Life of a Civil Engineer: Milestone Map
Civil engineering graduates can pursue many career and educational opportunities over the course of their life. Below is a map of the common milestones for individuals interested in becoming civil engineers.
in Civil Engineering
Specializes in structural engineering
Gains experience creating basic structural designs for bridges and buildings
Gets position as a structural engineer with a transportation engineering firm
After four-to-five years, earns Professional Engineer license
Moves into technical principal role, is responsible for consulting agreements and contract negotiation
Opens engineering consulting firm, working with local and state governments on transportation projects
Civil Engineering Degrees: Online Learning
Online civil engineering degree programs are designed to mirror and complement their on-campus counterparts. Distance education students follow the same course curriculum, view the same instructional lectures, and have the same deadlines for completing examinations and assignments as on-campus students. Below is an overview of the online learning experience for civil engineering students.
Virtual Classroom Experience
Civil engineering students participate in online immersive learning environments, using web-based platforms such as Blackboard and Skype to interact with course material, connect with peers, and communicate with instructors.
Online civil engineering programs typically follow the same schedule as on-campus programs. Students receive a syllabus, along with dates for assignments, exams and
projects. Depending on the program, courses may be self-paced, while others require scheduled participation.
Some civil engineering programs (usually master’s programs) are completed entirely online. However, some colleges may require students to attend on-campus laboratory sessions during the summer to gain hands-on experience.
Online civil engineering degree students generally must submit an application for a proctor, an individual who is responsible for managing the examination process for the student—from receiving materials to choosing a location, monitoring the test to returning the examination to the instructor. This allows online students to take exams in their local area.
Since students interact with their course materials online, including submitting assignments and watching lectures, they need to have a reliable Internet connection and up-to-date computer and operating system.
Civil Engineering Degree Levels
Academic options in civil engineering parallel the diverse nature of the profession itself. Prospective students may select from a range of educational programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level—completing their studies either entirely online or through a hybrid program (both campus- and online-based). Below is an overview of the commonly offered online civil engineering degree programs.
(18 to 24 months)
Associate degree programs in civil engineering fall into two types: Associate of Science (AS) and Associate of Applied Science (AAS). The Associate of Science is designed for students who plan on transferring to a four-year university to complete a BS in civil engineering. These programs typically require 60 credit hours to complete, divided between general education and civil engineering coursework.
The Associate of Applied Science is a professionally oriented degree program designed for individuals who want to pursue entry-level employment as a civil engineering technician or related role, including surveyor, design technician or CAD operator. Like the AS, these programs generally require between 60 and 65 credit hours to finish.
The Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering takes roughly four years to complete, with most programs requiring 120 to 136 credit hours of study. Students complete core curriculum in math and science (e.g. chemistry, physics, and calculus) prior to moving into civil engineering coursework. During the third and fourth year of study, students take classes in civil engineering, business, and ethics—as well as select electives for an area of concentration (e.g. transportation engineering, structural engineering, or construction management).
Online master’s degrees in civil engineering take two forms: Master of Engineering (MEng) and Master of Science in Engineering (MS). The MEng degree offers a business-focused, professionally oriented curriculum, while the MS is traditionally more centered on research and theory curriculum. Online programs typically require 33 to 36 credit hours to complete, with students finishing their programs in 18 to 24 months. Some programs require students to research and write a thesis, while others may offer a capstone or final project to graduate. Online master’s programs allow students to craft a discipline-specific course of study in an area of interest, such as water resources, structural engineering, geotechnical engineering, or hydrology.
Although the number of fully online doctoral programs in civil engineering is limited, there are partially online options available. Doctoral programs are designed to provide students with a Master of Science (MS) degree an opportunity to conduct specialized research into a specific civil engineering discipline. These programs prepare graduates to assume positions in academia and work in research positions in government agencies, in construction, private industry, as well as research laboratories. Doctoral curriculum generally requires at least 60 credit hours of study beyond the master’s degree, including 24 credit hours for an original, research-based dissertation.
