How To Become A Civil Engineer

Civil engineers are people who have a Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and the equivalent of five to six years of hands on lab experience. To become a civil engineer, you must have a Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Most reputable universities have bachelor’s degree programs in civil engineering that teach students about the different parts of construction, design and engineering as well as assist them with learning how to use math and computers. Some universities require that you already know some of the basic principles before attending school, which is why finding a school with an entrance exam will give you a better chance at getting accepted into their program. 

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As one of the oldest engineering disciplines, civil engineering is responsible for maintaining society’s infrastructure. Civil engineers ensure safe construction, operation and maintenance of structures, such as roads, bridges, buildings and dams. Due to the importance of their duties, civil engineering has particular educational and skill requirements. This guide will explain in detail what it takes to become an engineer, what civil engineering degrees are available and what prospective students can expect when getting a civil engineering degree.

How To Become A Civil Engineer


Whether just beginning or having been in the field for decades, civil engineering is an exciting vocation on each step of the professional ladder. Whether possessing a bachelor’s degree and starting out with entry-level positions or transitioning into collegiate teaching as a seasoned professional, there are many different paths that can be taken. The following section provides details on the steps needed to begin a career in civil engineering.


Bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering are commonly offered, and serve as the base level of education required to begin working. Within these programs, students undertake a variety of courses in math, engineering, statistics, fluid dynamics, and architectural design. They learn through a variety of mediums, including class lectures, internships or co-ops, and onsite field work.

As of 2012, one out of every five civil engineers held a master’s level degree and most of those were in managerial or leadership roles. Coursework tends to cover the same topics presented in a bachelor’s degree, but more in depth. Students may also have the opportunity to concentrate their knowledge in a particular area through specialized coursework and a research project.

Those seeking doctoral level degrees most often aspire to teach at the postsecondary level, or work in high-level consulting roles. As part of degree requirements, candidates complete a large-scale original research project and undertake examinations.


Almost all programs mandate at least one semester or summer-long internship to satisfy degree requirements. Students use these experiences to apply theories they’ve studied in the classroom, learn practical skills, and gain insight on a particular area of the field they may be interested in pursuing. These opportunities also serve students well for future employment, allowing them to network with other professionals, receive mentorship from an established civil engineer, and possibly leverage their experience into a job after graduation. The majority of internships are completed in the junior or senior year of study.


Because the field includes myriad areas of work, most students elect to specialize in a particular area. Some of the common concentrations include construction engineering, structural engineering, land development and use, transportation engineering, or geotechnical engineering. Undergraduates typically spend 12 to 18 credit hours covering specific topics in these areas, and may even complete an internship focused on their chosen specialization.


Civic engineers who wish to offer their services publicly must go through a number of steps to be properly licensed. While specific rules are governed by individual states, some of the most common requirements include:

  • Attend an ABET-accredited institution
  • Undertake the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination directly after completing a baccalaureate degree
  • Become a Civic Engineering (CE) intern, also known as an Engineer-in-Training (EIT).
  • Complete a minimum number of professional hours, meet benchmarks along the way, and complete the Principles and Practices of Engineering (PE) examination to become a CE Professional.

The American Society of Civic Engineers offers support to civil engineers in training with a variety of test preparation assistance and information about testing centers. Because individuals must be licensed in all states and Washington D.C. to actually practice, devoting the proper amount of time to studying and preparing for these examinations is crucial.


After taking on a number of internships during college and completing the Engineer-in-Training phase, it’s likely that individuals will have a good number of contacts within the field via their networking efforts. Because civil engineering still functions in somewhat of a modern apprenticeship model, moving into the first professional role is typically accomplished through existing contacts. All students and interns should make sure they are doing their best work, asking questions, learning practical skills, and meeting as many professionals as possible. ASCE and Engineering Jobs also provide regularly updated job boards.


