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How to Get an Online Civil Engineering Degree

Civil engineers design and oversee the construction of large infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, buildings, and water treatment systems. To succeed in this field, one must possess knowledge and experience in a number of disciplines, including mathematics, the physical sciences, engineering, and business.

What Types of Online Civil Engineering Degree Programs Are Available?

  • Bachelor's Degree: Students in bachelor's degree programs take general education courses with an emphasis on mathematics, chemistry, physics, and English composition. Students also learn about the fundamentals of civil engineering. These programs take full-time students four years to complete.
  • Master's Degree: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about one in five civil engineers holds a master's degree.[1] Students in master's degree programs pursue an in-depth education in an area of civil engineering like construction, geotechnical, water resources, or structural engineering. These programs take two years to complete.
  • Graduate Certificate: Students who have earned a bachelor's degree may pursue a graduate certificate in a specialization like construction management, transportation engineering, or water resources engineering. Certificate programs require students to take a small number of courses in their chosen specialty.

What Will I Learn in a Civil Engineering Degree Program?

Civil engineering draws on disciplines like mathematics, physics, chemistry, statistics, and geology. Many schools offer "engineering" versions of classes in these subjects. Students in a civil engineering program learn about materials, mechanics, and engineering design. They also learn to use engineering tools like computer-aided design software.

Students in master's degree programs choose coursework based on the specialization they choose. Following are some examples of degree concentrations and the coursework they offer:

  • Construction engineering programs include courses in management fundamentals, financial analysis, contracts, and insurance.
  • Geotechnical programs include courses in earthquake engineering.
  • Water resources programs include courses in pollution, irrigation design, and wetland engineering.
  • Structural engineering programs include courses in structure analysis, building fatigue, and design using different building materials.

What Should I Consider When Choosing a Program?

Degree programs in civil engineering often require students to complete capstone projects and portfolio presentations. Some master's degree programs also require students to complete a thesis. Online programs handle these requirements in different ways. Students in some programs work on collaborative projects and present portfolios and capstone projects to faculty through the Internet. Other programs require students to visit campus to present these projects in person. Research the graduation requirements of the schools offering these programs and pick one that best meets your needs.

Another consideration to make when choosing a program is accreditation. Employers and licensing agencies typically hire and accept only civil engineers who have graduated from a program that is accredited by ABET.

What Career Opportunities Can I Expect After I Complete This Program?

Civil engineers may work for architectural and engineering firms or for government agencies designing and oveseeing large construction projects. Employment in this field is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2020.[1]

Engineers who have completed a bachelor's degree and have four or more years of experience in the field may sit for the PE exam to become licensed as a professional engineer (PE). Licensing standards differ by state, but earning the PE title is a requirement for many civil engineering jobs and can help advance one's career. Organizations such as the National Society of Professional Engineers and the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying help engineers prepare to earn their PE license.


  1. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Deparment of Labor. Published March 29, 2012. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/civil-engineers.htm.

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