The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for civil engineers will increase by 11% from 2016 through 2026, significantly faster than the average rate of growth for the rest of the economy. Related occupations, including mechanical engineers, construction managers, and environmental engineers, should all experience faster-than-average growth over that time period as well.
In addition to strong job prospects, civil engineering careers offer exceptional salaries. For example, in 2018, civil engineers earned a median salary of $86,640. Architectural and engineering managers earned even more, with a median salary of $140,760 in that same year. Even civil engineering technicians, a career path that requires only an associate degree, made roughly $14,000 more in 2018 than the median pay for all other occupations.
This page provides an overview of civil engineering careers, including information on the types of degrees available and advice on finding a job after graduation.
Skills Gained in a Civil Engineering Program
Civil engineering professionals need a diverse set of skills to design and build bridges, highways, dams, and other infrastructure projects. For example, they need a deep understanding of advanced mathematics, including geometry and trigonometry, in order to create project blueprints and conduct safety tests. While civil engineering students learn about these subjects through intensive classroom instruction, they must also apply their skills in field-based experiences, such as internships or cooperative education programs. In addition, new civil engineers receive significant on-the-job training.
- Problem-solving lies at the heart of all engineering. Civil engineers face a variety of challenges, such as how to most efficiently gather hydroelectric power from a river or how to build structures resistant to earthquakes. To address these issues, engineers must know how to examine problems, generate solutions, and evaluate the costs and benefits of various approaches.
- Project Management
- Engineers often oversee the work of surveyors, planners, drafters, civil engineering technicians, construction managers, and laborers. Effective coordination of their project teams requires expertise in setting goals, creating work plans, and ensuring accountability. Civil engineers also need a variety of soft skills, like motivating their employees and resolving conflicts.
- Most civil engineering programs feature extensive coursework in geometry, trigonometry, calculus, and applied statistics. Students may also need to take specialized coursework to prepare for certain civil engineering career paths. For example, an aspiring geotechnical engineer may need to study structural and soil mechanics in order to build foundations.
- Strong organizational skills help civil engineers balance their tasks and deadlines. These skills also help engineers effectively allocate resources and comply with local, state, and federal regulations. Many engineering students take classes in business administration and apply their learning through internships or other supervised field experiences.
- Because civil engineers often work on projects related to the public interest, they need to know how to communicate effectively with nontechnical audiences, such as elected officials and citizen advocacy groups. They must also know how to communicate with expert colleagues, like architects and urban planners. Engineering students hone their communication skills through class discussions and group projects.
Why Pursue a Career in Civil Engineering?
Many people pursue careers in civil engineering because they love the challenge of solving problems and managing complex projects. Others do so because of the opportunity these jobs provide to serve the public's needs by designing roads, tunnels, airports, and utility systems.
Still others are drawn to the field because it offers excellent earning potential. For example, civil engineers earned a median salary of $86,640 in 2018. However, the top 10% of civil engineers, typically those with the most education and experience, earned more than $142,560. Construction managers, those charged with planning and directly supervising construction projects, earned a median salary of $93,370 in 2018, while the top 10% of earners in that role made more than $161,510.
Advancing in the field can open up even more lucrative opportunities. After earning their professional license, many engineers return to school for a master's degree in engineering management or a master of business administration. A graduate degree qualifies engineers to serve as architectural or engineering managers. According to the BLS, engineering managers earned a median salary of $140,760 in 2018, and the highest-paid engineering managers commanded salaries in excess of $208,000.
How Much Do Civil Engineering Graduates Make?
How much you can expect to make as a civil engineering graduate depends on a variety of factors, including the type of degree you hold. For instance, according to Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, civil engineers with a graduate degree earn, on average, about $18,000 more per year than those with just a bachelor's.
Where you live, the industry in which you work, and your level of professional experience can also shape your compensation. While licensed engineers generally earn more than unlicensed professionals, you must have at least four years of supervised work experience to qualify for licensure in most states.
Nick Ruzicka graduated magna cum laude with a degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Dayton in 2017. He is a current MBA candidate at the Scheller College of Business at the Georgia Institute of Technology. After starting an internship with Clayco, Inc. in the summer of 2014, he was hired on full time after graduating from college.
