Civil Engineer: What Is It and How to Become

Civil Engineer: What Is It and How to Become

Becoming a civil engineer is an exciting and rewarding career choice. If you have a passion for infrastructure and a desire to make a positive impact on the built environment, this profession offers a wide range of opportunities to explore. From designing airports and ports to analyzing wind control and environmental duties, civil engineers are involved in every step of the construction process.

To become a civil engineer, there are a few essential things you’ll need to have and steps you’ll need to take. Firstly, a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or a related subject is typically required. This degree program will help you gain a deep understanding of the subject matter and prepare you for the challenges of the profession.

Secondly, some states require civil engineers to obtain a license, which involves passing the national licensure examination. To be eligible to take this exam, a certain number of years of work experience under a licensed engineer is usually required. Some states also have additional requirements, such as completing advanced coursework or an apprenticeship program.

Thirdly, pursuing a master’s degree in civil engineering is another option that could help you advance your career. A master’s program will allow you to specialize in a specific area of civil engineering, such as transportation or structural engineering, and gain a deeper level of expertise.

Lastly, gaining hands-on experience is crucial for becoming a successful civil engineer. Many colleges offer internships or co-op programs that allow students to work in a professional engineering environment while earning course credits. This real-world experience will help you apply the knowledge you’ve gained in the classroom to practical situations.

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering

During your study, you’ll explore various disciplines of engineering, like structural engineering, environmental engineering, transportation engineering, and geotechnical engineering. You’ll learn how to analyze and design structures, understand materials and their properties, and learn about regulations and codes.

Colleges and universities offer different programs that prepare students for the career of a civil engineer. It’s important to choose a program that aligns with your interests and career goals. Some programs may have a more theoretical approach, while others may be more hands-on and focus on practical skills.

Once you complete your bachelor’s degree, you may choose to continue your education by pursuing a master’s degree in civil engineering. This is an optional step, but it can provide you with advanced knowledge and skills that can open up opportunities for job advancement in the future.

While a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for becoming a civil engineer, there are other certifications and licenses that can enhance your qualifications. For example, you can become an Engineer-in-Training (EIT) by passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. This certification allows you to gain professional experience under the supervision of a licensed engineer.

Some states or employers may require civil engineers to obtain additional licenses or registrations. These requirements vary by location and the type of projects you’ll be involved in. It’s important to speak with professionals in the field or research specific local regulations to determine the certifications and licenses you may need.

Overall, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in engineering is the first step towards becoming a licensed civil engineer. This degree will provide you with the foundational knowledge and background needed to pursue a career in this field. Whether you choose to enter the workforce or continue your education, a bachelor’s degree is essential for those who aspire to design and supervise the construction of various projects, from buildings to bridges to wind farms.

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Requirements for a Civil Engineering Program

Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering

The first step towards becoming a civil engineer is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. This program typically includes coursework in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and engineering fundamentals. These classes will provide you with a strong foundation to analyze and work with materials, infrastructure, and the built environment.

Master’s Degree (optional)

Although a master’s degree is not a requirement to become a civil engineer, it can provide advanced knowledge and open doors to higher-level positions. Those who choose to pursue a master’s degree have the opportunity to specialize in specific areas of civil engineering, such as structural engineering or transportation engineering.

Licensing and Registrations

To work as a civil engineer, you’ll need to obtain a license from the appropriate state licensing board. Licensing requirements may vary from state to state, but most include passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam and the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. These exams determine your understanding and ability to apply engineering principles to real-world projects.

Work Experience

Another important requirement for becoming a licensed civil engineer is gaining relevant work experience. Many states require a minimum number of years of experience, typically under the supervision of a licensed professional engineer, before granting a PE license. This experience allows you to apply your knowledge and skills to real engineering projects and understand the duties and responsibilities of a civil engineer.

Certifications and Advanced Titles

Obtaining certifications or advanced titles can enhance your qualifications and career opportunities as a civil engineer. Professional organizations, such as the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), offer certifications in various specialties, such as construction engineering, geotechnical engineering, and water resources engineering. These certifications demonstrate your expertise in specific areas of civil engineering and can lead to higher salary potential and job advancement.

Software and Analytical Skills

In today’s digital age, proficiency in software and analytical skills is essential for civil engineers. You’ll need to have a strong background in computer-aided design (CAD) software, as well as other engineering software used for structural analysis, project management, and simulation. These skills will enable you to analyze and design complex engineering systems more efficiently.

Qualities and Duties of a Civil Engineer

As a civil engineer, it is important to possess certain qualities and be able to perform specific duties. You should have strong problem-solving skills, attention to detail, and the ability to work well in a team. You’ll be responsible for planning, designing, and overseeing the construction of various infrastructure projects, such as roads, bridges, airports, and buildings. You’ll also need to understand and comply with relevant codes, regulations, and safety standards.

