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Best Doctorates in Civil Engineering: Top PhD Programs, Career Paths, and Salaries

Sunday Erhunmwunse - June 19, 2022


Civil engineering degrees teach students how to design and execute building and infrastructure projects. For those looking to pursue advanced studies in civil engineering, a civil engineering PhD is a great option. We’ve put together a list of 10 of the best PhDs in Civil Engineering to provide an overview of what to expect when pursuing this degree and to help make your search for the right school easier.

Choosing a program that provides all you need for quality education can be a difficult task. Read on for all the details of each program, including the admissions process, tuition, and core material covered. We’re also showing you the best civil engineering jobs and what you can expect for a PhD in Civil Engineering salary.

What Is a PhD in Civil Engineering?

A PhD in Civil Engineering is a doctoral research degree that prepares you for a career in high-level research and civil engineering jobs. A PhD can take anywhere from four to six years to complete. A civil engineering PhD involves in-depth and rigorous coursework, which prepares students for advanced engineering practice, and a PhD thesis to conclude the program.

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How to Get Into a Civil Engineering PhD Program: Admission Requirements

The requirements to get into a civil engineering PhD program include a qualifying exam, a minimum undergraduate or graduate degree GPA, and standardized test scores. Admission requirements vary by school, however, with the specifics differing from program to program.

For most programs, students will have to complete a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering or a related field. Some programs allow students with only undergraduate degrees to apply. Students will also have to submit letters of recommendation, a resume, a personal statement, and a writing sample. Some schools require GRE or GMAT scores to apply to their graduate program.

PhD in Civil Engineering Admission Requirements

  • Official transcripts from undergraduate and graduate schools attended
  • Letters of recommendation
  • GRE/GMAT scores
  • Resume
  • Writing sample

Civil Engineering PhD Acceptance Rates: How Hard Is It to Get Into a PhD Program in Civil Engineering?

It is very hard to get into a PhD program in civil engineering. Most schools are very selective with the applicants they admit into their PhD in Civil Engineering programs. Make sure that you meet all of the admission requirements before applying and that you have the dedication to complete a research-heavy program.

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Best PhDs in Civil Engineering: In Brief

School Program Online Option
Arizona State University PhD in Civil, Environmental and Sustainable Engineering No
Carnegie Mellon University PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering No
Drexel University PhD in Civil Engineering No
George Washington University PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering No
Iowa State University Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering No
Michigan Technological University PhD in Civil Engineering No
Missouri University of Science and Technology PhD in Civil Engineering No
Rice University PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering No
Syracuse University Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering No
Pennsylvania State University PhD in Civil Engineering No

Best Universities for Civil Engineering PhDs: Where to Get a PhD in Civil Engineering

The best universities for civil engineering PhDs include Arizona State University, Rice University, Syracuse University, Carnegie Mellon University, and Drexel University. If you’re wondering where to get a PhD in Civil Engineering, our overview of the best schools below might help.

1

Arizona State University

Tempe, AZ

Arizona State University takes the second spot worldwide when it comes to global impact , out of 1,406 universities ranked, according to Times Higher Education s Impact Rankings. Its graduate school has more than 450 programs, with 91 percent of its graduates getting jobs within 90 days of graduation.

PhD in Civil, Environmental, and Sustainable Engineering

The coursework in the civil, environmental, and sustainable engineering PhD program at Arizona State University prepares students for a lifelong career in civil engineering research and practice. Concentration areas in the program include environmental, sustainable, structural, transportation, geotechnical, and hydrosystems engineering.

