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How to Learn Civil Engineering: Build Your Way to the Top

Biba Rey - April 22, 2021


Civil engineers design the world from concept to completion. Their creations range from the buildings and roads that we see above ground to the plumbing and power cables that run below. If you want to know how these came to life, then perhaps it’s time to learn civil engineering.

In this article, we cover the fundamentals of civil engineering, from what it is to its uses. Then, we venture into the civil engineering courses and resources you can use to master the field. Follow our guide and jumpstart your journey toward learning civil engineering.

What Is Civil Engineering?

Civil engineering is a discipline that deals with designing, building, and maintaining man-made infrastructures created to improve the physical environment we live in. Among the structures that civil engineers build are the following:

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  • Roads
  • Bridges
  • Footbridges
  • Commercial buildings
  • Water treatment systems
  • Museums
  • Stadiums
  • Airports

What Subjects Do You Need to Learn Civil Engineering?

If you are analytical, creative, and visionary, you may just be cut out for civil engineering. Mastery of the subjects listed below will help get you closer to a career as a civil engineer.

  • Geography . Understanding the physical aspects of the world both in practice and in theory will equip you with an in-depth understanding of structural materials.
  • Design . Studying these subjects will help you understand how to model the infrastructure that you’re set to build.
  • Art . While architects are in charge of structural and architectural designs, civil engineers still need a basic understanding of these to effectively collaborate with the former.
  • Mathematics . Mathematical theories are one of the fundamentals of engineering. Algebra, differential equations, and calculus are the main mathematical subjects you need to look out for.
  • Physics . Civil engineers need to have a comprehensive understanding of the laws of physics to correctly make calculations for a project. Among these are the laws of thermodynamics, mechanics, vibrations, and tensile strength.
  • Computer skills . To become an expert in civil engineering, you should know your way around the software tools and computer programs used in the industry.

Remember that it’s always a good idea to do further research about your prospective universities. Use your research to help you decide which educational institution offers the best civil engineering program.

Types of Civil Engineers

Because of the nature and scope of their field, civil engineers cannot be boxed in just one area. Like most professions, civil engineering comprises a few subcategories. Below are just a few of the branches that you should consider specializing in. Also included are the average salaries and projected job growth rates for each civil engineering branch.

1. Coastal Engineer

As the name implies, coastal engineers are responsible for managing coastal areas. They handle projects involving “sea defense,” which entails building structures that protect coastal areas and properties against flooding and erosion, to name a few.

If a structure needs to be constructed near the coast, a coastal engineer will oversee the process. Environmental conditions must be taken into consideration with each coastal structure. A coastal engineer’s tasks include land reclamation, coastal defense, and environmental impact assessments.

2. Construction Engineer

This subfield deals mainly with designing, planning, and constructing infrastructures such as tunnels, bridges, roads, and dams. The majority of your time is thus spent on the field, doing practical projects and tasks.

Civil engineers mostly focus on design work and analysis, while construction engineers focus on construction and management. They, too, are problem solvers and aim to create structures that meet the needs of the population. They must also have a keen understanding of the lifespans of various pieces of infrastructure.

3. Environmental Engineer

Sometimes called “sanitary engineers,” environmental engineers deal mainly with thermal, biological, and chemical waste treatment. They also work to purify water and air supply systems and remediate polluted sites after accidental contamination.

Because of how rewarding it is, a career in environmental engineering usually tops the list of the best engineering careers to go for. It applies aspects of both environmental science and civil engineering to improve natural ecosystems.

Because of its wide-reaching scope, environmental engineering can be further divided into several areas of concentration, including:

  • Water purification
  • Air pollution control
  • Wastewater treatment
  • Hazardous materials management and recycling

4. Geotechnical Engineering

Just as how someone needs to check the integrity of structures, so should someone check the integrity of the ground they are built on. Unlike predictable materials such as concrete and steel, the soil is erratic.

So, it’s the job of geotechnical engineers to ensure that the foundations of any construction project are firm and solid before the project ensues. Because of this, geotechnical engineers must demonstrate expertise in soil science, mechanics, hydraulics, and materials science.

Geotechnical engineering is not a standalone career. Rather, you get to work with those involved in environmental science careers , such as soil scientists and geologists.

Materials Science Engineering

This rich civil engineering branch combines principles of physics, engineering, and chemistry to help solve global problems. Materials science engineering focuses mostly on energy, manufacturing, biotechnology, and nanotechnology.

Material engineers create materials that improve structure. They look into how functional materials are and why some perform better than others. They are the ones who step in when we require advanced materials to manufacture products such as faster computers or safer cars.

Learn Civil Engineering

Four men wearing safety jackets and hard hats discuss with one another
Are you ready to learn civil engineering and master its fundamentals?

If you’re keen on directing your efforts toward learning civil engineering, there are several opportunities for you to do so. The more knowledge and skills you gain in this field, the more employable you become once you join the job market.

How Long Does It Take to Learn Civil Engineering?

Those looking to learn civil engineering through and through typically complete a four-year civil engineering degree. If you feel like carrying on toward a master’s degree, it will likely take an extra two years. According to data from 2012, one in every five civil engineers held a master’s degree, and the majority of them were in leadership roles.

Earning a doctorate would also put you on a path toward a consulting or teaching role at the college level. After graduating, you must pass an exam to become an engineer-in-training . If you’re preparing for your test, make sure to check out the practice tests and resources available online, which we will discuss further below.

How to Learn Civil Engineering: Step-by-Step

If you’re interested in shaping the world around you, consider studying for one of the civil engineering fields mentioned above. Whether your goal is to work in the public or the private sector, you can achieve your goal by following these steps.

