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How to Become a Civil Engineer: Build your Career

Civil Engineer at a worksite

Civil engineering is one of the most versatile and in-demand engineering disciplines. If you’re interested in becoming a civil engineer, this guide will tell you everything you need to know.

We’ll cover what degrees are available, what skills you’ll need, and what kind of jobs you can expect to land when you graduate. As a result, aspiring students will understand what to expect from their education and career.

Whether you’re just starting your research or ready to take the plunge into a new career, keep reading for all the information you need on how to become a civil engineer!

Who Is A Civil Engineer?

Civil engineers are the people responsible for the design, construction, and maintenance of the physical infrastructure of our society.

Everything from roads and bridges to water treatment plants and airports falls under their domain. They work in various settings, including government agencies, engineering firms, or construction companies.

Civil engineering has a long and distinguished history as one of the oldest engineering disciplines. It is also one of the broadest specialties.

What Does a Civil Engineer Do?

A typical day for a civil engineer might involve the following:

  • Meet with clients or other stakeholders to discuss project goals
  • Research design options and select the most appropriate solution
  • Prepare drawings and specifications for construction projects
  • Supervise construction crews on site
  • Test completed projects to ensure they meet safety and performance requirements
  • Design and oversee construction projects such as roads, bridges, dams, and water treatment plants
  • Plan and design urban infrastructures such as airports, harbors, and sewage systems
  • Research building materials, environmental impact, or public health issues related to construction projects
  • Inspect construction sites to ensure compliance with safety standards

These are some of the roles and responsibilities. However, the specific duties vary depending on their specialization and area of expertise.

7 Types of Civil Engineering Specialties

Many different specialties exist within civil engineering. Below you will find a list of career specialties in engineering, along with a brief description:

  • Structural engineering: Structural engineers design and oversee the construction of buildings, bridges, and other large structures.
  • Transportation engineering: Transportation engineers design and supervise the construction of transportation infrastructures such as roads, highways, bridges, and airports.
  • Environmental engineering: Environmental engineers work to protect human health, natural resources, and the environment by designing systems for water treatment, wastewater management, solid waste management, and air pollution control.
  • Geotechnical engineering: Geotechnical engineers study and manage the earth’s natural resources such as soil, rock, groundwater, etc. They are responsible for foundation design for structures like dams and skyscrapers.
  • Materials Engineering: Materials engineers develop, test, and evaluate materials used in products such as cars, phones, buildings, and medical implants.
  • Construction Engineering: Construction engineers plan and oversee projects such as roads, bridges, and buildings.
  • Water Resources Engineering: Water resources engineers design and manage water systems like dams, canals, reservoirs, and wastewater treatment plants.

Most specialties have similar requirements for college admission. Prospective students should have strong math and science skills, as well as good problem-solving abilities. It is also essential to be creative and detail-oriented since many projects involve designing and constructing complex systems.

Related Resource: How to Become an Environmental Engineer

How to Become a Civil Engineer in 5 Easy Steps

The desire to become a civil engineer is a great start, but there is more to it than just wanting it. The following five steps will help prospective students on their way to becoming licensed and practicing civil engineers:

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
  2. Complete an Internship
  3. Specialize
  4. Pass the Relevant Certification Exams
  5. Apply for Jobs

Related Resource: How to Become an Engineer: Education, Licensing & Salary

Step 1 – Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step is to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from an accredited university. This program of study provides students with the basic knowledge and skills needed for the field.

Students will take mathematics, sciences, engineering analysis, design, and civil engineering topics. Additional topics include construction management and hydraulics.

After completing their degree program, graduates will be able to work on projects such as:

  • Design of roads and bridges
  • Management of construction sites
  • Research new technologies and solutions for the engineering field

Many colleges offer civil engineering degrees; however, you will want to ensure that your degree program holds accreditation by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Only graduates from ABET-accredited schools are eligible to take the Professional Engineer (PE) exam.

