Civil engineering is one of the oldest engineering disciplines in the world. Students drawn to civil engineering may be impressed with civil engineers’ work on projects. Nearly all types of infrastructure, from roads to dams, are completed with the help of a civil engineer. These impressive projects are worked on by some of the most talented professional engineers.
A career in civil engineering can be a fulfilling and well-paid lifelong endeavor for the right candidate. The world will always need roads and buildings, so civil engineers will not disappear anytime soon. If you are interested in a career in civil engineering, it may be helpful to understand what that looks like and everything that it entails.
Civil Engineering Degree
If you are looking into starting a career as a civil engineer, the first step is to pursue a degree in civil engineering. Tens of thousands of college students graduate with a degree in civil engineering each year. In 2019, 21,938 students earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering just in the United States.
When choosing a civil engineering degree program, students should look for colleges that offer civil engineering degrees accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. This accreditation will ensure that you can pursue a long and successful career in civil engineering. If you receive a degree from a college without accreditation, you will have to overcome additional roadblocks and hurdles.
If you are unsure that civil engineering is for you, receiving an associate’s technical degree from a two-year college can help you decide the right career path. Attending a two-year college before completing a four-year degree in civil engineering is a path some engineers take. Additionally, attending a two-year college can offer some cost savings.
The college curriculum for civil engineering is certainly not easy. College students can expect to take materials engineering, structural design, dynamics, engineering administration, and more. These classes are based heavily on math. When a student is taking engineering classes, they may have to take advanced classes in topics they are interested in, such as airport engineering.
If college debt is a concern, civil engineering is a great choice. Civil engineers typically graduate with approximately the same debt as other four-year degrees, as long as they complete their degree on time. However, the average annual salary for a civil engineer is $67,829, according to PayScale. Civil engineers will pay off their college debt faster than many of their counterparts.
A bachelor’s degree in civil engineering is enough to start a career in civil engineering.
How To Become A Civil Engineer
The path to becoming a civil engineer is relatively simple.
1) Bachelor’s Degree and Internship
Once you finish high school, the first step is to attend college at a university that offers civil engineering degrees. While in college, you may have to specialize in sub-disciplines of civil engineering by taking certain higher-level courses. Students can receive their Master’s in civil engineering, but it is not required to begin a career. Some civil engineers go back to college to receive their master’s degrees and advance their careers.
It is recommended that engineering students attempt to work in the civil engineering field during their time in college by finding an internship. Many civil engineering college programs require students to complete at least one summer internship or semester internship while working on their degree. An internship can provide valuable experience to engineering students.
Students will have the opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge they learned in class in real-life situations. Students can also network with engineers and other professionals. Generally, internships are completed in a student’s junior or senior year of college.
Many students who intern receive job offers from the organization they interned at.
2) Fundamentals of Engineering Exam
After graduation, students can opt to take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. This exam is optional and is not necessary to pursue a career in civil engineering. This exam covers the topics that students learned in engineering school. The Fundamentals of Engineering exam is 110 questions long, and students have six hours to complete the test.
If an engineering graduate passes the exam, they will have the title engineer-in-training or engineer intern. Students can pass this exam to stand out from other engineering students applying to the same position. Passing this exam is also generally required to receive your professional engineering license.
3) Land Your First Job
One of the most challenging steps can be landing your first job as a civil engineer. If you excelled in college and completed an internship, you should have no issues finding an entry-level position as a civil engineer. Once you have your first position, soak up all the experience and learn more about being a civil engineer.
4) Professional Engineering License
After a few years as a civil engineer, you can begin to study for the professional engineer’s exam. The Principles and Practice of Engineering exam is difficult and can take months to study for properly. Receiving your professional engineering license can help propel your career forward. Some government contracts may require you to have your professional engineer license to work on the project.
What Does A Civil Engineer Do?
Nearly all industries can employ civil engineers throughout the world. Civil engineers can work in the private or public sector. Most of the work that civil engineers do is generally performed in an office environment. Occasionally, civil engineers will have to travel to the project site to ensure that all implementation is going to plan.
Working as a civil engineer requires a broad set of skills. Civil engineers utilize the theories and math they learned in college to ensure that infrastructure projects run smoothly. Project management is an important skill that civil engineers use throughout their careers. Civil engineers need to ensure that a construction project stays on schedule and within the allotted budget. Managing multiple moving parts is a difficult balance.
Project management is not the only key skill that defines a successful civil engineer. The ability to write is another skill that engineering students often overlook. Many civil engineers will write project proposals, technical reports, status updates, and more. Civil engineers also need to utilize sales and persuasion skills throughout their careers.
Even though it is a technical role, civil engineers will still have to convince stakeholders throughout an organization that their plans and ideas are worth pursuing. Some civil engineers may even move into a sales or marketing role throughout their careers. Combining engineering and business knowledge into one career is a great way to move up the ladder.
Civil Engineer Career Outlook and Salary
Civil engineers are well paid for their work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median salary for civil engineers is $95,440. Civil engineers working in the waste treatment and disposal industry make the highest annual median wage at $127,050. Whatever career path a civil engineer takes, it is likely that they will be well compensated.
Civil engineers have several career paths that they can choose from. The technical knowledge that civil engineers possess can open many opportunities that professionals without the same expertise do not have access to. Some civil engineers are only interested in engineering and can specialize in the industry they work in.
Some of the most common civil engineering sub-disciplines are:
- Municipal and Urban Engineer: This type of engineer applies engineering theories in an urban environment. Engineers are responsible for designing and maintaining public parks, sewage systems, street lights, and more.
- Coastal Engineer: Coastal engineers have an incredibly important role in today’s world. These engineers are responsible for maintaining and protecting coastlines in populated areas against erosion and flooding.
- Earthquake Engineer: Earthquake engineering involves designing structures to withstand the devastating power of earthquakes.
Civil engineers can also pursue job opportunities at the highest levels of an organization, the C-suite. Many civil engineers can take the reins as vice president of engineering or chief technical officer. These roles allow experienced engineers to take control of all the engineering personnel and ensure that all projects throughout an organization run smoothly. The responsibilities are much more significant than a typical civil engineer, but the yearly salary is also higher.
An engineer can end up in a business-oriented role, such as chief executive officer, where they may utilize both engineering and business knowledge. This may sound surprising, but the most common undergraduate degree a CEO in a Fortune 500 company has is engineering. About one-third of CEOs have an undergraduate engineering degree. CEOs with an engineering background will use their problem-solving skills and apply them to business problems.
Overall, civil engineers have great career opportunities for continued growth. These opportunities are not going away anytime soon, as civil engineers will continue to be a vital part of infrastructure projects. A career in civil engineering can be a challenging and rewarding journey for students with the right skills and mindset. The possibilities are almost endless.