Nick's project resume includes the Zurich North America headquarters in Chicago, IL; the World Wide Technology headquarters in St. Louis, MO; and the Forty student housing tower within the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, GA. His project sizes have ranged from $30 million to $100 million in industrial, institutional, and corporate business units.
- Why did you decide to pursue a career in civil engineering? Was it something you were always interested in?
I decided to pursue a career in civil engineering because I was amazed by civil engineers' abilities to come up with unique solutions to the growing problems facing our world. From increasing populations to extreme changes in weather and land conditions, there are new challenges that face our society. Civil engineers are the ones responsible for coming up with the solutions to these challenges and building sustainable buildings and infrastructure of the future.
- What is so valuable about earning a degree in this field right now?
The United States has reached a critical moment in the health of our nation's infrastructure. Bridges, interstates, major utility lines, etc. are all failing and in need of repairs or replacement. Civil engineers will be responsible for planning, designing, and constructing the future buildings and infrastructure that will need to endure for years to come.
- Can graduates of civil engineering programs find careers all over the country?
Yes. The amount of growth and work nationwide is incredible. I am constantly approached by headhunters and companies from across the country about opportunities. Companies are willing to cover relocation fees, pay for housing stipends, and more to get the best and brightest talent to their company. The demand is so high that companies are making offers that were unheard of early post-recession.
- Is civil engineering a versatile degree? Or is there a clear career path?
Absolutely. People often think that civil engineering is just buildings and bridges, but it covers much more. Including water distribution systems, geotechnical structures, wastewater treatment, and water resource management, the civil discipline covers a great deal. Within each of those concentrations, a civil engineer's role can vary. Roles can involve planning, design, construction, and operations in each of those facets.
Civil engineers are also not pigeonholed into just the traditional pursuits. When employers see a civil engineering degree, they see someone who has a good work ethic and who has developed critical thinking skills that translate across industries. The critical thinking skills attained in a civil engineering undergrad provide students with the ability to approach any issue methodically and find unique solutions.
- What did your career trajectory look like after you graduated? How did you end up in your current position?
Fortunately, I knew which facet of the industry I wanted to pursue because of my experience interning. I have been fortunate to continue my career with Clayco, a design-build firm, and utilize the critical thinking skills and technical competencies I gained in undergrad. I attribute a great deal of what I have been able to accomplish to the people whom I have worked for as well as the professors I had in undergrad. I have learned a great deal from experienced professionals and keep a good relationship with former professors. You never know when you might need to reach out to that one geotechnical professor from sophomore year who specialized in slope-stability analysis for a unique project.
- What are the pros and cons of working in the industry?
The pros are that you often have concrete results of your work. You can look upon a physical structure at the end of a project and feel a sense of accomplishment. You feel that you are contributing to society. Cons are that you are dealing with a harsh and ever-changing landscape where clients expect more for less money, built quicker. This can lead to some stressful days and nights, but the reward at the end always seems to be worth it.
- What advice would you give to civil engineering graduates seeking a job?
Pursue a career in an area where you have passion. It sounds simple, but you would be amazed at the number of people from my cohort who did not do this and have already switched careers.
Also, don't be surprised if your mind changes; the stigma often is that once you graduate college, you will have everything figured out and know exactly what you want to do, but this is far from the truth. The time just after college is an even bigger transition and time of uncertainty than college was. You find out about responsibilities you didn't even know existed but in reality are just part of adulthood. You also learn that all of these professionals and people whom you have been working for all of these years are just as clueless as you, at times. The learning portion of your life is not over; no one knows everything, and the industry is changing so fast you will always be learning and improving.
How to Become a Civil Engineer
Earn Your Degree
You can qualify for certain entry-level roles in engineering with just an associate degree. For example, you may work as a civil engineering technician, supporting the work of engineers by evaluating field conditions and writing project reports. You may also work as a drafter, using computer-aided design (CAD) software to develop technical drawings.
