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Civil Engineering

The Breakdown

From tunnels and bridges to dams and highways (and even roller coasters), the very infrastructure of our modern society is reliant upon the work of civil engineers. Indeed, without these fine professionals, we couldn’t guarantee that our buildings would safely stay standing or that our plumbing would properly dispose of our waste. In fact, one might refer to a civil engineer as a hero of everyday life (if one wanted to be a tad hyperbolic). If you enjoy elements of both construction and problem solving, perhaps civil engineering is the path for you.

Defined in very broad strokes, civil engineering majors study the design and analysis of structures and systems. Through classes in math, physics and chemistry, undergrads will learn everything from how to determine the stability of a bridge to the purification process of water. Often times, civil engineering students choose a concentration in such sub-categories as structural engineering, water resources and environmental engineering, construction, geotechnical engineering or transportation and municipal engineering. Course-loads typically include a combination of classroom and laboratory work. Additionally, many programs require their undergraduates to complete a senior capstone project (i.e. major research undertaking). It should be noted that obtaining a bachelors in civil engineering can sometimes take up to five years.

Without a doubt, stellar math and quantitative reasoning skills are critical to success in civil engineering. Beyond that, the discipline calls for innovative thinkers with the keen ability to focus on both the big picture and the individual steps necessary for completing said picture. Finally, collaboration is intrinsic to civil engineering so it’s vital to be a team player.

Nuts and Bolts

As a civil engineering major, your coursework could very well include classes such as: Soil Mechanics, Computer-Based Engineering Analysis, Strength of Materials, Calculus, Dynamics, Fluid Mechanics, Construction Engineering, Statistics, Applied Hydraulics and Hydrology, Transport Engineering, Sustainable Engineering, Pavement Design, Urban Hydrology and Stormwater Management, Urban Planning for Civil Engineers, Steel Design and Law for Engineers.

Decisions, Decisions

Armed with a proclivity for all things technical, civil engineering majors might also consider studying mathematics, chemical engineering, architecture, mechanical engineering, architectural engineering, statistics, physics, electrical engineering, computer engineering, information sciences, urban planning, construction management and industrial engineering.

What's Next

Civil engineering students will be delighted to discover that professional opportunities abound. Graduates usually find employment within either government agencies or construction and manufacturing firms. More specifically, they might work as transportation engineers, designing and planning new roads and highways. They can also find employment in hydrology/water resource engineering helping in the development of dams and canals. Structural engineering is another popular route. Here, civil engineers are tasked with ensuring the materials used in a construction project can withstand the needs of a project. Further, they can become geo-technical engineers, overseeing the excavation of underground projects (e.g. when cities want to expand their mass transit). Finally, it should be noted that although you can certainly find employment with an engineering degree, you will not be a full-fledged, licensed engineer. Indeed, you will have to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam (known as the FE) administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. Upon successful completion of the FE exam, you will acquire an apprenticeship to qualify for the Professional Engineer exam (known as the PE). Once you pass the PE exam, you will become a fully-certified engineer!


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Don Munce