RequirementsEducation, Experience, and Skills
LicensePass FE and PE exams
Working ExperienceReal-world experience under licensed professional engineer supervision
CertificationsSpecialized certifications from professional organizations
Bachelor’s Degree (or higher)Mathematics, physics, chemistry, and engineering coursework
Software and Analytical SkillsProficiency in CAD and other engineering software
Qualities and DutiesProblem-solving, attention to detail, teamwork, planning, design, and compliance

By fulfilling these requirements and obtaining the necessary licenses, certifications, and qualifications, you’ll be well-prepared to embark on a successful career as a civil engineer. The job opportunities and salary potential are vast, making civil engineering a highly rewarding profession.

Step 2: Gain Practical Experience through Internships

Internships are typically available during the summer months and can involve tasks such as conducting field surveys, analyzing environmental impact, or inspecting infrastructure projects. By being involved in these projects, you can gain valuable skills and knowledge in areas like site control, materials testing, and wind analysis.

It’s important to note that while internships are not a requirement for becoming a civil engineer, they are highly recommended. Many employers prefer candidates with practical experience, and internships can provide you with a competitive edge when applying for full-time positions after graduation.

Internship Opportunities for Civil Engineering Students

Internship opportunities are an essential requirement for students pursuing their degree in civil engineering. These internships provide students with the necessary experience and exposure to real-world projects, allowing them to apply their coursework knowledge in a practical setting.

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Internships also help students understand the various roles and responsibilities of a civil engineer and explore different industries such as environmental engineering, alternative energy, airports, and more. By working under the guidance of experienced professionals, students can gain insights into the day-to-day tasks involved in the field.

During their internships, students will have the opportunity to work on projects, gather data, conduct analysis, and use software programs relevant to civil engineering. They may be involved in designing structures, conducting site inspections, or helping with quality control of construction materials.

Internships not only help students gain relevant hands-on experience but also provide them with the chance to network and build professional relationships within the industry. This can prove beneficial when securing full-time employment after graduation.

Moreover, completing an internship can also be a requirement for obtaining certifications or licenses necessary for becoming a professional engineer. In some cases, internship experience may count towards the experience requirement needed to take the licensing exam.

It is important for civil engineering students to understand that internships can also be a stepping stone towards further advancement in their career. For instance, some companies may offer post-graduate employment to interns who demonstrate exceptional skills and dedication.

Many colleges and universities have dedicated internship programs in place to help students find relevant internships. These programs provide information about available internship opportunities, the application process, and the required qualifications.

On average, internships for civil engineering students last for about a year and can be completed during the summers or alongside regular coursework. The average salary for internships varies based on the location, company, and the intern’s level of education and experience.

To make the most out of their internships, students should enroll in courses that align with their chosen field of interest and take on additional projects or research opportunities. They should also actively seek mentorship from experienced professionals and constantly update their knowledge and skills.

Overall, internships are an essential part of preparing for a career in civil engineering. They provide students with the practical experience, industry exposure, and professional networking opportunities necessary for success in this field.

Step 3: Obtain a Professional Engineer License

To become a licensed engineer, you’ll need to meet certain qualifications and pass a series of exams.

Licensing Requirements

Licensing requirements vary depending on the country or state you plan to work in. However, the following are some common steps you may need to take:

  • Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam: This is the first step towards becoming a licensed engineer. It tests your knowledge on various engineering subjects.
  • Gain work experience: Most licensing boards require you to have a minimum number of years of relevant work experience under a licensed engineer.
  • Pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam: Once you have gained enough experience, you’ll need to pass this exam to become a fully licensed professional engineer.
  • Additional exams or registrations: Depending on your specialization or area of expertise, you may need to take additional exams or register with specific organizations or boards.

The Benefits of Licensure

Obtaining a professional engineer license has several benefits:

  • Job opportunities: Having a license opens up more job opportunities, as most employers prefer to hire licensed engineers.
  • Higher salary: Licensed engineers often earn a higher salary compared to those without a license.
  • More control and responsibility: With a license, you’ll be able to take on more advanced roles, such as leading projects and making important design decisions.
  • Consultant or independent work: Being a licensed engineer allows you to work as a consultant or start your own engineering firm.

It’s important to explore the licensing requirements and process in the specific country or state where you plan to work, as there may be alternative approaches or additional requirements.

Enroll in a preparation course or study materials to help you prepare for the exams and ensure you have the necessary knowledge and skills to pass.