Students in bachelor’s degree programs or graduates with a bachelor’s or graduate degree in civil engineering can also complete a certificate program. Each certificate program requires the completion of three to five courses (usually 12 to 15 credit hours). The curriculum in these programs offers professionals the opportunity to develop specialized knowledge in a sub-discipline of civil engineering, such as: Transportation Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Sustainable Engineering, and Construction Engineering Management.
Specializations in Civil Engineering
Civil engineering students also may further specialize their undergraduate or graduate program of study in engineering sub-disciplines. A specialization is a distinct area of study with additional course requirements to complete. The most common civil engineering specializations include:
- Architectural Engineering
- Construction Engineering
- Environmental Engineering
- Geotechnical Engineering
- Hydraulic and Water Resources Engineering
- Structural Engineering
- Transportation Engineering
Civil Engineering Online Course Details
The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET) sets the curriculum standards for quality postsecondary programs in civil engineering. This curriculum prepares graduates with a fundamental understanding of civil engineering theory and conceptual design, along with knowledge of high-level mathematics and science (e.g. physics, chemistry). Students gain an understanding of the professional practice of civil engineering and have skills in conducting civil engineering experiments, collect and use data, and use civil engineering principles to design structures. Below is a list of coursework commonly found in ABET-accredited civil engineering programs.
Introduction to Engineering and Design
This course serves as an introduction to the fundamentals of engineering, including its history, philosophy and modern trends. Students learn about project design, data analysis, and experimentation–core components of the engineering field.
This course discusses and reviews the central materials used in civil engineering, from metals to masonry, polymer composites to asphalt. Students gain insights into material science, examine engineering processes and properties and learn about current practices in sustainability and engineering technologies.
This course offers students a primer on fluid mechanics as it applies to hydraulic design. Common topics of study include energy equations, fluid properties and statics, fluid measurements, and the basics of drag and lift concepts.
In this course, students study the fundamental principles of structural analysis and its techniques. Students also learn about computer applications used in structural analysis, along with the study of calculations, slope deflection, energy methods and other analysis topics.
In this class, students learn about the principals of structural design through a hands-on modeling, planning, and design of a concrete or steel building structure. Students employ computer-aided software, structural analysis skills to develop professionally oriented skills.
What to Look for in a Civil Engineering Program
There are numerous online education options in civil engineering open to prospective students. Before making the decision to enroll, students should review their target list of institutions and each respective online program. Here are five things to consider before selecting an online civil engineering degree program.
Is the program ABET accredited?
ABET accreditation is a must for any student who wants to become a licensed Professional Engineer.
The background, education and professional experience of the faculty speaks to the quality of the program.
Does the program offer student support services?
Online students should receive the same access to tutoring, academic support, financial aid offers as their online counterparts.
Is tuition affordable?
Online civil engineering degree programs can sometimes be as expensive as on-campus programs. Make sure the return on investment will be worth it.
What is the program’s success rate?
Does the program graduate students who become Professional Engineers? What percentage of students complete the PE examination successfully?
Civil Engineering School Accreditation
In the United States, accreditation is a voluntary, non-governmental review process that ensures both universities and its academic programs meet performance and quality standards. The Association Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET) is the primary accrediting body for engineering programs at the associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree level. ABET accreditation of civil engineering programs is managed by two commissions: Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) and the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission (ETAC)
It is critical that civil engineering students attend an ABET-accredited program as it is required by state licensure boards for licensing as a Professional Engineer and may be required by employers for occupational opportunities.
Master of Science in Civil Engineering
When it comes to professional advancement, planning is crucial to the process. Earning a master’s degree in civil engineering positions individuals for supervisory roles in the industry, moving into senior management, senior project engineer, and executive occupations. Below is a sample timeline for preparing to enroll in a master’s program in civil engineering.
||Time Before Start Date
Earn a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering Degree
|5 – 6 years
Complete Engineering Internship
Gain professional experience and earn Professional Engineer licensure
Study for and take Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
10 – 12 months
Submit application to target universities
Graduate school is competitive and selection is typically based on the number of well-qualified applicants to the civil engineering program. Here are three ways a prospective student can stand out from the crowd.