PhD in Civil, Environmental and Sustainable Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: N/A
  • Acceptance Rate: N/A
  • Tuition and Fees: $13,814/academic year (in state); $26,298/academic year (out of state)
  • PhD Funding Opportunities : Arizona State University and CONACYT Doctoral Fellowships for Mexican Students, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, GPSA Graduate Research Support Program, Gastwirth Graduate Student Loan Fellowship Program, Achievement Rewards for College Scientists, Completion Fellowship, Graduate College Enrichment Fellowship, Graduate College University Grant, Teaching Assistant/Associate, Research Assistant/Associate, Graduate Services Assistant, Graduate Intern

PhD in Civil, Environmental and Sustainable Engineering Admission Requirements

  • Minimum GPA of 3.20 in a master’s degree or in the last 60 hours of an undergraduate degree
  • Official transcripts
  • GRE scores
  • Personal statement
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Resume
2

Carnegie Mellon University

Pittsburgh, PA

Carnegie Mellon University , founded in 1900, ranks number four on the list of the 2023 Best Engineering Schools by US News & World Report. It has over 1,300 faculty members spread across six colleges and several graduate programs.

PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering

The civil and environmental engineering doctoral program has three major focus areas in environmental engineering, sustainability and sciences, advanced infrastructure sciences, and mechanics, materials, and computing. Students will be matched with a PhD thesis supervisor whose research goals align with theirs.

PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: 3 years (with MS degree), 4 years (with BS degree)
  • Acceptance Rate: N/A
  • Tuition and Fees: $46,400/academic year
  • PhD Funding Opportunities: Assistantships, PhD fellowships, GEM Fellowship program

PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering Admission Requirements

  • University or college transcripts
  • 3 letters of recommendation
  • Essay questions
  • Resume
  • GRE scores (currently waived)
3

Drexel University

Philadelphia, PA

Drexel University focuses on experiential education, giving students all they need to become excellent researchers and educators. The university, founded in 1891, continues to excel on different fronts with its massive list of programs and cooperative education.

PhD in Civil Engineering

This program equips graduate students with the skills and technical expertise needed for the plan, design, construction, and maintenance of different scales of infrastructure. Program concentrations include architectural engineering, structural engineering, hydraulic engineering, sustainable engineering, hydrology/water resources, geotechnical engineering, and geosynthetic engineering.

PhD in Civil Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: Approximately 4-5 years
  • Acceptance Rate: 77% (university acceptance rate)
  • Tuition: $1,342/credit hour
  • PhD Funding Opportunities: Teaching, research, and graduate assistantships

PhD in Civil Engineering Admission Requirements

  • Transcripts
  • Standardized test scores (waived for 2022 PhD applicants)
  • Resume
  • Essay
  • 2 letters of recommendation
4

George Washington University

Washington, DC

George Washington University was chartered in 1821 and currently has 26,000 undergraduate and graduate students. It offers graduate programs in the academic departments of education and human development, political management, arts and design, business, engineering and applied sciences, international affairs, and law.

PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering

The program features research areas in environmental engineering, structural engineering, transportation engineering, mechanics and materials engineering, and water resources engineering. Students who hold a master’s degree have to complete a minimum of 30 credits, which includes a minimum of 12 credits in dissertation research, to earn the doctorate.

PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: N/A
  • Acceptance Rate: N/A
  • Tuition and Fees: $1,995/credit
  • PhD Funding Opportunities: Research assistantships, teaching assistantships

PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering Admission Requirements

  • 3.4 GPA from graduate programs or 3.3 GPA from undergraduate programs
  • Published research or conference papers
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores
  • 3 recommendations
  • Transcripts from previous colleges and universities
  • 400-to-600-word statement of purpose
5

Iowa State University

Ames, IA

Iowa State University held its first class in 1869. It now has a current student enrollment of 30,708. The university values learning communities, and with over 800 student organizations, you get a chance to learn in an environment where you feel valued and heard.

Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering

The Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering requires a minimum of 72 credits, which includes dissertation research. Concentration areas include civil engineering materials, construction engineering and management, environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, transportation engineering, and intelligent infrastructure engineering.

Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: 5-6 years
  • Acceptance Rate: N/A
  • Tuition and Fees: $11,404/academic year (in state); $26,948/academic year (out of state)
  • PhD Funding Opportunities: Graduate assistantships

Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering Admission Requirements

  • Bachelor’s or graduate degree from a regionally accredited university or college
  • Transcripts from previous universities
  • Cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • Letters of recommendation
  • GRE or GMAT may be required by specific programs
6

Michigan Technological University

Houghton, MI

A public research university founded in 1885, Michigan Technological University (MTU) currently boasts over 125 degree programs. Its graduate school has existed for over 125 years and has 70 degree options, including master’s and doctoral degrees.

PhD in Civil Engineering

The civil engineering PhD program at Michigan Technological University has a minimum 30-credit requirement in coursework with at least six credits in thesis research. Students can choose concentration areas in geotechnical, structural, water resources, infrastructure, and transportation.

PhD in Civil Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: 3 years
  • Acceptance Rate: 3-7% in recent years
  • Tuition: $25,517/year
  • PhD Funding Opportunities: Teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and administrative assistantships

PhD in Civil Engineering Admission Requirements

  • Bachelor’s degree or equivalent
  • Undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • 2 letters of recommendation
  • Prerequisite course
  • Resume
  • Statement of purpose
  • Personal statement
7

Missouri University of Science and Technology

Rolla, MO

Missouri University of Science and Technology, founded in 1870, has a commitment to integrating research, education, and application to raise global leaders in various fields. The STEM-focused university has more than 7,200 students enrolled in over 100 degree programs.

PhD in Civil Engineering

This program allows students to gain engineering expertise and advanced research skills in eight concentration areas that include architectural engineering, construction materials, environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering, and transportation engineering. The school’s college of engineering has a PhD student-to-faculty ratio of less than three-to-one.

PhD in Civil Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: N/A
  • Acceptance Rate: N/A
  • Tuition and Fees: $7,840/20 credit hours (in state); $22,170/20 credit hours (out of state)
  • PhD Funding Opportunities: Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellowship, graduate research assistants, graduate assistants, graduate teaching assistants, Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) Fellowship Program, external funding

PhD in Civil Engineering Admission Requirements

  • Master of Science in Engineering with minimum GPA of 3.0
  • Partnership with a PhD advisor from the faculty
  • Official transcripts
  • Statement of purpose
  • 3 letters of recommendation
  • Resume
8

Rice University

Houston, TX

Rice University opened its doors as Rice Institute in 1912 to 77 students. Today, the university offers several undergraduate, graduate, and online programs to its student population of over 7,000. The school has a student-to-faculty ratio of six-to-one.

PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering

This doctoral program has two sub-tracks in Civil Engineering (CE) and Environmental Engineering and Sciences (EES). Graduate students can choose to pursue a doctoral degree in either of these, with the coursework for both revolving around structural mechanics and FEM, earthquake engineering, structural dynamic systems, applied mathematics, and probabilistic mechanics.

PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: 4-5 years
  • Acceptance Rate: N/A
  • Tuition: $54,100/year
  • PhD Funding Opportunities: Graduate fellowships, National Science Foundation fellowships, NASA fellowships, the Ford Foundation fellowship, Fulbright Foundation fellowships

PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering Admission Requirements

  • GRE scores (waived for 2022 admissions)
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Official transcripts
  • Application and fee
9

Syracuse University

Syracuse, NY

Syracuse University , with over 200 undergraduate and graduate programs, ranks as a top destination for international students. It currently has a student population of 22,000 enrolled across its different colleges and schools.

Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering

This program is designed for engineering graduates who want to pursue a career in engineering research and teaching. Students can choose to concentrate on environmental engineering, construction engineering and management, structural engineering, or geotechnical engineering. To complete the PhD, students have to meet a GPA of 3.333 throughout the program.

Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: 3-5 years
  • Acceptance Rate: 69% (university acceptance rate)
  • Tuition and Fees: $33,358/year
  • PhD Funding Opportunities: Research assistantships, graduate assistantships, university fellowships

Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering Admission Requirements

  • Master of Science from an accredited school
  • Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering or a related field
  • Proven potential for research work
  • An average of B+ grade in MS courses
  • Departmental approval
  • Satisfactory scores on graduate entrance exams
10

Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA

Pennsylvania State University , founded in 1855, has more than 750,000 alumni, which demonstrates its rich history and long-term commitment to educating professionals across several fields. Its academic options include undergraduate, graduate, professional, and online degrees.