However, you must hold at least a bachelor's degree to become a licensed civil engineer. Undergraduate programs in civil engineering typically involve coursework in elementary fluid mechanics, structural analysis, and the properties and behavior of engineering materials. Most also feature significant laboratory practice or field-based learning experiences. In addition to a bachelor's, an engineering license requires passing two exams and gaining at least four years of relevant professional experience.
Certain specialized and supervisory roles, such as engineering manager or urban and regional planner, may also require a master's degree. Earning a graduate degree in engineering usually requires two years of full-time study in subjects like operations research and technology project management.
Finally, if you hope to teach or conduct engineering research at a college or university, you typically must hold a doctorate. Full-time students usually earn their doctoral degree in 4-7 years, depending on how much time they need to complete the dissertation process.
How Many Years of College Does It Take to Become a Civil Engineer?
Most bachelor's in civil engineering programs consist of 120 credits, and full-time students usually earn their degree in four years. Part-time students may need up to eight years to meet all of their program's graduation requirements.
You can graduate faster in several ways. If you already have an associate degree in a related field, for example, you may be able to transfer up to 60 credits into an undergraduate program at a four-year institution and earn your bachelor's in as little as two years of additional study.
Some engineering programs, especially those available online, also allow for self-paced learning. Students on these accelerated tracks can advance through their coursework as soon as they demonstrate mastery of core concepts and skills, usually by taking an exam or submitting a portfolio of work. While self-paced learning appeals to students who want to graduate as quickly as possible, it requires exceptional self-discipline and does not provide the same support as more traditional, cohort-based programs.
Concentrations Available for Civil Engineering Majors
- Construction Engineering and Management
- After graduating, students who concentrate in construction engineering and management often take on roles overseeing complex infrastructure projects. They may also manage capital facilities, such as a sewer or wastewater system. Coursework in this area covers subjects like the design of construction systems, capital-facility planning and financing, and managing civil infrastructure systems.
- Engineering Mechanics
- Engineering mechanics deals with the response of solids and fluids to external pressures or loads. For example, engineering mechanics plays a key role in the design of oil and natural gas pipelines. Pursuing this concentration typically requires learners to take classes in the mechanics of fracture and fatigue, the advanced mechanics of solids, and uncertainty and risk in infrastructure systems.
- Environmental Engineering
- Environmental engineers often develop solutions to environmental challenges, like a lack of access to clean drinking water or climate change. Students who specialize in environmental engineering may study sustainable water treatment and reuse; groundwater-contaminant transport and remediation; and environmental, health, and safety concepts in construction processes.
- Forensic Structural Engineering
- When bridges, tunnels, and other constructed facilities fail, forensic structural engineers work to identify the causes. They use this information for future designs and, if necessary, to help hold certain parties liable in civil or criminal court. Students in this subfield of civil engineering may explore topics like risk assessment, construction law, and the resolution of construction disputes.
- Geotechnical Engineering
- Geotechnical engineering involves the study of the behavior and makeup of soils, primarily to assist in the development of structural foundations. Geotechnical engineers often work to ensure the safety and stability of buildings constructed in areas prone to natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes. Learners in this concentration take classes in earth-retaining structures, experimental soil mechanics, and the theory of vibrations.
What Can You Do With a Civil Engineering Degree?
Earning a civil engineering degree opens up a wide variety of career options. For example, you may design and oversee the construction of a new airport as a fully licensed civil engineer. You may instead choose to specialize in environmental engineering, developing systems that help communities efficiently and responsibly dispose of solid waste. Alternative career options for civil engineering students include serving as a drafter, surveyor, or landscape architect.
Your professional opportunities in civil engineering and related disciplines will largely depend on your degree type. Urban and regional planners may have earned their bachelor's degree in civil engineering, but they must also hold a master's in planning to qualify for most positions in their field. When hiring engineering managers or supervisors, many larger organizations may also prefer to hire candidates who have completed some graduate-level coursework in business administration.
The sections below detail the various career paths you can follow with an associate, bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in civil engineering.
Associate Degree in Civil Engineering
Most associate programs in areas like civil engineering or construction technology require two years of full-time study. In addition to general education coursework in subjects such as English composition and the humanities, students in these programs explore topics like the properties and strength of materials, specifications and estimating, and engineering ethics. They also take a series of courses in math and physics.
