Civil engineers help shape communities by designing and creating structures such as highways, airports, and dams. To prepare candidates for these careers, civil engineering programs require coursework, practice, and research in construction techniques and advanced math concepts.
Keep reading for more information on civil engineering programs and career opportunities. This guide also addresses license and certification options, as well as professional resources for field professionals.
Why Pursue a Degree in Civil Engineering?
Civil engineers plan and create structures that cater to public needs in a variety of areas, including transportation, coastal construction, and environmental engineering. Workers may design sustainable buildings; safer roads and bridges; and robust structures that provide utility and beauty.
Civil engineering careers, then, allow people to positively impact their communities while focusing on areas that interest them.
To succeed, civil engineers should be detail-oriented individuals with strong mathematical, organizational, and problem-solving skills. They should also excel at team leadership and communication, since they must discuss plans with clients and guide workers on building processes.
Civil Engineering Career Outlook
Salaries for careers with a civil engineering degree vary by location and industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), civil engineers earn a median income of $87,060 nationwide across all industries. Professionals in the oil and gas extraction industry, however, earn an average salary of $129,870, while civil engineers in California earn $110,480 annually.
These factors can also impact career availability. Specifically, architectural, engineering, and related services offer the highest employment levels for these professionals, and California, Texas, and New York host the most civil engineering jobs.
Experience also impacts income, as the following table illustrates. For civil, structural, and environmental engineers, salaries increase with experience. Experienced professionals with at least 10 years of experience often earn $30,000 more a year than entry-level individuals.
|Job Title||Entry-Level (0-12 months)||Early Career (1-4 Years)||Midcareer (5-9 Years)||Experienced (10-19 Years)|
Skills Gained With a Civil Engineering Degree
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 to motivate their employees and resolve 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 professionals 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 inexpert 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.
Civil Engineering Career Paths
- 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 public facilities, such as a sewer or wastewater system. Coursework in this area covers subjects like designing construction systems, capital-facility planning and financing, and managing civil infrastructure systems.
- Engineering Mechanics
Engineering mechanics deal 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, such as climate change or a lack of access to clean drinking water. 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.
How to Start Your Career in Civil Engineering
While individuals with an associate degree may qualify for some entry-level positions, most civil engineering careers call for at least a bachelor's or master's. For this reason, candidates should expect to earn at least a four-year degree, though advanced positions often call for graduate education. Careers may also mandate licenses, certifications, and/or field experiences.
A great place for candidates to start is by researching requirements for their career goals and choosing programs that match those criteria.
Associate Degree in Civil Engineering
Associate degrees in civil engineering typically take two years to complete and require 60-70 credits. Mandatory courses focus on civil engineering fundamentals, like fluid and soil mechanics, as well as computer-aided design software. Programs also emphasize advanced math and science concepts, such as differential equations, pre-calculus, and chemistry, as well as business-focused courses like project management.
Students also complete general education courses, including English and history classes, as well as electives. Many of these programs are designed to prepare students to transfer into a bachelor's program, although they may also qualify individuals for positions as drafters and technicians.
Admission usually calls for a high school diploma (or the equivalent) and ACT or SAT scores. Other application materials may include recommendation letters, statements of purpose, and FAFSA results.
What Can You Do With an Associate in Civil Engineering?
- Surveying and Mapping Technician
Surveying technicians take land measurements for computerized recordkeeping. These professionals use tools such as electronic distance-measuring equipment and examine land for markers connected to prior surveys. Mapping technicians use these records to build maps that incorporate characteristics like elevation and property lines. These technicians often hold professional certifications from groups like the National Society of Professional Surveyors.
Drafters make illustrations for engineers' and architects' plans, with the help of computer-aided software. These illustrations include measurements and project materials. Professionals can focus in areas like mechanical or civil drafting. Nearly half of drafters work in architectural, engineering, and related services. Drafters can pursue certification through the American Design Drafting Association (ADDA).
- Civil Engineering Technician
These technicians assist with various civil engineering projects, including industrial, commercial, and infrastructural designs. Responsibilities may include testing site conditions and project materials before construction and making estimations about the size of a project. They may also assist with planning and tend to budgets and recordkeeping. Technicians can pursue certification through the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET).
Bachelor's Degree in Civil Engineering
Full-time students usually take four years to earn an engineering bachelor's degree. However, some schools offer five-year plans that culminate in both a bachelor's and a master's.
These bachelor's degrees include 120-140 credits. Classes explore engineering concepts like construction materials, surveying, and structural analysis. Degree-seekers also complete advanced math and science coursework, such as calculus, physics, and matrix algebra, as well as general education and elective courses.
