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Civil Engineers

Chevron civil engineers examine blueprints

A civil engineer could...


Design a building that can survive a major earthquake without damage. Japanese skyscraper Build a dam to provide a source of hydroelectric power. hydroelectric dam
Design a bridge that is as beautiful to look at as it is essential for moving people and goods. Golden Gate bridge Design water-treatment facilities to reduce water pollution and provide clean drinking water. Girl drinking from water fountain
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Key Facts & Information

Overview If you turned on a faucet, used a bathroom, or visited a public space (like a road, a building, or a bridge) today, then you've used or visited a project that civil engineers helped to design and build. Civil engineers work to improve travel and commerce, provide people with safe drinking water and sanitation, and protect communities from earthquakes and floods. This important and ancient work is combined with a desire to make structures that are as beautiful and environmentally sound, as they are functional and cost-effective.
Key Requirements A creative, analytical, detail-oriented mind, and the ability to communicate well with others and consider trade-offs
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School chemistry, physics, computer science, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, calculus, English; if available, statistics, environmental science, applied technology
Median Salary
Civil Engineers
  $77,990
US Mean Annual Wage
  $45,230
Min Wage
  $15,080
$0
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Projected Job Growth (2010-2020) Faster than Average (14% to 20%) In Demand!
Interview
  • Read an interview with a real-life civil engineer, Don Parsons, who went from wanting to join the army to designing a wastewater treatment plant.
  • Read this article to see what a day in the life of a civil engineer is like.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

Engineers typically enter the occupation with a bachelor's degree in an engineering specialty, but some basic research positions may require a graduate degree. Engineers offering their services directly to the public must be licensed. Continuing education to keep current with rapidly changing technology is important for engineers.

Education and Training

A bachelor's degree in engineering is required for almost all entry-level engineering jobs. College graduates with a degree in a natural science or mathematics occasionally may qualify for some engineering jobs, especially in specialties in high demand. Most engineering degrees are granted in electrical, electronics, mechanical, or civil engineering. However, engineers trained in one branch may work in related branches. For example, many aerospace engineers have training in mechanical engineering. This flexibility allows employers to meet staffing needs in new technologies and specialties in which engineers may be in short supply. It also allows engineers to shift to fields with better employment prospects or to those that more closely match their interests.

Most engineering programs involve a concentration of study in an engineering specialty, along with courses in both mathematics and the physical and life sciences. Many programs also include courses in general engineering. A design course, sometimes accompanied by a computer or laboratory class or both, is part of the curriculum of most programs. General courses not directly related to engineering, such as those in the social sciences or humanities, are also often required.

In addition to the standard engineering degree, many colleges offer 2-year or 4-year degree programs in engineering technology. These programs, which usually include various hands-on laboratory classes that focus on current issues in the application of engineering principles, prepare students for practical design and production work, rather than for jobs that require more theoretical and scientific knowledge. Graduates of 4-year technology programs may get jobs similar to those obtained by graduates with a bachelor’s degree in engineering. Engineering technology graduates, however, are not qualified to register as professional engineers under the same terms as graduates with degrees in engineering. Some employers regard technology program graduates as having skills between those of a technician and an engineer.

Graduate training is essential for engineering faculty positions and many research and development programs, but is not required for the majority of entry-level engineering jobs. Many experienced engineers obtain graduate degrees in engineering or business administration to learn new technology and broaden their education. Many high-level executives in government and industry began their careers as engineers.

Other Qualifications

Engineers should be creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail oriented. They should be able to work as part of a team and to communicate well, both orally and in writing. Communication abilities are becoming increasingly important as engineers frequently interact with specialists in a wide range of fields outside engineering.

Nature of the Work

Watch this Dragonfly TV video to see how a civil engineer tests what happens when when the high winds of a tornado or hurricane hurl pieces of a wood at a house.
Watch this Dragonfly TV video
to see how a civil engineer tests what happens when the high winds of a tornado or hurricane hurl pieces of wood at a house.

Engineers apply the principles of science and mathematics to develop economical solutions to technical problems. Their work is the link between scientific discoveries and the commercial applications that meet societal and consumer needs.

Civil engineers design and supervise the construction of roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and water supply and sewage systems. They must consider many factors in the design process—from the construction costs and expected lifetime of a project to government regulations and potential environmental hazards, such as earthquakes and hurricanes. Civil engineering, considered one of the oldest engineering disciplines, encompasses many specialties. The major ones are structural, water resources, construction, environmental, transportation, and geotechnical engineering. Many civil engineers hold supervisory or administrative positions, from supervisor of a construction site to city engineer. Others may work in design, construction, research, and teaching.

Work Environment

Most engineers work in office buildings, laboratories, or industrial plants. Others may spend time outdoors at construction sites and at oil and gas exploration and production sites, where they monitor or direct operations or solve onsite problems. Some engineers travel extensively to plants or worksites both here and abroad.

Many engineers work a standard 40-hour week. At times, deadlines or design standards may bring extra pressure to a job, requiring engineers to work longer hours.

On the Job

  • Manage and direct staff members and the construction, operations, or maintenance activities at project site.
  • Provide technical advice regarding design, construction, or program modifications and structural repairs to industrial and managerial personnel.
  • Inspect project sites to monitor progress and ensure conformance to design specifications and safety or sanitation standards.
  • Estimate quantities and cost of materials, equipment, or labor to determine project feasibility.
  • Test soils and materials to determine the adequacy and strength of foundations, concrete, asphalt, or steel.
  • Compute load and grade requirements, water flow rates, and material stress factors to determine design specifications.
  • Plan and design transportation or hydraulic systems and structures, following construction and government standards, using design software and drawing tools.
  • Analyze survey reports, maps, drawings, blueprints, aerial photography, and other topographical or geologic data to plan projects.
  • Prepare or present public reports on topics such as bid proposals, deeds, environmental impact statements, or property and right-of-way descriptions.
  • Direct or participate in surveying to lay out installations and establish reference points, grades, and elevations to guide construction.
  • Conduct studies of traffic patterns or environmental conditions to identify engineering problems and assess the potential impact of projects.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Civil Engineerses

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Additional Information

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