20 Best Schools for an Online Master’s in Urban Planning

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Updated: May 13, 2024, Reading time: 21 minutes

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Harvard University was the first university to offer city planning classes in North America in 1924, but it was preceded by the University of Liverpool’s planning program in 1909.

Before these academic programs, the first urban planning conference in the United States was held in New York City in 1898 when the preeminent question, “Is urban planning concerned with physical design for beautiful cities or making things easier for their residents?” was asked. 

Online Urban Planning programs at the master’s degree level also offer concentrations of specific areas within urban planning, such as environmental urban planning and management, geographic information systems (GIS), and historic preservation. Many programs also offer these concentrations as standalone majors, emphasizing their uses in urban planning. 

A graduate degree in Urban Planning is typically offered in three versions – a Master of Arts (MA), a Master of Science (MS), and a Master of Professional Studies (MPS). The Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) is the accreditation agency for undergraduate and graduate urban planning programs. Graduates from an accredited university apply for the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) Certification Exam.

Tuition fee rates and degree requirements vary depending on the urban planning online school, so you may want to obtain additional information from the university website.

Quick audio summary:


Urban planners possess the professional knowledge and skills to design and develop functional, beautiful, and sustainable spaces in urban areas and planned communities. With their potential for tremendous impact on individuals and societies, urban planning graduates of an online master’s degree from an accredited university emerge as experts who make up some of the most valued professionals, as emphasized by The Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

20 Best Schools with Master’s in Urban Planning Online Programs

urban planning schools

University of Florida 

University of Florida

Established in 1924, the College of Design, Construction and Planning offers an online Master’s of Urban and Regional Planning program with flexible online programs of study. Online Master’s degree – Urban Planning students enjoy a fully online program at their own pace.

The 52-credit urban planning online master’s degree program offers specialized courses for students who want specific skills. The GIS courses are essential for students who want to specialize in this area, while the sustainability courses cover sustainable design, development, and management.

Consistently ranked high, this urban planning online program has coursework that includes Planning Theory and History, Land Use Planning Law, and Planning Research and Design.

Applicants must possess a related undergraduate degree, such as an architecture degree, with a 3.0 GPA, a resume, a personal statement and letter of intent, and letters of recommendation to qualify for urban planning programs. 

University of Southern California

University of Southern California

The online Executive Master of Urban Planning program is suitable for experienced urban planning professionals whose career trajectory includes urban planning leadership positions. Students learn diverse skills that combine contemporary urban planning practices with real estate development trends. Graduates become leaders in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. 

With a 24-unit curriculum, urban planning programs like this can be completed in 16 months of full-time study. This fully online program with all courses delivered via a learning management system (LMS). Students work with their peers and professors on real urban planning projects in Los Angeles and their home cities.

Urban planning graduates of this online master’s degree gain advanced data analysis and visualization, urban design, project and land economics, and urban planning legal and political processes. 

Liberty University

Liberty University

Liberty designed its Master of Public Administration in Urban Planning program to enable its students to consider diverse career opportunities. Students enjoy fully online study programs in an asynchronous format that allows them to earn the degree in 1.5 years.

This is a 36-credit Urban Planning online master’s degree program with the entirety of the coursework already in the curriculum.

The Urban Planning coursework consists of core, urban planning, and elective or thesis courses. The program has a strong public administration curriculum with courses on public administration and public policy. Students learn about GIS and its uses in land use and city planning in the urban planning aspect. 

University of Washington

University of Washington

UW’s online Master of Infrastructure Planning and Management program prepares students for leadership roles in planning critical infrastructure systems.

Most online master’s degree students in this field are working professionals with careers in urban planning, and many are from foreign countries, too. 

Urban Planning Students can earn the degree in two years on part-time enrollment and earn 45 credits. The structured yet asynchronous urban planning online degree format means learning at your own pace and accessing Canvas for your lectures, assignments and assessments.

UW’s Online Master of Urban Planning curriculum has core, methods, systems, and capstone courses. These courses cover diverse topics from the natural environment, and infrastructure systems thinking to GIS, emergency management, and risk analysis.