As a nonprofit accreditation board, ABET evaluates university programs in engineering and technology. This professional organization ensures these programs meet the standards set by the profession.

Therefore, students who graduate from an ABET-accredited program can rest assured they have received a quality education recognized by employers.

Step 2 – Complete an Internship

One great way to gain experience is to complete an internship. Internships allow you to work with experienced engineers and learn more about the profession. Internships help actualize theories learned in the classroom and put them into practice. They also look great on resumes and can lead to job opportunities after graduation.

Step 3 – Specialize

Most civil engineering degrees specialize in a specific area, such as construction, environmental protection, or transportation. This allows students to design their studies in a particular specialty they are interested in.

When looking for a program, make sure to find one that offers a specialization in civil engineering. It’s a significant step to ensuring you get the most out of your degree.

After graduating with your degree, you will have the necessary skills to work in several positions. Some typical jobs include:

  • Design and oversight of construction projects
  • Work on environmental protection initiatives
  • Develop transportation infrastructure

No matter what area you decide to specialize in, opportunities to use your skills and knowledge in the field abound.

Step 4 – Pass the Relevant Certification Exams

After earning your degree, you must pass certification exams to become a licensed civil engineer. The requirements and procedures for taking these exams vary from state to state.

Therefore, it is essential to check with the board regulating engineering in your specific area. These exams will test your knowledge of civil engineering principles and practices. Additionally, they’ll also test students on their ability to apply those principles and practices.

To practice as a civil engineer, you must first obtain your professional license. To be lawfully licensed, you must go through numerous procedures. While state laws govern certain specifics, the following are some of the general requirements:

  • Attend an ABET-approved institution.
  • Take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination.
  • Participate in the Civil Engineering (CE) program, also known as Engineer-in-Training (EIT).
  • To become a CE Professional, you must complete a required number of professional hours and achieve milestones along the way. Students will also need to pass the Principles and Practices of Engineering examination.

The American Society of Civil Engineers provides test preparation assistance and information about testing centers to train civil engineers.

All states require civil engineers to be licensed. As a result, you should prioritize studying and preparing for these tests.

Step 5 – Apply for Jobs

After completion of your degree and licensure, it is time to start looking for a job. Start by conducting a job search online or in newspapers. You can also network with friends, family, and professionals in the industry.

Job fairs also offer opportunities. When applying for jobs, make sure you submit a well-written resume and cover letter.

The best way to get a job in civil engineering is to be proactive and persistent. Don’t give up if you don’t hear back from a company after your first application. Keep applying until you find the right fit.

And remember, it’s crucial to stay up-to-date with new technology and changes in the industry.

Key Skills for Civil Engineers

To become a successful, you need strong math and science skills. Civil engineering is all about solving problems and making things work better. Creativity and analytical skills help you to excel in this field.

Communication and teamwork skills are also essential since most civil engineering projects involve collaboration with other professionals.

Here is an in-depth outlook of the skills needed to become a civil engineer:

Adept Communication Skills

Civil engineers need to communicate with other professionals on a project. They also need to write reports and proposals that are clear and concise.

Civil engineers often work on projects that require public input, so they must present their ideas to non-experts. Excellent communication skills are also necessary when working with clients.

Good communication skills can help prevent problems and misunderstandings on projects. Communication skills can also help build strong relationships with clients, co-workers, and other professionals involved in a project.

Good Technical Skills

Strong technical skills are needed to design and oversee various infrastructure projects. This includes having expertise in mathematics, physics, engineering mechanics, and materials science.

Civil engineers also need to use computer-aided design (CAD) software for creating designs and models. CAD software is a standard application in the industry; hence it is crucial to be proficient in its use.

Prospective students should have strong math skills as many university courses involve advanced mathematics. In addition, students should be comfortable using computers for both schoolwork and professional tasks.

