Whether designing bridges or helping to maintain mass transit systems, civil engineers devise plans to face new challenges and upgrade older systems. A civil engineering master’s degree is the next step for those with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or individuals interested in the field. Professionals with a master’s can advance their career in exciting new directions.
Should I Get a Master's in Civil Engineering?
A civil engineering master’s degree helps advance a career or earn a higher salary. Civil engineering is a rigorous and important profession, where designs impact people, the environment, and property. A master’s degree in civil engineering builds upon a bachelor’s degree and explores advanced aspects of engineering. Students gain a deeper understanding of how projects impact the environment and people. Civil engineers often have a broad understanding of how outside factors influence a project, whether legal, material, or social.
While enrolled in a civil engineering master’s program, you will have the opportunity to network with peers, faculty, and professionals. Many programs help students find work, either directly through the program or through alumni contacts. A master’s degree isn’t required to work in the engineering field, but it helps you stand out against other job applicants. If you want to engage in important projects or obtain a higher job position, a master’s in civil engineering is a good next step.
What Can I Do With a Master’s in Civil Engineering?
A civil engineering master’s degree offers a lot of variation between career paths. Some students might find that a degree specialization leads to a specific job, while others might move into adjacent fields, like urban planning. Some career paths may result in additional education or certification. The five careers listed below provide a sample of careers you might look for after graduation.
- Civil Engineer
Civil engineers work in the public or private sector, designing, building, and maintaining infrastructure projects, such as bridges and dams. Many specialize in certain types of projects. A master’s degree or higher is generally required for leadership or senior positions. Civil engineers need to be licensed, with requirements varying by state.
Median Annual Salary: $84,770
Projected Growth Rate: 11%
- Environmental Engineer
These professionals ensure that projects do not cause environmental stress. They check the sustainability of projects or design projects to improve environmental health.
Median Annual Salary: $86,800
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
- Construction Manager
These professionals handle the planning, budgeting, coordination, and supervision of construction projects in the public or private sector. They are responsible for making sure that projects are completed on time and within budget, and make decisions based on changing on-site circumstances.
Median Annual Salary: $91,370
Projected Growth Rate: 11%
- Cost Estimator
These professionals determine project cost by evaluating material or technical requirements for construction projects. Civil engineers perform well in this job given their knowledge of materials and techniques.
Median Annual Salary: $63,110
Projected Growth Rate: 11%
- Urban or Regional Planner
These professionals create land-use plans to expand or create new communities. Though these positions generally require a degree in urban planning, civil engineers are well-suited for this role since they have an understanding of large projects.
Median Annual Salary: $71,490
Projected Growth Rate: 13%
How to Choose a Master's Program in Civil Engineering
If you’re looking to complete a civil engineering master’s sooner rather than later, full-time enrollment is the best choice. Online programs are a good, flexible option for working professionals. Online programs may take a little longer, but can offer intensive or accelerated options.
It is important to find a program that focuses on your interests and allows you to work toward your career goals. Consider the faculty and specializations you’ll be working with at a given school. Some schools require a practicum or thesis, while others require an internship.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master’s Programs in Civil Engineering
Accreditation is granted to schools that pass a rigorous assessment of high educational standards. Schools can be accredited by either regional or national agencies. Programs and departments can also receive accreditation from field or industry specific organizations.
For civil engineering, look for program accreditation from the Engineering Accreditation Commission or the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Schools with these credentials maintain high educational standards. Accreditation is not required for a good education, and many quality schools are not accredited; however, choosing a school with credentials creates an impressive diploma and resume.
Master's in Civil Engineering Program Admissions
Most students apply to three to five schools. Once you know which school you’d like to attend, research the application process and requirements. Typically a personal statement is required; make sure that you tailor your essay to each individual school. Discuss why you chose that school, which professors you’d like to work with, and what you’d like to do with your degree.
The following two sections give some information about common admissions requirements, although details can vary widely by school.
- Bachelor’s Degree: A bachelor’s degree is required for a master’s program. Typically, the degree needs to be in the same field as the master’s, but some programs may allow degrees in related fields.
- Professional Experience: Some master’s programs require work experience, generally about three years in the field.
- Minimum GPA: Most schools require a 3.5 GPA at minimum. Some programs may set a lower score for overall GPA and a higher score for the major GPA.
- Application: An application asks for the most basic information, such as your address and past education.
- Transcripts: Transcripts are records of your past courses and grades. They are sent by any prior institutions. Official transcripts are usually required, though unofficial transcripts may work for the application phase.
- Letters of Recommendation: Ask past teachers or professionals in the field who can speak to your strengths and skills. Give recommenders at least a month’s notice.
- Test Scores: You will likely need to take the GRE and submit the scores with your application. Some schools set minimum scores, and some schools do not require the exam.
- Application Fee: Most application fees are $50.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Civil Engineering?