PhD in Civil Engineering

Graduate students in this program learn about core and advanced subjects and research findings on modern civil engineering principles and methods. Students can choose from specializations in structural engineering, water resources engineering, water transportation engineering, and geotechnical and materials engineering.

PhD in Civil Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: N/A
  • Acceptance Rate: N/A
  • Tuition and Fees : $9,481/9-credit semester (in state); $15,574/9-credit semester (out of state)
  • PhD Funding Opportunities: Teaching and research assistantships, fellowships, trainingships, scholarships, loans, employment, The Summer Tuition Assistant Program

PhD in Civil Engineering Admission Requirements

  • GPA of 3.0
  • Official transcripts
  • Statement of purpose
  • 3 letters of recommendation

Can You Get a PhD in Civil Engineering Online?

Yes, you can get a PhD in Civil Engineering online. The University of South Carolina, for example, offers an online program in civil engineering. Mississippi State University offers an online PhD in Engineering with a concentration in Civil Engineering.

Best Online PhD Programs in Civil Engineering

School Program Length
Mississippi State University Online PhD in Engineering with a concentration in Civil Engineering 5 years
University of South Carolina Online PhD in Civil Engineering N/A

How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD in Civil Engineering?

It takes between four and seven years to get a PhD in Civil Engineering. A doctoral degree in engineering disciplines usually requires many semester hours to complete the intensive coursework.

In addition, students have to take a doctoral comprehensive examination, which is necessary to be admitted into candidacy for the PhD degree. Students who fail the examination will have to retake the examination. Also, students have to complete a dissertation and a defense of the dissertation.

Is a PhD in Civil Engineering Hard?

Yes, a PhD in Civil Engineering is relatively hard. Considering the volume of advanced-level courses students have to take, completing the credit requirement can be draining. In addition, writing a dissertation is difficult, even for seasoned academics.Doctoral comprehensive examinations are often tough exams, which students can either pass or fail. Most programs only allow two attempts at the exam.

How Much Does It Cost to Get a PhD in Civil Engineering?

It costs an average of $19,792 per year to get a PhD in Civil Engineering, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). This amount covers the tuition and fees for the program. The average cost of a civil engineering doctorate program at public universities is $12,410 per year, and at private institutions is $26,597, according to NCES.

How to Pay for a PhD in Civil Engineering: PhD Funding Options

The PhD funding options that students can use to pay for a PhD in Civil Engineering include teaching assistantships, graduate assistantships, research assistantships, loans, university fellowships, administrative assistantships, and tuition waivers. Students often receive full funding of their program costs through these options.

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What Is the Difference Between a Civil Engineering Master’s Degree and PhD?

The difference between a civil engineering master’s degree and a PhD is the level of education. While both are advanced degrees, they differ in the type of coursework and research students are required to complete.

A master’s program in civil engineering focuses mainly on set courses covering a range of engineering topics, with a specialization or concentration that offers an opportunity for more focused study. On the other hand, a PhD is heavily research-focused and steered more by the student’s preferences overall, with instructors and advisors playing a largely supervisory role.

Master’s vs PhD in Civil Engineering Job Outlook

Civil engineering professors , who are typically required to have a PhD, have a job outlook of 12 percent growth in the coming years, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Meanwhile, urban and regional planners , with a master’s degree entry-level education requirement, have a job outlook of 7 percent growth.

Difference in Salary for Civil Engineering Master’s vs PhD

The average salary for a PhD in Civil Engineering is $98,000, according to PayScale. Some job titles requiring a PhD in Civil Engineering earn much more than that. The average salary for a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering is $75,000. Getting a doctoral degree usually leads to higher-paying positions.

