Civil Engineering Degrees &Careers
As one of the oldest engineering disciplines, civil engineering is responsible for maintaining society’s infrastructure. Civil engineers ensure safe construction, operation and maintenance of structures, such as roads, bridges, buildings and dams. Due to the importance of their duties, civil engineering has particular educational and skill requirements. This guide will explain in detail what it takes to become an engineer, what civil engineering degrees are available and what prospective students can expect when getting a civil engineering degree.
What does a Civil Engineer Do?
Working with both natural and built environments, civil engineers are responsible for designing and implementing plans for myriad structures and roadways used by billions of people across the world. Frequently working in tandem with architects, city planners and landscape designers, these creative professionals are responsible for countless aspects of everyday life. It would be difficult to imagine any scene where a civil engineer had not been at work: they design schools, help city traffic flow better, craft structures to hold priceless treasures and devise iconic monuments recognized the world over.
Civil Engineer Salaries
Regardless of the specific area where civil engineers choose to work, the field is brimming with opportunities and well-paid positions. The careers below represent some of the paths a civil engineer may take; while the salaries given herein represent the middle 50 percent of earners, those at the top of their game in the top 10th percentile make even more.
Steps to Becoming a Civil Engineer
Whether just beginning or having been in the field for decades, civil engineering is an exciting vocation on each step of the professional ladder. Whether possessing a bachelor’s degree and starting out with entry-level positions or transitioning into collegiate teaching as a seasoned professional, there are many different paths that can be taken. The following section provides details on the steps needed to begin a career in civil engineering.
As of 2012, one out of every five civil engineers held a master’s level degree and most of those were in managerial or leadership roles. Coursework tends to cover the same topics presented in a bachelor’s degree, but more in depth. Students may also have the opportunity to concentrate their knowledge in a particular area through specialized coursework and a research project.
Those seeking doctoral level degrees most often aspire to teach at the postsecondary level, or work in high-level consulting roles. As part of degree requirements, candidates complete a large-scale original research project and undertake examinations.
- Attend an ABET-accredited institution
- Undertake the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination directly after completing a baccalaureate degree
- Become a Civic Engineering (CE) intern, also known as an Engineer-in-Training (EIT).
- Complete a minimum number of professional hours, meet benchmarks along the way, and complete the Principles and Practices of Engineering (PE) examination to become a CE Professional.
Civil Engineering Degrees & Concentrations
Matching Civil Engineering Degrees to Career Goals
|Career Goal & Educational Needs||Certificate||Associate||Bachelor||Master’s||Doctorate||Online|
I am already working in the civil engineering industry, but would like to enter a particular field, such as construction management or environmental engineering. I also want to become a manager in the future.
I need additional training in a particular area of civil engineering. However, I don’t need a full degree as I already have my bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or a related field.
Because I have no prior educational background or training in civil engineering, I understand I will need to get a degree that will allow me to become a fully licensed civil engineer.
I want to start working in the civil engineering field as soon as possible, but I don’t necessarily want to become licensed.
I need a civil engineering degree, but I can’t afford to move across the country or take classes during normal business hours. I also prefer to learn at my own pace and continue working full-time while I’m in school.
I’ve worked in the field for a while, and now I want to conduct research and teach aspiring leaders in the field.
Civil Engineering Degree Levels
Students who wish to pursue a degree and career in civil engineering have several options available and will typically choose which degree to pursue according to current and future career goals. While the associate degree helps prepare students to work in an entry-level capacity, the bachelor’s degree combined with licensing is designed to help students work as a civil engineer. Further education enables civil engineers to assume leadership, teaching and research roles. Learn more about degrees available and what students may encounter in each program.
Associate Degrees in Civil Engineering
The associate’s degree option for civil engineering falls into one of two categories: civil engineering or civil engineering technology. There are also related associate degrees, such as civil construction. Generally speaking, these degrees will prepare students to work as civil engineering technicians under the direction and supervision of civil engineers. The degree usually takes about two years, which gets the student into the workforce quickly. An associate degree can also serve as a stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree.
Classes found in an associate level civil engineering program include:
Introduction to Surveying
Students will receive a basic overview of the tools, theories and techniques involved in surveying land.
Computer Programs for Civil Engineers
Students will be trained on the computer applications commonly used by civil engineers and technicians.
In this class, the fundamental principles of highway design and construction will be explained.
The characteristics of soil are reviewed in this course. Students will gain a familiarity with soil properties and how those properties affect construction.
Bachelor’s Degrees in Civil Engineering
The bachelor’s degree in civil engineering is the minimum requirement for those interested in becoming a civil engineer. Licensing in many states requires at least a bachelor’s degree, and many employers seek applicants who have the bachelor’s degree regardless of licensing requirements. The degree can be completed in approximately four years of full-time study.
Classes that incoming students can expect to take in a bachelor’s civil engineering program include:
Students will learn the principles of the behavior of fluids, such as how they act in certain settings, like pipes.
