Civil Engineering Major: Difficult, But Worth It

You are amazed by every single infrastructure you lay your eyes on. Due to this, you may be seriously considering becoming a civil engineer one day. But is your love for buildings, highways, bridges, airports and others enough for you to choose to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program and successfully complete it, too?

Civil engineering is a good major for those who are passionate about the STEM field, in particular science, math and, of course, engineering. It is suitable for degree-seeking students who are willing to work on a challenging program in exchange for some high-paying, in-demand jobs in the future.

Want to make around $88,050 per year but fear that civil engineering isn’t right for you? Keep reading.

By the time you reach the end of this post, you will have a much better idea of whether or not you should major in engineering, which school you should apply to and what careers are waiting for you.

civil engineers

Different Civil Engineer Degrees

College-bound high school students who would like to earn a degree in civil engineering can choose from different degrees.

They include associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees.

Some institutions also offer certificates in civil engineering that prepare students for many entry-level jobs.

After you have made up your mind that being a civil engineer someday is what you want, it’s time to decide which particular civil engineering degree you should earn.

Different civil engineering degrees have different costs and benefits and take different times to complete:

Associate degree in civil engineering

There are a couple of associate programs available for students who wish to become a part of the engineering industry without any delay: civil engineering and civil engineering technology.

Simply put, civil engineering is all about the big picture, while civil engineering technology is the more hands-on approach, utilizing technology in the process.

In any case, an associate degree, which takes around two years to earn, prepares holders for various entry-level civil engineering technician job opportunities in various sectors.

Whether the goal is to get a civil engineering-related career ASAP or furthering one’s education sooner or later in order to obtain a bachelor’s degree and, eventually, a Professional Engineer (PE) license, an associate program in civil engineering is a quick and cost-effective way to get one’s career started.

Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering

The minimum requirement for individuals who wish to work professionally as civil engineers is a bachelor’s degree.

After all, in states where civil engineers work for the general public, a license is a must — only those with a bachelor’s in civil engineering can take the exam necessary to obtain a PE license.

Like most other bachelor’s degrees, a bachelor’s in civil engineering takes about four years to earn.

The degree covers important topics, ranging from advanced calculus, material properties to civil engineering economics.

Regardless if you are planning on getting your hands on a PE license later on or not at all, a bachelor’s in civil engineering can open doors to more career opportunities as well as higher earning potential.

And by the way, having one is a prerequisite if your ultimate goal is to have a master’s degree in civil engineering.

Master’s degree in civil engineering

Enrolling in a master’s program in civil engineering gives civil engineering majors the opportunity to concentrate on far more advanced knowledge and skills in the discipline of study.

Some common options include structural risk analysis, concrete engineering, airport engineering and air pollution engineering.

Simply put, a master’s in civil engineering is ideal for those who are already working as civil engineers professionally but would like to enter a particular field.

Earning one is also suitable for those who would like to take on managerial or executive positions across various industries.

A master’s program in civil engineering usually takes one to two years to complete, depending on the program or engineering school providing it.

Doctorate degree in civil engineering

Whether the goal is to become professors for civil engineering students or conduct in-depth research studies, obtaining a doctorate in civil engineering, which can take three to five years to earn, is the way to go.

Urban infrastructure, statistics for civil engineering, earthquake engineering, engineering water systems.

Typically, these are some of the core courses students of a doctorate program in civil engineering have to take. However, the majority of their time is spent planning, researching and completing their dissertation.

A recent report by the Education Data Initiative says that the average cost of a doctorate degree is $114,300.

Among the various civil engineering degrees mentioned above, the most popular is the bachelor’s. As a matter of fact, up to 77% of all professional civil engineers in the country have a bachelor’s in civil engineering.

Following it is the master’s, with around 12% of all professional civil engineers in the land holding it.

Associate, master’s certificate and diploma in civil engineering holders make up the rest.

How Hard is a Civil Engineering Degree

Civil engineering is part of the STEM field, and it’s no secret that majors in the said field are some of the most difficult.

Needless to say, earning a bachelor’s in civil engineering can be hard, but it’s for a reason — civil engineers design infrastructure that should be safe for the public to use.

Let’s tackle the elephant in the room before anything else: if you find high school level math and science repulsive and arduous, then it’s a good idea to consider a different major than civil engineering.