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Why You Should Get a PhD in Civil Engineering

You should get a PhD in Civil Engineering because of better job opportunities, higher salaries, research opportunities, and specialized skills.

Reasons for Getting a PhD in Civil Engineering

  • Job opportunities. Earning a PhD in Civil Engineering qualifies you for more career opportunities in the field. If you want to work in academia, for example, then a doctoral-level engineering education is the right fit.
  • Higher salaries. With better job opportunities often come higher salaries. Civil engineers with a doctoral degree earn, on average, higher salaries compared to those with a master’s or bachelor’s degree.
  • Research opportunities. Doctoral programs are usually heavily research-focused. Completing a PhD program in civil engineering gives you the experience you need to pursue research-based careers and further research opportunities.
  • Specialized skills. A PhD in Civil Engineering inculcates in professionals specialized skills to deal with a wide range of real-world problems. For example, students can gain expertise to work as construction managers.

Getting a PhD in Civil Engineering: Civil Engineering PhD Coursework

Four young professionals sitting at a table, taking notes
Although time-consuming and challenging, a PhD in Civil Engineering program prepares graduates for rewarding careers and lucrative salaries.

The coursework for civil engineering PhD students is usually elaborate, rigorous, and intensive. Some core subject areas covered in a PhD in Civil Engineering program include properties of construction materials, structural dynamics, deep foundations, soil behavior, and metal structures.

Properties of Construction Materials

This course covers the details regarding the properties of polymeric materials used in construction and infrastructural development. Students learn the physical and chemical characteristics of these materials and their relevant application in different projects.

Structural Dynamics

This course explores the mechanics of structure, structural vibrations, and foundations. Students learn how to analyze and design safe and stable construction projects. This includes how to ensure that a foundation is the right fit for a particular building project.

Deep Foundations

This subject deals with different foundation designs and their integrity. It covers mat or raft foundation design accomplished by plate theory, pile design, and continuous beam design.

Soil Behavior

Understanding soil behavior is critical to success in civil engineering. This course teaches students about soil structure, soil properties, soil formation, soil composition, clay mineralogy, and conduction phenomena.

Metal Structures

This core subject deals with the properties and behavior of metal structures used in civil engineering projects. Students learn about plate girders, compression members, block shears, and more.

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How to Get a PhD in Civil Engineering: Doctoral Program Requirements

The requirements for a PhD in Civil Engineering include completing advanced coursework, receiving research proposal approval, passing a qualifying examination, achieving candidacy, and writing and defending a thesis.

1

Advanced Coursework

Students in a PhD in Civil Engineering program have to complete advanced coursework and meet the credit requirements before they can move on to the research project component of the degree program. Courses typically take a couple of years to complete.

2

Research Proposal

The research proposal outlines the details of your anticipated research, including the benefits it will offer the civil engineering field. The proposal also includes how you will conduct your research and approximately how long it will take.

3

Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination is usually a comprehensive examination that tests a student’s ability to apply concepts and theories learned so far in the engineering program in real-life situations. While it’s mostly a written exam, there can also be an oral component. Students will have to pass this exam to complete the program.

4

Candidacy

Receiving candidacy means that you are eligible to be awarded a Doctoral Degree in Civil Engineering. At this phase, you are no longer considered a graduate student but have advanced to become a graduate candidate. It is sometimes informally called the “ABD,” or “all but the dissertation,” phase of a PhD program.

5

Thesis for PhD in Civil Engineering

Finally, to earn their PhD, doctoral students will have to complete and defend a dissertation, also called a thesis, outlining their research methods and results. Your advisor and other committee members will supervise your work, guiding you along the way and helping determine when you are ready to successfully defend your thesis and be awarded your PhD.

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PhD in Civil Engineering Salary and Job Outlook

With a PhD in Civil Engineering, you can earn $100,000 to $150,000 a year. Many jobs requiring this degree have a good job outlook, too, with projected growth that is faster than average. So, getting a Doctoral Degree in Civil Engineering can help secure a successful future.

What Can You Do With a PhD in Civil Engineering?

