What Is a Civil Engineering Degree? (With Career Options)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Civil engineers take part in infrastructure projects, including the building of railways, tower blocks and roads. Civil engineers influence the physical world around us and make people's lives more manageable with the projects they complete. Understanding what a civil engineering degree is and what you can do with it can help you decide if it's a career option you want to pursue. In this article, we consider what a civil engineering degree is, how to complete one and career options for civil engineering graduates.

What is a civil engineering degree?

A civil engineering degree teaches students to design, construct and manage building infrastructures, such as dams, roads and bridges. Some of the courses taken include:

  • fluid mechanics

  • soil mechanics

  • digital environment building

  • engineering geology

  • civil and architectural engineering

  • minerals and statics

  • structural mechanics

Related: What is Civil Engineering? Definition and Types

What is civil engineering?

Civil engineering is a subfield of engineering that focuses on the building and maintenance of natural and physically built structures and environments. Civil engineers design and construct large facilities such as dams, roads, tunnels, airports, bridges, water and sewage systems and other functional structures. They use their theoretical and practical engineering knowledge to plan, budget, manage and analyse small and large projects.

How to become a civil engineer

The typical path to becoming a civil engineer includes the following steps:

1. Prepare to meet the entrance requirements

If you're interested in becoming a civil engineer, universities require A level maths and physics with grades ranging from CCC to AAA. You can also use vocational courses equivalent to A levels to apply to a university for entrance to the degree. Relevant qualifications include Level 3/Level 6 qualifications (such as the Pearson's BTEC Level 3 National Extended Diploma or an SCQF Level 6 qualification). Reach out to the universities to make sure you know what their entrance requirements are.

2. What to expect during your degree in civil engineering

Many universities offer a bachelor's degree in civil engineering. During this degree, students take various courses, including engineering, statistics, math, architectural design and fluid dynamics. Students in civil engineering take part in the following activities:

  • writing essays and reports

  • being present at seminars and lectures

  • computer and simulation work

  • placements to gain industry experience

  • projects, presentations and other types of group work

Students spend time in lectures and computer labs in their first year of study. During their second and third years at university, students choose areas of specialisation. Students may complete full design projects independently or as part of a study group. Projects may be in areas such as geotechnical, structural, transportation, architectural or hydraulic engineering.

3. Completing a civil engineering apprenticeship

Civil engineering students can work and study at the same time to earn a salary. The range of apprenticeships available depends on your location. Employers design these apprenticeships using the occupational standards for specific job roles. These standards cover the skills, behaviour and knowledge needed to help an apprentice become competent for the particular position. Students can choose from various apprenticeships in fields such as building services design engineering, civil engineering and design and construction management.

4. Choosing an area of specialisation

During their undergraduate studies, students can choose from the many subdisciplines in civil engineering for their specialisation. They can continue their studies in their area of specialisation by completing a master's degree. To become a chartered engineer, graduates need a minimum of a master's.

5. Become accredited

Engineers typically become a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). ICE focuses on the global promotion and advancement of civil engineering. It requires its members to meet high professional standards. Becoming a member can enhance your professional credentials. Civil engineers can become chartered engineers by registering with the Engineering Council.

Related: What You Need To Know About Professional Qualifications

Career options for civil engineering graduates

Some of the career options for civil engineering graduates include:

1. CAD technician

National average salary: £29,748 per year

Primary duties: CAD technicians use computer-aided design (CAD) software to plan projects. They may review drawings and perform research to ensure a design meets the building code specifications. They work with 2-D (surface modelling) or 3-D plans (solid modelling) technology.

2. City engineer

National average salary: £30,706 per year

Primary duties: Local councils employ city engineers to repair or replace ageing infrastructure. City engineers design bridges, roads and other city infrastructure. They consider environmental and health and safety regulations during these projects.

Related: How To Become an Engineer in 5 Steps

3. Building engineer

National average salary: £33,865 per year

Primary duties: Building engineers maintain and repair apartment buildings, health care facilities and office buildings. Some building engineers oversee hotels or manufacturing facilities. They use their detailed knowledge of heating and cooling equipment to perform checks and repairs on this equipment.

4. Civil engineer

National average salary: £36,615 per year

Primary duties: A civil engineer designs, develops and links people and places by building roads, bridges, houses and other buildings. They ensure that towns and cities are functional for their residents. They can work in the private sector or for governments.

5. Surveyor

National average salary: £39,254 per year

Primary duties: A surveyor measures a property's boundaries and locations to complete its site specifications. Surveyors complete maps to establish land or water boundaries for leases, deeds and other legal documents. They research land titles or records to verify the accuracy of their data and present their findings to the relevant authorities.

Related: How To Become a Chartered Surveyor

6. Planning engineer

National average salary: £47,123 per year

Primary duties: These engineers develop project plans to decide on engineering techniques to ensure the project meets the set requirements. They set target dates for milestone deliverables and monitor progress through analysis and reporting. They coordinate with team members to manage expectations and direct work responsibilities.

7. Engineering project manager

National average salary: £48,778 per year

Primary duties: An engineering project manager oversees the team members working on an engineering project, including architects, design and planning engineers and construction contractors. They delegate responsibilities, monitor progress and manage budget constraints. They prepare reports about the project and the strategies followed to meet relevant building regulations.

Frequently asked questions about civil engineering

Here are several frequently asked questions, with responses, about these degrees and civil engineering in general:

How long does it take to finish the degree?

Civil engineering students can complete an undergraduate degree in three years. Students can also combine their undergraduate and postgraduate degrees to finish a master's degree in civil engineering in four years. Students need a minimum of a master's degree in engineering to become a chartered engineer.

What skills do students learn during their civil engineering studies?

The essential skills students in civil engineering develop during their studies include:

  • Decision-making skills: Civil engineers oversee large projects until their completion and make decisions about the project daily.

  • Mathematical skills: Civil engineering students develop a good understanding of mathematical skills, such as calculus and geometry. Engineers often do simulations and create models as part of their project work.

  • Problem-solving skills: Clients' demands, planning restrictions and bad weather can cause problems during projects. Civil engineers use their problem-solving skills to design solutions to ensure they can continue the project and finish it on time.

  • Organisation skills: Civil engineers oversee contractors and labourers during a construction project. They manage all aspects of the project and ensure that everyone knows their duties.

  • IT skills: Engineers use a variety of software programs to plan and execute project designs. The software includes programs for computer-aided design, project management, map creation and analytics.

Related: Engineering Skills: Definition and Examples

What are the duties and responsibilities of civil engineers?

The daily duties and responsibilities of civil engineers depend on their area of specialisation. Typical tasks across disciplines include:

  • analysing long-term plans, maps, survey data, maps and reports to design and plan projects

  • completing risk analysis for projects to identify potential environmental hazards and government regulations to comply with

  • analysing soil test results to find out if the foundations can support the planned structures

  • creating and submitting permit applications to authorities to ensure compliance with the relevant regulations

  • preparing budgets with cost estimates for material, equipment to determine the economic feasibility of the project

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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