However, if you are willing to commit and work hard, feel free to give it a go.

But be warned that you will surely encounter a lot of advanced-level physics, math and, of course, engineering subjects as you work on your undergraduate degree in engineering.

In order to give you a much better idea of just how hard civil engineering can be, freshman students alone have to spend 50 to 60 hours per week of class and study time.

Although it’s true that civil engineering is one of the easier engineering disciplines, such as structural, chemical and software engineering, you will still have to focus on your studies in order to successfully complete the program.

civil engineer and blueprint

So, what subjects do you need to become a civil engineer?

Because civil engineering is in the STEM field, it isn’t surprising why the program’s core courses can prove to be challenging for students who hate math and science and do not possess enough passion for engineering.

Here are some examples of core courses you can expect to take as a civil engineering major:

  • Civil engineering systems
  • Elements of hydraulic engineering
  • Elementary mechanics of fluids
  • Engineering communication
  • Engineering professionalism
  • Geotechnical engineering
  • Introduction to computer methods
  • Introduction to environmental engineering
  • Probability and statistics for civil engineers
  • Properties and behavior of engineering materials
  • Structural analysis
  • Transportation systems

In order to considerably increase your job market value, it’s a good idea to inform your employer, via your resume, that you have a secondary area of expertise related to civil engineering. And you can start preparing for that moment by choosing a minor that complements your major very well.

Here are just a few examples of minors that pair nicely with a civil engineering major:

  • Accounting
  • Business
  • Computer science
  • Economics
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Environmental science
  • History
  • Management
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology
  • Statistics

But, as mentioned earlier, civil engineering isn’t an easy major. It’s exactly because of this why choosing a minor that can help you enjoy a break from the rigors of being a civil engineering student for a while is also a great idea.

You can minor in just about anything you find interesting or exciting or allows you to pursue a passion of yours.

Best States for Civil Engineers

Most college-bound high schoolers are more than willing to leave their family and friends behind in exchange for being students at some of the country’s top institutions and earning a high-quality degree.

It’s not uncommon for civil engineering majors to also move after graduation for more promising careers.

Some states are simply so much better for civil engineers in terms of employment and salary rates.

Certain metropolitan areas, too, employ more civil engineers than the rest.

If the goal is to enjoy better job stability and earning potential, civil engineers should carefully consider where they will relocate for the sake of their careers.

The following are states with the most number of employed civil engineers:

New York14,890
Best states for civil engineers

Some densely populated urban areas are much better for civil engineers employment rate-wise.

In this table, the highest employment level for civil engineers can be found in the following metropolitan areas:

New York-Newark-Jersey City14,460
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim12,220
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land9,930
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward9,710
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington5,880

Just because a state or metropolitan area hires a lot of civil engineers doesn’t mean right away that it’s the highest payer of civil engineers, too.

Here are the top 20 best-paying states for civil engineers:

New Jersey$103,760
New York$102,250
New Mexico$88,840
Rhode Island$87,220
Best paying states for civil engineers

Six Possible Civil Engineering Careers and Salaries

In the US, as of this writing, the median salary for civil engineers is $88,050 per year.

The highest-paid 25% make around $117,270 annually, while the lowest-paid 25% make around $74,250 annually.

Many career opportunities are available for individuals with a bachelor’s in civil engineering.

After working hard on a difficult bachelor’s program in civil engineering, it’s time to overcome another hurdle: getting hired as a civil engineering major.

So, is it hard to find a job in civil engineering?

The demand for civil engineers depends on the current situation of the construction industry of a city or state.

But since people will keep on needing new buildings, highways, bridges, dams, airports and others, it’s safe to assume that there is a constant need for civil engineers.

Wondering where a civil engineering degree can take you and how much money you can make? Below, you will come across just a few of the options.

While some of them may allow an associate degree in various disciplines, an undergraduate degree in civil engineering may help make your resume a complete standout.

land surveyor


  • Median annual salary: $61,600
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 2%

Making accurate measurements for the determination of property boundaries — such is the primary role of surveyors. It’s not uncommon for them to be doing work in offices and construction sites.

However, before being able to work as surveyors, civil engineering majors should first get their hands on a professional surveyor license.

Construction manager

  • Median annual salary: $98,890
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 11%

From start to finish, construction managers are always springing into action as it’s their role to plan, coordinate, budget and supervise projects.

