How to Become a Civil Engineer

The occupation of civil engineer has a long and momentous history, and is the hallmark of advanced societies around the world. From the Colosseum of ancient Rome to the Great Wall of China, civil engineering has left a lasting impression that defines great civilizations. The profession is both momentous and eminently practical; enormous bridges such as Golden Gate are designed by civil engineers, and so are the sewage systems and water treatment plants that eliminate and treat waste. Civil engineers have been facilitating the movement of people, enabling the use of vital resources such as water, and even eliminating disease for thousands of years. Those who are interested in large-scale construction projects, heavy machinery, impressive structures and improving people’s lives may find civil engineering to be an en exciting and rewarding job.

However, there are other aspects of the job that many aspiring engineers may find attractive. Due to aging infrastructure and the need to replace and repair buildings and roads, civil engineering jobs are expected to be added at a much higher rate than most other occupations over the next decade, which will likely result in increased job security and higher pay for civil engineers. So, if you are thinking about becoming an engineer, civil engineering is worth a close look.

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For recent graduates with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, average starting pay is over $52,000 per year, and the average for all civil engineers is $82,280, with median pay being $77,560. Those at higher levels with seniority, or who live in more expensive metropolitan areas, often exceed $100,000 per year. Civil engineering jobs are important in both the public and private sector as well as the military, and in a variety of different industries. In short, the work civil engineers perform is very important to everyone in modern society, and crucial to commerce and government. Good pay and wide availability of jobs combine to make civil engineering an attractive choice for engineers, so if you think you have what it takes it may be the key to a fulfilling career.

How does one go about becoming a civil engineer? For starters, it’s important to ask yourself whether the job is a good fit. Do you have strong math skills? Do social issues interest you? Civil engineering requires not only an understanding of physics and math, but also of people and how they interact with their environment. The structures built by civil engineers must be safe, sound and useful. In addition to having an inclination for the job, it’s also important to have good people skills and the ability to work as part of a team, because large projects require the cooperation of large numbers of people.

Once you’ve decided you’d like to become a civil engineer, the next step is enrolling in an accredited university that offers solid courses in the discipline. Because civil engineering is a popular occupation that employs hundreds of thousands of people, courses are widely available at the undergraduate level. Here, you may want to start thinking about specializing in a particular branch of civil engineering, such as environmental issues, transportation, coastal engineering or geotechnical, among others.

During your studies, it is a good idea to find an internship position with an engineering firm that can assist in preparing you for your career and providing valuable experience that will make a positive impression on potential employers. Hands on experience is at least as important to employers as your degree and grades in school, and will give you a better idea of what to expect from your career.

While in school and after graduation you will prepare for and take exams that will clear the way for you to obtain a professional license in civil engineering. The first of these, taken while still in school, is the DFE/EIT (engineer in training) exam. This exam ensures that you have the basics of engineering down, and is often a prerequisite for the PE, or professional engineering exam, which is taken after graduation. The PE is for engineers who have at least four years’ experience on the job, and is the final step in the process of becoming a licensed engineer. Different PE exams cover different subjects, including civil engineering, but all are fairly extensive, eight-hour exams that require a good deal of preparation.

Becoming a fully licensed professional civil engineer will open doors and allow you to choose where and how you want to work. However, it is important that you keep yourself up to date on developments in the industry and network with colleagues by joining professional organizations, such as the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).