A master’s in civil engineering is just one of the many elements that make a civil engineer qualified for positions of higher responsibility. Experience and licensure also hold significant weight within the profession. Just because someone has a master’s degree does not mean they will automatically get promoted or placed in senior positions. A civil engineering master’s degree can be considered a piece of the pie that makes up a senior civil engineer.
Master’s degrees are post-secondary education programs that build upon undergraduate and professional knowledge through two to three years of concentrated study. Typically, a master’s program provides college graduates and experienced professionals with the opportunity to certify and increase their knowledge in their profession.
Civil engineers design, build and maintain the infrastructure all around us. Their job is challenging and highly important and to get started doing it requires a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. So what does the master’s degree qualify a civil engineer to do? Typically, civil engineers with bachelor’s degrees work on teams led by senior engineers, while those with a master’s degree, experience, and the correct licenses will serve as senior engineers. Read our complete career profile to learn more about becoming a civil engineer.
A master’s degree in civil engineering is a form of advanced education that builds upon a bachelor’s degree and provides a deeper understanding of civil engineering. A master’s ultimately qualifies a civil engineer to serve in senior engineering positions, resulting in a higher salary and the opportunity to specialize. Specialization is a key aspect of civil engineering degrees. These programs are not intended to be generalist degrees, and students do not typically come from outside undergraduate majors. Students often find that specialization can lead to a specific job within their current field that they’ve been reaching for, while others utilize specialization to move into adjacent fields.
Why Get a Master’s in Civil Engineering?
Many civil engineers decided to start a civil engineering graduate degree to qualify for more senior engineering roles. These roles typically demand higher pay and more responsibility in an organization. So how does a potential student make the final decision to start a graduate program?
Civil engineering master’s degrees are designed to prepare the next generation of civil engineering experts in the engineering sector. These programs assist students in elevating their general civil engineering knowledge while also focusing on one particular element of civil engineering.
This opportunity to specialize during a master’s program is a precious aspect of civil engineering masters’ programs. After multiple years of work experience as a junior civil engineer, master’s students typically know the area of civil engineering they want to specialize in for the future of their career. Specialization and expertise are highly valued in senior engineering roles, and so overall, a civil engineering master’s degree can provide an added boost to your resume to secure these positions.
To effectively answer whether you need to get a master’s degree in civil engineering, you ultimately need to weigh where you are in your career and where you want to be. Advancement within certain civil engineering fields can be difficult to achieve, as the roles that civil engineers support are typically long-term positions, requiring significant amounts of specific expertise and knowledge. The average age of civil engineers across the United States is 41 years old, while the percentage of civil engineers with a master’s degree in civil engineering is just 12 percent. A master’s degree can significantly cut down the amount of time and experience gathering that it takes to reach senior positions.
Civil Engineering Master’s Program Overview
Civil engineering programs provide a generalized course structure with the opportunity or requirement to concentrate on an area of study at most colleges and universities. This means that they focus on technical and theoretical areas within engineering to provide students with a renewed basis of expert knowledge and the opportunity to specialize. The specialization areas at many schools will include geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, transportation engineering, water resources engineering, and environmental engineering. Coursework varies significantly across each engineering discipline, and the best source for specific curriculum questions is the engineering school’s curriculum webpage.
The option to complete a thesis is an important curriculum decision that needs to be made before starting a program. A master’s thesis is an original piece of scholarly research and writing that allows you to dig into a topic, expand on it and demonstrate how you’ve grown to solidify yourself as a master in your field of study. Graduate schools will often require a thesis for students in research-oriented fields of study, like psychology. The option to pursue a thesis or not in civil engineering will be program-dependent and certainly something that you can avoid if it does not appeal to you.
There are personal and educational benefits to writing a thesis, such as the valuable opportunity to delve into exciting research to achieve a greater depth of learning in your career area. A thesis does not necessarily make your master’s degree any better than a degree earned without one. Employers may note that your degree was earned with a thesis, but typically this is not something that goes onto a resume.
MS in Civil Engineering Program Considerations
In the United States, 307 colleges and universities offer Civil Engineering programs, so there are many options to choose from. Deciding on the right school can be difficult, but sometimes the decision comes down to cost and proximity. Civil engineering master’s programs offered by in-state public universities are often highly appealing to potential graduate students. In addition to being typically the lowest cost and closest geographically to the student, many public university programs rank nationally amongst the top programs.
