Civil engineers oversee the design, construction, and maintenance of public and private infrastructure projects, such as roads, tunnels, and water treatment facilities. A growing population coupled with the need to replace or repair outdated bridges, levees, and other aging structures, may contribute to an increase in the demand for trained civil engineering professionals in the coming years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for civil engineers to grow by 11% through 2026, significantly faster than the national average.
To take advantage of these new job opportunities, you need at least a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, civil engineering technology, or a closely related field. Specialized and managerial positions may require a master's degree, state-level licensure, and professional certification in fields like coastal engineering or geotechnical engineering. In some cases, an associate degree may prepare you for entry-level and support roles, such as civil engineering technician.
This page offers an overview of online civil engineering degrees, including information on degree levels, licensure requirements, possible career paths, and salary expectations. It concludes with a list of helpful resources for civil engineering students and professionals.
Earning your bachelor's or master's in civil engineering online offers a variety of benefits. Online programs often allow students to watch lectures and complete assignments on their own schedule, making it easier to balance your studies with a full-time job or family responsibilities. Distance education also provides students with more school options than their local community, making it easier to find a program aligned with your needs.
Asynchronous programs allow you to study at any time and from any location with an internet connection. This convenience appeals to students balancing school with work and family obligations. Some synchronous online programs may require students to log in to a virtual classroom at set times each week.
Many programs feature multiple start dates throughout the year, meaning you can enroll in classes during a quieter time at work or when you have access to childcare services. In self-paced online programs, students may advance through their coursework as soon as they demonstrate mastery of the material.
Online learning enables students to enroll in civil engineering programs anywhere in the country. In addition to providing access to less expensive options, distance education allows you to pursue more specialized courses of study.
Because online programs draw applicants from around the world, they tend to attract a diverse student population. This diversity introduces you to new ideas and approaches in the classroom and helps you build a broader professional network.
Distance education programs introduce students to learning technologies that can benefit them throughout their career. For instance, if you work on a transnational infrastructure project, you may use online collaboration tools that you encountered during your studies, like wikis and shared design spaces, to coordinate the work of engineers from multiple countries.
Types of Civil Engineering Degrees
While an associate degree may qualify you for some entry-level roles, most civil engineering jobs require at least a bachelor's degree. Continuing your education at the graduate-level often provides additional professional opportunities and increases your earning power.
According to the BLS, civil engineers earned a median salary of $84,770 in 2017. That year, architectural and engineering managers, most of whom hold a master's in engineering management or business administration, earned a median salary of $137,720.
Median Salary by Degree Level
Associate Degree in Civil Engineering
Bachelor's Degree in Civil Engineering
Master's Degree in Civil Engineering
Online Associate’s Degree in Civil Engineering
Associate Degree in Civil Engineering
Associate programs in civil engineering consist of 60 credits and usually take full-time students about two years to complete. Part-time students may need up to four years to earn their degree. In addition to general education coursework in the social sciences and humanities, associate programs involve 30 credits of engineering classes, covering subjects like advanced mathematics, engineering mechanics, and specialized design software.
To earn an associate degree, you typically need a high school diploma or GED. Admission standards vary by college, but most programs require applicants to maintain a GPA of at least 2.0 during high school. Community colleges usually do not require prospective students to possess professional experience or take entrance exams like the SAT or ACT.
With a two-year civil engineering degree, you can take entry-level and support positions, such as civil engineering technician, drafter, and surveying and mapping technician. To become a full civil engineer, however, you need to earn a bachelor's degree. Many community colleges partner with public universities in their state, making it easy to transfer credits from an associate program towards a four-year degree.
Fundamentals of Surveying
This course teaches students how to determine the position of given points — and the distances and angles between them. The practice of surveying plays an integral role in construction and mapping.
Fundamentals of Building Construction
Topics covered in this foundational course include the strength of various building materials, scheduling and budgeting for construction projects, zoning requirements, and the writing of environmental impact reports.
Fluid mechanics involves the study of the behavior of liquids at rest and in motion. Civil engineers working ocn bridges, dams, sewage systems, and other water-related infrastructure projects need a deep understanding of this branch of science.
