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How to Become a Successful Civil Engineer

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Becoming a successful civil engineer requires years of college coursework, passing professional engineering exams, and demonstrating technical ability on the job. Success within the profession has different definitions depending on who is measuring, but being a respected civil engineer is one of the first hurdles to achieve on the road to success. There are different specialty areas within the civil engineering profession, including transportation, construction, structural design, development, environmental, and hydraulics. All of these specialty areas share some of the same common goals for success.

Attend an ABET accredited college offering a bachelor of science in civil engineering. Most state engineering boards require a degree from an ABET accredited college in order to take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and Professional Engineering (PE) exams.

Start becoming a successful civil engineer early. In college, secure a job working around other civil engineers either during the summer time between coursework, part-time after classes, or through a college co-op program. The work experience through the college years provides better understanding of engineering in practice and helps build an attractive resume.

Take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam as soon as possible. Most states allow civil engineering students to take the FE exam during the last semester of their senior year in undergraduate school. Take the exam at this time since the test covers subjects learned in years one through three in college.

Consider obtaining a master of science degree in civil engineering. The first eight years during a typical career involve more technical issues. An engineer with graduate level knowledge will have an advantage over an undergraduate-only trained engineer. Graduate level training will provide expanded project capabilities and more confidence to an engineer starting out. In addition, employers typically need to put together resumes for project teams in order to secure bids or commissions. A graduate degree is considered to be beneficial and will help get less experienced engineers on more projects.

Pass the Professional Engineering exam on the first attempt. Take a PE preparation course, if needed. The PE exam can be taken by engineers who have four years of work experience, working under the direction of a professional engineer, who also have passed the FE exam. For engineers with a master of science degree in engineering, only three years of work experience are required.

Continually add knowledge. As a less experienced engineer gains more experience, the natural career path is to move into management. Management means more money and responsibility, but technical abilities are sometimes placed second. Keep up with current engineering trends, products, and technical skills. Engineers who understand the civil engineering market and can communicate technical issues to their staff are better managers.

Participate in local civil engineering professional groups. Attend monthly meetings and network with other engineers. Meeting new contacts will help advance an engineering career through a possible new job or new affiliates with other engineering companies.


Look at graduate programs before selecting an undergraduate program. Graduate programs in civil engineering vary widely. Some programs take one year to complete, others take two years or more. Attending the same undergraduate university as a graduate allows students to take some graduate level classes for credit towards a graduate degree while still in undergraduate training.