planning online

You might consider getting a masters degree in urban planning if you want to be a part of making cities great places for people to live and work. This graduate program is an essential step toward being recognized as a qualified planner.

Urban and regional planners often work for municipal governments, consulting firms, or community organizations. A master’s degree in urban planning generally takes 1 to 2 years. For ultimate flexibility during that time, you might consider getting your degree online. In the virtual classrooms of an accredited school, you can get a reliable urban and regional planning education.

Why not start the search for your urban planning graduate program today?

Ready to start your journey?
Joy is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy at Liberty University and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management from Amberton University, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration from Columbia College. With over 20 years of experience navigating online degrees and courses, Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.