Majoring in Civil Engineering

Did you enjoy Legos as a kid? Were you always building things or taking them apart? Do you enjoy using math and science to solve puzzles? If so, a major in civil engineering might be right for you.

A major in civil engineering prepares students to design, build, and maintain facilities such as buildings for both public and private purposes. Some examples of projects are bridges, highways, dams, water purification systems, and environmental control systems.

Because the major follows the requirements set by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, there is not much difference between university programs. Because of the nature of civil engineering, there is a strong emphasis on developing creativity by applying the concepts and principles of math and science. Therefore, students must take many classes in mathematics, including calculus and differential equations, as well as in the sciences. Science requirements often include chemistry, physics, and occasionally biology or geology. Students will also take courses under the umbrella of engineering sciences and design, as well as classes in the humanities and social sciences. During the last two years of the major, students will take the majority of their career-focused classes.

Most courses are lecture-based, but students will often be challenged with “story problems,” which is when a professor presents a real-world situation to the class that they must solve. The goal is to help majors learn to pull important information out of a case, to interpret an issue, and to understand how to apply theories they learn in class to the real world.

Unlike other engineering majors, civil engineering has many concentrations to choose from.

Structural engineering focuses on designing large structures such as buildings, bridges, and dams.

Hydrosystems concentrates on engineering projects related to water systems: dams, floodwalls, canals, pumping stations, irrigation or drainage systems, and creating navigable waterways.

There is also an environmental focus, in which students learn how to plan facilities related to environmental concerns. Some examples include solid waste management facilities, water purification plants, the disposal of hazardous waste, and facilities that mitigate air and water pollution.

Other students may choose a concentration in geotechnical engineering. Examples of projects related to geotechnical engineering are excavation and construction methods for tunnels, dams, or other underground structures.

A transportation focus will teach students how to design things such as highways, airports, railways, pipelines, and aerospace systems.

Graduates will have a variety of job opportunities. For students interested in the environment, organizations such as the EPA often hire officials and engineers to consult with. Students could either become a civil engineer that works on environmental projects such as the ones listed above or work for an agency that requires knowledge in that sector.

Students who are more interested in the research aspect than the actual design process would do well in a government laboratory. However, other students may be more inclined to become construction engineers who work on various projects.

Majors may choose to work for the city on building or maintaining local structures such as roads, water supply systems, or bridges. Students with a focus in transportation may go on to work for organizations such as the Department of Transportation. Finally, a student could seek a graduate degree to work as a civil engineering professor.

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