Master of civil engineering

By Shannon Lee

Master of civil engineering degree programs are typically built to help those seeking advanced positions such as administration, design and teaching. Leadership and communication skills are important in this field, as civil engineers may often find themselves in supervisory roles, overseeing anything from a single large project to the engineering crew of an entire city. For civil engineers interested in faculty posts and some research openings, graduate degrees may be generally required. Graduate studies may be available as on-campus, online or hybrid programs, where some courses are taken in person and others online.

Overview of civil engineering

Civil engineering is one of the oldest construction disciplines in the world. Today's engineers can look to the Great Pyramid of Giza for an early example of what creativity, teamwork and brilliant engineering minds can do. Modern engineers have the advantages of heavy machinery and computer programs that draw out their plans, but the spirit of the construction is the same as it was thousands of years ago.

Civil engineers may build bridges, roads, airports, dams, water supply systems, buildings and other projects that benefit the public, and they even design roller coasters for amusement parks. Engineering jobs may require travel, and construction sites may be located away from cities.

When planning projects, civil engineers must take into account government regulations, potential environmental hazards, the impact on traffic patterns and more. Civil engineers may work in many specialties, so several engineers usually work together to see a project to fruition.

Famous civil engineers

When a great project is complete, civil engineers might find themselves in history books. Stephen D. Bechtel, Sr. built the Hoover Dam and other projects, including nuclear power plants. Abel Wolman pioneered ways to make drinking water safer for communities. Sometimes engineering is a family affair: Engineer John A. Roebling and his son, Washington Roebling, began work on the Brooklyn Bridge. Washington's wife, Emily Warren Roebling, continued the project when her husband fell ill.

Master of civil engineering degrees

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a bachelor's degree is required for most entry-level jobs in civil engineering. A master's degree may take two or three years of study after a bachelor's degree. Civil engineering programs may be accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Engineers who offer services directly to the public must be licensed. Licensing may require at least a bachelor's degree, four years of relevant work experience, and a passing grade on the state examination.

Civil engineering degree programs may cover diverse areas, including the following:

  1. Construction
  2. Geotechnical
  3. Structural
  4. Transportation and highway engineering
  5. Water resources or hydraulics

Typical coursework for civil engineering degrees

According to the College Board, undergraduate classes for civil engineering majors may often include the following:

  1. Dynamics
  2. Engineering economics
  3. Environmental awareness
  4. Fluid mechanics
  5. Geology and geophysics
  6. Statics
  7. Strength of materials
  8. Structural analysis and design
  9. Thermodynamics

An on-campus or online master of civil engineering program may offer opportunities to specialize in areas ranging from environmental engineering to earthquake engineering. Practical coursework may include industry-standard software applications and computer-aided engineering. The master's curriculum varies widely but could include specialized topics such as these:

  • Construction law
  • Construction safety management
  • Design project management
  • Engineering mathematics
  • Finance for engineers
  • Geographic information systems
  • Quantitative analysis

Civil engineer salary and career paths

The BLS expects civil engineering jobs to grow by 19 percent from 2010 to 2020, due in part to population growth and an aging infrastructure. Civil engineers may be needed to repair and replace structures such as bridges, roads, water supply systems, buildings and other structures for public use.

A July 2009 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers estimated the average starting salary for civil engineers at $52,048. The BLS reported a mean annual wage of $82,280 in 2010. Industries with the highest levels of employment included architectural, engineering and related services, followed by state and local governments. Some of the top-paying opportunities are in the oil and gas and natural gas industries. The states that employed the most civil engineers in 2010 included California, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.

Jobs may be available in most communities, as infrastructure needs constant upkeep, maintenance and repair. Professionals already in the field may choose a civil engineering master's degree with the goal of career advancement or leadership and management positions.

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