How to Start Your Journey Into a Civil Engineering Career

A Career in Civil Engineering? Where to Start and How to Make the Most of Your Education

Ever hear someone talk about how the Romans built aqueducts, the Colosseum, and an epic road system? Feel free to clarify that Roman civil engineers (okay – and workers too) built those structures. If you’ve ever looked up at a bridge, stadium, or a superhighway (ancient or modern) and thought, “Wow,” then maybe a career in civil engineering is for you.

The question is, what does it really take? This article dives into what you’ll need to do in terms of finding the right school, focusing your studies, and looking for jobs. Reading up on what you’ll need to do now can mean less stress down the road. So let’s get into it.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (To Study Civil Engineering)

What can you expect from a career as a civil engineer? To start, your annual salary can fluctuate from a low of around $51K to a high of $122K, with $79K being the median. Compared to the median salary for the entire US – just under $52K – civil engineers do very well.

Of course, that high salary comes in exchange for a well-developed set of skills. The core here is math, statistics, and a variety of engineering mechanics depending on your specialty (fluid dynamics, perhaps). If the numbers above sound nice, but the numbers in your math textbook don’t, then maybe a career in civil engineering isn’t for you.

what to expect when you’re studying civil engineering

But besides those basics, there are other career skills that are essential for success in the field. Being good at making decisions, organizing your work and solving problems are fundamental. If you’re also a good leader with excellent speaking and writing skills, you’ll likely find your opportunities will expand even more.

If all of this sounds right up your alley, you’ll need to start by going to the right university and gaining several accreditations. Here’s how to get started:

Where to Get Your Civil Engineering Degree

So you worked hard in high school and have the grades to show it. Now you need to choose the perfect university to get started on your career path. The most basic place to look is at the top. Sure, you’ve got the top 10 schools like MIT and The University of California Berkeley, but there are plenty of other excellent schools to explore as well, especially if you’d like to live abroad..

The tricky part is getting in. What are admissions counselors for top schools really looking for? An admissions counselor at the University of Bath (ranked between 101 and 150 in the above list) put it simply: in an interview with The Guardian, he focused on math skills, along with a clear desire to work in the field, rather than using the degree as a stepping stone to something else.

Also, interestingly, he discussed the advantages of university/firm partnerships, which allow students to gain vital work experience before they graduate (as well as obtaining course credits along the way). This is another thing you may want to take a look at, as many employers put a lot of value in this kind of experience for a potential hire fresh out of university.

Of course, when you graduate, you’re not necessarily ready to get started. There are also important accreditations along the way. First off, you’ll want to ensure your degree program is ABET-accredited (it should be, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure). Then you’ll need to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. You’ll also likely need to pass the Professional Engineering (PE) exam after you have a few years of work experience under a licensed civil engineer.

Lastly, many firms require four years working under a licensed engineer. As mentioned, you can get a head start on this during your degree program so you can get a full job as a civil engineer sooner.

A Typical Day in Your Civil Engineering Career

374th Civil Engineer Squadron fire emergency services crew
374th Civil Engineer Squadron fire emergency services crew #PACOM / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND

Maybe the last thing on your mind when considering becoming a civil engineer is what the actual job really looks like, day to day. The thing is, there really isn’t such a thing for civil engineers. You might work for a construction or surveying firm, spending much of your time outdoors monitoring or surveying projects, or you might work for an engineering firm and focus more on design work in an office.

Where you decide to specialize in your civil engineering career can take you in any of these directions, it’s really up to you. You can even consider whether you’d like to work in the public or private sectors. Around a quarter of civil engineers work in the public sector, with the remainder working in a variety of private firms. Overall, you’ll have options in a career as a civil engineer. You can focus on public housing or monumental skyscrapers, you can spend time inside or outside, and you can study all over the world.

If you need some inspiration, you can check out this list of the most famous civil engineers in history. Of course, that only includes civil engineers famous for their work in civil engineering: plenty have gone on to other careers as well, like being presidents or prime ministers.

Are you a graduate with an engineering degree? Learn more about where your education can take you with the expanding opportunities of a career in engineering.

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