Environmental Planning & Design Degree

Why an Environmental Planning and Design Degree?

The main goal of a program in Environmental Planning and Design is to merge environmental concerns with human desires and needs.

Blending efficiency with social desires as well as practicality and environmental feasibility is a true science. There may be different approaches to doing this, and different interpretations of what this means.

  • Is the design to maximize efficiency for utilities, or is it to protect native wildlife?
  • Is historic preservation the goal, or rehabilitation of native ecosystems?

The nuances involved in finding a balance between nature and the needs of mankind are multitudinous. Often economic demands may win out, but one must remember that those economic demands may change over time as well. What this generation considers a nuisance or unsightly may be the next generation's future; for example, a highly polluted lake may be turned into a sight-seeing development area with well-planned restoration efforts.

Environmental Planning and Landscape Architecture

Unlike other Environmental Science programs, Environmental Planning and Design is often housed either in, or in conjunction with, a school of architecture. Due to the nature of the profession, there are established routes to licensure in most schools. There is a good deal of variability among the schools highlighted, researching individual professors may factor into a student's selected university as well. When choosing this major, students may believe they are going into a program with one goal and come out with another after learning some of the fundamentals.

Typical coursework should include:

  • Basics of design
  • Landscape planning
  • Rural and urban development

Fundamental environmental classes should cover basics of ecology and hydrologic systems and water movement. Specialty classes may be in anthropologic areas, sociology, interior design, historic design, preservation, restoration, and land management, to name a few. International programs may be available.

Job Prospects with a Degree in Environmental Planning and Design

Career options upon graduation are plentiful. You could go into city or municipality planning, restoration and rehabilitation work, international development work with a group such as the Peace Corps, landscape architecture, historic preservation, interior design, just to name a few. You could work for The National Park Service, US Forestry Service, Department of Commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency, and many others. Many architects, designers, and environmental consultants also work for themselves, setting their own schedules and accepting jobs in their specific field of expertise.

With this type of major it is important to look at where you think you want to be working after your schooling is complete. Schools highlighted in this article range from the arid conditions of New Mexico to the snowy streets of Boston. These universities may be in urban environments or in more rural college communities. Though the program curricula may be dually global and local, in theory, fieldwork and inspiration will draw from the culture around the school. Some programs may encourage international studies, while others have well established local internships and working opportunity histories. It may be of great benefit to plan to earn an undergraduate degree in one setting and a graduate degree (or 2!) in another in order to draw from the variety and expertise available around the country.

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Common Divisions/Specialties within Environmental Planning and Design

  • Environmental Ethics
  • Historic Preservation
  • Landscape Design
  • Urban Design
  • Interior Design

Degree Overviews & Programs

Bachelor of Environmental Planning & Design Programs

As mentioned above, this undergraduate degree may or may not be on the fast track to architecture licensing. Be sure you know the requirements of your state and the accreditation of the school. If you are simply interested in the field but not sure you want to be an architect, you may want to minor or take classes in this major. Many architecture classes are high in credit number due to their intense nature, and not doing well in one can really affect your GPA.


Most schools require a letter of intent, SAT scores, letters of recommendation, a small application fee, and high school transcripts.


Along with taking 30-60 credits within the Environmental Design and Planning purview, students need to complete core undergraduate college courses as well. Most programs have well planned methods for allowing a student to graduate with a reasonable workload in 4 years, but some advanced B.S. degrees may take 5 years to complete with all the intensive architecture work.


You could go into regional or community planning with this degree as a junior position, or perhaps as a planner in smaller communities. If your concentration was in something like interior design, you may decide this was enough schooling for you and open your own business or train under someone. You could begin work in any number of the listed fields but in order to specialize or become licensed, you would need more schooling.

Bachelor's School Spotlight

Auburn University

Auburn University Environmental Design program embraces the comingling of nature and construction through sustainable systems. The School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture offers flexibility in their degree program so that students may get what they desire from their experience in school by choosing multiple minors in the degree. Students already planning to pursue higher level degrees afterwards may benefit from an accelerated program into the graduate school. They also offer a 15 credit Environmental Design minor to students in other areas of the school, and a post- Baccalaureate degree for students wanting to enter a professional Master's program without a degree in Design. They believe in looking at both local and global design issues.