Overall, good technical skills are essential for any engineer, particularly civil engineers. Prospective students should make sure they have strong math skills, computer proficiency, and expertise in relevant engineering subjects.

Problem Solvers

Problem-solving skills are a crucial component of civil engineering. Civil engineers need to identify issues and come up with creative solutions. They also need to be able to think on their feet. When something goes wrong – which it inevitably can – they need to assess the situation and quickly develop a solution. This can be critical in emergencies, such as when a bridge collapses.

If you have strong problem-solving skills and can think on your feet, then a career in civil engineering could be a good fit.

Creative and Flexible

Engineers are often called upon to fix problems. They develop creative solutions and adapt to changes. These critical skills allow them to find ways to overcome obstacles and complete projects despite challenging conditions.

Civil engineers must also adapt quickly when changes or new challenges arise during a project. Such flexibility ensures that projects are completed on time and within budget.

Project Management Skills

Every project will require management to be successful. Civil engineers must have strong leadership and communication skills to keep projects on track, meet deadlines and stay within budget.

In addition, they must effectively manage teams of people and resources. These skills come through experience, so new graduates should spend some time on smaller projects before taking on larger ones.

Project management skills are essential for any civil engineer looking to move up in their career. With experience, these skills can help engineers manage more complex and challenging projects. This can lead to better job opportunities and higher salaries.

Necessary Education for Civil Engineers

The following educational requirements are necessary to become a licensed civil engineer:

Bachelor’s Degree (4 years)

A four-year degree in civil engineering from an accredited university starts you on your career path. Accredited universities have programs approved by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET.

Master’s Degree (1-2 years)

Most civil engineering jobs require a master’s degree. A few jobs may require only a bachelor’s degree, but most employers prefer candidates with graduate-level education.

During your undergraduate years, classes in the following fields are beneficial in this career path:

  • Structural analysis
  • Hydraulics and fluid mechanics
  • Transportation engineering
  • Soil mechanics
  • Foundation design

Your graduate program will build on this foundation and offer you the opportunity to specialize in an area of civil engineering that interests you.

Beneficial Degrees

Many different degree paths can lead to a successful career. The most beneficial degrees for this profession are typically in engineering. However, other science and math-related majors can be helpful, too. Here is a look at some of the most common degrees that can be beneficial for aspiring civil engineers:

Civil Engineering Degrees

A civil engineering degree is the most common degree path for those interested in this career. This degree teaches students about designing, constructing, and maintaining public works projects such as roads, bridges, airports, and water treatment facilities.

Civil engineering degrees can range from a bachelor’s degree to a doctorate. Many civil engineering jobs require a bachelor’s degree. Still, those with a higher level of education may have better job prospects.

Aeronautical Engineering Degrees

An aeronautical engineering degree prepares students to work on projects related to aircraft and spacecraft. This degree can benefit civil engineers working on airport or aviation-related projects.

Environmental Science Degrees

A degree in environmental science teaches students about humans’ impact on the environment and the mitigation of those effects. Many civil engineering jobs require an understanding of environmental science concepts. Environmental science degrees can be beneficial in terms of job prospects and salary.

Mathematics Degrees

A degree in mathematics can also be beneficial because it teaches students how to solve complex problems and think critically. Civil engineers often use math skills to design and analyze projects.

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Special Certifications for Civil Engineers

To become a certified professional engineer (PE), canidates must complete four years of accredited engineering education. They must also pass the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam and the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam.

After meeting these requirements, engineers can then pursue certification in their area of expertise. Two organizations offer certificates — the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering

NCEES offers certification for civil engineering in the following areas:

  • SE – Structural Engineering
  • CE – Civil Engineering
  • ME – Mechanical Engineering
  • PE – Professional Engineer
  • AE – Architectural Engineer

Several specialty certifications are available from NCEES that focus on specific aspects, such as transportation and construction.