While an associate degree may allow you to take on entry-level positions, you must earn a bachelor's in order to become a licensed civil engineer. Many public colleges and universities hold articulation agreements with community colleges in their state, making it easier to transfer credits.
Drafters use CAD software to create technical drawings and project plans. They collaborate closely with engineers and architects and contribute to the design of buildings, civil infrastructure projects, electronics, and mechanical tools. Drafters usually need some form of postsecondary education, like a certificate or associate of applied science.
- Surveying or Mapping Technician
Surveying and mapping technicians support the work of surveyors and cartographers. They may visit sites to record survey measurements, search for previous survey points, and record survey data in the field and the office. They may also use geographic information systems technology to assemble and display data about a particular location in a digital format.
Bachelor's Degree in Civil Engineering
Bachelor's programs in civil engineering typically feature coursework in subjects like probability and statistics for engineers and scientists, ordinary differential equations, and civil engineering policy and leadership. Depending on your area of concentration, you may also take more specialized classes such as applied engineering hydrology or soil mechanics and foundation design. Most programs also require students to complete an internship or substantive fieldwork.
To qualify for state-level licensure, you must earn a bachelor's from a school or program accredited by ABET, formerly known as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. You must also pass two exams and possess at least four years of relevant professional experience.
- Civil Engineer
Civil engineers design, build, and maintain infrastructure projects and systems, including roads, airports, and sewage treatment facilities. They must conduct studies to examine a project's environmental impact, develop construction budgets, supervise technicians and laborers, and ensure compliance with local, state, and federal codes. Civil engineers need at least a bachelor's degree.
- Structural Engineer
Structural engineers focus specifically on the design and construction of buildings, bridges, dams, and similar structures. In addition to leading new project development, these engineers often conduct assessments of existing structures to ensure safety and long-term durability. Working within a subset of the civil engineering profession, structural engineers also must have a bachelor's degree.
Master's Degree in Civil Engineering
When hiring for senior positions, some organizations may prefer to hire civil engineers with a license and a master's degree. Master's programs generally offer advanced instruction in both technical subjects and business administration. For example, a graduate student may complete coursework in sustainable traffic engineering, surface water-quality modeling, financial management for engineers, and the legal aspects of civil engineering.
Learners generally also select an area of concentration, such as environmental, structural, or transportation engineering. In addition, many master's programs require students to conduct original research and write a thesis. More practice-oriented programs may allow degree candidates to complete a capstone project instead.
- Senior Structural Engineer
Senior structural engineers provide oversight to junior engineers, technicians, and workers during the design and construction of buildings and other structures. Most states require engineers who approve design plans and sign off on projects to hold a license, and a master's degree may give you a competitive edge over other candidates.
- Project Engineer
Project engineers supervise infrastructure construction and maintenance projects, though they generally focus more on administrative tasks, such as creating budgets and monitoring spending, submitting compliance reports to regulators, and efficiently allocating raw materials and human capital. On larger projects, they may also coordinate the work of multiple engineers or teams. As a result, project engineers may benefit from graduate-level coursework in business administration.
Doctoral Degree in Civil Engineering
To teach or conduct civil engineering research at a college or university, you must have a doctoral degree. You may also need a doctorate to take on certain senior leadership roles.
Doctoral programs generally begin with three years of full-time coursework. Students explore topics like environmental control and pollution-reduction systems, engineering for developing communities, and elastic and plastic analysis of structures. They typically must also complete a series of courses in research design and analysis.
After passing a comprehensive examination, doctoral candidates can begin working on their dissertation. This process requires conducting original research and summarizing your methodology and findings in a written document, usually about 100-200 pages in length. To formally earn your doctorate, you must also defend your dissertation before a faculty committee.
- Director of Construction
Construction directors hold ultimate responsibility for construction and maintenance projects. They may supervise the work of multiple engineers and project managers, commission feasibility studies and other reports, and develop and implement worksite policies. On public projects, they may also collaborate closely with elected officials and citizen groups. While it is usually not a requirement for these roles, a doctoral degree can help you signal expertise to potential employers.
Where Can I Work as a Civil Engineering Graduate?
