A career in civil engineering includes surveying, designing, analyzing, and managing building projects. These professionals work individually and in groups to create and maintain critical infrastructure. Here are the civil engineer education requirements, salary expectations, and necessary skills for prospective engineers and professionals seeking career advancement.
What Do Civil Engineers Do?
Civil engineers create physical structures to meet societal needs. They must consider factors including functionality, cost, safety, and reliability.
Beyond design and development, many civil engineers work in maintenance, production, and testing. They may determine the cause of malfunctions, supervise factory production, or test for product quality. Often, they must estimate the time and money required to complete projects. Supervisors take control of entire projects or major elements in ongoing projects.
Computers play a big part in civil engineers’ work. They use them to simulate systems, produce and analyze designs, generate specifications for parts, monitor quality, and control efficiency. Nanotechnology also helps develop high-performance materials and introduces new principles to the design process.
Civil engineers use these skills to design and supervise the construction of water supply and sewage systems, bridges, dams, roads, buildings, airports, and tunnels. From potential environmental hazards, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, to government regulations and the expected lifetime of a project, civil engineers must consider many factors in their design processes.
As members of one of the oldest engineering disciplines, civil engineers work across many specialties, including construction, transportation, water resources, structural, and geotechnical engineers. Supervisory and administrative positions are common for civil engineers, including jobs as city engineers and construction site supervisors. Other civil engineers may work in research or educational roles.
In addition to civil engineer education requirements, prospective engineers should be detail-oriented, analytical, inquisitive, and creative. They should be able to work on a team, as many engineering projects are highly collaborative. Communication skills – written and oral – are also vital as professionals must interact with coworkers, clients, and administrative professionals.
Those working for the federal government usually must be U.S. citizens and often need security clearances. Some federal contractors must also register with the System for Award Management and other government programs.
After completing the civil engineer education requirements, these professionals typically work in offices, labs, or factory settings. Some may work outside at construction or production sites, where they monitor and direct operations or solve onsite problems. Some engineers work from home or in a hybrid work situation, while others need to travel extensively across the nation or internationally.
A 40-hour workweek is typical for civil engineers, though longer hours may occur when meeting tight deadlines. Self-employed engineers can set their own hours and may work more or less, depending on the project.
Several other occupations perform similar duties. These occupations work closely with civil engineers or perform similar services for other projects:
- Architects: These professionals design structures, such as office buildings, residential homes, and factories. The 2021 median salary was $80,180, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Urban and regional planners: A planner in one of these positions helps prepare for population growth and community advancement through land-use plans and physical facility revitalization. They earned a median salary of $78,500 in 2021.
- Surveyors: Professionals in this role use precise instruments to measure and mark property boundaries for commercial and residential purposes. Surveyors earned about $61,600 in 2021.
- Construction managers: Similar to engineers, construction managers must plan, budget, and supervise building projects through to completion. In 2021, the median pay for a manager in the construction industry was $98,890.
In addition to these related roles, there are also other specializations of engineers. Other common specializations include chemical, mechanical, and electrical.
How to Become a Civil Engineer
There are a few important steps for job seekers interested in becoming civil engineers. Some steps, like getting licensed, vary depending on the position and state. Others, like earning a bachelor’s degree, are required for virtually every engineering position.
Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
A bachelor’s degree in engineering is one of the most important civil engineer education requirements for entry-level positions. Occasionally, employers may consider natural science or mathematics college graduates, especially for high-demand specialties.
While many civil engineers choose a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree program, some two- and four-year engineering technology programs can also meet the minimum requirements for jobs in the field. These programs offer more hands-on instruction on the latest issues in the application of engineering principles. They prepare students for production or practical design work rather than jobs focusing on scientific and theoretical aspects.
Graduates of four-year engineering technology programs often find jobs similar to those with bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering. However, employers view their skills as somewhere between a technician and an engineer, so advancement opportunities may be more limited without a bachelor’s degree.
Choose Relevant Courses
Typical courses in a civil engineering program include both general education and specialized training. In addition to general engineering, sciences, mathematics, computer science, social sciences, and humanities, here are some common classes to take:
- Environmental design
- Civil engineering materials laboratory
- Engineering mechanics
- Project management and evaluation
- Frameworks and models
- Fluid dynamics
Some programs offer concentrations for students to further specialize in their engineering studies. For job seekers who know the exact field they wish to enter, a concentration in engineering mechanics, environmental engineering, or computational engineering may help improve their applications.
Review the Time to Complete Civil Engineering Training
Civil engineers can generally earn their bachelor’s degree in four or five years. Schools often have special programs to help students finance their education. Some partner with two-year colleges so students can complete core classes more affordably before attending engineering school. Other colleges offer five- and six-year programs that include work experience, which adds valuable training and an opportunity for students to finance their education.
Consider a Master’s Degree
Faculty and research and development positions often include a master’s degree in their civil engineer education requirements. Many experienced engineers choose to seek a master’s degree in business administration or a master’s degree in engineering for advancement and for ongoing learning opportunities.
Become a Licensed Professional Engineer
Civil engineers who will offer their services directly to the public must get licensed as professional engineers (PE). To qualify for this license, they must graduate from a program acknowledged by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), have four years of relevant work experience, and pass an exam. Recent graduates can start the process by taking the first part of the exam to become an engineering intern right after graduation. Later, with suitable work experience, they can take the second half.
Many professional certifications are available to civil engineers, and they can be beneficial when seeking managerial or senior technical positions. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) offers a popular certification.
How Much Do Civil Engineers Make?
Civil engineer salaries ranged from less than $60,550 to over $133,320 in 2021, according to BLS data. Approximately 304,310 civil engineers work in the United States. Jobs are usually found in architectural services, with a significant number working in state and local government.
Civil engineers earn some of the highest starting salaries of all college graduates. In 2021, the median annual salary for this career was $88,050, according to BLS. The lowest 10% of civil engineers earned $60,550 or less, while the highest 10% earned $133,320 or more.
Employment for civil engineers is expected to grow at a much faster than average rate compared to all occupations. Even though the field of engineering as a whole is expected to have only average employment growth, civil engineering jobs are projected to grow at a rate of 8% between 2020 and 2030.
More civil engineers will be called upon to design and construct or expand water supply, pollution control, and transportation systems. Population growth and in turn, the country’s need to improve infrastructure, are some of the primary drivers of this expected growth.
Steps for Career Advancement
As entry-level professionals, civil engineers can expect to work under a more experienced engineer and even take classes and seminars on the job. Experience and skills can help professionals work more independently and take on more challenging projects.
Later, civil engineers can become supervisors or technical specialists. Some choose to take on managerial roles outside the field or sales positions in which they can explain the technical aspects of products. Many leadership positions require a master’s degree and years of experience.
First Step to Becoming a Civil Engineer
Civil engineering is a dynamic career with plenty of opportunities for advancement. Job seekers should review civil engineer education requirements and find degree programs in their chosen fields. An affordable, highly rated bachelor’s degree program is an excellent first step to becoming a civil engineer. Online civil engineering bachelor’s degrees provide new engineer applicants and experienced professionals opportunities to improve their application and career prospects.
American Society of Civil Engineers, Professional Certifications
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Civil Engineers
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Civil Engineers Occupational Employment and Wages