Departments may allow students to earn credits through internships or independent study projects. Institutions may also offer minor or concentration options in areas like transportation, water resources, and biomedical engineering.
To apply, learners generally need a high school diploma (or the equivalent), ACT or SAT scores, and prerequisite coursework in science, math, and engineering. Requirements may also include a minimum 2.5 GPA and letters of recommendation.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Civil Engineering?
- Environmental Engineer
These engineers focus on environmental concerns, such as recycling, water pollution, and climate change. They create projects that tend to environmental issues and guide organizations on environmentally centered projects. Professionals may also supervise and inspect projects, programs, and facilities. Over one-fourth of these individuals work in the engineering services industry. Advanced positions may require a professional engineering license.
- Construction Manager
Construction managers work with other professionals, like engineers and architects, to design projects. These professionals hire subcontractors, make work schedules, and determine project costs. Managers update customers on their progress and make adjustments when confronted with construction problems. Nearly 40% of these individuals are self-employed. Professionals can pursue certification through organizations like the Construction Management Association of America.
- Structural Engineer
Structural engineers create infrastructure that serves a neighborhood, city, or community. Their planning process may rely on drawings and math to determine a project's stability in relation to its weight and purpose. These professionals must inspect projects during construction to ensure efficiency and compliance with safety, environmental, and legal guidelines.
- Civil Engineer
Civil engineers design and oversee projects that benefit a community, such as bridges, roads, and water treatment systems. Professionals may base their designs on survey reports and future plans for the community. Responsibilities include applying for permits, calculating costs, determining potential hazards, and identifying required materials for projects. Though the credential isn't always required, individuals can pursue a professional engineering license.
- Transportation Engineer
Transportation engineers manage projects that relate to roadways, air travel, and railroads. They assist with project planning and determine costs and time expectations. These responsibilities require collaboration with other professionals, like project managers and accountants.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
Master's Degree in Civil Engineering
Master's programs often require 30-40 credits and take about two years to complete. Departments usually allow learners to concentrate in an engineering area, such as urban infrastructure systems, structural/earthquake engineering, or hydrology and water resources.
Graduate degrees are often field-specific and do not require as much general education coursework. These programs may culminate in a thesis or an engineering project. Professionals can pursue almost any civil engineering career with a master's, including management positions.
Applicants should hold a bachelor's from a program with accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Departments may require a minimum 3.0 GPA, writing samples, resumes, and GRE scores.
What Can You Do With a Master's in Civil Engineering?
Historians review primary and secondary sources to make inferences about past people, eras, and events. They can deliver information in public presentations or publish their findings in books and articles. Civil engineering master's degree-holders can credibly write about the history of civil engineering and architecture.
- Nuclear Engineer
These engineers explore possible uses of radiation and nuclear energy. Professionals may also create nuclear equipment and oversee and advise nuclear power plants about safe operations and repairs. Other responsibilities can include testing current practices with nuclear energy to ensure efficiency and safety. Many of these positions require a master's degree.
- Senior Geotechnical Engineer
Senior geotechnical engineers oversee and train entry-level engineers and act as liaisons between employees and management. These engineers conduct inspections and make plans for each project's construction. They are also responsible for recordkeeping, adjusting plans based on managerial guidance, and determining ways to increase productivity for future projects.
- Urban and Regional Planner
Urban and regional planners find ways to use land for community improvement. These plans reflect data that planners collect from research and investigations, as well as input from community officials. Professionals may concentrate in areas like historic preservation, transportation, and urban design. Over 70% of these planners work in local government positions.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
Doctoral Degree in Civil Engineering
Doctoral degrees usually require 50-75 credits and take five or more years to complete. These research-intensive programs culminate in a dissertation and an oral defense.
Students generally work with advisors to build an individualized curriculum that relates to their career goals. The specialized curriculum usually fits within a specialty area, like traffic engineering, water resources, or environmental engineering. These programs often include advanced math, mechanics, and statistics coursework.
Some departments may require students to declare a minor or expect them to publish scholarly articles before graduation. These degrees prepare graduates for senior-level positions and careers in academia and research.
Applicants may need an ABET-accredited bachelor's or master's, a minimum 3.0 GPA, and GRE scores. Institutions may also require qualifying exams and writing samples for admission.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Civil Engineering?
- Senior Civil Engineer
Senior civil engineers oversee the design and construction of projects like roads and dams. They may also inspect worksites, create reports, and train entry-level workers on engineering methods. These professionals calculate structures' specifications to make sure they can handle ongoing use. Companies may require an advanced degree and at least six years of fieldwork for these positions.
