Construction Science Degrees: Associate, Bachelor & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with an undergraduate degree in construction science? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of associate and bachelor's degrees as well as the job outlook for potential careers.
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Construction Science Degrees at a Glance

Because construction science is used literally everywhere that buildings, bridges, airports, highways or any infrastructure of any kind needs to be built or repaired, these professionals often have hands-on careers as contractors, consultants and construction entrepreneurs. If you have passion for solving complex problems, critical thinking and time management, then a degree in construction science would qualify you to be a general contractor, project or construction manager as well as a construction site superintendent. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that construction managers generally only need an associate degree, employers prefer to hire candidates who have both earned a bachelor's degree and have on-the-job experience.

According to the BLS, the job outlook for construction managers was expected to grow 17% between 2010 and 2020, which is faster than the national average rate for the same time period. While qualified construction managers were anticipated to have good job prospects, keep in mind that actual job prospects can vary by region, because this field is susceptible to economic fluctuation. As of May 2011, the states with the highest concentrations of employment for construction managers were Alaska, Texas, Maryland, Maine and Florida.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Those who want to work as contractors Those who want to work in management positions in the construction field
Common Career Paths (approximate mean annual salary) - Construction laborers ($34,000)*
- Claims adjusters and investigators ($61,000)*
- Cost estimators ($63,000)*
- Construction managers ($94,000)*
Time to Completion Two years, full-time Four years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Technical and business coursework
- Internship
- Significant coursework in communication and mathematics
Prerequisites Completion of high school or a G.E.D. program Completion of high school or a G.E.D. program
Online Availability None found at this time, though related training is available in construction management None found at this time, though related training is available in construction management

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate Degree Programs in Construction Science

These 2-year programs - in construction science or building construction technology - combine training in the service-oriented and technical aspects of the construction industry in order to prepare graduates to work as non-managers in the construction field. Because employment in this industry is often extremely hands-on, some programs require students to complete a relevant internship prior to graduation. These programs are often designed to allow students to transfer into a construction systems management programs at the bachelor's level.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • This industry is in demand every time new infrastructure needs to be built or repaired
  • Training programs in this field are available at a variety of institutions
  • While gaining experience in the field, you will have a leg up on competition for construction laborer jobs, which typically do not require formal education*

Cons

  • Career opportunities may include physically demanding work*
  • You will be competing for construction manager jobs with bachelor's program graduates*
  • Laborers in this industry have some of the highest incidents of illness and injury*
  • Worksite conditions may not be ideal, including working in all kinds of weather*

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

Courses and Requirements

As preparation for technical careers working for building materials companies or entry-level jobs leading to careers as project managers, estimators and job coordinators, students learn about a variety of technical, legal and financial topics. Instruction commonly takes the form of classes covering:

  • Architectural drawing
  • Business
  • Construction law
  • Environmental technology
  • Estimating
  • Framing

Online Degree Options

While the hands-on construction technology degree programs are not available in an online format, related training in construction management and construction supervision are available in a 100% online structure. Online programs are often designed for working professionals looking to advance in their field. Because this field tends to be extremely hands-on, students enrolled in an online program may need to complete an in-person internship or capstone project.

Stand Out With This Degree

One way to get an edge on the competition is to make sure that you study in a program that offers training in environmentally sustainable ('green') building technology. Since the BLS reported that the construction industry was the largest industry where green goods and services were classified as of 2009, familiarity with product certifications like Energy Star and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System would be beneficial.

Degree Alternatives

Associate of Applied Science in Architectural Drafting and Design

Students in these 2-year programs learn to use computer-aided design and drafting software to create building plans - including with small details - out of architect drawings and customer specifications. In addition to learning about technical concerns, programs offer courses in construction methods and mechanical material strength, in order to ensure that future drafters don't accidentally indicate that load-bearing walls should be made out of a weak material.

While job openings for drafters were supposed to grow more slowly - at a rate of six percent from 2010-2020, according to the BLS - than the national average rate of growth, these professionals typically work indoors and have little risk of sustaining an on-the-job injury. In May 2011, the BLS reported that these professionals earned a mean annual salary of $50,160.

Associate of Applied Science in Civil Engineering Technology

Straddling the office and construction-site work environments, civil engineering technicians mainly work in an office, but conduct project inspections and materials testing at worksites. While not required, job applicants with an ABET-accredited, associate-level degree in this field have a leg up on job applicants who have only completed high school. These math-intensive programs teach students about hydrology, physics, surveying, technical communication and soil mechanics.

With a 12% anticipated job growth - which is roughly on pace with the national average - civil engineering technicians were set to see an additional 9,400 professionals enter into the field during the 2010-2020 decade. As of May 2011, these professionals took home a mean annual wage of $48,480.

Bachelor's Degree Programs in Construction Science

These 4-year programs in construction science often offer significant training in management skills, in order to prepare you for careers in construction management. Statistics, human communication, marketing principles, structural analysis and environmentally conscious design are all concepts that are taught in order to prepare graduates for jobs in this highly technical industry, where clear communication helps keep construction teams safe. Because transferring into programs after completing an associate-level program is common, some 4-year programs are designed to admit students into the program after the freshman and sophomore years of classes have been completed.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Programs available with a variety of emphases to choose from (for example: management or sustainable design)
  • Variety of potential employers (government, academia, industry)
  • You will have a leg up on associate-degree competition for construction management jobs*

Cons

  • Career opportunities may include physically demanding work*
  • Worksite conditions may not be ideal, including working in all kinds of weather*
  • Laborers in this field have some of the highest incidents of illness and injury*

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

Courses and Requirements

In general, these programs are designed to give you a well-rounded understanding of all topics that influence the construction industry, including materials, architecture, law, business, scheduling, supervision and operations. In addition to the typical construction and business courses, programs introduce students to concepts in:

  • Architecture design
  • Heavy construction
  • Facilities management
  • Multimedia computing
  • Physics

Online Degree Options

Much like the associate-level programs, online programs in construction science are difficult to find. Related programs in more managerial disciplines - such as project management or construction management - are much more common. Online programs at the bachelor's level may be more commonly found at for-profit learning institutions.

Stand Out With This Degree

Because the BLS states that most employers prefer to hire graduates who have both a bachelor's degree and a certain amount of job experience, those looking to get ahead in the field may want to demonstrate expertise by earning voluntary certification. Some certifications in the field - specific to construction managers - include the Certified Construction Manager designation from the Construction Management Association of America as well as the Certified Professional Constructor and Associate Constructor credentials from the American Institute of Constructors.

Degree Alternatives

Bachelor of Architecture

These 5-year, professional degree programs are designed to prepare graduates for a career as a licensed architect. The architecture field was set to see a 24% growth in employment between 2010 and 2020; professional architects garnered a mean annual wage of $79,000.

Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering

While programs in this field can be offered online, the ability to take classes at your own pace can mean that these degrees take around six years to complete, as opposed to the typical 4-year time frame. Professional civil engineers are able to work in fields like contract administration, technical support, structural engineering, wastewater engineering and site development.

According to the BLS, architectural and engineering managers were only projected to see a nine percent jump in employment from 2010-2020; however, these professionals took home a mean annual salary of $129,000 as of 2011.

Professional civil engineers - according to the May 2011 BLS reports - reportedly earned a mean annual wage of $83,000. Programs that prepare graduates for licensure as a Professional Engineer - from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying - have been accredited by an organization called ABET.

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