The two-course capstone coursework involves research into current issues like affordable housing and a capstone project. 

Johns Hopkins University

JHU welcomes urban planning professionals into its Master’s in Environmental Planning and Management program, a fully online, part-time program.

Urban Planning students at JHU must complete the ten courses divided into five courses in the specialization and five elective courses. The maximum time-to-completion is five years.

JHU’s Urban Planning graduates with an online master’s degree gain advanced skill sets in solving issues related to the natural environment, climate change, affordable housing, environmental sustainability in rural and urban planning, and green technologies.

Their understanding of environmental laws, real estate rules and land regulations is also above par and, thus, enables them to create and critique RODs and EIS. 

The University of Alabama at Birmingham

With a robust foundation in the principles and applications, including key technologies in the design and development of smart cities, graduates of the Master’s in Sustainable Smart Cities program are ready to take on the world!

UAB’s comprehensive online master’s degree curriculum in urban planning emphasizes sustainable urban development, affordable housing, transport and mobility, green real estate infrastructure, and renewable energy systems. Students also learn advanced skills in the applications of smart technologies and big data analytics.

This is a part-time Urban Planning program with a two-year time-to-completion. However, students may take a longer time to earn the degree with the program director’s approval. 

University of Maryland Global Campus

University of Maryland Global Campus

Designated as a Professional Science Master’s degree program, UMGC’s Master’s in Environmental Management program attracts mid-career urban planning professionals looking for skill sets valued by the best employers. With its STEM-centric curriculum combined with a management approach, its graduates are ready for leadership positions in sustainable urban planning.

This is a 36-credit Urban Planning online master’s degree level program with a five-year maximum time-to-completion, but students can study at their own pace. Applicants may request a transfer of up to six credits from their previous master’s-level education.

Urban Planning students must complete the academic requirements of 27 credits before being eligible for the capstone course in environmental management. 

Pennsylvania State University

Pennsylvania State University World Campus

Current professionals in the urban planning field will find Penn State’s Master of Professional Studies in Community and Economic Development program to their liking! By increasing their advanced knowledge and skills, their opportunities for career advancement and meaningful contributions to society increase. Newbies to urban planning with a relevant master’s degree are also welcome to apply. 

The 30-credit Urban Planning online master’s degree program at Penn State program draws from several disciplines, including agricultural economics, education, and sociology. The result is a comprehensive training that empowers students to pursue a productive career in rural and urban planning.

Don’t have sufficient work experience? You can take the 15-credit Graduate Certificate in Community and Economic Development first to gain more exposure and then apply these credits to the master’s program. 

University of Connecticut

University of Connecticut

The online interdisciplinary Master of Energy and Environmental Management program enables Urban Planning students to take their didactic lessons immediately to real-world situations, thus allowing profound principles-to-practice action. Students gain real-world, workplace-ready skills through environmental planning and management courses, applicable laws and regulations, and GIS technologies. 

The 30-credit curriculum for this online master’s degree consists of 27-credit didactic coursework and a 3-credit internship/practicum experience. The Sustainable Environmental Planning and Management concentration has courses that combine humanities, social sciences, and environmental planning perspectives.

The concentration courses include Decision Methods in Natural Resources and the Environment, Introduction to Geospatial Analysis with Remote Sensing, and Python Scripting for Geospatial Analysis. This is a non-thesis master’s degree program with an average time-to-completion of 18-24 months.

University of Denver

University of Denver

The online Master of Science in Environmental Policy and Management with a concentration in Environmental Management program consists of 12 Urban Planning courses equivalent to 48 credit hours.

Delivered in asynchronous format, the online master’s degree program uses Canvas to deliver interactive presentations, embedded videos, discussion boards, and real-time chats, and it can be downloaded or accessed via the Web. 

Aside from the for-credit coursework, Urban Planning students must complete the no-credit Student Success Course. The five core courses establish the foundation for the concentration courses and electives and cover the history, current activities and future direction of environmental management.

Every term is ten weeks in duration, and thus, each student can earn the degree in as little as 18 months and practice as an urban planner. There’s no GRE or GMAT requirement for admission. 