The American Society of Civil Engineers

ASCE offers certification in the following areas:

  • Dams and Hydropower
  • Geotechnical Engineering
  • Structural Engineering
  • Water Resources Engineering

Each of these certifications requires a combination of experience, education, and exams. Earning one or more ASCE certifications demonstrates an engineer’s expertise and commitment to the profession.

Benefits of Certificates

The many specialties open up a vast array of opportunities. As a result, engineers need to find an area that interests them and focus on becoming an expert in that field.

This may include pursuing certification in a related specialty. Certificates show employers that an engineer is qualified and has the experience necessary to work on specific types of projects. Earning certifications can also be a way to stay up-to-date on the latest technologies and trends in the field.

The bottom line is that civil engineers should continue learning and expanding their skills throughout their careers. Certifications are one way to do this.

Career Outlook for Civil Engineers

There are many fulfilling job opportunities in this field. The correct position sets you on an exciting career path. With that in mind, it is no surprise that civil engineering has consistently been one of the fastest-growing occupations in the United States for many years.

The Work Environment

Civil engineers operate in a wide range of settings and environments. They may spend most of their time at work creating designs at their desks. On the other hand, construction engineers need to spend much of their time outside monitoring operations or resolving site issues.

Job site trailers may be needed for specific roles as they might require frequent relocation to various sites and workplaces. As project managers, they may work from their cars or trucks as they move from location to location.

Many civil engineers work for the government in government office buildings or facilities. They occasionally travel overseas to assist on large engineering projects in other nations.

Work Schedules

Engineers work full-time and often put in more than 40 hours each week. Project managers with adept engineering expertise may need to work longer hours to monitor the progress of the initiatives.

This ensures the team meets deadlines and fulfills all the project requirements. Some also work on a contract basis, which may require them to travel more often.

The Nature of the Work

It deals with planning, designing, constructing, and maintaining different structures such as roads, bridges, and airports. Those involved in construction work may have to deal with shift work and work on weekends and holidays when necessary.

Average Salary

As of May 2020, civil engineers in the US made, on average, $88,570 per year.

However, this number can vary depending on location, experience, and other factors. Additionally, those with more experience or who specialize in a particular area of civil engineering can expect to make more money.

Related Resource: 13 Highest Paying Engineering Jobs

How to Advance in Civil Engineering

One of the best ways to become successful is to constantly strive for excellence in your field. This means being up-to-date on the latest technologies and trends, as well as staying involved with professional organizations. You can also advance your career by earning additional degrees or certifications. Earning a master’s or doctorate can help you move up the ladder in your career. Additionally, becoming certified as a Professional Engineer (PE) can make you more marketable to potential employers.

Whatever route you choose, make sure you are always dedicated to learning and growing as an engineer. Civil engineering is constantly evolving, meaning it is crucial to keep up with the latest advancements.

Finally, networking with other professionals can help you find new opportunities and advance your career. By following these tips, you can become successful and make significant contributions to the field.

Benefits and Challenges

Overall, the career outlook is positive, with many job opportunities available in a variety of work environments. The work can be challenging, but it is also gratifying.


Civil engineers have the power to improve people’s lives. They work on projects that make communities more sustainable and efficient every day.

Here are some of the benefits:

  • Improve the quality of life for people worldwide
  • Design systems that provide clean water and efficient transportation, etc.
  • Work on various projects in different locations
  • Job growth and stability
  • Make a difference in the world


It’s only natural that with any career comes both pros and cons. The following are some challenges:

  • It can be challenging to get a job in the field without prior experience.
  • There is a lot of math and science involved.
  • The work can be very demanding, both physically and mentally.

Besides these few drawbacks, civil engineering is an enriching career with many growth opportunities. With the right degree and experience, you can have a successful future in this field.

Become a Civil Engineer Today

Civil engineering is a rewarding profession that helps build our society’s infrastructure. It’s an exciting field with many opportunities for career growth. Start building your career today!

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