Seal of Expertise, Credibility, and Ethics: Benefits of AICP Certification

At any given time, planners might be immersed in a narrow area — say a zoning issue — but that doesn’t reflect the expansiveness of our field. We’ll work on zoning one day, a comprehensive plan the next, and a downtown plan after that. We also must interact with elected officials, make public presentations, and handle numerous other tasks.

Planning requires a broad knowledge base. And credentialing from the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) helps distinguish planners who have acquired the experience and advanced understanding to better serve their clients.

AICP certification independently verifies planners' qualifications. To become certified, planners must have reached a certain level of both education and work experience and demonstrate how this experience meets the criteria for certification. The rigorous AICP Certification Exam also requires learning more background about the field, including history and law.

In addition to demonstrating their mastery of key skills, certified planners pledge to maintain high standards of professional conduct and ethics. That includes:

  • Serving the public interest
  • Considering long-range consequences of recommendations
  • Providing timely, clear and accurate information to all parties touched by our projects
  • Preserving the integrity and heritage of the natural and built environment
  • Dealing fairly with all participants in the planning process
  • Helping to educate members of the public about the relevance of planning in their lives
  • Providing pro bono assistance in communities that lack resources

At my firm, Freese and Nichols, Inc., we consider APA one of the most beneficial professional organizations our planners can be involved in, and we expect our planners to hold AICP certification or be working toward it. We currently have 13 certified planners, including a member of the AICP College of Fellows, Dan Sefko.

Not only does certification demonstrate understanding of our field, but the credential conveys additional credibility. It shows that our staff can handle the vast array of areas our industry encompasses, and it reflects a commitment to staying current on developments in our field.

At our company and elsewhere, certification also opens doors to career advancement.

We consider AICP certification such an important distinguishing characteristic that I would recommend both that cities look for consultants that have AICP-credentialed planners and that planning professors consider getting certified themselves and promote it among their students as a long-term goal.

APA has found that a majority of employers consider AICP certification when hiring planners, and credentialed planners earn on average $16,000 more annually than noncertified planners.

AICP certification is just one of many ways in which APA helps planners grow as professionals. Our employees have been APA members for more than a decade, and there’s a direct correlation to the success we’ve had building relationships with local communities.

With the majority of our clients being municipalities, our involvement in APA has given me and my colleagues the opportunity to strengthen existing relationships and form new ones, and to gain insights from municipal leaders about the struggles they face.

I’ve been an APA member since 2000 and have had the pleasure of serving in various positions for the Midwest section of the Texas chapter, for the Texas chapter at the state level, and now at the national level as the representative for Region 3. Each year, I’m still amazed by the relationships, knowledge, and personal growth our employees have experienced by being involved in APA.

Top image: AICP pins. APA photo.


Wendy D. Shabay, AICP
About the Author

Wendy Shabay, AICP

Wendy Shabay is a Freese and Nichols Vice President/Principal and Urban Planning + Design Group Manager. She is a member of the APA National Board as Director of Region III and has held numerous local and state APA leadership positions.

October 1, 2019