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Grad / masters 🎓 Thinking about a master's in urban planning - your advice?


Hi everyone,

I was browsing this forum and found peoples' suggestions really helpful, so thought I would venture in to ask for some advice! Any feedback or thoughts are much appreciated.

I graduated a few years ago from Northwestern with a degree in engineering and minor in political science. For the past couple years, I've been working in international development (specifically agtech), and now I'm interested in moving back to the US and working on domestic social issues, perhaps affordable housing or civic technology. I actually stumbled across urban planning when I was looking at more generalist MBA and MPA programs, and I found that the MCP/MUP coursework was basically all of the things I wanted to learn more about (technical skills like stats and visual design + social issues and history). I haven't ruled out the idea of trying to get into academia eventually, but right now I'm just looking for a way to build up skills/knowledge that will help me do impactful and interesting public service work in the short-term.


1) Is a master's in urban planning the wrong way to go?
My goals for the next five years are basically to learn new skills, get a richer perspective on policy issues and civic engagement, and find a job where I can make a meaningful contribution to domestic social issues. I realize there are a lot of different ways to do this, and I've considered other grad programs as well (flexible MBA programs that would let me take electives in other schools; public policy programs; constitutional law), but I find urban planning programs to have the most interesting course options. Is urban planning a reasonable path to take to get to these goals? Is it okay to start a master's in urban planning without knowing exactly how I want to specialize?

2) Do you have any recommendations for reading materials or other things that helped you understand what you wanted to study?
I'm pretty new to urban planning (I've read some books about it and read a bit about career paths and bios of professors and such, but didn't have any exposure to planning in undergrad), and I'd love your advice on how to learn more. Are there any books or journals that you'd recommend? And are there any tips you'd suggest for learning more about the field and narrowing in on what exactly I want to do?

Sorry if this post is a bit vague, and thanks again for your help! Suggestions and advice are very appreciated :)



That sounds like a really interesting background. Based off of what you said, I'll say yes urban planning would seem like a good fit for you. Depending on what grad program you go to, you can make your degree into whatever you want it to be. When considering what type of degree, I'll say that an MUP (or MCP/MRP/MCRP) falls in the middle category in terms of specificity vs. broadness:

M.Arch/MLA --> MUP --> MPA/MBA
(more specific ----> more broad)

There are a lot of planning resources out there, but I'd recommend browsing the following:
  • the book "A Career Worth Planning" (dated, but still good)
  • the book "An Idealist's Guide to Urban Planning" and its associated op-ed series on the American Planning Association website
  • the Planetizen Guide to Urban Planning Programs, whatever the latest edition is
  • Browsing through the myriad of articles on Next City, Bloomberg CityLab, Fast Company cities, Planetizen, NACTO, APA, Rail~Volution, Transit Center, and many other publications and professional organizations dedicated to this field. I think all of these have heavy social media presences as well for easy perusing.

Good luck!


I would go with MUP. MBAs don't really cover planning issues. At best, you might find a real-estate specialization, but they are few and far between. There are so many required courses (accounting, finance, organizational management, strategy) that you may have 3-6 hours (9 hours tops) for electives, and those are usually in the business school.

(I have a BUP, work in planning, and am looking into MBAs for next Spring).