Civil engineering is one of the oldest engineering disciplines. Since there were roads, dams, bridges, and buildings, there have been civil engineers planning and overseeing their design. Today, civil engineering is a dynamic, challenging field that is at the forefront of new technology. It’s a diverse one, too, as work can be found in any number of capacities or areas, from the private sector with developing buildings that could withstand earthquakes, to the public sector with updating a highway system. Civil engineers tend to be creative, detail-oriented, technologically inclined, possess strong people skills, like to work in a team, and are problem solvers eager to solve such challenges as traffic congestion, drinking water and energy needs, pollution, and urban redevelopment.
A civil engineering program would cover all phases of a project, from the initial designs, to surveying and mapping a site,to solving technical problems during construction. Students can expect to develop their analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as learn new technology and software, such as computer-aided design, or CAD. Because there’s much room for specialization in the field, your area of interest will also determine what skill sets you develop and knowledge you gain.
Classes and Assignments of a Civil Engineering Major
Civil engineering programs will vary by degree level and institution, though they’ll generally include a mix of engineering and basic sciences like physics, math, and computer courses, as well as subjects in the humanities and social sciences. Core civil engineering courses may cover structural mechanics, electricity and optics, engineering materials, principles and practices of geomatics, linear algebra, multivariate calculus, hydraulics, statistics, and thermodynamics. Depending on the program, students may also choose a concentration in one specialty, such as environmental, geotechnical, structural, construction, transportation, or water resources engineering.
Students will learn a mix of both theoretical and practical knowledge through lectures, projects, and assignments. Computer skills are often highly stressed, given the field’s reliance on computer programs and software. On-the-job experience is also stressed through opportunities like internships and summer jobs, so that students can put their knowledge to real-world use and gain valuable connections. For students who don’t have a civil engineering program in their immediate area, or plan on working during their education, online degrees are also typically offered at every degree level.
Degree Levels for a Civil Engineering Major
- Associate. Online associate civil engineering degrees generally a preparatory program for online bachelors civil engineering degrees. There are associate programs that train engineering technicians, who assist civil engineers on projects, though those programs don’t necessarily transfer to an advanced degree in civil engineering.
- Bachelor’s. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), engineers typically have at least a bachelor’s degree, making it one of the most useful college degrees for aspiring civil engineers. When applying, make sure you understand your state’s requirements for professional engineering licensing. Some, for instance, require that your degree program be ABET-accredited to sit for its licensing exam.
- Master’s. Online masters civil engineering degrees provide advanced knowledge in the field and often allows for great specialization in an area, such as environmental, structural, geotechnical, transportation, and architectural engineering. According to the BLS, graduate training is also essential for faculty positions and some research and development programs. Others may continue their education to learn the latest technology and advancements in the field, or advance their careers in the public or private sector. Since graduate students tend to work while earning their degree, an online civil engineering degree may provide a more flexible option.
- Doctoral. Civil engineers that look to teach at the college or university level will need their Ph.D. The degree could also lead to conducting research in academia or the private sector, or advancing to a higher-level executive position. Still, others may pursue a Ph.D. in civil engineering to further specialize in an area and stay abreast of the latest advancements in the field.
A Future as a Civil Engineering Major
Civil engineers may find work in a number of different areas, including municipal engineering departments, civil engineering consulting firms, structural design firms, land surveying companies, highway departments, construction companies, or public utilities. They may plan, design and construct highways, buildings, or bridges; manage water, air and energy resources; protect people from natural catastrophes such as earthquakes; or handle hazards such as toxic wastes. Depending on their state, after four years of work experience, a civil engineer may be eligible to sit for a professional engineer licensing exam. Being licensed would open up many more possibilities.
Civil engineering is an in-demand field. Our increasing population will create the need for new buildings, as well as the creation or expansion of transportation, water supply, and pollution control systems. Civil engineers will also be needed to improve existing infrastructure, such as repairing or replacing roads, bridges, and other public structures. All told, the employment of civil engineers is expected to increase 24% over the period from 2008 to 2018, according to the BLS. Areas of the greatest employment of civil engineers are in architecture, engineering, and related services, as well as state and local governments, the BLS notes. Salary can range from $50,560 to $119,320, with the mean annual wage for civil engineers $82,280 as of May 2010, according to the most-recent data from the BLS. Though keep in mind that both employment opportunities and wages will vary by location, experience, and degree level.