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  • Civil engineers contribute to everything in our built environment—from railways to water systems to space stations.
  • After completing four years of documented work as an engineer, you’ll then need to take an exam to receive a professional engineering license.
  • As of May 2021, civil engineering salaries range from approximately $61,000 to $133,000, depending on location and specialty.

Have you ever wondered how the water that comes from your tap got there (and cleanly), how the Golden Gate Bridge came to be both beautiful and functional, or, perhaps, how skyscrapers can withstand the movements of an earthquake? Look no further than the coursework of a civil engineering major to find your answers.

What does a civil engineer do?

The most well-known use of this degree is to create our built environment—bridges, roads, railways, subways, airports. Increasingly, civil engineers also play a critical role in the construction, management, and improvement of air, land, and water quality systems, often referred to as environmental engineering. Civil engineers can be found designing space stations, improving the safety features in cars, and analyzing the effectiveness of solid waste treatment systems.

As a civil engineer, you will be able to specialize in a number of areas. You can focus on civil engineering and construction management or become an environmental, structural, geotechnical, transportation planning, or water resources engineer, among other specialties. You may work for public or private companies as well as government agencies. Job duties may include: creating blueprints for upcoming projects, reviewing the environmental impacts of building projects, using computer software to map projects, and managing a worksite and phases of a project.

How to become a licensed professional engineer

To become a civil engineer, you'll need to be creative and curious as well as a lover of advanced math and science to succeed in this field. The patience to see long projects through—those that sometimes take years to complete—is also key.

Civil engineers need licensure in the state they plan on working in. The license test is generally the same but there are some state-to-state variations. In your last semester of your undergraduate degree program, you'll take the Fundamentals of Engineering Examination (FE). After you complete four years of documented work as an engineer, you are then qualified to take the Principles of Practices in Engineering (PE) exam. Upon passing, you will receive a professional engineer license or certification.

Best places to live and work as a civil engineer

Given the range of work civil engineers can do, you are likely to be able to find a job in many areas around the country. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the states with the highest employment for civil engineers as of May 2021 include:

  • California
  • Texas 
  • Florida 
  • New York
  • Illinois

How much do civil engineers make?

Nationally, the median annual wage for civil engineers was about $88,000 in May 2021, according to the BLS. Salaries ranged from less than about $61,000 for the lowest 10% to more than approximately $133,000 for the highest 10%. As of May 2021, civil engineers who worked for the federal government, excluding postal services, had the highest median wage at about $101,000. The lowest was for those working in nonresidential building construction at about $77,000.

Are civil engineers in demand?

The job outlook for civil engineers is strong compared to all occupations nationally. As of May 2021, civil engineering employment is expected to grow 7% between 2021 to 2031 compared to a 5% growth rate for all engineers and occupations nationally. As infrastructure across the country is aging, civil engineers will be in demand to repair or rebuild roads, bridges, levees, and more. With our population growing as well, demands on natural resources will increase. Civil engineers will therefore also be needed to not only maintain, but also improve, our water supply and waste management systems and to work on renewable energy projects too.

The BLS notes that the increasing importance of new standards—the group of which is known as the Body of Knowledge—will likely mean that graduate-level education will also become more important for civil engineers. Those who pursue this higher degree will therefore probably have better employment prospects.


Visit our Free Scholarship Search to find college scholarships for civil engineering majors.

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