Civil Engineering Degrees: Bachelor, Associate & Online Course Info

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Associate's and bachelor's degrees in civil engineering can lead to careers as drafters, civil engineers, and project engineers. Get the truth about the requirements, courses, and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying Civil Engineering: Degrees at a Glance

Civil engineering is the planning and design of major structures, including highways, bridges, buildings, and canals. Civil engineers might work for private companies or as government workers planning municipal projects. In a civil engineering degree program, you'll learn the physical sciences as they pertain to the construction of these structures.

If you're seeking an education in civil engineering, it's worth noting that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected an average job growth for those with a bachelor's degree (the job outlook for civil engineers was expected to be 19% from 2010-2020), and a slower-than-average job growth for those with an associate's degree (the job outlook for drafters was expected to be 6% and for civil engineering technicians to be 12%, both for the same 2010-2020 period).

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Those interested in aiding in planning, design, and constructing projects such as bridges, dams, and buildings Those interested in overseeing the planning, design, and construction of such projects
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) -Drafter ($47,000)*
-Civil Engineering Technician ($47,000)*
-Cost Estimator ($49,000)**
-Civil Engineer ($78,000)*
-Civil Engineering Supervisor ($72,000)**
-Project Engineer ($60,000)**
Time to Completion Two years (full time) 4-6 years (full time)
Common Graduation Requirements -General education courses
-Mathematics and physical sciences courses
-Engineering courses on an array of topics, such as environment, foundations, and material use
-A technical project
Most or all of the associate's degree requirements, plus:
-Additional general education courses
-Additional engineering courses
-Capstone project
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED High school diploma or GED
Online Availability None found at this time Yes (hybrid)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011), **Salary.com (May 2012).

Associate's in Civil Engineering

This 2-year degree program includes technical courses and laboratory sessions that focus on engineering concepts and building regulations, as well as fundamental and advanced courses in math and science. Like most associate's degree programs, you'll also need to complete general education courses. However, you'll also have the option to take electives in topics like building materials, design or specific structures, which can help you focus your interests and skills and prepare you for a variety of careers.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • 2-year degree that offers well-paying career opportunities (civil engineering technicians earned a median annual salary of almost $47,000 in 2011)*
  • Degrading infrastructure ensures continued need for those with degrees in civil engineering
  • Offers the potential for a range of careers in both the public and private sectors

Cons

  • Job market for those with associate's degrees not growing as quickly as for those with bachelor's degrees
  • Even in entry-level positions, you will be competing against those with bachelor's degrees
  • Career opportunities are limited to assisting roles, rather than heading projects

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

An associate's degree in civil engineering focuses heavily on math and the physical sciences. Many courses will concentrate on a particular aspect of engineering, such as foundations, hydrology, and construction materials. Additionally, you might have courses in the arts (specifically drawing, both freehand and computer-aided) and communication. Toward the end of the program, you might be required to complete a technical project to demonstrate your ability to put your acquired knowledge into practice. Typical courses include:

  • Algebra/trigonometry
  • Physics
  • Computer-aided design (CAD)
  • Structural materials

Online Degree Options

Accredited online programs for this degree are difficult to find, so be sure to research any programs you find to be sure your degree will be accepted by any future employers. In general, attendance at an on-campus program will likely provide more advantages, like access to the college's labs and library, both of which can help you excel a technically oriented field.

Stand Out with this Degree

Software developments in this field are changing the way civil engineering projects are designed and executed. Taking elective courses on current software technology can help you stand out, especially in jobs like as a drafter.

Though certification is not a necessity for careers that require with this degree, individual employers might prefer it. Certification can be acquired from the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies in areas such as building construction, construction materials, geotechnical, land and water management, transportation, and underground utilities.

Bachelor's in Civil Engineering

A bachelor's degree in civil engineering often focuses on application and problem solving by teaching principles of planning, design, and analysis. As with the associate's degree, a bachelor's degree will focus on math and science, though coursework will also include a broad range of engineering topics. You will also be required to take courses in economics since oversight of projects means you'll need to be knowledgeable about funding and budgeting. Completing this degree can also prepare you for the Fundamentals of Engineering licensing exam, the first part of becoming a professional engineer in many states.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Good job outlook in a growing field (the BLS expects there to be about 51,000 new openings in the field between 2010 and 2020)*
  • Opportunities to oversee the design and completion of large-scale projects, such as bridges, highways, and skyscrapers
  • Potential to work in a range of situations, from overseeing construction sites to building design to municipal planning

Cons

  • Job availability may decrease greatly in certain areas during times when the economy isn't as strong
  • Graduate degree might be needed for management positions
  • Broad range of subjects in civil engineering might require you to specialize for certain careers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Courses in a bachelor's degree program cover topics similar to those in an associate's degree program but go into greater depth. The 4-year degree also includes courses that focus on the business side of engineering. Typical courses you will find include:

  • Calculus
  • Statics and dynamics
  • Fluid and solid mechanics
  • Geology
  • Advanced design (using a variety of materials)

At the end of the program, you'll be required to complete a capstone project, which might be an overarching design class or a project that includes creating and presenting a design with building specifications as they would be presented to a client.

Online Degree Options

Fully online courses are rare because most (if not all) programs require lab work for completion. However, hybrid programs are available. This means some courses are offered online while some are taught on campus, or lecture courses might be taken online with lab work done on campus at certain times each year.

Stand Out with This Degree

All states require licensing for civil engineers, though specifics differ from state to state. Often licensing requires passing exams and gaining at least four years of work experience under the supervision of a licensed civil engineer. Be sure to research the requirements for licensing in the area where you want to work in order to acquire the proper licensing as soon as possible.

If you are able to decide which area of civil engineering (bridges, water treatment facilities, etc.) you wish to work in, you can then focus on that area in your coursework. This can improve your chances of acquiring jobs, particularly managerial jobs, within that area.

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