Civil engineers need a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, in one of its specialties, or in civil engineering technology. Programs in civil engineering and civil engineering technology include coursework in math, statistics, engineering mechanics and systems, and fluid dynamics, depending on the specialty. Courses include a mix of traditional classroom learning, work in laboratories, and fieldwork. Programs may include cooperative programs, also known as co-ops, in which students gain work experience while pursuing a degree.

A degree from a program accredited by ABET is needed to earn the professional engineer (PE) license. In many states, a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering technology also meets the academic requirement for obtaining a license.

Further education after the bachelor’s degree, along with the PE license and previous experience, is helpful in getting a job as a manager. For more information on engineering managers, see the profile on architectural and engineering managers.

civil engineer salary


Finally, civil engineers are vital to public safety, industry, and progress, and their earnings and career prospects reflect this. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019), the average annual wage for civil engineers was $94,360 with the following percentiles:

United States (326,800 civil engineers employed)

  • 10th percentile: $55,380
  • 25th percentile: $68,130
  • 50th percentile (median): $87,060
  • 75th percentile: $113,580
  • 90th percentile: $144,560

Earnings vary substantially by education, advancement, certification, and experience, but usually grow with each. Geography can also impact one’s earnings.

Civil engineers are also in demand; the BLS (2019) projected their employment opportunities would swell 2 percent between 2019 and 2029, slower than the average growth anticipated across all U.S. occupations during that time (4 percent).

what does a civil engineer do?

The field of civil engineering is one of the oldest branches of engineering, dating back to when people first started living in permanent settlements and began shaping their environments to suit their needs.

As populations grew and larger groups of people began living together in towns and cities, there was an increasing need for reliable sources of clean water, the means to dispose of waste, a network of streets and roadways for commerce and trade, and a way for people to defend themselves against hostile neighbors. Early civil engineers, therefore, were called upon to build walls, roads, bridges, dams, and levees; and to dig wells, irrigation ditches, and trenches.

Among the most well-known civil engineering projects of ancient times are the roads of the Roman Empire, the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Giza, Stonehenge, the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde; and Mayan ruins at Copan, Palenque, and Tikal. The construction of many of these wonders by pre-industrial societies remains mysterious and the names of the engineers who designed them are lost to antiquity.

More recent history is also marked by famous civil engineering marvels including the Eiffel Tower, named after Gustave Eiffel, the French civil engineer whose company built it; the Golden Gate Bridge, designed by Joseph Strauss and Charles Ellis; the Panama Canal (John Frank Stevens); the Hoover Dam (John L. Savage); and the Brooklyn Bridge, designed by John August Roebling and his son Washington Roebling.

Civil engineers do a lot more than design buildings and bridges. They work in the aerospace industry, designing jetliners and space stations. They can be found in the automotive industry, calculating the load-carrying capacity of a chassis and improving the crash resistance of bumpers and doors. They are part of the ship building industry, the power industry, and multiple other industries requiring constructed facilities.

Civil engineering is a particularly exciting profession, because those that work in this field can see the results of their work: a completed bridge, a high-rise building, a subway station, or a hydroelectric dam.

The civil world is extremely diverse. It follows, therefore, that civil engineers have particularly varied career options. This means that the answer to the question, What does a civil engineer do?, is also varied, depending on the specialty pursued. Regardless of their chosen sub-discipline, however, there are some common tasks that most civil engineers will undertake on a daily basis.

Civil engineers are often responsible for large teams that are involved in project design, planning, and construction processes. This requires that they regularly meet, collaborate with, and manage these team members, composed of surveyors, construction managers, architects, landscape architects, and urban planners.

In addition, they themselves will spend significant amounts of time designing and planning projects and presenting proposals, needs assessments, budgets, and amendments to clients.

The specific activities of a civil engineer change from subfield to subfield and, as described below, the career is composed of a wide spectrum of sub-disciplines:

Architectural Engineering
Architecture is the design of buildings and structures with an emphasis on aesthetics. Architectural engineering combines building design and aesthetics with a focus on sustainable construction and functionality.

