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When you think about it, modern society is truly a wonder to behold. Humans have come so far since the industrial revolution, and our contemporary communication and infrastructure systems are more advanced than many could have ever imagined. Civil engineers are the masterminds that work behind the scenes to make it possible for us to live in the comfort and technology of the 21st century. Anytime you take a hot shower, drive on a road, or use public transportation, you can thank a civil engineer. If you earn an online civil engineering degree, you could work designing and maintaining the nuts and bolts of all America’s civil—aka public—highways, airways and waterways. Civil engineers design and construct highways, bridges, airports and large public complexes such as sports stadiums. They also design mobile military installations and compounds. For centuries, civil engineers have also built water supply systems. As a civil engineer, your work could range from structural projects, such as building dams, to the mundane but highly essential task of designing waste water filtration plants.
THE CAREER PATH
Like other fields in engineering, there are a range of options available to civil engineers, which is one of the many highlights of the profession. There is a large variety of specializations and subtopics within civil engineering that are available to suit your skills, interests, and lifestyle regardless of whether you’re already working full-time or if you’re just getting prepared to leap into your career for the first time.
According to the Department of Labor, civil engineers often specialize in at least one area. Common specializations for professionals in the field include:
- Construction Engineers - These civil engineers often manage construction projects so that they are scheduled and built according to the needs of a particular plan. They are the professionals that are responsible for the safety and design of temporary structures that are used during construction projects as well. They may also be the professionals who oversee the budget, time management, and communications of a project.
- Geotechnical Engineers - Geotechnical engineers combine a love for social infrastructure with a love for earth science. They make sure that foundations for our society’s buildings and objects are solid. These professionals study how built structures interact with the earth and they design and plan for slopes, retaining walls, and tunnels.
- Structural Engineers - These are professionals focus on the strength, safety, and durability of structures.
- Transportation Engineers - Transportation engineers work on everyday systems like streets and highways in addition to larger projects such as mass public transit, airports and routes, and harbors.
In whatever specialization that they choose, aspiring professionals can start their career in civil engineering as a technician as soon as they graduate high school or obtain their associate degree. Civil engineering technicians usually work under the supervision of a licensed civil engineer, helping with tasks such as observing jobsite progress, collecting data, and completing routine reports to document project activities.
There are certifications available for competitive technician applicants, offered through the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies. Many technicians make almost $50,000 on average, and positions for qualified professionals are expected to grow as fast as the national average in the coming years. On average, civil engineers make more than $80,000 and are expected to be in very high demand in the coming years. The American Society of Civil Engineers offers certain certifications and a variety of specializations for professionals. Regardless of the path or pace you decide is right for your lifestyle and goals, you can guarantee that a career in civil engineering will pay off in many different ways.
WHO IS THE IDEAL CANDIDATE?
If you’re passionate about putting together the puzzle pieces of modern life, then you might want to consider a career in civil engineering. It’s a path that could allow you to pique your curiosity and explore the intersection of human life, technology, and planning. With a little problem-solving, and learning the skills needed to succeed in the field, you could be on the path to becoming a civil engineer.
If you’re considering a career in civil engineering, you should be prepared for the math, problem-solving, and organizational skills that are expected from the professionals who build our skyscrapers, traffic systems, and railroads. If the thought of equations and statistics makes you queasy, then this might not be the path for you.
The professionals that succeed in civil engineering have a balance of creativity, leadership, and decision-making skills that allow them to maneuver the sometimes complicated and detail-oriented projects that the job entails. Some of the projects that are taken on by civil engineers are the very foundation on which our lifestyles are built, and so working in this field is not for those who are light of heart.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?
As with all engineering degree online options, check with your state licensing board to determine the type of degree you will need to meet civil engineering licensing requirements in your community or to work at your desired career level. Each state has its own laws, but many require licensing as a professional engineer (PE) at some point in your career.
Working as a technician is an option for professionals getting started with a vocational or associate’s level of education. An applied technology degree in civil engineering will offer training at the technician level. An engineering science degree is more commonly earned for advanced and supervisory work. In order to qualify as a civil engineer, professionals must obtain a bachelor’s degree. Entry level civil engineers usually earn online degrees in surveying or applied engineering technology. Managing positions often require master's degree. Make sure the type and level of civil engineering degree online you seek matches your career aspirations.
Expect an online civil engineering program to include courses in areas such as design and construction, engineering codes, materials, reinforced concrete theory, hydrology, water treatment, wastewater engineering, pavement design and structural analysis. Surveying, which involves using the instruments that chart and lay out boundaries and map geographic formations, is a basic career skill for any civil engineer. Civil engineers work both inside and outdoors, depending on the day and project. They may also be responsible for overseeing construction staff. Project management skills definitely come in handy for this degree.
The most prestigious programs for professionals who want to be competitive when applying for positions will be programmatically accredited by the Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). However there are also very high quality programs that do not hold ABET accreditation. Look for programs that offer laboratory experience and field studies, as well as internships and partnerships with businesses that offer practical experience.
Our cost rankings reveal the most affordable online master's in engineering to be under the national average of $28,000. Keep in mind that some programs charge a lot more—up to $100,000! When consider programs, make sure to keep an eye out for the options that offer the best deal for your dollar and prepare you for the career ahead in civil engineering.