Unity College

Unity College

Livability, sustainability and vitality of urban communities are the core concepts upon which the Master of Professional Science in Urban Ecology and Sustainable Planning program is built.

Students in a Master’s degree in Urban Planning program learn the best practices in urban ecology, studying the relationship between man and their natural environment in urban settings. The leadership skills developed during their studies make them qualified for supervisory and management-level positions in urban planning, too.

Urban planning programs at Unity College are encouraged to make professional connections with the private sector, real estate developers, and similar organizations and professionals and get placement assistance.

Kansas State University

Kansas State University

Offered via the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (Great Plains IDEA), the fully online Master’s in Community Development. The Urban Planning program of study empowers students in the best practices of sustainable development, participative democracy, and social justice in light of economic development.

This master’s degree is a 36-credit Urban Planning program with 18 credits dedicated to required courses like Foundations of Community Development, Community and Natural Resource Management, and Community and Regional Economic Policy and Analysis. The 18-credit elective requirement includes courses in GIS and land development planning.

University of New Hampshire

University of New Hampshire

The Carsey School offers a fully online Master of Arts in Community Development program that uses digital tools like Zoom software to deliver a collaborative study program.

Students and professors engage in lively discussions about urban planning principles and practices while building camaraderie. In this type of master’s program, GRE scores aren’t required for admission, but it’s a highly selective program that requires an undergraduate degree in a relevant discipline. 

The program has 12 Urban Planning online courses equivalent to 36 credit hours, with a 14-month time-to-completion. The coursework is distributed as five urban development core courses, four experiential learning courses, and three electives.

The four-term capstone project in master’s programs like this allows students to apply their knowledge in sustainable community engagement and economic development projects directly. Students also choose their capstone projects across all industries and tap experts like real estate developers.

Iowa State University

Iowa State University

Also offered through Great Plains IDEA, Iowa’s Master of Science with an emphasis in Community Development program allows its online Urban Planning students full access to many on-campus real estate resources, if they desire, including its libraries. Students also choose a faculty advisor who will provide useful guidance in achieving academic and career success.

Its Urban Planning curriculum combines principles and practices from environmental law, political science, non-profit management, tribal programs, and sociology as an interdisciplinary program.

University of Nebraska Lincoln

University of Nebraska Lincoln

The opportunity to make a difference in the community is common among students of the online Master of Applied Science with a specialization in the Community Development program. Urban Planning Students become more passionate about citizen engagement in decision-making and finding solutions for community issues with local and global perspectives.

In this online master’s degree, students learn the skills in working across diverse private sectors and real estate communities, from rural and tribal communities to urban communities.

Applicants to this Urban Planning master’s program must have an undergraduate degree with at least a 3.0 GPA, a written personal statement, and three letters of recommendation.  

North Dakota State University

North Dakota State University

Also, part of the Great Plains IDEA consortium, NDSU’s Master of Science in Community Development program has a multidisciplinary curriculum that combines hard and soft skills development among students.

The leadership skills vital in assisting real estate regions and communities toward an inclusive, sustainable future are also emphasized in this Urban Planning master’s program, alongside the ability to see the bigger picture in urban development. 

There are six core courses in this master’s degree, including Foundations of Community Development, Community and Natural Resource Management, and Organizing for Community Change. A capstone requirement can be an applied project or academic research, but it must demonstrate your principles-to-practice ability. 

The application packet for this Urban Planning degree must include transcripts for a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, a statement of purpose, and three letters of recommendation.

University of Arizona

University of  Arizona - Tucson

Arizona’s online Master of Science in Geographic Information Systems Technology meets the academic standards of the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science. Students cover comprehensive ground in GIST topics, including analytics and modeling, programming and development, cartography and real estate visualization, and data management.

Students earn 30 credits that can be completed in 18 months. Their skills include competent operations of LiDAR and remote sensing technologies, big data applications, and Geographic Information Systems programming in mobile and Python platforms.

Elmhurst University 

Elmhurst College

Graduates of Elmhurst’s Master of Science Geographic Information Systems program are eligible to apply for the certified Geographic Information Systems professional credential. Urban Planning students also develop proficiency in the Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM) according to the standards set by the Geo Tech Center and the US Department of Labor. 

