What Does it Mean to Study Civil Engineering?
Civil engineers design and supervise the construction of infrastructure such as roads, buildings, tunnels, airports, dams, bridges, and water supply and sewage systems. One of the oldest of the engineering disciplines, civil engineering encompasses many specialties, including structural, water resources, environmental, construction, transportation and geotechnical engineering.
A civil engineering degree program applies mathematics and physical science to solve specific, real-world problems in commerce and industry. A strong civil engineering program typically emphasizes the practical use of geometry, trigonometry, and calculus in conjunction with physics, material science, and chemistry. Online degree programs in civil engineering, primarily available at the master's level, allow experienced students and professionals to learn advanced theory.
Civil engineers work as part of a team with a wide range of backgrounds and often use theory and models to predict how a design may perform. They generally test ideas in the field using scale mockups, so they can prove new design theories without endangering lives or jeopardizing project budgets.
Civil Engineering Career Education
Bachelor's Degrees in Civil Engineering
Civil engineering is inherently an interdisciplinary field. Often, students select courses in related application areas, such as computer science, applied mathematics, urban and regional planning, economics, chemistry and management. During their degree programs, civil engineering majors learn to take a holistic approach to solving problems. By blending creative use of math and science with a psychological understanding of citizens' needs, future civil engineers can continue to make breakthroughs in design and efficiency.
To earn a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, students complete courses in mathematical and computational methods, as well as courses geared more specifically toward the application of these methods to real-world problems. Typically, the student completes this curriculum within four to five years. Almost all entry-level engineering jobs require a bachelor's degree.
Online Degree Programs in Civil Engineering
Designed for working adults, online degree programs in engineering combine the convenience of home study with the expertise of experienced faculty. Students interested in augmenting their bachelor's training can obtain an M.S. through participation in online coursework or in an individual project under the guidance of an instructor, as administered through video seminars, chat rooms, forums and so on.
What Can You Do With a College Degree in Civil Engineering?
Civil engineers are employed primarily by government departments, utilities, architectural firms, builders, and engineering firms. There are also career options available in education and consulting. Civil engineering is far from your average desk job. Engineers are often on the move, working outdoors at construction sites, sometimes in offices, and sometimes in research labs.
Civil engineers work in all parts of the country, and some spend their entire careers traveling and working on different projects. About half of civil engineers work for public authorities. In the private sector, civil engineers can work not only for traditional engineering firms, but also for telecommunication businesses, consulting firms, or even toy and athletic equipment manufacturers. A variety of engineering specialties are open to qualified graduates:
- Transportation engineers work with local and regional planning boards to identify areas of growth and development. They also look for opportunities to alleviate traffic snarls. Once they understand the needs of drivers in a region, they design plans and develop cost estimates for construction projects.
- Geo-technical engineers help builders excavate underground projects and work with experts who manage challenging land renewal projects. When cities want to expand their underground mass transit systems or build new skyscrapers, they call in geo-technical engineers to oversee the tunneling. These engineers conduct tests to check if the developments that are planned can be built on the locations designated for them, or whether there may be problems down the line.
- Hydraulic/Hydrology/Water Resource engineers redirect water to benefit residents and businesses in a community. They construct canals to speed up shipping while preserving the natural flow of wild fish through a region, and build dams that generate vital electricity while opening up potential new parcels of land for development. Some hydraulic engineers design pipelines that safely transfer fresh water to remote areas, allowing new communities to thrive.
- Wastewater engineers help improve both our environment and our economy by helping communities and businesses dispose of waste without polluting natural water sources. Until very recently, factories and refineries dumped their industrial waste into rivers and streams (some still do, though it's now illegal).Today, wastewater engineers develop sewage treatment plants that can remove waste products from water, returning pure water to streams and reservoirs.
- Environmental engineers work with business leaders and government officials to institute air pollution standards that reduce harmful emissions from factories without negatively impacting industrial output. Environmental engineers also examine the quality of our soil, alert for harmful toxins that could seep up through the ground and contaminate crops, animals, businesses and homes.
- Compliance officers work in both corporate and government settings, checking that local and federal laws are observed in the construction, maintenance and operation of all kinds of facilities. Compliance officers working in the private sector help their employers by anticipating and eliminating sources of pollution or substandard construction. In-house compliance officers may simulate visits from official inspectors, helping a company to understand where its weaknesses are and how it can do better.
- Construction managers use their engineering and leadership skills to ensure that building projects are completed on time and under budget. Construction managers must coordinate the efforts of teams of engineers and laborers to meet tight production schedules. They are often the most visible hub of connection between architects, developers, and construction specialists.
Civil Engineering Certification, Licensure and Associations
Anyone performing engineering services for the public must be licensed. Certification as a professional engineer requires a degree from an accredited engineering program, four years of relevant work experience, and successful completion of a state examination in the fundamentals, principles and practice of engineering.
The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying also administers exams twice each year in all 50 states to assist states with evaluating and selecting licensed professional engineers. While it is not always necessary to attain the Professional Engineering (PE) license to practice engineering, this license is required to practice certain government work or to review and approve designs, and some firms require the license for someone to progress to an engineering management position.
Civil Engineering Related Accredited Certifications:
- American Society of Civil Engineers
- American Academy of Water Resource Engineers (AAWRE)
- American Academy of Environmental Engineers (AAEE)
- Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering (AACE)