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Civil engineering is the profession that applies mathematics, chemistry, and mechanics to the design, construction, and maintenance of public and private infrastructure.
Civil engineers work in a wide variety of areas that encompass all aspects of the natural and man-made environment. Among the important areas of study and practice in the profession are the following:
Structures—This area deals with the design and construction of bridges, buildings, towers, and other objects made of materials such as steel, concrete, brick, stone, and wood.
Hydraulics—This area deals with all aspects of the movement and use of water. The most common specialty within hydraulics is the design and construction of storm sewerage, sanitary sewerage, and water supply systems.
Surveying—This area deals with the accurate two- and three-dimensional measurement of land and structures and with the making of maps to document the results of measurements.
Environmental Protection—This area deals with the measurement of undesirable man-made changes to the natural world and with methods for reversing or minimizing the impacts of these changes.
Transportation—This area deals with all aspects of planning, designing, and constructing transportation systems including highways, railroads, and waterways.
Materials—This area deals with the characterization of soil, minerals, and man-made substances and with their use in construction.
Land Use and Urban Planning—This area deals with the environmentally, politically, and sociologically appropriate use of land, particularly in populous areas.
A student who wants to work in one of these areas should plan to obtain at least a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering or civil engineering technology. Learn more about the difference between these degrees. Many students go on to earn master of science degrees that prepare them for a higher level of responsibility on the job; some even earn doctoral degrees that prepare them to do advanced research or to teach at the college level.
Earning a Master of Business Administration or a Master of Science in Engineering Management degree makes a civil engineer particularly well qualified to manage construction projects for private industry or government.
A civil engineer who wishes to offer his or her services directly to the public, or whose work for an employer directly impacts public safety, must be licensed by his state as a Professional Engineer (PE). Licensure requires graduation from an accredited engineering or engineering technology program, a minimum of four years of professional practice, and passing grades on two standardized examinations. Learn more about engineering licensure. Although obtaining a PE license is a lengthy and challenging process, it provides proof that an engineer is able to practice his or her profession with integrity and technical competence.