Career outlook

A degree in urban studies and planning

Students earning a degree in urban studies possess a robust skill set for entry-level positions in a wide variety of fields, including business, non-profit and governmental sectors. Community development, research, analysis and writing about urban areas are among the many skills accorded to degree holders in urban studies. In addition, students are well-prepared to further their career goals by attending graduate education in law, planning, business, economics, or other urban-related fields.

Transferable skills

An urban studies and planning degree offers skills in:

  • Oral and written advocacy
  • Operation of Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
  • Critical thinking
  • Policy analysis
  • Paid and for-credit urban service opportunities

Some careers in urban studies and planning

Career Median annual salary Market growth
City and Regional Planning Aides* $46640 2% - 4%
Transportation Managers* $73050 10% – 14%
Fundraising $114800 10% – 14%
Construction Management $93370 10% – 14%
Geographic Information Systems Technicians* $90270 5% – 9%

Other areas of reported job titles: City Planner, Community Development Director, Community Development Planner, Housing Development Specialist, Housing Grant Analyst, Neighborhood Planner, Planner, Planning Director, Regional Planner, Urban Design Consultant

*Advanced degree necessary for median salaries

Source: O*NET Online, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment & Training Administration

Graduate study

This degree also provides a solid foundation for graduate study in:

  • Urban and regional planning
  • Law school
  • Business (M.B.A.)
  • Master and Ph.D. programs in sociology, political science, economics, etc.

The urban studies degree prepares students for advanced academic training in traditional social science fields; professional training in fields such as urban planning, public administration, and law, and vocational opportunities with an urban focus, such as community organizing, political action, social services, and spatial analysis.

Individuals who complete the economic development certificate pursue economic development positions in state, regional and local governments; nonprofit and community organizations, private associations such as chambers of commerce, and private businesses and civic institutions engaged in economic development.

The masters of urban planning (M.U.P.) degree prepares students to analyze and plan for the physical make-up of a city through particular areas of focus. These foci may be housing and community development, economic development, transportation planning, regional planning, municipal land use planning, food systems or a myriad of other topics. Careers in the field of urban planning may be with private firms, not-for-profit organizations, or government agencies.

Notable people with an urban studies and planning major

  • Gabrielle Giffords (Congresswoman for the State of Arizona, urban planner)
  • Jane Jacobs (journalist, author, writer, philosopher, urban scholar)
  • Norman Krumholz (city planner and city commissioner, City of Cleveland, OH)
  • Frank Lloyd Wright (architect)
  • Daniel Hudson Burnham (architect, urban planner)

A bridge to employment and a career

Throughout the program in urban studies and through interaction with the faculty you'll be exposed to a wide range of job opportunities where your skills, knowledge and understanding of cities – and how to make a difference – will be in high demand.

Increasingly, government (federal, state and local) is being restructured into layers of agencies. Each is charged with specific authority and the power to get things done. In Michigan, MSHDA (Michigan State Housing Development Authority) now has statewide responsibility for coordinating urban policy. Your Urban Studies degree from Wayne State will give you a skill-set that will connect with the work of MSDA.

At the local level, the key development agency in Detroit is the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC). The DEGC coordinates property and business development in the city, working in partnerships between government and the private sector. Several graduates from WSU's Department Urban Studies and Planning have made careers with this increasingly engaged agency. But don't forget that traditional units of government are critical actors in making cities better. There are career opportunities across city hall where your training will stand you in good stead.

In addition to careers in government, graduates from urban studies will be attractive to the "third wave": the nonprofit sector – local agencies working closely with communities to effect change.  Their work embraces housing renewal, commercial redevelopment, open space planning, neighborhood economic development and more. Local CDCs – Community Development Corporations – are the change agents of tomorrow and they need your drive, enthusiasm and knowledge. Rick Belloli, former executive director of the South Side Local Development Corporation in Pittsburgh, PA is a highly successful graduate from one of our programs.

There will also be career opportunities in the nonprofit sector, working on broader urban policy issues. As we all move towards environmentally conscious development, the role of foundations, advocacy groups and research agencies in understanding and shaping the sustainable city is increasing by the day. Your training will fit well with this new agenda. Here in metro Detroit, the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, the Local Initiative Support Corporation or Greening of Detroit are leading the way. Detroit-based SEMCOG (Southeast Michigan Council of Governments) our seven-county Metropolitan Planning Organization has hired numerous Wayne State Urban Planning students and graduates.

These sophisticated grass-roots agencies work on a day-to-day basis with the private sector. Your degree in urban studies will also be attractive to the real estate development industry. They may want you to go on to get an M.B.A. or masters in urban planning (M.U.P.) but your initial skills will open many doors in the private sector. And don't forget, the urban studies degree will also provide excellent training for advanced degrees, including public administration or law school.

National and Michigan professional associations

 Books and other guides to employment with a degree in urban studies

  • A Guide to Careers in Community Development, by Paul Brophy and Alice Shabecoff (Island Press, 2001)
  • Careers in City Politics: the Case for Urban Democracy, by Timothy Bledsoe
  • Careers in Government, by Mary Elisabeth Pitz
  • Careers in Local Government, by Felicity Taylor
  • Career Inside the World of Government, by Sue Hurwitz
  • Careers In Urban Affairs: Six Young People Talk About Their Professions In The Inner City, by Bernard Asbell
  • Challenging Careers in Urban Affairs, by Sterling McLeod
  • Harvard Guide to Careers in Government and the Public Sector, by Carla Mortensen