  1. Attend an engineering event. Attending an open-day event at a university or job center helps you know whether an engineering career is right for you. The Institution of Civil Engineers holds events throughout the year, so be sure to check their calendar.
  2. Create a learning plan. As with most professions, you must have the right qualifications to become a civil engineer. Studying at a university is a popular option for aspiring civil engineers. Alternatively, you could enroll in any of the thousands of courses offered online, or even join an apprenticeship at a company.
  3. Pursue a master’s degree in civil engineering. A postgraduate degree will be helpful in this field. You can either combine your undergrad and post-grad degrees to save time or complete them separately. Either way, there are tons of online sources out there to help you find the right master’s degree program for you.
  4. Join a professional body for civil engineers. Several institutions provide civil engineering students and apprentices with free memberships.
  5. Secure a civil engineering job. Once you have completed the relevant courses and received your degrees and certifications, you can start getting hands-on experience. Join an apprenticeship program and leverage your experience to land a job.

The Best Civil Engineering Courses and Training

Undergraduate civil engineering students typically start with basic subjects before advancing to specialized courses. The online courses listed below will allow you to skip over the first step and get straight into learning the advanced concepts that surround civil engineering.

The Best Online Civil Engineering Courses

Below are the top online learning platforms you should consider as you explore the field of civil engineering and its many branches.

Udemy

Udemy’s variety of civil engineering courses could help you land your dream job. Take one of the courses above to learn more about structural analysis, distribution methods, and road bridge mechanics. Whether you are looking to brush up your skills or are just starting to learn about civil engineering, there is something for everyone.

Lynda.com

Explore an entire library of civil engineering courses offered by LinkedIn’s lynda.com. All of these have been divided into chapters and contain short videos for further learning. The above courses focus on both the theoretical and practical sides of civil engineering.

Learn how to use industry-leading software programs. Discover how to enhance and optimize roads in InfraWorks. Master the fundamentals of civil construction projects all in one seating.

LinkedIn Learning

  • Time: From 45 mins
  • Prerequisites : None
  • Price: Varies (First month free)

Learn everything from using intersection objects to working with alignments, managing figures, and creating and grading objects. These LinkedIn Learning courses liven up the discussion as it explores civil engineering design software AutoCAD from an exciting perspective.

EdX

Get on your way toward a master’s degree in civil engineering via this online portal. EdX provides a selection of educational options to the field, including programs designed for experienced civil engineers looking to gain new skills.

Class Central

Join thousands of other budding civil engineers taking these free online courses offered by the massive open online course provider Class Central. The platform offers courses in conjunction with some of the world’s top universities. Learn about anything from geographical engineering to waste management and 3D CAD applications.

Accreditation Boards That Offer Civil Engineering Certifications

Many accreditation boards offer certifications in civil engineering and its branches. Areas of specialty include building construction, transportation and water control, land management, and geotechnical engineering. Some well-known institutions that provide certificates for these areas include:

Best Civil Engineering Books

There are plenty of ways to supplement your civil engineering education. If you are more of a bookworm, the literature below might be of interest.

Clean Water: An Introduction to Water Quality and Water , Kenneth Vigil

If you’re concerned about where the water you use daily comes from and want to be better informed, this is the book for you. The author provides a comprehensive introduction to many aspects of geographical, cultural, regulatory, and scientific issues that correlate with water pollution control and quality. If you want to learn the basic scientific principles of these concepts, this is a great place to start.

Structural Wood Design: ASD/LRFD Hardcover , Abi Aghayere

This practical timber design guide discusses the fundamental concepts of designing structures using this accessible natural material. The book is ideal for construction engineers and is based on real-world design issues. It provides detailed descriptions of all the processes involved in building with wood.

BTEC National Engineering Student Book , Andrew Buckenham

This book will help prepare you for your civil engineering assessments. It includes case studies, theoretical principles, and other valuable industry information.

Should You Study Civil Engineering?

Study civil engineering if you’re interested in a combination of math, science, and art.

Given the fact that civil engineering involves the construction of almost everything we see around us, you may have thought about entering the field. This fascinating subject will become even more intriguing once you understand how it works and how it impacts even future generations.

The civil engineering courses and resources above are a great place to start. Tap into all that is available to you as you take it one step at a time, combining practical and theoretical knowledge.

We hope this article has provided you with some valuable information in learning the ins and outs of civil engineering. Now, start building your way to the top!

Civil Engineering FAQ

How hard is it to learn civil engineering?

As with all engineering disciplines, learning about civil engineering promises a challenging path ahead. Because of the scope of the role, aspiring civil engineers must develop an in-depth understanding of engineering theories and principles. They must also bulk up on practical experience through internships and apprenticeships.

Do civil engineers need to be good at math?

While math isn’t the end-all-be-all of a civil engineering career, it does take up important space in the workplace. While you won’t need to be a math genius to be a civil engineer, you’ll need to be comfortable with working with formulas and equations.

How much do civil engineers earn per year?

As of 2019, civil engineers were earning a median pay of $87,060, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Civil engineers working for the federal government earned the most at $95,380. The job outlook is relatively strong in the field with the projected addition of 5,500 civil engineering jobs by 2029.

Do I need a bachelor’s degree to become a civil engineer?

Yes, you’ll need to pursue a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or civil engineering technology to enter the field. A significant number of civil engineers looking to advance their careers also earn a graduate degree and a license. Entry-level civil engineers don’t require either.

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Biba Rey

About the author: As a writer for Career Karma, Biba covers topics such as tech careers, online learning, and higher education. After graduating with a BA in International Marketing and Communications from the University of Pretoria, Biba started her writing career. She has earned recognition in publications like My Moving Estimates, UK Air Dates, and Flexxable. Biba joined the Career Karma team in November 2020. Previously, she spent several years as a creative director, content writer, and website strategist at a digital marketing agency.

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