Once you have obtained your license, you can start working as a full-time civil engineer and apply your expertise to design and oversee the construction of infrastructure like buildings, roads, bridges, airports, and more.

Steps to Becoming a Licensed Civil Engineer

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering: To become a civil engineer, it’s important to obtain a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from an accredited college or university. This degree will provide you with the necessary education and knowledge to pursue a career in civil engineering.
  2. Gain work experience: After completing your degree, it’s recommended to gain work experience as an engineer-in-training. Some states or employers may require a certain number of years of work experience, typically around 4 years, before you’ll be eligible to take the licensing exams.
  3. Prepare for the licensing exam: Before you can become a licensed civil engineer, you’ll need to pass the licensing exam. This exam is typically divided into two parts: the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam and the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. It’s important to prepare for these exams by studying and reviewing the necessary information.
  4. Obtain the necessary license: Once you’ve passed the licensing exams, you’ll need to apply for and obtain your professional engineering license. The requirements for obtaining a license may vary by state, so it’s important to research and understand the specific requirements in the state where you’ll be practicing as a civil engineer.
  5. Continuing education: As a licensed civil engineer, it’s important to stay up-to-date with the latest advancements and developments in the field. Many states require licensed engineers to complete a certain number of continuing education hours in order to renew their licenses. This helps ensure that engineers are aware of the latest technologies, regulations, and best practices in civil engineering.
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By following these steps, you’ll be on your way to becoming a licensed civil engineer and making a positive impact on the design and construction of our built environment. Civil engineers play a crucial role in the development, maintenance, and control of infrastructure such as buildings, bridges, roads, airports, and more. Their work helps to analyze and determine the needs for these structures, making sure they are safe, efficient, and sustainable.


Can I become a civil engineer without studying civil engineering in college?

While it is technically possible to become a civil engineer without studying civil engineering in college, it is highly discouraged. Civil engineering is a complex field that requires specialized knowledge and skills, which are best obtained through a formal education. Without a degree in civil engineering, it will be difficult to find employment in this field and you may struggle to compete with other candidates who have the necessary qualifications.

What are the benefits of studying civil engineering in college?

Studying civil engineering in college offers a number of benefits. Firstly, it provides you with a solid foundation of knowledge and skills that are necessary for a successful career in this field. You will learn about various aspects of civil engineering, including structural analysis, transportation systems, geotechnical engineering, and environmental engineering. Additionally, studying in college allows you to gain practical experience through internships and co-op programs, which can greatly enhance your employability after graduation.

Is it necessary to have a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering to work as a civil engineer?

Yes, having a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering is typically a requirement for working as a civil engineer. Most employers in this field prefer candidates who have completed a formal education in civil engineering, as it demonstrates a certain level of knowledge and competence. A degree in civil engineering provides you with the necessary technical skills and theoretical knowledge to design, construct, and maintain infrastructure projects. It also opens up more opportunities for career advancement and higher salary potential.

Can I study civil engineering in college if I didn’t take math and science courses in high school?

While it is not impossible to study civil engineering in college without taking math and science courses in high school, it can be quite challenging. Math and science are fundamental subjects in civil engineering, and a strong foundation in these areas is crucial for understanding the principles and concepts of the field. If you did not take these courses in high school, you may need to complete remedial or prerequisite courses in college to catch up. It is best to consult with a college advisor to determine the specific requirements for admission to a civil engineering program.

What are the qualities or skills that are important for a successful civil engineer?

There are several qualities and skills that are important for a successful civil engineer. Firstly, strong analytical and problem-solving skills are essential, as civil engineers are often faced with complex challenges that require innovative solutions. Attention to detail is also crucial, as even the smallest mistakes can have significant consequences in civil engineering projects. Effective communication and teamwork skills are important for collaborating with colleagues and coordinating with other professionals involved in a project. Additionally, a passion for learning and staying up-to-date with the latest advancements in the field is important for continued professional growth as a civil engineer.

What are the essential things needed to become a civil engineer?

The essential things needed to become a civil engineer include a strong foundation in mathematics and science, excellent problem-solving skills, good communication skills, practical experience through internships or co-op programs, and a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.

Dave Pennells

By Dave Pennells

Dave Pennells, MS, has contributed his expertise as a career consultant and training specialist across various fields for over 15 years. At City University of Seattle, he offers personal career counseling and conducts workshops focused on practical job search techniques, resume creation, and interview skills. With a Master of Science in Counseling, Pennells specializes in career consulting, conducting career assessments, guiding career transitions, and providing outplacement services. Her professional experience spans multiple sectors, including banking, retail, airlines, non-profit organizations, and the aerospace industry. Additionally, since 2001, he has been actively involved with the Career Development Association of Australia.