Civil Engineering Career & Education Information

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A career in civil engineering allows you to apply your skills in the design, construction, and development of buildings, dams, bridges, roads, water supply systems, and other infrastructural features. Formal training for the profession is made possible through degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels.

Civil engineers are naturally curious, which drives them to think of innovative solutions to the problems that they come across. Strong problem-solving skills and knowledge of project management are essential for this career. To succeed in the field, you also need to be analytical and detail-oriented. When engaged in projects, engineers usually work with a wide range of professionals. This necessitates possession of strong people skills as well as teamwork skills. Career opportunities for civil engineers abound in environmental resource management, government agencies, manufacturing, military agencies, private consulting, property development, public works, and regulatory organizations.

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Civil engineering is a broad engineering discipline, and it is subdivided by the type of structure the engineer specializes in. For example, transportation engineers focus on public transit systems, roads, and highways, while geotechnical engineers look at soil makeup and geological factors of construction.

Nearly all civil engineers begin their careers by earning a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. These programs include courses in pertinent science areas, such as math and physics, as well as civil engineering techniques. Students are also required to complete general education courses in liberal arts topics. A master’s degree in civil engineering is useful for specializing in one particular engineering area, and a doctoral degree is helpful for launching a career in engineering research or academia. All engineers who offer their services directly to the public must possess the state-issued Professional Engineer license, which requires professional experience and a passing score on an exam, along with a bachelor’s degree.

Civil engineering will be a rapidly growing discipline in the coming years, as the government moves to restore aging infrastructure, and population growth spurs new construction projects; job opportunities should be good for qualified applicants.

Career Specializations

  • Structural Engineering: Structural engineers specialize in making buildings and equipment safe to bear certain loads or pressures. Structural engineers are involved in projects like engineering skyscrapers and other tall buildings, and they work to make buildings safe for natural disasters.
  • Water Resources Engineering: These engineers work to get water from the source to the consumer; they design dam and reservoir systems, aqueducts, and pipe lines.
  • Construction Engineering: Construction engineering is the area of civil engineering most related to construction and building management. Construction engineers create building designs and see that their designs are constructed accurately and safely.
  • Transportation Engineering: These civil engineers work on projects like highways, public transit systems, and airport design.
  • Geotechnical Engineering: This branch of engineering combines geology with civil engineering. Geotechnical engineers evaluate soil stability and the geological makeup of building sites.

Degree Levels

  • Associate Degree: 2 years to complete
  • Bachelor’s Degree: 4 years to complete
  • Master’s Degree: 2 years to complete
  • Doctoral Degree: 5 years to complete

Education & Certification Requirements

Most civil engineers begin their career with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. These degree programs include course work in math, natural science, engineering fundamentals, and civil engineering techniques. Courses like statics, dynamics, and materials science introduce students to the basic principles involved in all engineering specialties, while classes in environmental engineering, structural design, and transportation engineering introduce students to the skills of civil engineering. Lab courses are an important part of this degree program and allow students to get hands-on experience drawing buildings plans and building prototypes.

A master’s degree in civil engineering gives individuals the opportunity to specialize in a particular aspect of engineering, such as transportation engineering or geotechnical engineering. Students take advanced courses in their specialty area and work on a large thesis project in order to demonstrate their new skill set. Doctoral degrees are appropriate for individuals interested in careers in civil engineering research or academia. They require students to complete a research project over a span of three to four years and to write a dissertation based on that research.

All civil engineers who wish to offer their services directly to customers (and not through an engineering firm) must earn the Professional Engineer license. These licenses are granted by each state; most states require an ABET-accredited bachelor’s degree, four years of engineering experience, and a sufficient score on the NCEES Fundamentals of Engineering exam. (BLS)

Salary Information

New civil engineers with a bachelor’s degree can expect salary offers of around $52,000 a year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. With a master’s degree or professional experience, civil engineers earn $78,000-98,000 a year. Most civil engineers work in the architectural and engineering services sector, although many are also employed by state and local governments, nonresidential building construction firms, and the federal executive government. California, Louisiana, Alaska, and Texas are the states with the highest average salaries for civil engineers, with wages of $89,000-95,000 a year. (BLS)

Job Outlook

Civil engineers are predicted to have one of the fastest job growth rates of all engineering professions, in the next few years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 24 percent increase in jobs by 2018, which is much faster than the national average growth rate. The national infrastructure will be getting an update in the coming years, which will create an increase in civil engineering jobs. Also, as the general population increases, civil engineers will be needed to build the structures to accommodate this growth.

While new jobs will be created, the best opportunities will be in areas of the country with strong population growth. Furthermore, since civil engineering is closely tied to new construction, dips in the economy can create cyclical shortages in jobs. (BLS)

Related Careers

Mechanical engineers are another type of engineering professional and have an overlapping skill set with civil engineers. Mechanical engineers also design physical systems; however, they focus on engines, turbines, and other mechanical objects. Mechanical engineering also requires at least a bachelor’s degree.

Biomedical engineers work at the intersection of mechanical engineering and the life and medical sciences. Like civil engineers, they must also be versed in engineering fundamentals and topics like materials science. Biomedical engineering is an engineering field that will also be experiencing rapid job growth in the coming years.

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