If you want a challenging but well-paying job requiring you to make different complex structures a reality, civil engineering could be your dream career. But where do you begin?
Fortunately, we’ve made everything easier for you — here’s just about everything you need to know about how to become a civil engineer.
What is a civil engineer?
A civil engineer is a professional who designs and implements infrastructural facilities such as roads, residential and commercial buildings, bridges, water treatment plants, railways, levees, dams, and more.
There’s a lot of diversity in the field. Some civil engineers, known as structural engineers, work from the office, designing structures. Others work on-site to oversee the construction process and ensure the project stays on track. These are construction engineers. Still others alternate or divide time between working on-site and in the field.
Civil engineers travel a lot — the job requires that you move from site to site to supervise projects, conduct tests on soils and materials, and meet clients to plan for new projects.
What education do you need?
Becoming a civil engineer doesn’t happen overnight. It entails completing a civil engineering degree program that takes four years.
Of course, like any other course, you have to meet specific minimum requirements for you to be eligible to enroll.
These requirements include a high school diploma, GPA of 2.75 and above, strong grades in prerequisite subjects like physics, chemistry, and mathematics, especially trigonometry, algebra, and calculus.
COURSE CORE SUBJECTS
The first two years mainly involve taking advanced math and science subjects, including chemistry and physics.
Some colleges also require that you study computer-aided design (CAD), equipping you with design skills.
High school students aspiring civil engineers must pay more attention to mathematics, especially trigonometry and calculus. That’s because it’s what the course majorly revolves around.
During the first two years, the subjects you take can form the basis for your next two years to focus deeper on engineering itself. You’ll delve into topics such as statistics, thermodynamics, engineering mechanics, and structural analysis.
Additionally, the course may include a design project during the final year, where you research and assess the structural integrity of certain materials while under the supervision of your lecturer.
Apart from the theory part learned in class, the course also involves practical lessons. You’ll frequently visit civil engineering labs to complete tests on materials and acquire firsthand experience of real-life encounters in the field.
Students analyze materials such as soil, concrete, and coarse and fine aggregates to understand their properties. In addition, they learn the standard requirements for each material and the problems they can potentially come across when using and working on the materials.
Civil Engineer Certification Requirements
To be licensed as a professional engineer, you need to ensure the program you enroll in is approved by Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).
Once you complete your degree course, you need to meet several other requirements to be certified as a civil engineer. You’ll be required to:
- Sit for a state-set licensing exam on the fundamentals of engineering administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors.
- Gain an entry-level job as a civil engineering intern/engineer-in-training and work under the supervision of a licensed engineer for four years.
- After completing the minimum professional hours, you sit for a second set of licensing exams. This time, the exam is on the principles and practice of engineering.
After fulfilling the above requirements, you get a license as a civil engineering professional. The good news is that The American Society of Civil Engineers offers guidance and support to civil engineers in training.
It’s worth noting that for you to be a practicing civil engineer in Washington D.C. and all states, you must be certified. Therefore, you must channel a lot of time and energy studying, researching, preparing for these examinations and the challenges out there in the field.
How much does it cost to become a civil engineer?
A bachelor’s degree is a requirement for many civil engineer positions. You’ll also likely need a license to advance to more senior positions — the most prominent one is the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam.
For a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, the average cost (out-of-state) is about $44,000 annually. Almost all states require that a civil engineer be certified to serve the community.
The fee for the PE licensing exam is around $350.
Entering a civil engineering job
Without a doubt, licensing opens up doors for you as a civil engineer. You’re now ready to challenge yourself with an entry-level job.
It’s advisable to network during the in-training phase and make some contacts. These contacts may come in handy when you’re looking to move into your first professional job.
All the learning, research, and training prepares you to provide the infrastructure that keeps our country’s economy running.
Remember, most sectors that are the cog of our economy fall under the civil engineering umbrella, including roads, railways, water and sewerage systems, dams, and commercial buildings. Indeed, civil engineers are creators!
You may land a job that requires you to spend your time entirely in the office or one where you’ll always be out there on-site working on ongoing projects.
What does a civil engineer do?
A civil engineer can play several roles in the construction process. These include:
- Designing structures
- Researching new projects
- Assessing the environmental impact on new projects
- Estimating project budgets such as material and labor cost
- Creating blueprints for new projects
- Supervising construction works
- Testing construction materials like soil and cement
- Preparing proposals and reports
- Communicating with clients, colleagues, and community members
Civil engineering is a vast field with several areas of specialty. Therefore, you can seize this opportunity and work in the segment you’re best at. Most colleges allow you to specialize in one of the fields.
Some of the fields a civil engineer can choose to specialize in include:
- Structural engineering
- Environmental engineering
- Water resources engineering
- Geotechnical engineering
- Municipal/urban engineering
- Transportation engineering
- Construction engineering
- Water resource engineering
- Coastal engineering
- Materials engineering
With specialization comes a higher salary, but you’ll need to further your studies. Working as a civil engineer is great because as your career progresses, you’ll find more opportunities to branch out into other areas. This can help you develop as a professional.
How much does a civil engineer earn?
Civil engineers earn a pretty good living. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for an entry job, you can get a salary of around $55,000. And as you gain more experience, your wage may rise rapidly within just a few years.
The median annual salary of a civil engineer is currently around $88,750.
The highest-paying state is California, with an average annual salary of $113,200. California is indeed the leading state in civil engineering, meaning there’s much development in the field there.
Job outlook and growth potential
Statistics show that about half of civil engineers get jobs in the private sector. Private engineering and architectural firms absorb most of them.
The public sector absorbs a third of the remainder who land government jobs. The remaining portion of civil engineers either finds itself in other firms or gets into self-employment.
When most civil engineers complete their training, their career begins in firms where they work while meeting their licensure requirements. Upon gaining experience, they take more challenging roles, occupying senior positions with more responsibilities.
Later, after a civil engineer has been working for many years, some leave their positions to establish their firms while others prefer to work as freelancers.
Interestingly, civil engineering is a field with ever-growing job prospects. That’s because the population keeps growing, and so does the need for expansion of our infrastructure. For this reason, expectations are that the field may continue to snowball over the next few years.
Civil engineering employment is projected to grow by roughly 18% from 2021 to 2031, which is much faster than the national average for all jobs. The factors that contribute to such growth include:
- Infrastructure continues to age, leading to high demand for more engineers to repair and rebuild roads, bridges, airports, and other structures.
- The population is growing. More people mean more roads, housing, waste treatment plants, and water systems, which is the work of a civil engineer.
- Renewable energy projects are increasing. Such projects often require engineers to offer oversight, ensuring strict adherence to all the new mandates.
Get your career started
Are you adept at math and science and have a great interest in design and architecture? If so, civil engineering may be the most suitable and satisfying job for you.
Granted, the journey is challenging, but the accompanying rewards are worth it. In addition, you’ll play a vital role in the country and community in designing, planning, and implementing infrastructure projects.
You can rest assured of exceptional job security once you qualify and start working as a civil engineer. What’s more, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to further your studies and develop your career.
Here’s the next step…
If you’re in the market for a position in civil engineering — regardless of your level — check out the Rock The Trades app.
We have a database of jobs that grows every month, and after answering a few questions to build your profile, we can start putting you in touch with employers who are actively looking for people in civil engineering.
If you’re serious about making career moves, here’s the download link.