- Demonstrate real-world experience Completing an Engineering Internship and gaining professional experience as a licensed engineer can help an application stand out.
- Get solid recommendations Recommendations carry weight, so prospective students should select an advisor, instructor or professional colleague that can speak to the candidate’s academic potential and success in the workplace.
- Score well on the GRE Although it is not the only admissions factor, the GRE score is important—many programs consider a score of 300 the minimum score for consideration.
Career Pathways in Civil Engineering
There are dozens of potential career paths in the ever expanding field of civil engineering. It is a professional area that allows graduates with online civil engineering degrees to match their personal interests, training, and skills to an occupation.
Civil Engineering Technician
Working under the supervision of civil engineers, civil engineering technicians support the design and construction of infrastructure projects, from highways to bridges, resident to commercial buildings. Because they are not licensed, civil engineering technicians cannot manage individual projects or approve engineering designs. However, they do handle similar tasks to engineers, such as collecting data, managing contractors, using computer-aided design software, and helping review project plans for a project. Civil engineering technicians may enter the field with an associate degree from an ABET-accredited program or complete a diploma program at a technical or vocational school. Certification is available from the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET).
Civil engineers design, plan, and supervise the construction of infrastructure projects, such as highways, bridges, and airports. They work closely with civil engineering technicians and other professionals, including urban planners and city managers. They are responsible for the entire planning and building process, including budgeting, managing government regulations, evaluating environmental impact, testing soils and building materials, developing cost estimates, and using design software to create structure plans. A varied career, civil engineers may work in several specialized fields, including geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, and transportation engineering. Certification is available from several organizations, such as the Academy of Coastal, Ocean, Porta and Navigation (ACOPNE).
Civil Engineering Manager
Civil engineering managers are supervisors, serving as project managers for civil engineering projects. They are typically the principal and administrator responsible for acting as the liaison between the contractors, clients, local agencies, state and federal organizations, civil engineers and the general public. They mage design budgets, design project design schedules, review project scope, consult with architects, handle legal contracts and permits, and prepare estimates for any changes to the project. As an advanced career path, most civil engineering managers have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, a Professional Engineer license, and significant professional experience (usually 10+ years).
Construction managers—typically called either a project manager or general contractor—oversee the construction of civil engineering projects. They are responsible for scheduling the construction process, from hiring workers to keeping the project on time and under budget. They coordinate with specialists, such as civil engineers, carpenters, and painters to ensure the project is being handled correctly. As a supervisory position, construction managers traditionally have at least a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and years of professional experience. They may also obtain certification from the Construction Management Association of America or the American Institute of Constructors.
Civil Engineering Professor
Civil engineering professors work in higher education, at technical colleges, community colleges, and four-year institutions. In this role, they create and teach college-level courses in civil engineering, preparing the next generation of civil engineers. In addition to teaching, civil engineering professors also develop research projects and publish their findings in industry journals. In order to move into tenured-track positions, civil engineering professors traditionally possess a doctoral degree in engineering.
Civil Engineering Licensure and Certifications
The civil engineering practice is governed at the state level, with individual states determining their own licensing laws and requirements. In order to become licensed, civil engineers must complete a bachelor’s degree in engineering, complete at least four years of supervised experience under a Professional Engineer, pass two comprehensive examinations, and meet the licensing requirements from their state’s licensure board. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) maintains a list of state licensure boards and requirements for each state. It is important to note that licensing is not a requirement for entry-level work for electrical engineers or electrical engineering technicians.
Certification recognizes a professional’s attainment of advanced skills in specific areas of civil engineering. Civil engineers may want to pursue Diplomate status, recognized as a professional engineer who has secured certification as a board certified professional within individual areas of practice (e.g. water resources, geotechnical engineering), along with advanced education, training and industry knowledge. Below is a list of common certification options within the field of civil engineering.
