Urban Planner scanning the city horizon making plans

Is An Urban Planning Degree Worth It?

If you are considering becoming an urban planner, you already know that you need a college degree.  A bachelor’s degree in urban planning is necessary for just about any entry-level urban planner position. A master’s degree, however, is the preferred degree for urban planners and is more likely to get you hired. College degrees can be expensive, which may leave you wondering, is getting an urban planning degree worth it?

Bachelor’s Degree in Urban Planning

Before you can enroll in a master’s degree program, you will need to get a bachelor’s degree, in urban planning or a closely related field. According to the Education Data Initiative,  the average cost of a bachelor’s degree in 2023, including books, supplies and daily living expenses, is $35,551 per year, or $142,204 over four years. As only 39.8 percent of students earn their bachelor’s degree in four years, real costs will likely be higher. Public schools tend to charge lower tuition than private schools.

Payscale notes that the average salary for those holding a bachelor’s of urban planning degree is $68,000 annually.  Salaries can range from $37,000 to $105,000 depending upon the employer (government or public sector, non-profit, or private sector) and the geographic location of the position.

Master’s Degree in Urban Planning

The average cost of a master’s degree in any subject, per the Education Data Initiative, is $62,650 as of 2022. Master’s degrees may range in cost from $30,000 to $120,000.  Public schools tend to have lower tuition costs than private schools. As we noted in our survey of the most affordable master’s degrees in urban planning, the lowest tuition we could find averaged $10,000 per year for in-state residents of public colleges or universities.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that as of 2021, the median annual wage for urban and regional planners holding a master’s degree is $78,500. Urban planner salaries in the U.S. range from $48,720 annually (lowest 10 percent) to $119,340 annually (highest 10 percent). Your salary will depend upon many factors, such as the geographic region in which you work, and whether you work for the government or a public entity, a non-profit organization, a private consulting firm, or private industry.

The American Planning Association (APA)’s 2018 Salary Survey reports that salaries increase with the number of years of experience you have. If you hold certification in the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP), this also tends to increase your salary. The survey discovers that those working as planners for non-public entities generally make higher salaries, averaging $83,200 in 2018. The survey finds that planners working in suburban areas earn higher salaries ($83,500) compared to those working in urban areas ($78,500) or rural areas ($68,000).

What Does All of This Add Up To?

These numbers might be causing your head to spin. Remember, however, that there are some urban planning scholarships for which you might qualify. These are offered by various organizations, colleges, and universities, and are worth checking into.

If you must foot the bill for your degree yourself, don’t feel bad. Many students must borrow money to get their degree(s). Just keep in mind that you will end up paying more for college in the long run if you take out student loans. You will need to repay the principal of the loan, plus interest. The average student will borrow over $35,000 to attend college.  Education Data Initiative notes that the average federal student loan debt as of 2022 is $37,340. Forbes Advisor reports that interest rates on federal student loans for undergraduate students average 4.99% as of 2022-23 and for graduate students, interest rates range from 6.54% to 7.54%.

Forbes Advisor also reports that many students borrow the maximum amount for which they qualify in subsidized and unsubsidized federal student loans, then must turn to private student loans to fill the gap. Private student loans are originated by banks, credit unions and online lenders. They tend to be more expensive than federal student loans with higher interest rates and don’t offer as flexible repayment options. Interest rates will vary depending upon your credit rating.

So, what is the answer to the question of whether an urban planning degree is worth it? Financially, getting any college degree can put you in debt for years to come. You must weigh your own financial situation, your ability to get scholarships, and the amount of money you want to borrow with your desire to become an urban planner and help others through your work. Whether you already have a bachelor’s degree should also be taken into consideration, as you might be paying off student loans for that currently, then you must add the costs of a master’s degree on top of that. Or, perhaps your bachelor’s degree is totally paid off, and funding a master’s in urban planning won’t be as much of a hardship for you.

As an urban planner with a master’s degree, your salary will be higher than that of many other professions. Job satisfaction is also a crucial factor when it comes to deciding on whether to get an urban planning degree. Owl Guru reports that, among the urban and regional planners who they questioned, 75% said that they were satisfied with their job. Additionally, 68% of these planners said that their job is meaningful, and that they enjoy the fact that their work is helping to make others’ lives better. All of this is important in deciding if an urban planning degree is worth it, for you.