If you've ever wondered how the water that comes from your tap got there (and cleanly) or how, exactly, the Golden Gate Bridge came to be both beautiful and functional or, perhaps, how such solid-looking buildings across from that bridge can withstand the movements of an earthquake, you need look no further than the coursework of a civil engineering major to find your answers.
What Does a Civil Engineer Do?
While the most well-known use of this degree is to help create our built environment—bridges, roads, railways, subways, airports, etc.—civil engineers also increasingly 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 helping to design 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 variations from state-to-state. 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. If you pass, you will receive a professional engineer license or certification.
Where You Could End Up Living
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 2018 include:
- California (45,060 jobs)
- Texas (24,460 jobs)
- New York (16,790 jobs)
- Florida (16,750 jobs)
- Pennsylvania (12,530 jobs)
How Much Do Civil Engineers Make?
Nationally, the median annual wage (the mid-point, not the average) for civil engineers was $86,640 in May 2018, according to the BLS. Salaries ranged from less than $54,780 for the lowest 10 percent to more than $142,560 for the highest 10 percent. Civil engineers who worked for the federal government, excluding the postal service, had the highest median wage at $95,380. The lowest was for those working in nonresidential building construction at $75,670.
Are Civil Engineers in Demand?
Overall, the job outlook for civil engineers is good, with an expected employment growth rate of 6 percent between 2018 to 2028. That is about as fast as the average 5 percent growth rate for all 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.