Civil engineers work across the country within the public and private sectors. For example, you may work for a government agency conducting safety checks on bridges and other public structures. Or you may instead work for a private civil engineering firm that contracts with the government to design and build seaports.
Your job opportunities as a civil engineering graduate largely depend on where you live and the industry you choose.
Employment for civil engineering professionals can vary considerably from state to state. For example, just over 45,000 civil engineers worked in California in 2018, while only 630 worked in Vermont. Where you live also affects your earning potential. While only 1,260 civil engineers worked in Alaska in 2018, they earned an average annual wage of $125,470, the highest in the nation for these professionals.
Urban areas tend to offer a greater number of jobs and higher salaries than rural locations, while smaller communities often boast lower costs of living. When deciding where to live and work, remember to also consider factors like quality of life and educational opportunities for both you and members of your family.
- Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services
This industry includes all of the roughly 116,000 private firms that provide services in the field of architecture, landscape architecture, drafting, engineering, building inspection, land planning, and mapping.
Average Salary: $95,630
- State Government, Excluding Schools and Hospitals
More than 32,000 civil engineering work for state government agencies. For example, they may work with a state's department of transportation overseeing the construction of new bridges and highways.
Average Salary: $85,870
- Local Government, Excluding Schools and Hospitals
Another 32,000 civil engineers work for local government agencies. These professionals often serve in public works departments, designing and building sewage treatment facilities, public parks, and municipal power grids.
Average Salary: $94,870
- Nonresidential Building Construction
Civil engineers in this industry plan and supervise the construction of commercial and industrial buildings such as warehouses, factories, and power plants. They may also lead the development of public sector buildings, such as police stations and firehouses.
Average Salary: $83,440
- Federal Executive Branch
The federal government employs roughly 9,000 civil engineers. They may liaise with state-level officials and engineers on the expansion of interstate highways, ensure that infrastructure projects comply with federal regulations, or oversee construction on federal lands.
Average Salary: $94,610
How Do You Find a Job in Civil Engineering?
When looking for a job in civil engineering, start by updating your resume, list of references, and any professional social media profiles, like LinkedIn. You should also update or compile a portfolio of your previous work, including design plans, environmental impact studies, and project proposals.
You can find many civil engineering openings advertised on national job search engines like Indeed or ZipRecruiter. You may also review public sector listings on state and local government websites. Remember to customize your application materials for each position.
As you apply for jobs, work on expanding your professional network. Tell family, friends, and trusted colleagues that you are looking for a new position. Attend networking events organized by your college's alumni office or one of the civil engineering professional associations listed below. And contact experienced professionals to schedule informational interviews.
Finally, a professional certification from an organization like the American Society of Civil Engineers can help position you for specialized roles in fields like coastal, geotechnical, or ports engineering.
Professional Resources for Civil Engineering Majors
Along with offering professional certifications, ASCE hosts networking events and research conferences, publishes both scholarly journals and a magazine for practitioners, and offers professional resources on subjects like the changing climate and forensic engineering. The organization also administers a mentorship program, maintains a jobs board, and conducts an annual survey on civil engineering salaries.
NSPE oversees both the Fundamentals of Engineering and the Principles and Practice of Engineering exams, two of the four requirements for an engineering license in most states. The association also offers exam-preparation services for licensure candidates, continuing education opportunities to help professional engineers maintain their license, and scholarships for engineering students.
Originally founded in 1893, ASEE promotes excellence and innovation in engineering education. In addition to disseminating news and research through academic journals, books, and blogs, the organization provides a wealth of resources for educators in both K-12 schools and colleges and universities. ASEE also advertises job opportunities for engineering professors, postdoctoral researchers, and higher education administrators.
IASBE specifically serves the professional interests of structural engineers. Members can attend events around the globe, access a variety of e-learning resources, and stay apprised of news updates and job openings. The association also encourages collaboration through affinity groups in areas like the design of bridges against fire hazards and artificial intelligence in structural engineering.
AAEES primarily provides board certification to environmental engineering scholars and professionals. The academy also hosts resources and events that cater to engineering students, including an overview of potential career paths in the field, a lecture series on college campuses across the country, and a listing of ABET-accredited degree programs.