University of New Mexico

University of New Mexico offers a Bachelor's of Arts in Environmental Planning and Design (BAEPD) through the School of Architecture and Planning. Courses which may be required include subjects such as Watershed Planning, Urban Design Theory, Indigenous Planning, Planning on Native American Lands, and Community Economics for Planners. Students in other disciplines may minor in Environmental Planning and Design as well. Graduates of the program may be looking for careers locally with the National Park Service, environmental advocacy groups, the Department of Transportation, etc.

Master of Environmental Planning & Design Programs

Many Environmental Design and Planning students have chosen to become architects upon graduation. A Master's degree is generally the minimum college degree necessary to do this. Due to the specialties involved in this degree, individual faculty may go a long way in shaping a particular degree, so it is good to become familiar with the faculty at your chosen school. Your advisor could strongly shape your future.


Most schools require a letter of intent, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, a small application fee, and high school transcripts. If a student had another major outside of design, they may be required to complete some core undergraduate courses before full acceptance.


Generally Master's Degrees in Environmental Planning and Design are a combination of class work and practical work. Core courses will be broad based and taught by a variety of faculty, while specialty courses may be taught by the student's own advisor or other members of the department with similar interests. Practical work will be in the design room, in the field, and as the school sees fit.


For many in the fields of architecture and planning this is the penultimate degree. With this they can go on to an apprenticeship to earn their own license. Government employees going back to school may be seeking advancement or the ability to supervise larger projects by earning a Master's Degree.

Master's School Spotlight

Harvard University

Harvard University Master of Urban Planning (MUP), Environmental Planning is a concentration in the Urban Planning and Design Major at the Graduate School of Design. Students work with planning projects which meet the economic, social, ecological, and sustainable criteria that come into play in major design situations. For a quick glance at some of the offerings of the program, you can look at their Facebook page. Students are able to take classes at the Harvard Kennedy School, the Law School, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Based on past statistics, graduates can expect to gain employment in their chosen field.

University of Georgia

University of Georgia - The College of Environmental Design (CED) offers a Master's Degree in Environmental Planning and Design (MEPD). It is a studio based program with using ecological and environmental principles in planning. A number of local organizations involved in land management and gifting, low-income housing, and historic preservation work with the program for students to gain real-world experience while in school. Faculty have experience worldwide in places ranging from Venezuela to Dubai. Coursework in geography, anthropology, sociology, ecology, and real estate is available to enhance the required curriculum. Certificates in Environmental Ethics, Historic Preservation, and Historic Landscape Studies are also available.

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Ph.D. in Environmental Planning & Design Programs

PhDs may be for those who wish to enhance their realm of expertise or change their working concentration. They may have earned a Master's degree in another subject, such as Ecology, and want to take a practical approach to applying it.


Most PhD programs require a Master's Degree before entrance. They may also require the usual items for an application; three letters of recommendation, small fee to apply, GREs, transcripts, and a well written letter of intent. Some may require a faculty member to agree to be your advisor before entrance as well.


Due to the nature of graduate degrees, most of the coursework would have been completed while earning a Master's degree, but each school has core requirements it expects it's own students to complete. Hence, much of a PhD program is practical work. Schools may have well established partnerships in the community or worldwide which make returning to school very attractive. A thesis or dissertative work is generally required, as well as testing by department members.


PhDs in Environmental Planning and Design have the ability to be supervisors, or leaders in their firms. They may go on to teach in university settings, or gain promotions within their own agencies. They may be even more competitive as independent contractors.

Ph.D. School Spotlight

Clemson University

Clemson University Offers a PhD degree in Planning, Design, and the Built Environment. It is designed to take 3 years to complete, once you have a Master's Degree. In order to graduate equipped to handle large and small scale issues of human population development, the PhD program draws from a variety of disciplines; architecture, landscape architecture, city and regional planning, real estate development and construction science. There are four main areas of concentration, including Build Environment and Health, Restoration, Sustainability, and Land Ecology, Regional/Community Design and Development, and lastly, Technology, Materials, and Construction Processes. Graduate Assistantships may be available. The application process is fairly standard to PhD programs, and more information can be found on their page.

