How to Become a Civil Engineer: The Skills, Education, and Licensing You Need
Engineers assume a diverse array of important roles in the world today. They help to design and create the structures in which people live, work, and play and the devices that they use every day. Every time you turn on the TV, use the microwave oven, or drive your vehicle, your life is impacted by the designs of engineers. Engineers shape the world.
Being a civil engineer is a major responsibility, and it takes years of intense, advanced study and training to prepare for a career in engineering. People who want to become engineers must spend 4 to 6 years in college to gain the engineering knowledge and the math and science skills it takes to design and build the objects they conceive. Below we discuss in more detail what civil engineers do, the kind of education they need, and how they become licensed in their field.
What Do Civil Engineers Do?
Civil engineers help to improve the quality of life for everyone. They design and develop the buildings in which people live, work, and play and the things that people use for business and pleasure. Being a successful civil engineer requires excellent math, science, and problem-solving skills and a great imagination. That’s because civil engineers are called on to provide a wide range of design and production services. They design and oversee the construction of commercial, residential, and industrial buildings; bridges; dams; roads; sewer systems; tunnels; and a wide array of other facilities and structures. Civil engineers also test ground conditions, do site surveys, and ensure the right construction materials are used and properly maintained.
These types of work require close coordination with architects, contractors, and other construction personnel. Civil engineers must create innovative solutions for dealing with geology and weather dilemmas and make sure projects are progressing properly. As part of the design and construction process, they must consider government regulations, building costs, geographic limitations, and many other factors. Once the construction project is completed, civil engineers may also be called on to ensure the structure is being properly inspected, maintained, and repaired.
Read about the continuing education requirements civil engineers must maintain once they are licensed.
Educational Requirements for Civil Engineers
To earn a degree in civil engineering, students must take a wide range of courses in science, technology, and engineering, as well as mathematics. Ideally, students begin taking these kinds of courses in high school and continue to build on that foundation when they get to college. Beginning as early as high school, some students interested in becoming engineers attend summer engineering camps and spend time in after school programs that are science or engineering oriented. These activities develop and sharpen their skills and help them make important contacts.
In most cases, in order to become a licensed professional engineer, candidates must complete a four-year engineering degree at program that is approved by the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET). There are hundreds of universities with ABET-accredited programs both nationwide and internationally. Some of these universities even allow students to earn their engineering degrees through an online program.
Successful engineering students will excel in course like physics, chemistry, advanced calculus, and geometry, as well as courses that teach them vital communication and critical-thinking skills, and perhaps even courses like sociology and psychology. Within civil engineering, there are several sub-categories which student can choose to specialize in, and this choice may determine how many course hours in specific subjects they are required to complete.
To get their engineering degrees, students must do more than just classroom study. In addition to lecture classes in sciences and engineering concepts, students also do lab work where they receive hands-on experience. Throughout their educational program, they may opt to participate in internships as well as various kinds of work placement programs in order to gain practical experience in their chosen branch of engineering.
How to Become a Licensed Professional Civil Engineer
There are several steps to becoming a licensed professional civil engineer. While each state may have some specific requirements, in general, prospective engineers follow the same approach. First, they must complete a four-year engineering degree. Next, engineers must pass the six-hour, 110-question, Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). It tests and verifies that the engineering candidate understands and is able to put into practice the basic skills all engineers are required to master.
Once an engineer has passed the FE exam, they are considered a trainee engineer and continue their work under the supervision of a licensed professional engineer. After spending four years engaged in qualifying engineering activities, the trainee must then complete and pass the Principles and Practices of Engineering (PE) exam in order to qualify for licensure as a professional engineer. Some states have additional licensing requirements that trainee engineers must meet before they can receive a Professional Engineer license and legally work unsupervised on projects as an engineer.
The PE license must be renewed every two years. To qualify for license renewal, engineers may be required to take continuing education classes and attend workshops and seminars on ethics training, new developments in their field, and/or legal issues facing engineers.
Civil Engineer Salaries and Earning Potential
Professional engineers generally make a good salary. The exact amount of an engineer’s salary depends on the branch of engineering in which they specialize, their level of expertise and experience, their reputation, and the amount of demand there is for their skills. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics figures for 2018, the median income for civil engineers was $86,640.
Read our article about the value of engineering to the world economy.