- Postsecondary Teacher
Postsecondary teachers educate college-level students in their field of expertise, such as civil engineering. These educators teach multiple classes per term, which includes delivering lectures and grading lab reports and papers. Institutions may also expect these professionals to provide input on departmental changes, publish scholarly articles, and help students choose classes each term.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
How to Advance Your Career in Civil Engineering
To advance in civil engineering careers, professionals can pursue certifications and advanced degrees that reflect their specialization and areas of interest. To become an urban and regional planner, for instance, individuals can pursue a master's related to city planning, and environmental engineers can earn certification from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists.
Engineers can also look for training and workshop opportunities, connect with professional organizations, and complete continuing education (CE) experiences to develop knowledge to qualify for advanced positions. They may also contribute to the field by presenting at professional events and publishing papers in peer-reviewed journals.
These experiences, and more, are covered in more detail in the following sections.
Certifications and/or Licensure
Engineers often start to pursue a professional engineering license by completing a program that is accredited by ABET. Depending on the specific license, other requirements may include completing years of fieldwork and/or passing exams such as the Professional Engineering Exam or the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam.
Licenses are not always required for entry-level positions, but can help with attaining leadership and management careers. Certain states and professions do require specialized licenses, however. In New Jersey, for example, urban and regional planners must hold a license, which requires candidates to complete fieldwork and pass an exam.
Certifications can also help professionals obtain engineering-related careers at all levels. Drafters, for instance, can earn certification through ADDA, while civil engineering technicians can pursue credentials through NICET. Health and safety engineer certifications are available through organizations like the American Board of Industrial Hygiene and the American Society of Safety Professionals.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) also offers certifications in areas such as geotechnical and water resources engineering.
CE experiences help professionals stay up to date on field trends, policies, and issues. They may also be required for license or certification renewal. Professional organizations often provide CE opportunities through webinars, training, and conferences. ASCE, for instance, offers webinars related to field ethics and geotechnical engineering.
Professionals can also complete online classes to bolster their knowledge. As an example, the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) offers free classes on topics like engineering ethics, risk management, and electric transmission. ASCE also delivers courses that last up to 12 weeks and explore concepts like bidding and safety management.
Fellowships and published articles may also count for CE credit, as can experiences teaching or delivering civil engineering presentations. Professionals can also pursue higher degrees, academic certificates, or new certifications.
The best CE options depend on an individual's professional goals. To earn senior civil engineer positions, for example, professionals should consider earning a graduate degree. Professionals who intend to work in health and safety engineering, however, may be better off pursuing certifications like the certified systems engineering professional credential.
Trends and regulations for civil engineering careers change over time, and professionals must stay current. To do this, workers should consider connecting with professional organizations. These groups publish scholarly articles; host networking events; maintain job boards; and offer training, workshops, and webinars on innotivate ideas.
These organizations may deliver conferences and presentations at local, national, and international events. Conferences explore the latest civil engineering ideas, challenges, and technologies. Attendees at these events can also share professional ideas with one another. This communication extends professional networks and can lead to information about available careers in civil engineering.
Professionals can also pursue certifications or complete CE experiences to stay abreast of new ideas. Other options include following experts in civil engineering on social media — like Twitter and Facebook — for insights on their strategies.
How to Switch Your Career to Civil Engineering
Professionals from other fields often need at least a bachelor's in engineering before they can pursue civil engineering careers. However, advanced engineering positions may call for higher degrees. For instance, nuclear engineers may need a master's.
Professionals switching from careers related to civil engineering may be able to join the field without going back to school. Hydrologists, for example, can hold a degree in engineering, geosciences, or earth science, so long as their program included a hydrology concentration.
Previous academic and professional experience can benefit workers, even if they do need to earn another degree to find a civil engineering career. Experience in business, for example, can prepare candidates for leadership positions, while law degrees help engineers understand legislation and policy related to project construction. Software experience can also help professionals use computer-aided design and drafting software while working on engineering projects.
Where Can You Work With A Civil Engineering Degree?
- Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services
This industry includes 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: $96,400
- State Government, Excluding Schools and Hospitals
More than 36,000 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: $86,070
- Local Government, Excluding Schools and Hospitals
Another 31,000 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: $96,630
- 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: $83,630
- Federal Executive Branch
The federal government employs roughly 9,000 civil engineers. These workers may liaise with state-level officials and engineers on the expansion of interstate highways, ensure that infrastructure projects comply with federal regulations, and oversee construction on federal lands.
Average Salary: $94,580
California offers the highest average pay for civil engineers, where workers make $110,480 annually. Other high-paying areas include Louisiana, New Jersey, and New York, where the average pay surpasses $100,000. California also offers the highest employment level for these professionals, currently employing nearly 50,000 civil engineers. Other areas with high levels of employment include Texas, New York, and Florida.
