What is the Best Degree Path to Becoming a Civil Engineer?

If you are good at mathematics, enjoy making decisions and have an interest in the logistics of how buildings, bridges and other structures come to exist, a career as a civil engineer may appeal to you. However, knowing what you want to do is one thing, but knowing how to get there is another thing entirely. Your path to becoming a civil engineer starts with earning an undergraduate degree. Along the way, you will pass exams, gain hands-on experience and possibly pursue an advanced degree.

Undergraduate Degree

When making “major” decisions, engineering is a wise choice. Engineering positions in various disciplines are among the best-paying jobs in the country. Professionals in engineering and architecture can expect to earn as much as $3.4 million over their working life – and that’s for candidates who hold only a bachelor’s degree.

As you might expect, the best way to prepare for a career as a civil engineer is to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program in civil engineering specifically. During their undergraduate academic careers, civil engineering students should expect to study mathematics and statistics as well as engineering systems, principles and mechanics. They may also have to take general education courses to develop other skills and abilities not limited to engineering, such as critical thinking skills and the ability to communicate effectively in speech and in writing. In addition to traditional lecture courses, engineering students spend time learning in laboratories and completing fieldwork.

Getting an Engineer’s License

In the United States, civil engineers must hold a state license. Earning a bachelor’s degree is one step toward obtaining that license. Students should make sure that the program they choose is accredited by the organization ABET, which currently recognizes more than 200 undergraduate civil engineering degree programs. The next step is to pass a test called the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Examination to become an official Civil Engineering Intern or Engineer-in-Training. Different states require different qualifications, but candidates must generally meet experience requirements and take additional tests to earn a professional license.

An Advanced Education

A bachelor’s degree is often sufficient for students to begin working in the field of engineering. However, more than 20 percent of civil engineers – one out of every five – goes on to earn a master’s degree, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Advanced degrees open many new opportunities to civil engineers, such as those in management positions, and may also increase earning potential.

Though the path to becoming a full-fledged engineer is long, requiring formal education, passing scores on examinations and professional experience, the end result is well worth the work. Publications like CNN Money and U.S. News & World Report consistently rank the profession as among the best jobs in America. Between the high earning potential and the level of job satisfaction, aspiring civil engineers are likely to be quite happy with their choice of careers once they get their licenses and find civil engineering positions.

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