What is a Civil Engineering Degree?

Civil engineers are concerned with the design, construction, and maintenance of structures and infrastructure, from skyscrapers to tunnels, bridges, and airports. The typical civil engineering curriculum teaches students about:

  • rebuilding and upgrading deteriorating city infrastructure
  • building new structures that can withstand natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes
  • developing technologies for transportation networks like railways and subway systems
  • improving and developing clean water and sewage systems
  • building alternative energy systems

This subject matter involves coursework in math, computing and computer graphics, chemistry, physics, structural mechanics, hydraulics, materials, surveying, geology, and ecology.

Program Options

Associate Degree in Civil Engineering - Two Year Duration
In general, a two-year associate degree in civil engineering or civil engineering technology prepares students to work as technicians under the supervision of civil engineers. Common courses offered at this level are:

  • Introduction to Surveying – theories, techniques, and tools used in land surveying
  • Computer Programs Used in Civil Engineering – computer applications/software used in civil engineering
  • Highway Engineering – fundamentals of highway design and construction
  • Soil Behavior – soil properties and how they affect construction

Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering - Four Year Duration
This four-year degree is the minimum degree required to work as a civil engineer. In addition to classes in the areas described above in the associate degree section, bachelor’s program students will study:

  • Fluid Mechanics – principles of fluid dynamics; how fluids act in different situations
  • Advanced Calculus – advanced mathematical concepts that apply to civil engineering
  • Material Properties – examination of how various materials act under certain conditions like loads and compression
  • Engineering Economics – considering economic factors when determining engineering solutions

Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering - Two Year Duration
With a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering, career options naturally expand to include leadership roles in the field. Coursework can vary from program to program or based on specialization in construction, materials engineering, public works engineering, or structural engineering. These are some examples of classes that are offered at this degree level:

  • Construction Law – laws, regulations, and legal issues that impact construction projects
  • Project Planning – organizing, planning, estimating, and regulating projects
  • Project Controls – cash flow, budgets, and human resources
  • Physical Hydrology – water cycle, climate, soil moisture
  • Coastal Structures – challenges of building and maintaining structures along coastal waterways
  • Airport Engineering – airport design and construction
  • Air Pollution Engineering – designing around air pollution regulations
  • Concrete Engineering – how to reinforce concrete and analyze its strengths and weaknesses
  • Structural Risk Analysis – risk analysis in structural design and project planning

Doctoral Degree in Civil Engineering - Four to Eight Year Duration
Holders of a Doctorate in Civil Engineering are qualified to conduct in-depth research and teach in the field. The program is largely dedicated to researching and writing the required doctoral thesis and taking advanced courses, such as the following:

  • Urban Infrastructure – structures in a modern city
  • Engineering Water Systems – modeling of water systems and flood control systems
  • Statistics in Civil Engineering – use of statistics in project design and construction
  • Earthquake Engineering – structural design and construction to withstand earthquakes

Degrees Similar to Civil Engineering

Architectural Engineering
Degree programs in architectural engineering combine architecture and engineering. Their goal is to produce engineers with technical skills in all aspects of building design and construction. Courses, therefore, cover subjects like architectural drawing and design, building construction, lighting and acoustics, energy systems, and fire safety.

Programs which prepare students to become professional architects focus on topics like architectural theory, design, and history; as well as drafting and project and site planning.

Urban / Regional Planning
This degree is very closely aligned with civil engineering. Urban, community, and regional planning is all about creating livable and environmentally healthy communities. In simple terms, urban planners develop land use plans and civil engineers oversee the building of the infrastructure and systems that make up those plans.

Drafting and Design Technology
This degree field teaches students to use computer programs to create drawings that are used in construction or manufacturing. In the architectural and engineering sectors, drafters create drawings that show the technical specifications of buildings. In the manufacturing field, they draft drawings that detail how parts should be made.

Engineering Technology
Majors in this field study many of the engineering concepts and design skills that engineering majors learn. Their focus, though, is more on applied design and is less theoretically and mathematically oriented. As part of an engineering team, a technologist might be involved in product development and testing or designing a programming language to improve a system designed by an engineer.

Environmental Engineering
This branch of engineering is concerned with developing solutions to environmental problems. Environmental engineers work to control air and water pollution, improve recycling and waste disposal, and advance public health.

Skills You’ll Learn

The process of earning a degree in civil engineering leaves students with a notably wide scope skills:

Math and physics; design techniques; working with maps, drawings, models, and CAD software

Project Management / Leadership
Leading teams; complying with standards and regulations

Interacting with clients, management, and staff

Developing and improving on solutions

Critical / Analytical Thinking
Critically analyzing complex problems

Conflict Resolution
Reconciling differences among team members

Organization and Time Management
Efficient scheduling and planning

Attention to Detail
Precise design and implementation

Responding to challenges and issues in a calm and efficient manner

Transforming architectural/aesthetic designs into functional ones

What Can You Do with a Civil Engineering Degree?

Construction Engineering
Civil engineers are required in every aspect of construction: planning, design, building, and maintenance. For example, geotechnical engineers, who examine soil and rocks, design the foundations of buildings. Structural and materials engineers make sure that a building can sustain its weight load.

Urban / Regional Planning
In urban and regional planning, civil engineers perform site inspections and surveys and consult on development plans for infrastructure projects in transportation, communication, real estate, and other fields.

Building Inspection
In this field, which is closely aligned with construction, civil engineers determine if buildings are up to code and meet occupancy requirements.

Independent transportation companies and government transport departments hire civil engineers to design and manage highways; develop mass transit systems; plan airports, seaports, and railways systems; and conduct feasibility studies on how these projects might affect specific regions or communities.

Water Utilities
Water resources engineering is a branch of civil engineering specializing in water treatment, removal of waste water, management of flood waters, and design of sewer and irrigation systems – all with consideration for the environment.

Landfill Management
Civil engineers also work with private companies and government agencies involved in landfill management. In these roles they are responsible for landfill design, the disposal of waste in landfills, and the monitoring of water courses.

Many civil engineers choose to teach civil engineering at the university level after they have had a career within the field.


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