Resources for Civil Engineering Majors
Professional resources help engineers stay current on policy changes, trends, and other issues that relate to the field. These resources include scholarly journals, magazines, and books that address engineering concepts. Professional organizations also offer events, certifications, and training experiences. Students and professionals can also access open courseware from colleges and universities. Keep reading to learn more information on these options.
- Professional Organizations
American Society of Civil Engineers: Along with offering professional certifications, ASCE hosts networking events and research conferences, publishes both scholarly journals and a magazine for practitioners, and provides 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.
National Society of Professional Engineers: NSPE oversees both the Fundamentals of Engineering and the Principles Exam and Practice of Engineering Exam — 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.
American Society for Engineering Education: 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 K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. ASEE also advertises job opportunities for engineering professors, postdoctoral researchers, and higher education administrators.
International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering: IABSE specifically serves the professional interests of structural engineers. Members can attend events around the globe, access a variety of online learning resources, and stay abreast 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.
American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists: 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.
- Open Courseware
Introduction to Innovation and Entrepreneurship - Stanford University: This course is offered by the Standard School of Engineering and builds leadership and entrepreneurial skills. Specifically, students learn how to gain customers and adapt to new trends. Engineers in self-employed or managerial positions can benefit from this course.
Quantum Mechanics for Scientists and Engineers - Stanford University: This class, which is delivered through the edX platform, lasts nine weeks and explores the definition and uses of quantum mechanics. Learners study topics like Schrodinger's wave equation, measurements, and the hydrogen atom as they relate to quantum mechanics and engineering practices. Students should have knowledge of engineering and physical science before taking this course.
Ethics for Engineers - Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Learners explore ethical practices in engineering by considering case studies and studying ideas from notable figures. Students also examine the importance of understanding people — both independently and in groups — when building engineering structures.
Urban Transportation Planning - Massachusetts Institute of Technology: This class addresses methods for designing and creating urban transportation systems that last. The course uses Boston as an example and emphasizes policy and technical skills for building urban structures.
Introducing Engineering - The Open University: This course covers introductory engineering, scientific, and mathematical concepts for engineering design and creation. The class emphasizes decision-making in the field.
Civil Engineering Journal: This peer-reviewed journal examines civil engineering through a cross-disciplinary lens, exploring engineering projects to give readers insights on new engineering techniques. Readers can also study topics like climate change, engineering issues that pause construction, and the durability of construction materials. The Salehan Institute of Higher Education started publishing this open-access journal in 2015 and offers 12 issues each year.
International Journal of Civil Engineering: Readers explore practical and theoretical concepts that are relevant to all aspects of civil engineering. For instance, issues may address geotechnics, structures, and construction management for engineering projects, while also touching on earthquakes and water resources as they relate to engineering.
Journal of Civil Engineering and Management: This open-access journal covers engineering topics like building materials, fire protection, and construction safety. Articles incorporate ideas from different fields of engineering, including urban and geotechnical engineering. Designers, manufacturers, and researchers are the target readership for this peer-reviewed publication.
Civil Engineering Magazine: ASCE has published this magazine since 1930. Topics include policies, trends, and current concerns related to engineering projects. Over 140,000 engineers read this digital and print journal.
Journal of Transportation Engineering, Part A: Systems: This journal from ASCE covers the design, construction, and upkeep of various transportation structures. For example, articles in this monthly publication may examine bridge construction or technology used to regulate highway traffic.
Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management: ASCE publishes this monthly journal, which emphasizes decision-making related to water resources. Articles address topics such as innovative technologies and strategies for adapting to changes in climate and population. The publication also offers case studies and encourages research-based practices.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is civil engineering a good degree?
Yes. U.S. News & World Report ranks civil engineer as the second best engineering career and reports less than 1% unemployment for the position. Civil engineering careers generally require a bachelor's or master's degree. According to the BLS, civil engineers earn a median annual salary of $87,060.
- Are civil engineering majors in demand?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 2% increase in civil engineering positions from 2019-2029. However, other related careers boast higher projections, including urban and regional planners (11%), construction managers (8%), and hydrologists (5%). Job opportunities vary by career type, location, and specialization.
- What kind of jobs can you get with a civil engineering degree?
Civil engineering projects can relate to different fields and industries, such as transportation, water resources, and landscape projects. For this reason, careers for a civil engineering major are varied and include options such as transportation engineer and urban planner. Graduates can also pursue careers in teaching or writing about civil engineering.
- What civil engineering jobs pay the most?
Salaries reflect factors such as experience and industry; however, in general, high-paying careers include senior civil engineer, senior geotechnical engineer, and health and safety engineer. These professionals earn median salaries above $90,000. Additionally, nuclear engineers earn a median salary of $113,460, with professionals in the 90th percentile taking home $179,430 per year.