Academy of Coastal, Ocean, Port and Navigation Engineers (ACOPNE)
ACOPNE is a professional organization comprised of engineering diplomates that offers certification programs for individuals who work in maritime engineering and have significant professional experience and training. Diplomate candidate must have at least 12 years of professional experience, a Professional Engineer license, a master’s degree, advanced knowledge of a maritime engineering, and pass a board examination. Diplomate certifications are available in four areas:
D.PE – Diplomate, Ocean Engineering
D.PE – Diplomate Port Engineering
D.CE – Diplomate, Coastal Engineering
D.NE – Diplomate, Navigation Engineering
Academy of Geo-Professionals (AGP)
Founded in 2008, the Academy of Geo-Professionals, is a professional organization for civil engineers working in geotechnical engineering. AGP currently has more than 300 Diplomate members and offers the D.GE – Diplomate, Geotechnical Engineering certification. Candidates must have a valid Professional Engineer license, at least eight years of professional experience, a master’s degree in civil engineering or geotechnical engineering, demonstrate advanced understanding in at least one area of geotechnical engineering, and pass a board examination.
American Academy of Water Resource Engineers (AAWRE)
The American Academy of Water Resources Engineers was founded in 2004 and launched a certification program designed to help advance and increase civil engineering standards. Candidates for the D.WRE – Diplomate, Water Resources Engineer, must hold a Professional Engineer License, a master’s degree or doctoral degree, or 30 credit hours of graduate work, have at least 10 years of professional work experience, and pass a board examination.
Building Security Certification Program
Founded in 2006, the Building Security Certification Program is designed to elevate the standards of security in facility design, construction and maintenance. Civil engineers can earn a certified professional designation, open to individuals with a Professional Engineer license who has a background in building design and security. Candidate must pass a 100-question certification examination.
Institute for Sustainable Architecture
The Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) is a nonprofit organization that was founded by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Council of Engineering Companies, and the American Public Works Association. Launching a collaborative called Envision, the ISI offers a credentialing program for civil engineers. Candidates must hold a Professional Engineer license, complete Envision courses, and pass a certification examination.
American Association of Engineering Companies
A professional council that represents more than 500,000 employees and 5,000 engineering firms, the ACEC offers several certification programs.
- Management Engineer (MgtEng)
The MgtEng is designed for individuals working in program, business, or project management positions in engineering. Candidates must hold a valid Professional Engineer license, hold 150 professional development hours in at least of 4 of 12 knowledge domains from the ACEC or a have a master’s degree, and have seven to ten years of management experience.
Executive Engineer (ExecEng)
The ExecEng is designed for individuals that are in or moving into executive positions in the engineering industry. Candidates must have a valid Professional Engineer license, have a master’s degree and 200 hours of professional development hours or 300 professional development hours in eight of ACEC’s 12 knowledge domains, have 15 to 20 years of leadership experience, and complete the ACEC Senior Executives Institute.
Three Related Online Engineering Degrees
Engineering is a diverse field, one that offers a range of professional opportunities not only in civil engineering, but other related areas. Below are examples of three areas of study which may be of interest to prospective engineering candidates.
For individuals interested in electrical engineering, an online program can help prepare them for entry-level employment in the industry or enter into a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering program. A broad field of study, electrical engineering covers professional areas ranging from energy production and management to microprocessors and data networking.
As one of engineering’s most versatile fields, an online degree in mechanical engineering can prepare graduates for employment in a diverse array of industries, including automotive, aerospace, energy and power, agriculture, and manufacturing. These programs help students develop critical thinking skills and knowledge of mechanical design, manufacturing, and thermal science.
An online degree in petroleum engineering positions graduates for entry-level employment in one of engineering’s fastest growing disciplines. These programs provide students with foundational knowledge of petroleum extraction and production within the context of environmental impact, public policy, technology, and business.
Civil Engineering Resources and Organizations