Besides a bachelor’s in civil engineering or a related field, it’s also a must for construction managers to possess excellent managerial, organizational, budgetary and time-management skills.

Cost estimator

  • Median annual salary: $65,170
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 1%

Civil engineering majors working as cost estimators are responsible for collecting and analyzing data in order to be able to estimate the amount of money, time, labor and materials required for the construction project.

While they spend a lot of their time in offices, cost estimators also travel to visit manufacturers, assembly lines and construction sites.

Building inspector

  • Median annual salary: $61,640
  • Job outlook in 10 years: -3%

Because it’s the responsibility of building inspectors to make sure that construction adheres to building codes and ordinances, the safety of the public lies in their hands.

Despite the job title, building inspectors also check the safety compliance of highways, bridges, sewer systems and many other infrastructures, not just buildings.

Urban planner

  • Median annual salary: $78,500
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 7%

What urban planners do is come up with plans and programs pertaining to land use in order to help with the creation of communities and accommodate the growth of population.

In many instances, they also do such for updating physical facilities. Some higher-level urban planner job positions require a master’s in civil engineering or a related field.

geography class


  • Median annual salary: $68,900
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 5%

Cartographers are tasked with collecting, measuring and interpreting geographic data for the creation of maps and charts as well as for updating currently existing ones.

While many employers prefer a bachelor’s in cartography, geometry and surveying, engineering and most STEM majors are also eligible to work as cartographers.

20 Best Schools for Civil Engineering Majors

Currently building your college list?

Feel free to add one or more of the schools below that have some of the most reliable and high-quality civil engineering programs in the land:

University of California – Berkeley$41,528 (in-state) and $71,282 (out-of-state)
University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign$31,102 (in-state) and $48,552 (out-of-state)
Georgia Institute of Technology$29,802 (in-state) and $50,914 (out-of-state)
Stanford University$78,218
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor$31,484 (in-state) and $67,802 (out-of-state)
University of Texas at Austin$28,928 (in-state) and $57,512 (out-of-state)
Carnegie Mellon University$76,760
Massachusetts Institute of Technology$72,462
Purdue University – West Lafayette$22,782 (in-state) and $41,584 (out-of-state)
Virginia Tech$27,755 (in-state) and $46,295 (out-of-state)
Cornell University$78,992
California Institute of Technology$77,718
Northwestern University$81,283
University of California – Davis$37,651 (in-state) and $67,405 (out-of-state)
Princeton University$68,044
Texas A&M University$31,467 (in-state) and $58,024 (out-of-state)
Columbia University$77,603
Pennsylvania State University$36,962 (in-state) and $54,026 (out-of-state)
University of California – Los Angeles$36,787 (in-state) and $66,541 (out-of-state)
University of California – San Diego$35,311 (in-state) and $65,065 (out-of-state)
Best Schools for Civil Engineering Majors

Besides a traditional civil engineering degree, you may also opt for an online civil engineering degree.

Yes, it’s worth something and can land you a job in the engineering industry. Just make sure that the online engineering program you will enroll in is from a legitimate and accredited online school.

Some of those that you might want to consider if being a non-traditional student is the more practical approach include:

  • Liberty University
  • University of North Dakota
  • Great Basin College
  • Idaho State University
  • Old Dominion University

Before adding a school to your college list, it’s not enough that you check that it has a bachelor’s program in civil engineering you — should also see to it that its civil engineering program is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

This is especially true if the goal after having your undergraduate degree is to get a PE license or attend graduate school in order to earn a master’s or doctorate degree in civil engineering.

A program that’s not ABET-accredited may keep you from getting licensed or furthering your education.

Is a Civil Engineering Degree Worth It

Civil engineering is under the umbrella of STEM, which consists of some of the most difficult majors. But among all engineering majors, civil engineering is one of the least hardest.

Especially if you are passionate about science, math and engineering, majoring in civil engineering may just be the right choice for you.

But is civil engineering a good career?

In the US, civil engineers’ median salary amounts to $88,050 per year, which is around 48% higher than the median annual wage for all workers ($45,760).

And every year from 2020 to 2030, on average, it is estimated that a total of 25,000 job openings are available for civil engineering majors.

Read Next: Is Data Science a Hard Major?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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