What Can I Do with a Degree in Civil Engineering?

Learn more about what you can do with a degree in civil engineering. Find information on civil engineering careers, job outlook, salary, and recommended schools. View popular schools that prepare students for careers in civil engineering.

Overview

Infrastructure is one of the most vital aspects of modern society. It is the task of the civil engineer to design and then oversee the construction of a nation’s roads, bridges, dams, airports, as well as water and sewage systems. Civil engineers are important in that the projects they create are used each day by thousands of citizens; therefore a civil engineer must safeguard the public from faulty systems. In addition to the immediate construction costs of a project, the civil engineer must consider the potential lifetime of a structure, government regulations regarding construction, and the impact that possible outside forces, such as hurricanes or earthquakes, may have on a structure.

In order to become a civil engineer, an individual must graduate from a University program that has been accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). They must then pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, gain several years experience working under a senior, licensed engineer, and finally pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. Only after all of these steps have been completed can an individual become a state licensed “Professional Engineer”. Many Professional Engineers (PE) obtain membership in the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), a worldwide professional organization that keeps engineers abreast of the latest trends and technologies in the field.

Careers

Civil engineering is considered to be the oldest of all engineering disciplines. Civil engineers frequently concern themselves with one of several key specialties, such as construction engineering (infrastructure), geotechnical engineering (engineering of earth material), environmental engineering (waste management and air pollution control), transportation engineering (roads & traffic), structural engineering (buildings), hydraulic engineering (dams & waterways), and land development. Many civil engineers, especially those working for a government agency, must be competent across several of these areas. In addition to working at the local, state, or federal government, many civil engineers find careers in the private sector, working for construction firms, architectural firms, or consulting engineering companies. Many experienced civil engineers will advance in their career to supervisory positions, such as a city engineer. Still others may find themselves involved in project design, engineering research, or even teaching at a university. All civil engineers in the United States must become licensed by the state.

Salary

Civil engineers, given their education level and professional certification requirements, are well compensated. The median income for civil engineers is $74,600 per year. This ranges from a low of $48,140 for the bottom ten percent, to a high of $115,630 for the top ten percent. In fact, engineers have some of the highest starting salaries in the nation. For civil engineers, the average starting salary for individuals with just a Bachelor’s Degree was $52,048. While private companies have a tendency to pay higher salaries than various government agencies, it should be noted that civil engineers are among the highest paid government positions. Civil engineers with the second highest salary found employment in the transportation industry. The salary range for civil engineers in the government ranges from $44,757 to $99,336. The transportation industry, on the other hand, saw salary ranges from $41,049 to $94,727. Civil engineers in the construction industry received annual salaries between $41,756 and $92,142.

Job Outlook

In 2008, there were approximately 1.6 million engineers in the United States. Civil engineers comprised the largest segment of that group, represented by some 278,400 individuals. Over the next decade, civil engineering is expected to grow much faster than the national average, seeing a 24 percent growth rate. An expanding population, combined with aging infrastructure will necessitate larger numbers of qualified, licensed civil engineers. The nation’s roads, bridges and buildings will all need to be maintained, repaired or replaced. Additionally, expanded transportation needs, water supply concerns and the globally mandated push to reduce air pollution will all require civil engineers. Job prospects, in general, will vary by geographical region. Further, construction projects are often delayed or cancelled during period of economic downturn, but the continued need for infrastructure will dictate a steady source of employment. The nation’s bridges and roads, for example, will do nothing but deteriorate without continued maintenance.

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