Study Civil Engineering: Masters, PhD & Online Degree Info

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What will you learn in a civil engineering degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and Ph.D. degree and potential careers.
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Civil Engineering Master's and Ph.D. Degrees: At a Glance

A graduate degree in civil engineering may be helpful if you wish to move into a research, academic or managerial position in the civil engineering field. However, usually only a bachelor's degree is necessary for entry-level positions. Some programs may offer combined bachelor's/master's degrees.

Civil engineers design large structures, such as bridges, roads and buildings, and are essential to building up a community's infrastructure. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), jobs in the field are expected to increase by 19% between 2010 and 2020. While funding may be hard to find, it is expected that jobs in this area will be stable and necessary. Many states require civil engineers to be licensed.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals looking to move into managerial positions People who want to work in academia as professors or researchers
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Civil engineer ($83,000)*
- Environment engineer ($83,000)*
- Hydrologist ($79,000)*
Same as master's, as well as:
- University professor ($74,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 2-6 years after the master's
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 30 credit hours
Some may also require:
- Master's thesis/research paper
- Projects
- Formal reports
-Approximately 60 credit hours
Some combination of the following:
- Ph.D. qualifier exams
- Internship
- Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation
- Dissertation defense
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in civil or related engineering from an ABET-accredited program ABET-accredited bachelor's or master's degree in civil or related engineering
Online Availability Yes None found at this time

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

Master's Degrees in Civil Engineering

Master's degree programs in civil engineering usually involve a combination of coursework, projects and research, and may include a thesis. Schools may offer individualized programs tailored to your specific goals and interests, or they may offer a variety of specialties with dedicated curriculums, such as structural, hydrologic, wind, water, geotechnical, ocean, transportation or irrigation engineering.

Some schools may offer more than one type of master's degree as well, such as a Master of Science or a Master of Engineering. Masters of Engineering often are terminal degrees, whereas Masters of Science can be applied to Ph.D. programs in the future, should you wish to continue your education. Additionally, some schools may offer combined bachelor's/master's degree programs, where you can go directly into a master's degree upon completion of a bachelor's and finish faster.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Civil engineering is considered to be an essential, stable engineering field*
  • Potential careers pay above-average salaries*
  • Will prepare you for advancement in your career, such as into management positions*
  • Allows for specialization

Cons

  • May not have additional job opportunities past what's available for a bachelor's degree*
  • Need previous engineering knowledge in order to pursue
  • Expensive if you do not need to specialize in a particular branch of civil engineering

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

Courses and Requirements

Because graduate degree programs focus so heavily on specialization, courses may vary based on what you're focusing on, as well as your individual interests within that specialization. In general, master's degrees require about 30 semester credit hours to complete. That may be some combination of coursework and thesis, research project or internship hours.

Depending on your specialty, you may take courses in:

  • Hydrology
  • Construction methods
  • Traffic engineering
  • Water resources
  • Structures

Master's degrees vary on additional requirements - some specialties may require internships or design projects, or it may be dependent on the school you choose to attend. You may need to complete and defend a thesis or conduct research as well.

Online Degree Options

Some universities offer online master's degrees. These are usually hosted by schools that also offer the degree on-campus, and the courses and requirements are usually the same. However, online master's programs are typically not accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Programs may be offered completely online, with lectures delivered through the Internet.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

An internship or cooperative engineering program (co-op), especially one in the area of your specialization, can improve your chances of getting hired after graduation. Also, many employers in the civil engineering field recommend earning a professional engineer license, particularly if you plan on offering your services publicly. This is a multi-step process. First, you must pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam and meet your state's licensure requirements. Then you must complete at least four years of experience, after which you may take the Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. There are a number of duties that can only be performed by those holding a PE. Additionally, having a master's and a PE allows you to earn additional certifications from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Ph.D.'s in Civil Engineering

You can typically enroll in a Ph.D. program in civil engineering with just a baccalaureate degree or a master's degree. Generally, these programs include a mix of coursework and research, and they may include a dissertation, an exam, a research paper or an internship. A school may personalize a course of study directly for you, or ask you to specialize in a specific area. Ph.D.'s are offered at most schools that also offer master's degrees. Also, in addition to Ph.D.'s, some schools may offer a Doctor of Engineering as well.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Will be able to conduct new research
  • Able to specialize in the area of your choice
  • Ability to take specialties to a wide variety of institutions (colleges, government agencies, business)*

Cons

  • Many years of school required to reach PhD level
  • May be over-educated for some positions
  • Funding may be limited in less-glamorous specialties**

Sources: *Florida International University, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Since civil engineering Ph.D.'s may be entered into with either a bachelor's or a master's degree, there is some variety in the amount of work necessary to complete a Ph.D. Normally a school will break these requirements down separately, with some schools allowing credits earned at the master's level to transfer over. Ph.D.'s tend to be a mix of coursework with a formal dissertation process included.

Like the master's degrees, coursework is dependent on your area of specialization. Typically, the courses you take within your specialization depend on your individual area of interest. Your school may ask that you put together a degree plan early in your degree to plot out which courses you intend to take and when.

Online Degree Options

Online civil engineering Ph.D.'s are exceedingly rare, even at for-profit universities. This may be because each Ph.D. is individualized to your areas of interest, making generalized programs inefficient. If you wish to earn this degree, your best bet is to find an on-campus program, which allows you access to research facilities and advisors.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

There are a number of things a Ph.D. can do to increase your marketability. Earning a Practice of Engineering (PE) is perhaps the most important, as a PE has the ability to perform certain duties than non-PEs cannot, such as signing off on engineering drawings, serving as expert witnesses and being in charge of private practice firms. Certifications can also be earned through the ASCE. They offer a general civil engineering certification, as well as ones for those specializing in water resources, geotechnical and coastal engineering.

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