Online Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering
Bachelor's Degree in Civil Engineering
Earning an online civil engineering bachelor's degree usually takes four years of full-time study, though part-time students may need 6-8 years to graduate. These programs consist of 120 credits, including approximately 40 credits of general education classes, 40-50 credits of major-specific courses, and 30-40 credits of electives. Students may use electives to specialize in an area within civil engineering, such as geotechnical or transportation engineering, or pursue a personal interest.
Along with coursework in areas like sustainable design and contracts and specifications, many undergraduate civil engineering programs require or strongly encourage students to participate in an internship. According to the BLS, students who complete a "co-op," or a field-based program that develops practical work experience, enjoy better job prospects than students who do not.
Applicants to these programs need a high school diploma or GED. Colleges may also require a minimum GPA; SAT or ACT scores; and letters of recommendation from former teachers, employers, or community leaders. Most undergraduate programs do not require candidates to possess work experience.
Once you earn a bachelor's in civil engineering, you may apply for jobs like civil engineer, construction manager, or surveyor. Managerial roles may require an advanced degree.
This course introduces students to the theories and best practices related to working in a wastewater treatment facility and related infrastructure projects. Core concepts include water quality modeling, sludge processing, and a primer on environmental law.
Students in this class learn to design, construct, upgrade, and maintain a variety of transportation systems. The course covers subjects like computer-aided design, highway geometry, and recent innovations in pavement materials.
Civil Engineering Design
In this course, students apply undergraduate learning to a major design experience. The process requires students to define project objectives, manage members of a team, overcome logistical and ethical challenges, and communicate plans to lay audiences.
Online Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering
Master's Degree in Civil Engineering
To earn a master's degree in civil engineering, you typically must complete between 30-45 credits, which usually requires two years of full-time study or roughly three years of part-time study to complete.
Applying to a master's program requires a bachelor's degree, usually in engineering or a closely related field. Students who majored in another area may need to take undergraduate classes in physics and mathematics prior to their master's courses. Most programs require applicants to maintain a college GPA of at least 3.0 and submit scores from the GRE. Schools may also request a statement of purpose and two letters of recommendation. Some graduate schools require two years of professional experience in construction or engineering before applying.
Master's students often choose a specialization such as hydrology and hydrodynamics, structural engineering, or transportation engineering. Students preparing for roles in engineering management typically complete coursework in project management, organizational development, and information technology. At the end of their studies, these students apply learning in a capstone project, often working with a partner organization on a real-world engineering challenge.
Students interested in jobs in academia or engineering research may take classes in statistical analysis and quantitative methods. Rather than completing a capstone project, these students usually conduct original research and write a thesis detailing their findings. To qualify for teaching roles at colleges and universities, these students may continue their education at the doctoral level.
GIS in Civil and Environmental Engineering
Geographic information systems allow users to present geographic data, analyze spatial information, and edit data within maps. In this class, engineers learn to use these systems to identify environmental needs and design infrastructure projects.
Infrastructure and Utility Management
This course focuses on developing the skills and knowledge necessary to maintain utility systems, such as electrical grids, gas lines, and water and sewage systems. The course emphasizes a systems approach to lifecycle management.
Statistics for Environmental Monitoring
Students in this class apply statistical analysis tools and techniques to monitor environmental conditions, including air pollution, water contamination, and soil quality. Topics covered include design sampling and censored data.
Online Doctorate Degree in Civil Engineering
Doctoral Degree in Civil Engineering
Most colleges and universities require engineering instructors and professors to hold a doctoral degree. The BLS projects that employment for postsecondary engineering teachers will increase by 15% through 2026, more than double the national average.
Online doctoral programs in civil engineering usually require applicants to hold a master's degree, though some may admit students with just a bachelor's and significant work experience. Students without an advanced degree should plan to submit GRE scores and letters of recommendation from former engineering professors.
In the first years of a doctoral program, students complete coursework within a concentration such as sustainable design or atmosphere and energy engineering. They also take classes in advanced research methods and academic writing. At the end of a full-time student's third year, they typically take a comprehensive exam. This exam assesses the scope of graduate learning and readiness to begin the dissertation.
The dissertation process begins by choosing a topic and collecting original research. Alternatively, some students examine multiple sets of existing data to draw new conclusions from that research. In close consultation with a faculty adviser, doctoral students then describe their findings in a written dissertation, a document that ranges between 100-200 pages. After they finish, students must defend their dissertation before a faculty committee.