With a PhD in Civil Engineering, you can get a job as a civil engineer, environmental engineer, construction engineer, civil engineering professor, and architectural and engineering manager.

Best Jobs with a PhD in Civil Engineering

  • Civil Engineering Professor
  • Architectural and Engineering Manager
  • Civil Engineer
  • Construction Manager
  • Environmental Engineer

What Is the Average Salary for a PhD in Civil Engineering?

The average salary for a PhD in Civil Engineering is $98,000 . Many doctoral degree holders find jobs with salaries even higher than this. Below, we’ll take a closer look at some of the best-paying jobs for civil engineers with a doctorate.

Highest-Paying Civil Engineering Jobs for PhD Grads

Civil Engineering PhD Jobs Average Salary
Architectural and Engineering Manager $152,350
Construction Manager $98,890
Environmental Engineer $96,820
Civil Engineer $88,050
Civil Engineering Professor $79,640

Best Civil Engineering Jobs with a Doctorate

The best civil engineering jobs with a doctorate include architectural and engineering managers, civil engineering professor, civil engineer, environmental engineer, and construction manager. Here are details about these jobs, including the average salary, the job outlook, the number of jobs available, and the highest-paying states.

1

Architectural and Engineering Manager

PhD Salary: $152,350

Architectural and engineering managers are responsible for designing plans for new building and construction projects. They prepare budgets for these projects and coordinate the activities of staff to ensure the project is made to specifications.

2

Construction Manager

PhD Salary: $98,890

An advanced study program in civil engineering qualifies construction managers to supervise and coordinate different building and construction projects. These professionals also prepare budgets, estimate costs, schedule activities, and interpret technical information regarding the project.

3

Environmental Engineer

PhD Salary: $96,820

Engineers who hold a civil engineering doctorate can become environmental engineers. In this role, they prepare environmental reports and provide professional support and consultation for environmental projects.

4

Civil Engineer

PhD Salary: $88,050

Civil engineers prepare, analyze, and implement plans for building and construction projects. They confer with regulatory bodies to ensure that a project meets with the regulations and standards. Also, they perform soil testing, cost estimation, and infrastructure maintenance.

5

Civil Engineering Professor

PhD Salary: $79,640

Civil engineering professors work in academia, often as faculty members of faculty at a college civil engineering program. They are also heavily involved in research in the area of civil and environmental engineering.

Is a PhD in Civil Engineering Worth It?

Yes, a PhD in Civil Engineering is worth it. It’s an excellent education path to gain expertise, specialization, and research experience in civil engineering. The research opportunities offered by PhD programs are valuable if you’re considering a career as an educator or a researcher.

If you already have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in any engineering major, you can set yourself up for better career opportunities with a doctoral degree. Some universities offer online programs for distance students, and on-campus programs feature a range of student activities and services that add value.

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PhD in Civil Engineering FAQ

Should I get a PhD in Civil Engineering?

Yes, you should get a PhD in Civil Engineering if you want to gain an edge in your career or switch careers and become a teacher or researcher at a university or college. In addition to achieving your career goals, you get a chance for better pay.

How do I get into a PhD in Civil Engineering program?

Most PhD program applicants already have a Master’s Degree in Engineering or a related field. However, applicants with a bachelor’s degree can get admitted as well, given that they meet specific conditions and requirements.

Can I participate in a civil engineering PhD program as an international student?

Yes, you can participate in a civil engineering PhD from a school in the US as an international student. Most colleges have a separate admissions process for international applicants that includes passing an English proficiency exam.

How do I choose the best PhD in Civil Engineering?

Some of the factors to consider when choosing your PhD program and school are accreditation, flexibility, academic reputation, costs, career services, faculty, and program outcomes. Our list provides an excellent shortcut to finding some of the best PhD in Civil Engineering programs available.

About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.

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Sunday Erhunmwunse

About the author: Sunday is an experienced content writer and passionate educator. His professional interests include coding, data science, and product management. He holds a Doctor of Optometry from the University of Benin.

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