Top 10 Graduate Programs for Earning a Regional and Urban Planning Degree in 2019

Cities and towns must respond to the changing needs of their populations. New schools, better parks and recreation centers, updated hospitals and medical centers, water infrastructures and improved highway and travel thruways are all integral aspects of a functioning society. With the development and implementation of each of these projects, there are concerns which must be considered in advance. City and state officials are responsible for ensuring the safety of their citizens while the needs of the growing populations are addressed. Environmental matters must also be considered. The health and safety of the people is contingent on the preservation and careful consideration of the environmental factors which may be impacted by the project. An urban and regional planner is trained with the knowledge and skills to advise those charged with the responsibility of approving the project as well as those who are designing and constructing it.

In order to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to adeptly perform the tasks associated with the urban and regional planning profession, an individual must begin with an urban planning degree, preferably acquiring a master’s in urban planning. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, urban planners can make a median annual salary of $70,020 planning out environmental resource use, transportations systems, and growth of cities. Urban and regional planning field requires individuals with knowledge in a vast number of subject areas. Mathematics, earth sciences, life sciences, physics, geology, geography and policy are just a few. Majoring in any of these areas will provide some of the knowledge and skills that will be needed to move you onto an urban planning master’s. Regardless of the discipline in which the individual earns their undergraduate degree, a graduate degree is preferred by the majority of those who will require the services of a planner. The advanced education provides the time necessary to acquire more of the knowledge and skills which are essential to success in the field of urban and regional planning.

What Are The Best Regional & Urban Planning Programs?


University of Massachusetts-Amherst Amherst, MA

There are two graduate paths at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. The first is a master of landscape architecture (MLA). It is a three-year program requiring between 39-42 credits. Established in 1903, the landscape architecture program is the second-oldest in the country and is fully accredited through the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board. All prospective applicants will need to provide a portfolio to be considered. The MLA program does welcome students from unrelated disciplines, and they are invited to submit graphic or written work they feel expresses their creativity on the subject of landscape architecture. Courses are almost entirely studio-based, with some theory and research added on.

The second path is a master of regional planning (MRP). Students in this path will find themselves prepared for work in government, or consultation to private firms on the subject of addressing spatial and economic needs of communities of all sizes. Courses include subjects like geographic information systems, quantitative methods in planning, and judicial planning law. Graduation requires either a thesis or a capstone project. It is a two-year program requiring 24 credit hours, with one semester dedicated mostly to a studio course that will shape how graduates will deal with clients regarding projects.

Those wishing to get a good look at some of the work that will be required before completing the program should peruse the fascinating collection of research and studio projects the school hosts online. It’s also a wonderful tool for creative inspiration, or to decide if urban planning is right for you.


University of Central Florida Orlando, FL

Although all students at the University of Central Florida are expected to attend some in-person classes, portions of the 48-credit hour program can be completed online. Those utilizing the blended program can fulfill their classroom assignments on weeknights. The reason for this is the university’s allegiance to the strength of group and community projects. These projects stress the importance of working within a team while addressing urban planning problems in the local community.

Courses and credit hours used for undergraduate degrees cannot be applied toward the master’s urban planning degree, except for senior scholar students. Graduate courses taken as a senior scholar might be eligible up to nine credit hours, and University of Central Florida undergrads should consult with their advisers about taking advantage of the program.

An internship is advised, though not required, of students who do not have relevant professional experience. Graduates will need to finish a studio experience capstone project involving team planning with community partners under the supervision of faculty. By the end of the program, graduates will have taken a set of unique courses such as cross-sectoral governance, land use and planning law, and planning healthy communities.

Worried about being able to work, handle a demanding program, and pay your bills? Make sure you look into the university's fellowship program for graduates. These generous stipends can ease your student career and do not have work obligations attached.


University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC

The Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, founded in 1946, endeavors to advance and disseminate knowledge in planning through research, education and service. The department is one of the oldest, largest, and most renowned in the nation. The pioneering approach to planning taken by the University of North Carolina adopts a social science emphasis. The challenges and problems of planning are evaluated utilizing the principles and methodologies of the social sciences and incorporate the concepts of architecture and landscape design. The multidisciplinary approach develops a broad perspective in the program graduates enabling them to become respected leaders in the field of planning. Throughout the years, the department has broadened its approach and perspectives to include the emerging needs and advancing technologies of current societies.

The Department of City and Regional Planning offers degree programs with varying curriculum and specializations including planning in developing countries, real estate development, public policy analysis and history, design and preservation of the built environment. The two-year master of city and regional planning degree program provides students with the skills and knowledge necessary to become effective and successful planning professionals. Students select an area of specialization in community development, economic development, environmental planning, transportation planning or land use planning and design. The dual degree programs combine corresponding areas of study with relevance to the planning field such as business, public administration, public health and law providing graduates with the skills to address the complexities of the complicated field. The curriculum includes study of theory, techniques and methodology, problem solving workshops and a master’s project.