This broad discipline is a mix of many other disciplines and it tends to vary from country to country. Architectural engineers have both structural knowledge and creative awareness and skills. Graduates in this area may specialize in one aspect of commercial building design, such as heating, ventilation, fire protection, electrical, or acoustics. Supervision of the construction process is another fundamental skill that architectural engineers develop.

Construction Engineering
Construction engineers manage and deliver residential and/or construction projects. They plan construction activities, supervise structural elements, and perform building inspections upon project completion. They work very closely with architects, architectural engineers, and engineering technicians on building design and on-site problem solving.

They are also responsible for compiling reports which detail project feasibility and cost estimates. Computer Aided Design (CAD) is common in this discipline, although not to the same extent as in structural engineering. Construction engineers are called upon to apply both project management skills and mathematical expertise to their work.

Some may specialize in residential projects, skyscrapers, bridges, industrial warehouses, or other specific types of infrastructure. While demand for these specialists is driven by the health of the construction industry where they seek to be employed, their unique skill set generally means that they are highly sought after in most countries.

Earthquake Engineering
Earthquake engineering is a specialised field in geotechnical engineering. It is a small niche that provides opportunities in a limited number of countries susceptible to earthquakes. Earthquake engineers are, of course, concerned with the vibrations in the Earth’s crust that can potentially cause immense damage to the Earth’s surface.

They identify areas that are at risk of earthquakes and use design and construction techniques to strengthen buildings. They also perform simulation and failure mode analysis to design structural elements that can withstand exposure to earthquakes without sustaining major structural damage.

Ecological Engineering
Ecology is about the interaction between organisms and their environment, called ecosystems. Ecological engineering is a specialized field of environmental engineering that is about the construction and maintenance of these ecosystems.

Engineers in this discipline can focus on either natural ecosystem maintenance or the construction of artificial ecosystems. A tropical rainforest is an example of a natural ecosystem, one that possesses a greater diversity of plant and animal life than any other type of ecosystem. An ecological engineer will consider the health of the rainforest’s trees and the animals that live in their canopy.

Environmental Engineering
The emphasis of this branch of civil engineering is maintaining the quality of air, water, and land through sustainable practice and methods. Environmental engineers create plans to protect and improve the environment; that is everything created by nature: air, water, flora, and fauna.

They implement strategies to deal with pollution, waste management, and noise levels. They conduct case studies and then determine ways to prevent natural disasters and pollution. Much of their work is conducted in an office and is focused on data and statistical analysis. These engineers rarely use design or simulation software. They must understand complex environmental laws and related ethical and social issues.

Environmental engineers are sought after to lead government projects administered by parks departments. Private companies may enlist the services of these specialists if their activities have the potential of exerting an adverse effect on the natural environment. Environmental engineers may also be employed as consultants or as researchers at universities.

Fire Protection Engineering
This is another specialized field of environmental engineering. Fire protection engineering relates to all factors that affect the safety of humans in the event of a fire. Fire safety or fire protection engineers develop plans and identify tactics for reducing smoke and fire damage in houses, commercial buildings, and cities at large. They liaise with architects and builders throughout the design phase of a building, and pay particular attention to alarm systems, stairwells, insulation, and ventilation.

These engineers are typically employed or contracted by construction and development companies. They may become inspectors, who determine the causes and ways to prevent fires.

Geotechnical Engineering
Geology comprises the dynamic and physical history of the earth, including rocks, minerals, and elements it is made of. Geotechnical engineering is the practical application of geology. Engineers in this field understand construction materials and techniques.

They investigate the quality of land and how structures can be constructed within and upon it. They use their knowledge and understanding of earth materials to determine the appropriate supports and foundations needed for massive structures. This process begins with a feasibility study of a site by testing for soil quality, ground slope, and rock features. They design foundations and put measures in place to mitigate the effects of natural hazards such as earthquakes.

Geotechnical engineers must consider sustainable practices when investigating and planning any construction. They often work for mining and petroleum companies and tend to have a broad skill set that includes economic and project management.