More complex mathematical concepts will be addressed, such as parametric equations, infinite sequences and vectors.
Students will examine how different materials act in various ways based on certain parameters and outside forces placed on those materials.
Economics of Engineering
Students will learn to balance differing solutions to a specific engineering problem based on time and financial constraints.
Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering
The master’s degree is designed to provide students with a means of gaining additional civil engineering knowledge in a particular concentration. Master’s degrees in civil engineering can also provide management training for future leadership positions. Most master’s degree programs take about two years to complete and many are offered online, allowing students to continue to work full-time while attending class.
Classes that students may encounter while in a civil engineering master’s degree program include:
Basic design and construction considerations for building an airport are taught in this class.
Air Pollution Engineering
This is the study of methods commonly utilized by the industry for removing air pollutants.
This course teaches methods for reinforcing concrete and completing an analysis of concrete’s strength and weakness.
Structural Risk Analysis
Applying risk analysis techniques to structural design and project planning
Doctorate in Civil Engineering
Those who are interested in conducting in-depth research studies or teaching up-and-coming civil engineering students might choose to pursue the doctorate. Getting a PhD takes three to five years, but the length ultimately depends on the discipline of the student. Much of the time is spent researching, planning and writing the dissertation, which is usually a self-direct process. However, students can also expect to take a few advanced courses in the civil engineering field. Here is a sampling:
A comprehensive analysis of the structures used to support a modern urban society.
Engineering Water Systems
This class provides a quantitative presentation of hydrosystems, including their construction and operation.
Statistics for Civil Engineers
Students will learn to apply modern statistical methods in order to understand and address civil engineering problems.
This focuses on basic principles for structure design and construction for earthquake survivability.
Civil Engineering Graduate Certificate
The graduate certificate usually consists of three to five courses through which students receive in-depth training and instruction in civil engineering areas, but do not have to commit to a degree or multiple years of schooling. The primary objective for certificates is to gain a deeper understanding of a particular subset of civil engineering, such as construction management or transportation construction.
Classes offered in graduate certificate programs will vary based on the school. Potential courses include:
This course teaches students about planning large construction projects and details the steps involved.
Engineering of Earthen Structures
This class covers topics relating to structures that involve earth and soil as a major component.
Advanced Construction Methods and Techniques
After completing this course, students will have an understanding of how to effectively utilize an array of construction methods and equipment.
Components of a Success Civil Engineering Career: Skills, Tools, and Technology
In addition to balancing both practical and creative interests, civil engineers at the top of their game possess a variety of skills that help them understand the spaces they work with and how to translate their client’s desires into a feasible structure or roadway. Some of the most commonly sought after skills include:
Civic Engineers must go through a credentialing process to work in the field, but they can also further their knowledge and marketability by completing further certificates. The required examinations, administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, are detailed below alongside other optional professional development opportunities.
Fundamentals of Engineering (FE)
All engineers must take this exam, although the tests are specialized to different areas of the field. The civil engineering test takes six hours to complete and is comprised of 110 multiple-choice questions covering 18 different areas. Some of these include mathematics; probability and statistics; computational tools; ethics and professional practice; engineering economics; statics; dynamics; and surveying. During the two most recent examination rounds, 853 candidates, or 77% of all test-takers, passed the examination.
Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE)
After serving as an engineer-in-training and gaining professional experience, the last step for full licensure is completing a PE exam in civil engineering. Four different exams are offered, depending on the student’s area of specialization. These include construction, geotechnical, structural, transportation, and water resources/environmental. All of the exams last eight hours and are taken during a morning and afternoon session.
The Academy of Geo-Professionals offers this certification for individuals who have already completed their PE exam and wish to extend their knowledge to geotechnical design, a sub-disciplined focused on how to effectively work with soil and rock. Candidates must also have at least eight years of experience and hold a master’s level degree.
Water Resources Engineering
Offered by the American Academy of Water Resources Engineers, the D.WRE diploma exists for professional engineers with existing experience who wish to become experts in areas of dams and drainage, flood management, irrigation, and reservoirs.
Frequently completed by civil engineers with an interest in designing structures or roadways that are coastal or near bodies of water, the Academy of Coastal, Ocean, Port and Navigation Engineer’s certification is well regarded. Civic engineers must have at least 12 years of experience and hod a master’s level degree.
Tools and Technology
The work of a civil engineer involves both being at the drafting table and on the ground at construction sites. Because of this, they use a variety of tools and technologies to assist them in planning and executing their designs. Some of the most common are given below:
Levels, scales, triangles:
Computer-aided design (CAD) software:
Map creation software:
Project Management software:
Career Trends in Civil Engineering
Almost 110,000 civil engineers were working in the field as of 2012, and this number is expected to grow by nearly 20,000 in the coming years. Civic Engineering roles are projected to increase by 20 percent between 2012 and 2022, much faster than the national average for all jobs. Many components contribute to this large growth, including:
Whether liaising with civil engineers and architects or overseeing their crew of framers, bricklayers, plumbers and roofers, construction managers have much responsibility. Job sites can range from residential properties to large-scale corporate headquarters, offering much variety.