One of the first and most important things to consider when selecting a civil engineering master’s degree is whether or not the program is ABET-accredited. ABET stands for the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. It is a non-governmental organization that certifies colleges and universities for quality standards in education established by each engineering and technology profession. ABET accreditation tells prospective employers and peers that the program you are studying under has received recognition for its quality and meets the industry’s best practices.
Your school’s program must be ABET-accredited to qualify your master’s education for the Professional of Engineer (PE) license requirements. Earning the Professional of Engineer in Civil Engineering license is one of the most coveted qualifications in the engineering world. Still, if your school is not ABET accredited, you may not be eligible.
Most college programs are ABET-accredited, as it is the standard for higher education in science and engineering, but some programs are not. It is very important to ensure that the degree you are paying for is accredited due to the significant financial investment that must be made to attain a master’s degree. ABET accreditation is the first check to verify that you are getting a quality education.
Colleges and universities carry prestige and ranking associated with their name. The name of the school you attended for your master’s degree stays on your resume for your entire professional career. You must select a program you would be proud to put next to your name and include as part of your professional brand. When employers evaluate your resume, they will often take note of the university or college you attended when they evaluate your resume. The current rankings can easily be found online. Geographic relevance is also an important consideration for colleges and universities. Employers will often be much more familiar with engineering programs from the in-state universities than programs located across the country.
Master’s in Civil Engineering Online
Higher education programs at colleges and universities now offer various online and asynchronous education options. Generally, online education is widely acknowledged as just as legitimate as in-person education, and it has provided more people with access to graduate programs than ever before. Most online civil engineering master’s degree programs serve working professionals with an undergraduate degree in engineering. Like in-person students, online students learn advanced civil engineering concepts, take core courses, and choose a technical concentration, like structural engineering, transportation, or environmental engineering.
If the option of attending a master’s program while still fully employed is a requirement or necessity for you, you almost exclusively will need to attend an online program. In-person programs typically require students to live on or near campus and to attend classes held on campus during the day. In-person programs undoubtedly provide students a more enriching experience where they can collaborate face-to-face with professors and fellow students.
Going in-person or online should come down to assessing your financial and professional situation. If you can afford to forgo two years of salary to attend an in-person program, it is probably best to select this route. Though you will learn the same material as those who study online, your experience will be more enriching, and you will have more opportunities to network. For many prospective students, earning the degree while maintaining current employment is the primary aim. It makes much more sense and is perfectly acceptable to pursue a degree online.
Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering Cost
Higher education is expensive, but student loan and financing programs provide access to higher education with the cost of loan repayment following degree completion. According to US News and World, civil engineering master’s program tuition costs average at $11,603 for in-state programs and $25,199 for out-of-state programs.
As with all higher education, more prestigious schools typically come with higher costs, so it is important to level the quality of education and degree that you are looking for with the subsequent financial requirements of the program. In-state tuitions are typically lower than out-of-state and private tuition, and there are numerous resources for finding grants, scholarships, and lending.
To review the type of loan and grant financing that you will have available for your graduate program, visit the federal student aid site and fill out a FAFSA form first. This form will inform you of the federal grants and loan programs available to you for your master’s degree. It is highly recommended to review your federal student aid options before turning to private lenders.
Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering Salary
The average annual salary of a civil engineer is $76,000, according to PayScale. This metric is for civil engineers across the United States, regardless of education level or state of employment. Civil engineers with a master’s degree command salaries 9 to 13 percent higher than the median wages of engineers with a bachelor’s degree alone. State of employment is also a significant factor in predicting the average salary of a civil engineer with a master’s degree. Some states, such as Alaska and California, pay significantly higher salaries for civil engineers. Compared to the lowest-paying states, like Vermont and South Dakota, the difference can be $30,000 annually.
To answer the question, adding a graduate degree in civil engineering to your resume has the potential to increase your salary. To decide if the degree is worth it to you, compare the salary averages in your state with what you currently earn. Education is typically one of the most expensive investments a person makes in themselves throughout their career. According to the Brookings Institute, graduate students hold about 50 percent of all national student debt while accounting for only 25 percent of the borrowing population. Graduate degrees are significant and costly investments, and it is important to understand the costs and the potential returns on investment.