Boston University Boston, MA

There are two different master’s degree paths at Boston University: city planning (MCP) and urban affairs (MUA). Both paths provide a solid urban planning foundation. Boston University is one of the more flexible urban planning schools. Students can attend either full-time or part-time, and a blended program incorporating in-person and online learning is anticipated to be added sometime in 2017.

The MUA requires only 36 credit hours to graduate and can be completed in only one year of study. Students will learn the history and theory of planning, urban analytics, and are expected to attend the Boston Urban Symposium. Those without prior professional experience are highly recommended to seek internships supplied by the program.

The MCP is a more strenuous track, requiring 64 credit hours. Its classes focus more on aspects of plotting the growth of cities. A thesis is required for graduation. If you need help and guidance, be sure to look into the university’s alumni program, whose members are always happy to guide the next generation of urban planners.

In addition, Boston University offers an applied sustainability graduate certificate. The program is 16 credit hours, and those hours can later be applied to a master’s. The certificate shows that students have mastered the art of maintaining environments without using up resources, both manmade and natural. An eco-friendly mindset is a must.


Georgetown University Washington, DC

Georgetown University is one of the more accepting urban planning schools. Students are not required to have previous professional experience or have completed any sort of urban planning coursework in their undergraduate studies. No internship is required for graduation, though they will happily help students into one as either an extracurricular activity or as part of an independent study course.

Concentrations for the program include urban design and land use; housing, community and economic development; and international development. Overall, students will be required to take 14 courses over two years, though a 15-month accelerated program is also an option. An urban and regional planning thesis is mandatory for graduation, and you are expected to present it both written and orally.

Students in the program are encouraged to conduct at least one semester of independent primary research. In addition to student-driven research projects, the URP program has developed formal research partnerships with several organizations, including Aging Well Hub, DowntownDC BID, and MetroLab Network.

An aspect of the program that students are definitely going to want to keep an eye on is their regular speaker series. Distinguished professionals come to lecture on a diverse set of topics like sustaining public transit, investment planning in cities, and dealing with earlier planning initiatives that have been disrupted over time.


University of Florida Gainesville, FL

Some form of urban planning has been taught at the University of Florida since 1927, with the current College of Design, Construction and Planning (then called the College of Architecture) being founded in 1975. They have been accredited since 1978, and Planetizen ranked their program 14th in the nation and fourth in the Southeast in its 2015 list of the top planning schools. The program is four semesters long, and requires an internship to complete.

If you are interested in the legal side of urban planning, the the University of Florida’s master’s in urban planning program might be the one for you. It is a two-year graduate program that also offers a joint degree with the Levin College of Law. Other joint degree paths are also available.

It’s also a choice school if you are looking to get your master’s in urban and regional planning (MURP) online. The online course mirrors the accredited in-school version. It requires 52 credit hours to complete at $865 per credit hour. They offer multiple geographic information systems (GIS) courses, which is extremely helpful as GIS has become increasingly important in the world of urban planning. They’ve even recently launched a GIS certificate course for those already working in the field looking to get in on a cutting edge area of the industry. The course is 12 credit hours at $675 per hour.


Harvard University Cambridge, MA

One of the most distinguished universities in the world, the master of urban planning program might be more available to you than you think. In 2015-2016, 97% of students earning a master’s in urban planning received some form of financial aid, including $2 million in grants, fellowships, work study, and assistantships. Makes sure to visit their helpful list of grants and work study programs to see if such a prestigious school might actually be within your grasp to attend.

Getting a master’s in urban planning from Harvard generally takes two years to accomplish, and the program focuses on guiding teams of roughly 80 students through the process of becoming an urban planner. Community outreach is a big part of the program. In 2013, their Core Planning Studio created a downtown plan for the City of Malden, an inner suburb with a vibrant immigrant community. In 2014, they did a similar plan for the City of Chelsea. A a master’s in urban planning from Harvard involves seeing an immediate impact from your work and how it literally can change the landscape for people.

Students can also pursue joint degrees while getting their urban planning degree. This requires students to be full-time residents of the Graduate School of Design for at least one additional year beyond the two-year program. Possible joint degrees include landscape architecture, architecture, urban design, and design studies. These can be added to the primary disciplines incorporated in the core program: environmental planning, history and theory, housing and neighborhood development, international planning, real estate and urban development, transportation and infrastructure, and urban design.