Kansas State University

Kansas State A PhD in Environmental Design and Planning from Kansas State offers four different concentrations; Design, Planning, Sustainability, or Place Making. Students in all concentrations have a few first year classes which are the same. Faculty from the Department of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Interior Architecture and Product Design, and Regional and Community Planning bring their skill sets into play in offering this degree. Along with the traditional entrance requirements, students must have a faculty member willing to serve as their advisor before admittance to the PhD program. Sixty credits beyond a Master's Degree are required for graduation, with a minimum of 30 of those being in dissertation research.

Online Degree in Environmental Planning & Design

The best solution for some students may be to pursue additional education from their own homes through online education. Be aware that some states have specific requirements for completing online education. It will be of benefit to familiarize yourself with the degree program to make sure it meets your own requirements for improved knowledge and possibly job advancement.


Online schools generally have the same requirements as other schools; a small application fee, transcripts, GREs, a letter of intent, and sometimes certain GPAs.


Some schools may require a couple of classes in person but most of the work will be completed online. A few schools are much further ahead of other schools in online degree program development, so it helps to try to research the history of the school, the graduation rates, and job successes afterwards.

Environmental Planning & Design Online Degree Spotlight

Johns Hopkins University

Though not all aspects of Environmental Planning and Design degrees are available online, Johns Hopkins offers a Master's of Science in Environmental Planning and Management, as well as a graduate certificate, and a post-master's certificate. Students have a variety of online classes in Environmental subjects to choose to take, and the ability to earn a dual degree in Management.

Your Career after Graduation in Environmental Design and Planning

As with other degrees, your level of responsibility and specialization in a career after graduation may be dependent on the degree you earn. Undergraduate degrees can lead to careers as local and federal environmental planners through work with municipalities, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, or the Peace Corps. Graduate degrees could be on the track to obtaining independent licensing or advanced work in Environmental Planning. You may choose to be an environmental consultant or to open your own landscaping company.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Urban and Regional Planners earn a median salary of approximately $75,950/yr, Landscape Architects approximately $70,630/yr, Interior Designers approximately $57,060/yr, and Architects approximately $82,230/yr. Also according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Environmental Planners are mainly employed by government agencies.

Whatever your chosen profession is, you can be sure a degree in Environmental Design and Planning will be well utilized. Due to the nature of the program, and its broad reaching applications, it can only serve to enhance a student's experience in understanding Environmental issues and their real-world applications. As communities continue to develop, they will need employees with great educations in Environmental Design and Planning.

Read more about the various environmental planning and design careers available.

2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for Urban and Regional Planners, Landscape Architects, Interior Designers, and Architects reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.

Education Costs

School costs can vary by state and region, and residency. For example, Kansas State University ranges from approximately $7,000 per year for state residents to $21,000 per year for out of state residents. Students in Architecture classes often pay more than students in other departments due to the special software and equipment required. Scholarships may be available for all degree programs, and research assistantships may be available in upper level programs. In general, Bachelor's will take 4-5 years, Master's will take 2-3, and PhDs will take 2-3. Be sure to look closely at the costs of your chosen school. It may be worth establishing residency before enrolling in order to lower your costs.

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Importance of Accreditation

Because many of these degrees are associated with schools of architecture, accreditation and future licensing may be of concern. Undergraduate degrees that can be completed in four years (Bachelor's of Arts) or less generally are not on track for professional licensing. However, many Master's programs accept undergraduate degrees in an alternate subject and then offer a licensing degree program. Transferring into many of these programs is possible, but due to the specific nature of the coursework, may take extra time to graduate than a student that had begun at that school.

Becoming a licensed independent architect generally requires 8-10 years; 5-7 of school, and 3 years of professional internship. State and regional license requirements vary, so it is imperative to make sure you have chosen an established program if that is your desire. You may choose to attend a school with a program in Environmental Planning and Design and simply take advantage of the courses available or earn a minor or certificate if you do not have time to earn the full degree.

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