Career Options

A master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning enables graduates to work in a variety of areas. Planners share interests in:

  • social justice
  • affordable housing
  • sustainable cities
  • mobility and traffic congestion
  • climate and the environment
  • community development and
  • economic development, to name a few

What distinguishes planners is their ability to work in some or all of these areas—the critical skills, knowledge areas, and values they obtain in a master’s degree program in urban and regional planning, such as ours, permits planners to shift from one area to another as their interests evolve as well as the opportunities shift.

Therefore, the most important thing about the planning degree is the degree itself and less so the specific specialization(s) that a student chooses when they are in graduate school. Nevertheless, the following specializations—what we call concentrations—are available to planning students at Iowa and constitute some of the most central career paths in the planning field.   

For more on why planners select planning as a profession, the American Planning Association provides a sampling of professional planners telling why they chose the field.

Jobs of Recent Graduates

Job titleemployer
PhD StudentUniversity in England
Planning ConsultantCommunity development nonprofit in Arizona
Assistant DirectorCounty economic development organization in Iowa
Urban PlannerUrban transformation project in home country, funded by the World Bank
Brownfields CoordinatorMedium-sized city in Iowa
Associate PlannerSmall city in Washington
Urban PlannerConsulting firm in Nebraska
Planner ICity in Kansas
Permitting AnalystEngineering firm in Illinois
Environmental PlannerConsulting firm in Iowa
Senior PlannerCounty in Indiana
Associate PlannerCounty in California
Urban PlannerTransportation consulting firm in North Carolina
Planner IIConsulting firm in Iowa
Community PlannerConsulting firm in Iowa
Program ManagerNonprofit in Iowa
Assistant PlannerTown in Washington
Transportation PlannerConsulting firm in Iowa
Community Development SpecialistState department of commerce in the Midwest
Planning and Zoning ManagerCity in Illinois
Assistant PlannerCounty in Iowa
Planner ICounty in California
Associate PlannerCity in Iowa
Community Development SpecialistCity in Wisconsin
Transportation Planner IIRegional planning organization in Kentucky
PhD StudentUniversity in Iowa
Social Impact Program CoordinatorUniversity in Iowa
Assistant PlannerRegional planning organization in Wisconsin

Career Options by Area of Interest

In the economic development area of concentration students study regional economic growth processes, the changing structure of employment and the relationship between local industrial sectors and national and international economic trends.

Courses also focus on:

  • forecasting the economic impact of business location decisions
  • alternatives for financing development,
  • state and local development policies
  • entrepreneurship and how communities can promote entrepreneurship
  • innovative institutional arrangements such as public/private partnerships
  • other issues such as plant closings, job training, tax incentives, and federal small business programs. 

This prepares students for positions with:

  • city planning departments
  • regional planning agencies
  • state development agencies
  • neighborhood economic development groups
  • nonprofit or public/private economic development organizations

The concentration in housing and community development gives students knowledge of affordable housing and community development issues; federal, state, and local housing and community development policies; and innovative public/private/neighborhood partnerships. The mounting costs of public services threaten our towns, cities, and regions resulting in:

  • urban decay
  • lack of affordable housing
  • loss of population
  • loss of jobs

Graduates with a concentration in housing and community development are prepared for positions in:

  • housing and community development divisions of city, regional, and state planning agencies and departments
  • community-based organizations focusing on low-income housing development
  • community development corporations

Urban sprawl and haphazard, uneven growth have meant significant environmental degradation in most regions. Shortsighted land use decisions have led to the destruction of sensitive natural resources such as wetlands and woodlands (and the wildlife they support), development patterns that precipitate "natural" disasters because they encroach on and alter floodplains or fragile slopes, and a dependence on unrenewable fuels that pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases.

The abandonment of older developed areas for new suburban "greenfields" sites has other consequences - the decline of traditional neighborhoods, and the dilemma of what to do with old, abandoned industrial sites (brownfields). Planning to protect and preserve environmental values is intimately connected with planning to:

  • manage growth
  • counter sprawl
  • promote sustainability
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • mitigate the impacts of climate change
  • revitalize distressed communities

The land use and environmental planning concentration combines coursework in environmental policy and management and in several aspects of land use planning, including GIS applications. Supplementary environmental science courses in the departments of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences and Civil and Environmental Engineering complement the policy and planning emphasis offered in URP courses.

Students in this area of concentration generally pursue careers in:

  • local, regional, state or federal government agencies
  • private consulting firms
  • environmental advocacy organizations

Transportation facilities have been used to encourage economic development, to shape growth patterns, to improve opportunities for disadvantaged persons, and to elevate the general quality of life in and around urban areas. Students in this concentration become competent in:

  • developing transportation policies
  • understanding the interaction between transportation and land use
  • measuring transportation demand

They learn how transportation plans are produced and what regulations govern transportation planning. They investigate new transportation laws and regulations, financing systems, and the impact of transportation facilities or modes on environmental quality.

These students find employment in:

  • consulting firms
  • state transportation agencies
  • regional organizations
  • cities
  • metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs)
  • transportation districts

A certificate in transportation planning can be earned as an additional certification to the master's degree.

The GIS specialty prepares students for positions with:

  • city planning departments
  • regional planning agencies
  • state development agencies
  • neighborhood economic development groups
  • other nonprofit or public/private economic development organizations

Students learn how to use and apply GIS software to urban planning and various techniques for spatial analysis. Some policy courses make use of GIS for analysis and forecasting purposes, including our Sustainable Communities Lab capstone course. Supplemental classes in remote sensing, as well as other GIS courses (offered by the department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences) are available.

Students with a GIS specialty are also required to develop a concentration in one of the other planning areas offered by the planning program.