The program that may lead to an Urban Planning degree involves the completion of 10 courses for a total of 30 semester hours.

Applicants must have an undergraduate degree in any field, and there are no GRE or GMAT requirements. Students may enroll part-time or full-time, and all coursework is done completely online. The Master’s in Urban Planning degree gives 24/7 access to the latest GIS software and allows the download of the ArcGIS and ArcGIS Pro applications. 

Salisbury University 

Salisbury University 

The online Master of Science in Geographic Information Systems Management program emphasizes public applications of GIS management, but its graduates are also in the private and non-profit sectors. Graduates are more than ready for the demanding work of GIS-related real estate urban planning, thanks to their extensive hands-on learning experiences in the program. 

Urban Planning degree students complete 33-34 credit hours to earn the degree, but they are only required to complete 25 credit hours at Salisbury University. All Urban Planning courses are offered online, and there are core and elective courses that can be completed in 13 months of full-time study with a summer term start. Part-time options are offered, too.

Goucher College

Goucher College

Regarded as the country’s first low-residency master’s program of its kind, Goucher’s MA in Historic Preservation program has notable alumni like career preservationists and advocates for real estate heritage. Current and aspiring urban planning professionals with a passion for historic preservation find its courses useful in maintaining their communities’ material heritage. 

The 38-credit Urban Planning degree program consists of nine required courses (25 credits) and electives (13 credits). Students may also request independent study and credits from the MA in Cultural Sustainability program to be considered for elective credits. The master’s thesis is also a graduation requirement.

What Urban and Regional Planners Do

What Urban and Regional Planners Do

The urban planning profession in the public and private sectors may be diverse, but at the core of their job is public service; by working with the public to identify their community-centric goals, an urban planner and a regional planner make real estate more inclusive, functional, and beautiful.

Urban and regional planners identify communities’ short-term and long-term needs, propose viable solutions, and contribute to the restoration and revitalization of real estate communities to attract businesses and align with preservation laws.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies the diverse settings in which urban and regional planners range from planned suburban communities to homeless shelters and new parks, library compounds, and other public spaces.

Many professionals also work in the design and development of regional areas to make them more attractive to businesses, investors, and tourists. 

The wide variety of tools, techniques, and technologies used in urban and regional planning is also a testament to the profession’s diversity. Of these technologies, GIS software is among the most vital because it enables spatial analysis and modeling that, in turn, contributes to effective real estate or land suitability analysis, site selection, and impact assessments.

Urban and regional planners design the physical layout of communities in rural and urban settings with specific areas – or zones – for different types of real estate development. These include residential, commercial, and industrial zones, as well as low-rise and high-rise zones. 

Beyond the physical layout, urban and regional planners are also involved in creating and preserving public spaces’ visual appeal and character.

Furthermore, they are concerned about the changes in these public spaces and make plans in anticipation thereof. In many ways, urban and regional planning is about the diverse possibilities brought about by changes in land use! 

Note that it isn’t just about the exterior appearance of buildings, streets, and other infrastructure! Urban and regional planners must also deal with the hidden elements – water, electricity and telecommunication lines, and sewer systems.

Add in concerns about social equity, equality, and prosperity, and it’s no wonder that even experienced professionals will benefit from a master’s degree in urban planning!

How to Become an Urban Planner or A Regional Planner

Start with an undergraduate in urban planning or one of its concentrations, such as environmental planning and management or GIS.

Many practitioners also have an undergraduate degree in public policy or administration since their coursework establishes a robust foundation in public planning and its related laws. In the latter case, aspiring urban and regional planners take courses in geography, GIS, and environmental sustainability.

You can, however, apply for a master’s in urban planning degree with an undergraduate in nearly any field. Economics, Communication Studies, and Political Science are also great examples.

Be sure to check the regional PAB accreditation status of the college or university you’re planning on enrolling in for an Urban Planning degree.

Arizona State University, the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and the University of North Texas offer online bachelor’s degree programs in urban planning, urban studies, and urban policy and planning.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Kansas, and Arizona State University offer a few of the best accelerated five-year bachelor’s-to-master’s degree programs. 