Cost estimators often work closely with professionals in CE to provide estimates about needed materials, labor, time and money for various projects. They may specialize in particular areas, such as manufacturing, construction, or professional services.
Civic Engineering Professor
After a successful career in the industry, numerous CE professionals elect to transition into collegiate teaching. With similar salaries offered, this mid-career switch is attractive to those with the passion for educating the next generation of engineers.
Risk Management Specialist
These professionals typically focus their knowledge on a specific area, such as construction, security, finance, or industrial processes. Those working in construction oversee building sites to ensure all safety measures are known and protected against.
Civic engineers sometimes work with hydrologists on projects where underground and surface waters factor into design plans. These professionals understand the ins and outs of precipitation, flooding, groundswell, and soil erosion.
Construction and Building Inspectors
Whether working with potential buyers to ascertain if a potential property is sound and up to code or inspecting a new build to ensure it meets all requirements, construction and building inspectors have careers filled with variety and the opportunity to work with many different types of structures and clients.
A number of careers within the field or closely related to civil engineering are also growing rapidly thanks to the need for more environmentally friendly structures and roads to serve a growing population. Some of the hot careers in the field today include:
While usually focused exclusively on structures, architects and civil engineers frequently overlap in their work activities. They are responsible for meeting with clients to ascertain their needs, creating designs based on those conversations, producing drafts and blueprints, overseeing the work of building contractors, and ensuring all buildings adhere to codes. They frequently use computer-aided design (CAD) software to produce scaled examples of building plans and split their time between the office and the job site.
CETs support civil engineers, working alongside them to design structures and roadways. These professionals are not licensed, but are able to contribute to projects in meaningful ways under the supervision of a professional CE. They may review blueprints, inspect project sites, evaluate work, review coding and zoning requirements, and produce cost estimates. Most individuals in these roles hold an associate degree in engineering gained from a community college or technical/vocational school.
Architectural and Civic Drafters take the vision of a civil engineer and make it reality. After consulting with CEs and architects, these professionals produce highly detailed and accurate sketches of structures and roadways, utilizing both pen and paper and computer-aided design (CAD) software. They must possess a thorough knowledge of materials, engineering principles, mathematics, and zoning codes to be proficient, and many leaders within the field rely on their expertise.
Civil Engineer Job Growth, Prospects, and Outlook
Civil engineering jobs are set to grow by one-fifth between 2012 and 2022 across the nation, although some states will experience more growth than others. Individuals willing to factor location into their professional plans may consider using this information as they make their decisions. While Utah is set to grow the position by more than one-third, Maine expects to see a growth of only 3.1 percent over the same period.
What Do Related Occupations Make?
Individuals working in engineering or related fields are known to make good livings, and the occupations related to civil engineering shown below are no exception. Whether aspiring to lead projects or assist licensed engineers, options abound. Similarly, those who wish to be more focused on the constructions aspect, as well as individuals who enjoy the planning process more, all have a number of career paths available to them.
Related Occupations: What You Need to Know
After reading through this guide, you may realize you like many of the components of civil engineering but are better suited to a slightly different occupation. The table below outlines related occupations and provides a snapshot of average salaries, projected job growth, and the education needed to enter the field.
Education and Training:
Bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture
Post-secondary Architect Teacher
Education and Training:
Master’s or PhD level degree, relevant professional experience
Architectural and Engineering Manager
Education and Training:
Bachelor’s level in architecture or engineering-related field. Master’s for top positions
Education and Training:
High school diploma, associate or bachelor’s degree in construction management in some cases
Education and Training
Bachelor’s degree in engineering with a concentration in transportation
Soil and Water Conservationist
Education and Training
Bachelor’s degree in environmental science, environmental conservation
Construction and Building Inspector
Education and Training
Postsecondary certificate or bachelor’s degree in construction management or business
Education and Training
Bachelor’s degree in finance, business, or mathematics
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Payscale
Civil Engineering Degree & Career Resources
American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)One of the oldest civil engineering organizations, the ASCE represents civil engineers by promoting the profession and encouraging educational and policy efforts to improve society.
American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)As its name implies, the ASEE works to advance engineering education and technology. ASEE efforts include research, education and public service.
Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES)NEES works with engineers and researchers to reduce the risk of harm that result from earthquakes.
Earthquake Engineering Research Institute(EERI)A nonprofit technical society made up of members from many disciplines, including civil engineers, all with the goal of reducing earthquake risks.
Order of the EngineerThe Order of the Engineer was founded to provide a positive image to the public of the engineering profession, help train future engineers and serve as a symbol of pride.
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