Because completing a dissertation may take 1-4 years, most full-time students earn their doctorate in 4-7 years.
Experimental Mechanics of Materials
This class explores the structure and mechanics of modern construction materials, including how those materials behave when subjected to fracture, buckling, torsion, bending, and fatigue. The course benefits engineering analysts and structural engineering professionals.
Civil Engineering Research
Building on the statistical coursework that students take during their master's programs, this class covers advanced study design, data collection and analysis, and the presentation of findings to scholarly and lay audiences.
Academic and Report Writing in Civil Engineering
In this course, students learn how to write and cite research in preparation for their dissertation. The class also teaches students how to draft environmental impact and other engineering reports.
Civil Engineering Licenses and Certifications
You do not need a license to work in entry-level roles, such as civil engineering technician or drafter. If you aspire to supervise the work of other engineers, approve design plans, or provide engineering services directly to the public, you must seek a license as a professional engineer (PE).
Licensure requirements vary by state. Most state boards of engineering require PE candidates to hold at least a bachelor's degree from a school accredited by ABET, formerly known as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. After meeting academic requirements, candidates must pass a fundamentals of engineering exam to become an engineer-in-training (EIT) or an engineering intern (EI). EITs and EIs must work for four years under a fully licensed engineer to qualify for the principles and practice of engineering exam. After passing this exam, candidates earn their PE license. Some states require continuing education to retain licensure.
In addition to seeking a formal license, some engineers complete voluntary certification programs to demonstrate skills in a specialty, such as coastal engineering or sustainability. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) serves as one of the leading providers of professional certifications. Most of the credentials offered by ASCE require a master's degree and at least eight years of relevant experience.
What Can You Do With a Civil Engineering Degree?
An online civil engineering degree provides many professional opportunities. With an associate or bachelor's degree, you can take entry-level roles, such as surveyor or construction manager. As a fully licensed civil engineer, you may specialize in fields like transportation or structural engineering. While the majority of civil engineers work for private firms, roughly 25% work for local, state, and federal government agencies.
Regardless of the path you choose, careers in civil engineering require exceptional math, organizational, and problem-solving skills.
Civil engineering technicians provide assistance to civil engineers as they design, construct, and upgrade infrastructures. Technicians may use computer software to design building plans, collect soil or water samples for analysis, or maintain project files and records. These professionals work under the instruction of a licensed engineer.
Civil engineers oversee infrastructure projects in the public and private sectors. They may design the layout of an airport, supervise the maintenance of a stretch of highway, or author a report about how a municipality can improve its water quality. In addition to a bachelor's degree, civil engineers who take leadership roles or provide services directly to the public must hold state-level licensure.
Using global positioning technology and geographic information systems, surveyors measure the boundaries of properties and provide data for engineering and construction projects. Earning a bachelor's degree qualifies you for entry-level roles in surveying, though certifying public legal documents and providing surveying services to the public requires formal licensure.
Transportation engineers specialize in the construction and upkeep of roads, highways, bridges, tunnels, and other projects related to transportation. Some engineers focus on the design of seaports or airports. Transportation engineers must hold a bachelor's degree and a license to perform certain supervisory functions.
Structural engineers design the internal elements of buildings and machines. For example, a structural engineer may employ their expertise in the strength and flexibility of materials, like steel and glass, to create plans for a skyscraper. Structural engineers in the aerospace industry may design spacecraft, missiles, and civilian passenger planes.
Civil engineering supervisors direct the efforts of the engineers, engineering technicians, and construction crews working underneath them. Employers may prefer to hire supervisor candidates with a master's degree or graduate-level coursework in engineering management and business administration.
Project managers typically serve as a liaison between a chief civil engineer supervisor and engineering teams and ground crews, providing day-to-day oversight and reporting major issues to senior managers. These individuals need a PE license.
According to the BLS, civil engineers earned a median salary of $84,770 in 2017. The bottom 10% of earners made less than $54,150 that year, while the top 10% commanded salaries in excess of $138,110.
While a graduate degree may improve your job prospects, civil engineers with just a bachelor's degree and many years of professional experience can still earn significantly more than the national average. The table below illustrates how earning power for civil engineers correlates with years of experience in the industry.