With a bachelor’s degree, urban planning professionals may qualify for entry-level positions in public and private sectors as assistants to urban and regional planners and other similar positions. Gain sufficient work experience before proceeding to a master’s degree program.

Your next step is to earn a master’s degree in urban planning. This master’s degree improves your professional credentials for career advancement and raises your earning potential.

Your master’s degree is a competitive edge in a crowd of applicants since prospective employers will see it as proof of your passion for lifelong learning. It is also your key to advanced professional competence through a doctoral degree.

Many Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning programs offer standalone degrees with no concentrations. However, some programs offer elective concentrations in environmental planning, affordable housing and urban design, and transportation planning.

The Urban Planning degree coursework in these graduate programs is similar to that of their undergraduate counterparts but with a few notable differences.

Typically, urban and regional planners only need a master’s degree to practice the profession. However, there are a few states with additional requirements for these practitioners, such as New Jersey requiring a license and Michigan’s registration requirement for real estate and community planners. 

There’s also a professional certification for urban and regional planners offered by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP).

Continuing education is a must for certified urban planning professionals – all AICP members must complete 32 credit hours every two years for active certification. The credit hours can be earned through post-graduate and certification programs and MOOCs

Where Urban and Regional Planners Work

The term “urban and regional planner” is a dead giveaway – most of these professionals work for the local government, including counties, cities, and municipalities.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 72% of urban planners are in the public sector, or more than 27,300 of the total jobs in 2020. Aside from local governments, they also work for the state and federal governments and regional planning agencies.

The rest of the urban and regional planners work in the private sector in various capacities, typically as planning consultants to counties, cities, and municipalities without urban planners on the payroll or who require additional professional assistance.

An urban planner may adopt normal business hours, usually 40 hours per week. However, the work may also demand overtime hours in the evenings and weekends. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What impact do Urban Planners have on communities?

Urban and regional planners have opportunities to make a positive impact on communities, local governments, types of architecture, and even individuals. Their final outputs serve as the framework for community growth and development since these outputs provide a clear direction for the future.

In urban planning, certain guides are set for the specific roles and responsibilities of the concerned parties, the hierarchy of authority, and the coordination networks, among other vital information.

Cities and municipalities with well-prepared land use and development plans are well-prepared communities!

What could be the greatest challenge that urban planners face in contemporary times? 

The urban planning industry faces a wide range of issues that affect individual workers, projects, and communities. With faster urbanization comes the greatest challenge of natural habitat loss for wildlife, displacement of indigenous tribes, damage to the built environment, and over-exploitation of natural resources and sustainability.

Urban planning concerns also include the lack of systems and leadership, limited workforce, and lack of business planning skills among some practitioners. 

What are the critical skills that Urban Planners need in their line of work? 

First, urban planning specialists must possess strong analytical skills for the research phase of the job. When you study urban planning at the online master’s degree level, the research may include analyzing population data, market research, and community needs.

GIS software proficiency requires intensive training in the effective operations of urban planning. Urban planners also have statistics training since they deal with numbers such as population. These skills are covered in both bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in urban planning. 

Communication skills are essential in urban planning, which involves diverse professionals and requires you to get additional information or research on a regular basis. An urban planning online program should emphasize these skills for future professional practice.

Leadership skills are just as vital to success in the urban planning profession. Urban planners must be decisive, possess data-driven decision-making skills, emphasize teamwork, and have the motivation for success.

How much do graduates of Urban Planning earn?

According to recent labor statistics, urban and regional planners earn a median annual wage of $85,940 (May 2023). The highest annual salary was $126,120 for senior planners, while the lowest annual salary was less than $51,470 for junior planners.

The same labor statistics also show urban planners employed by the federal government earned the highest at $111,580 per year. Planners in management, technical, and scientific service earned $89,590 annually.

As with all occupations, the work experience of urban planning online program graduates is highly valued in career advancement.

On the job growth side, employment among urban and regional planners has a 4% growth projection for the 2022-2032 period. This means about 1,700 urban planning openings are available every year. 

Key Takeaways

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