University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA

This school has everything you could possibly want in an urban planning degree. The University of Southern California can prepare you for your career in a huge variety of ways, limited only by your drive to succeed. First, the master’s in urban planning. The program is ranked 4th overall in the nation, and consistently makes top ten lists (like this one!).

There are five disciplines available to choose from: economic development, built environment, social and community planning, sustainable land use, and transportation and infrastructure. These degrees can be pursued on their own or as part of a dual degree track encompassing 12 other areas of interest like architecture, social work, or heritage conservation. Many of these offer accelerated tracks to get you out of school and into the important jobs these degrees require as fast as possible.

The program by itself is 48 credit hours long, with an average cost of $1,666 per unit. Out-of-state students pay the same rate as California residents. Currently, the program is not available online, as the school prefers to utilize the "living classroom" that is the Los Angeles area. Those without professional experience are required to perform in a 400-hour internship through the school’s partnership with distinguished organizations in the city.

A host of professional graduate certificates are also offered. These include certificates in real estate development, social justice, sustainable policy and planning, transportation systems, public management, public policy, and public financial management. The certificate program consists of 12 units of graduate coursework. Each course builds upon the prior, so students will take classes sequentially — one each semester over three terms. Students should think seriously about joining the variety of collegiate organizations for majors in urban planning.


George Washington University Washington, DC

George Washington University offers two paths for the student looking for urban planning graduate programs. The first is a master of professional studies in sustainable urban planning. This 48-credit hour program takes place over two years. Classes are available on weekday evenings three semesters a year.

Recently, the Planning Accreditation Board announced candidacy status for the GWU master of professional studies in sustainable urban planning degree, a two-year term that formally recognizes initial granting of accreditation. Students who start soon can expect to have a fully accredited urban planning master’s by the time they finish. Total cost of the program is $49,855, plus books, and students will complete classes such as urban and environmental economics, transportation planning in city systems, and sustainable communities. Two different tracks are available: climate change management and policy or sustainable landscapes.

You can also pursue two graduate certificates through George Washington University. Both require 18 credit hours and cost $18,735, plus books, to complete. The first is a graduate certificate in climate change management and policy, which will show future employers that the graduate is dedicated to tackling the challenge of climate change on human civilization as it becomes and ever-more pressing problem. The second is a graduate certificate in sustainable urban planning. This certificate is perfect for the future urban planner who would like to see things like native plants continuing to thrive in human communities, or restore previous ecological trepasses to their former glory. Truly, George Washington University is the place for the green-minded urban planning graduate student.


Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta, GA

The Master of City and Regional Planning (MCRP) is ranked fifth in the nation. Students are expected to complete 55 credit hours over the course of two years. Graduates are expected to attend an internship, as well as complete a master’s thesis or an applied research paper.

Students pursuing their urban planning degree can specialize in six separate disciplines as they prepare for a rewarding career after graduation. Some of these include disciplines like economic development, where urban planning know how is applied to improving the financial prospects of a population through convention center creation, small business growth, and revitalization of depressed areas. Housing and community development is also a worthy path. Students here will take foundation courses on real estate finance and development, community development, and government and housing markets. Public information, environmental health and planning, land use planning, transportation, and urban design tracks are also available.

Currently the course is not offered online, and part-time students are only accepted under extenuating circumstances. The master’s in urban planning also requires 12 elective hours designed to help students “synthesize their planning knowledge and skills in a real-world situation ranging from large city neighborhoods to moderately sized cities and towns.” Studio opportunities for these electives are offered throughout the Atlanta area, or can be attended through Georgia State University or Emory University if more convenient.

The Benefits of an Online Master’s in Urban Planning

Though the ability to get an online master’s in urban planning is still largely in its infancy compared to many other academic paths, there are a few schools that do offer some courses or even full programs. The University of Florida, listed above, is one of those, as is the University of Washington. An online education comes with many attributes. Courses are often arranged asynchronously to the regular semester, enabling students to continue their education on their own schedules. Due to the nature of urban planning, though, even these will often require some sort of community engagement project to prove your mettle in the industry.

Telecommuting is generally cheaper than the gas and parking fees required of an in-person education, and can be a boon to the disabled student who may find physical attendance a strain or prohibitive. It certainly doesn’t inhibit in any way a student’s ability to consult with professors, alumni, or fellow students, and as technology proves even turning in complex urban planning projects can be done from a good laptop.

Don’t let distance keep you from joining the lucrative and exciting world of urban planning. You may be far from a big city, but that doesn’t mean your small town couldn’t have a place for these skills once you acquire them.



To determine the best online graduate programs in urban and regional planning, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school's commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the 10 best online Graduate Programs In Urban And Regional Planning. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school's ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category's ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.