This section introduces you to examples of concentrations and courses you might encounter, as well an overview of degree length and cost. All of these factors can vary by school and program.
|Construction||This concentration prepares students for careers in public work and focuses on construction technology, materials, and management. Courses include cost estimation, conflicts and claims, and scheduling.||Construction manager, cost estimator|
|Geotechnology and Materials Engineering||This concentration focuses on the differences between the built environment and the earth, as well as the use of natural resources in construction. Courses might include soil stabilization, structural dynamics, foundations and retaining structures, or pavement design.||Environmental engineer|
|Public Works Engineering||This concentration focuses on public infrastructure, deterioration, replacement, management, and the growth of the urban environment. This concentration prepares students for civil engineering in the public sector, with courses on transportation, construction, and environmental engineering.||Civil and environmental engineer, urban planner|
|Structural Engineering||Students in this concentration focus on the analysis and design of structures, and learn consultation and design skills. Courses cover the structural materials, structural mechanics and dynamics, and material design.||Civil engineer, construction manager|
|Transportation Engineering||This concentration focuses on transporting goods safely and efficiently over any distance. As a growing number of cities in the U.S. implement mass transit systems, courses cover railway systems, roadways, crash analysis, and sustainability in transportation.||Civil or environmental engineer, cost estimator|
Courses in a Master’s in Civil Engineering Program
While courses in civil engineering master’s programs vary, there are some commonly featured topics. Below, are five sample courses.
- Construction Law
This course covers laws, regulations, and legal issues that impact a project. Civil engineers must have at least a cursory knowledge of how laws apply to a project to avoid legal issues.
- Project Planning
A master’s degree is often required for leadership positions, students learn to organize teams in this course. Students discuss various concepts and tools related to organization, planning, estimation, and regulation.
- Project Controls
In these courses students discuss the control systems and tools used to ensure projects get finished on time and on budget. Topics include cash flow, budget, human resources, and generalized resource allocation and management.
- Physical Hydrology
Students learn about how water occurs, moves, and is distributed in order to ensure projects aren’t affected by moisture. Students discuss the water cycle, climate, soil moisture, and other relevant topics.
- Coastal Structures
Since many of the world’s largest and most important cities are found along waterways, and ocean levels continue to rise, coastal structures are increasingly relevant. Students discuss the challenges of these structures.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in Civil Engineering?
A typical civil engineering master’s degree requires between 36 and 54 credits, and takes two to three years to complete. If you attend courses full time, and complete your thesis on schedule, two years to completion is standard. If you attend part time, the program will take longer. If you take courses during the summer or enroll in an accelerated or intensive program, you could finish sooner, with some programs taking only one year.
Large projects, such as a thesis, can take more time. With careful planning you can generally map out your program length. Choosing a program with a practicum or internship instead of a traditional thesis might make the program duration shorter.
How Much Is a Master’s in Civil Engineering?
The cost of a civil engineering master’s degree can vary greatly, depending on tuition costs. Tuition rates are generally lower for in-state students. Online courses tend to be cheaper than their on-campus equivalents, but completely online programs can still be costly. Applying for scholarships and grants can reduce costs and, if you’re working, you may be able to get financial assistance from your employer.
If you attend courses on campus, housing costs can be expensive, depending on where you live. Living off campus, especially for graduate students, is usually always cheaper and provides more housing options.
Certifications and Licenses a Master’s in Civil Engineering Prepares For
- Coastal Engineering
This certification combines civil engineering with concepts from oceanography and geology. Professionals with this certification understand the unique challenges of coastal environments and ensure that projects are safe and successful.
- Geotechnical Engineering
Engineers with this certification have a great understanding of how geotechnical materials and processes interact with, and affect, the built environment.
- Navigation Engineering
Professionals with this certification are experts on the conception, building, and maintenance of navigable waterways, such as channels and support structures. They can be relied upon to ensure that waterways are efficient and sustainable.
- Water Resources Engineering
Civil engineers with this certification understand the concepts and processes needed to manage water resources. They are able to design, construct, and maintain projects that ensure clean, sustainable water solutions.
- Ocean Engineering
This certification verifies that an engineer is versed in the design, construction, and maintenance of ocean structures. Professionals combine civil engineering with knowledge of oceanography to ensure that projects are viable and sustainable.
Resources for Graduate Civil Engineering Students
The Institution of Civil Engineers has been around for two centuries, and over time, has collected a wealth of information, including papers, blogs, and recorded lectures.
This website has lectures, tutorials, notes, software, and ebooks for students studying civil engineering. The site is categorized for search efficiency.
The Civil Engineering Software Database hosts over 400 free or shareware programs specifically for engineers, including screenshots and manuals. The site is regularly updated with new software.
Civil Engineering Portal collects resources including journals, books, magazines, and software for civil engineers. This website is especially useful for students, since it offers an extensive knowledge center.
This site offers a wealth of resources, but also provides job search and networking tools, which can help advance education or create career connections.
Professional Organizations in Civil Engineering
Whether you’re a professional or student, joining an organization is a good way to advance your education and career. Organizations provide networking opportunities, facilitate job searches, and offer scholarships. Those listed below are just some of the professional organizations geared toward civil engineers, and many have a focus on certain aspects of the field.
The ASCE was founded in 1852, and today represents over 150,000 members in 177 countries. ASCE provides technical and professional conferences and continuing education.
EERI was founded with the mission to reduce earthquake danger. An interdisciplinary organization, the institute is a leader in earthquake science and research.
USSD is focused on the benefits of dams and levees and the improvement of technology through collaboration and research.
ACI was founded in 1904 with the mission of advancing concrete knowledge and techniques. This institute has over 20,000 members in 1,998 countries.
Established in 1893, ASEE works to improve the quality and availability of engineering education at all levels, focusing on research, advocacy, and professional development.