Highway Engineering
Highway engineering is a specialized field within transportation engineering. The discipline considers the design of roads, as well as their relation to pedestrians. Highway engineers study traffic volumes and patterns to come up with strategies that prevent collisions and damage to road structures.

They design highway systems with the intention of optimizing traffic flow and vehicle safety. More recently, this field has begun to envision and design intelligent transport systems that will eventually revolutionize how humans travel.

Hydraulic Engineering
Hydraulic engineering is another specialized field in environmental engineering. This discipline addresses the technical challenges involved with water infrastructure and sewerage design. It deals with fluid flow in large quantities and focuses on the design of water storage (dams, channels, canals, lakes) and transport facilities.

Hydraulic engineers also design machinery which uses hydraulic power and structural elements that can withstand intense water pressure. They use fluid dynamics theory to predict how flowing water interacts with its surroundings. These specialists are often employed by utilities companies for storm water and sewerage maintenance.

Mining Engineering
Mining is the act of extracting coal and metal bearing rocks and minerals (ore) from mines. Mining engineering, a specialized field in geotechnical engineering, deals exclusively with the extraction and processing of ore.

Mining engineers, who are multi-skilled in many areas of engineering, analyze data from drilling and geological reports before planning and designing mining sites. They may be required to visit a site to supervise or inspect the progress of a project. These specialists sometimes have to travel for extended periods.

Railway Engineering
Railway engineering is a specialized field in transportation engineering. This discipline centres on the design, construction, and operation of trains and rail systems to transport people and/or freight. Railway engineers apply mechanical design skills and knowledge of propulsion systems to design train vessels.

Structural Engineering
This engineering sector focuses on the design of structures – houses, buildings, and monuments – that are required to withstand loads and environmental elements. Structural engineers collaborate closely with architects. While architects conceive the external design and aesthetics, these engineers design a structure’s internal skeleton and foundation to ensure that it does not collapse.

With their knowledge of building codes and regulations, they execute drawings and specifications of structural elements. Based on their in-depth understanding of materials and their properties, they select the most appropriate ones for each project. Not surprisingly, structural engineers often find employment or consulting contract opportunities with commercial and industrial construction companies.

Traffic Engineering
A sub-set of transportation engineering, traffic engineering is concerned with the movement of people and vehicles, usually on roads and highways. Traffic engineers consider, review, and modify aspects of road design to optimize traffic flow and reduce congestion. They also analyze and assess traffic and accident reports and the impacts of traffic lights, road signs, and pedestrian walkways to ultimately create safer roads.

Transportation Engineering
The focus of transportation engineering is twofold. The discipline manages existing transportation systems and also researches new and emerging technologies aimed at improving transport of people, goods, and structures in industrialized countries.

Engineers in this sector plan and manage all of the elements that jointly make transport happen. They look beyond the present and contemplate and envision the transportation needs and challenges of future societies.

This work often demands an understanding of vehicle propulsion and maintenance and may entail specialization in air, road, rail, or pedestrian transport. Government agencies and private transportation companies commonly employ transportation engineers to maintain efficiency, reduce system costs, manage safety initiatives, and conduct investigations.

Water Resource Engineering
The study of water throughout the world is at the centre of water resource engineering. This includes drinking water and any water that must be stored or distributed or transported from one place to another.

Unlike hydraulic engineering, which focuses on the technical aspects of storing and channelling water, this discipline considers the quality and logistics of water systems. Common projects for water resource engineers include wetland restoration, as well as storm water and sewerage system design and planning.

Civil engineers design and manage construction projects, from bridges and buildings, to transport links and sports stadiums.

Depending on your specialism, you could be:

  • planning with the client
  • analysing surveys, testing, and mapping data using computer modelling software
  • creating blueprints using computer aided design (CAD)
  • judging if projects are worth doing by looking at costs, time, and labour
  • checking risks and the effects on the environment
  • preparing bids for tenders, and reporting to clients and government agencies
  • managing and checking progress at each stage
  • making sure sites follow health and safety rules

how to become a civil engineer without a degree

Follow these steps to become an engineer without having a degree:

1. Finish high school

Although becoming an engineer without a college degree is indeed possible, you still need to graduate high school to be on your way to an engineering career.

2. Work on specific engineering skills

Although various engineering specialties require different skillsets, there are some core skills that you need to have if you want to become an engineer. Some can be learned in high school, while others require separate research and study. The most important areas that you need to improve on are calculus, differential equations, physics, chemistry, circuits and instrumentation. You also need to learn specific information related to each engineering specialty.

3. Work on your soft skills

Engineering requires both hard and soft skills, so you should constantly work on improving traits like creativity, intellectual curiosity, leadership and teamwork.

4. Choose an engineering discipline that doesn’t require a degree

Although most engineering jobs favor applicants with engineering degrees, some areas of engineering make it easier for those with no degree to become engineers. Some of them are:

  • Mechanical engineering: If you want to become a mechanical engineer without having a degree in engineering, the solution is to find a low-level engineering-related job and then demonstrate work ethic and proficiency for several years. Although this may help you get into mechanical engineering, some employers may still require you to earn a degree at some point in time.
  • Civil engineering: Although it is a very hard field to enter without a degree, you can still become a civil engineer by working in the construction field and gradually rising in rank as you acquire new skills and demonstrate your qualities. However, due to the high level of responsibility that civil engineers are facing, promotions in the field tend to be relatively rare and the quickest way is still earning a degree.
  • Electrical engineering: This is one of the easiest engineering fields to access without having a degree, as it is largely based on experience and proficiency. Most aspects of electrical engineering can be learned through experience and the entire field values experimentation, making electrical engineering the easiest way for someone without a degree to become an engineer.

Important skills for engineers

The most important skills for a successful engineer are:

  • Specific industry skills: Depending on the chosen area of engineering, an engineer must possess advanced skills in that specific domain.
  • Communication skills: Engineers need to constantly communicate with colleagues and clients, so they must be able to express an idea in both technical and non-technical terms and make themselves understood. They also need to be able to listen and understand various complex concepts when presented to them.
  • Problem-solving skills: A significant part of an engineer’s responsibilities involves solving various issues. They need to be able to quickly assess a problem and identify the optimal solution.
  • Teamwork: Engineers typically work in teams, so they need to be able to efficiently collaborate with different kinds of people.
  • Creativity: Given the fact that engineers are constantly faced with new issues that they need to resolve, creativity is crucial for the role, as they constantly need to use their knowledge and intellect to come up with innovative solutions.
  • Computer skills: Most branches of modern engineering require extensive use of computers, so having advanced computer skills is important for an engineer, regardless of their specialty.
  • Concentration skills: Most engineering projects are complex and require constant attention to detail. Being able to focus and concentrate is crucial for avoiding any mistakes.
  • Mathematical skills: Most engineering jobs require advanced mathematics, despite the widespread use of computers.
  • Constant learning: An engineer’s success is usually closely related to the technology they use, so they need to always be up to date with the latest tech advancements in their field and adapt accordingly.
  • Leadership: Engineers are often team leaders, so they need to be able to teach, manage and motivate others.

what subjects do you need to become a civil engineer

Civil engineering skills are strongly rooted in mathematics and science, and a high level of proficiency in these subjects is required in order to predict the performance and capability of the structures they create. For this reason, students with strong backgrounds in physics and mathematics who are also interested in designing functional structures, from bridges to hydropower systems, are prime candidates to study civil engineering.

Although entry requirements for those wishing to study civil engineering degrees vary between institutions, most universities ask for strong academic grades in mathematics and science subjects. Due to the specialized nature of civil engineering, many courses are highly selective and competitive, meaning that top grades (in the UK, three As at A-level) are a common requirement among leading schools.

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