Salaries for Civil Engineers by Experience
Where Do Civil Engineers Work?
Roughly half of all civil engineers work for engineering firms that provide services to private businesses and government agencies on a contract basis. Another 25% of civil engineers in the United States work for the local, state, or federal government.
On average, federal employment offers the highest salaries, owing to the responsibility of overseeing critical, large-scale projects, like interstate bridge construction and regional power grid design. According to the BLS, civil engineers working for the federal government earned a median salary of $93,820 in 2017. Engineering jobs in local government also pay well, as city and county engineers earned just over $90,000 that year.
Civil engineering often requires long hours and extensive travel. About 30% of civil engineers report working more than 40 hours per week, and many routinely visit construction sites to monitor operations and solve problems. Civil engineers may also need to temporarily relocate to live closer to project sites. Engineering professionals who work in a regulatory or design capacity may work more exclusively in an office setting.
The table below details some of the top-paying locations for civil engineers in the United States, with Alaska offering the highest wages and California the greatest number of professional opportunities.
Top-Paying Locations for Civil Engineers
Annual Mean Wage
District of Columbia
Architectural and Engineering Managers
Growth Rate 2014-2024
Number of Jobs: 2014
Architectural and engineering managers are responsible for planning and coordinating a wide range of activities at architectural and engineering companies. You will usually need to have considerable work experience as either an architect or engineer in order to get this job. Job duties include developing concepts for new products and solving technical problems, which often involves creating detailed plans. Architectural and engineering managers also prepare budgets, hire staff, and supervise workers. An online civil engineering bachelor degree will prepare students with the skills they need to enter this field.
Urban & Regional Planners
Growth Rate 2014-2024
Number of Jobs: 2014
Urban and regional planners create land use plans and programs that help communities grow successfully. Most planners work for local governments. Planners identify community needs and create short- and long-term solutions. They work with a wide range of people, including public officials, community members, business interests, and non-profit groups. Some of their duties include attending meetings about land use and development plans, gathering and analyzing data, reviewing plans, making recommendations, and presenting projects to the public and local government. An online masters in civil engineering will help you obtain work in this specialty.
Growth Rate 2014-2024
Number of Jobs: 2014
Environmental engineers develop solutions to environmental problems using the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry. If you are good at science, concerned about the environment, and like solving problems you might make a good environmental engineer. Environmental engineers help improve pollution control, recycling, public health, and waste disposal. Some duties of environmental engineers include designing systems that better protect the environment, developing regulations, conducting studies, analyzing data, inspecting facilities, and providing technical support. An online civil engineering bachelor degree is usually needed to get work as an environmental engineer.
Growth Rate 2014-2024
Number of Jobs: 2014
Civil engineers design, build, supervise, and maintain construction projects, including roads, dams, buildings, bridges, tunnels, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment. They work on complex projects, and usually specialize in one of several areas: construction, geotechnical, structural, or transportation. Civil engineers analyze plans, maps, and other data and then consider costs, regulations, and risks to plan projects. They perform or oversee testing of building materials and soils, use design software, and present findings to the public. Many hold supervisory positions. An online civil engineering bachelor degree will help you reach the qualifications needed to work in this field.
Civil Engineer Technician
Growth Rate 2014-2024
Number of Jobs: 2014
Civil engineering technicians assist civil engineers in planning, designing, and building highways, bridges, infrastructure, and commercial, residential, and industrial development projects. Job duties include reading and reviewing project drawings and plans, using computer aided design software, observing project sites, testing construction materials, developing plans and estimating costs, preparing reports, collecting data, and preparing analyses. If you are good at learning a variety of computer programs and enjoy varied job duties, you might make a good civil engineering technician. Civil engineer technicians usually have an associate civil engineering degree, which can be earned in an online civil engineering program.
Online Civil Engineering Degree in Action
Michael Schneider Civil Engineering
Michael earned his bachelor of science in civil engineering in 1976 from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He worked as an engineer for the federal government from June 1976 January 2008 and is now living in Texas.
When and how did you begin pursuing a career in civil engineering?
I actually wanted to be an airplane pilot -- I tried unsuccessfully to get an appointment with the U.S. Air Force Academy. At the time I graduated from high school, the Vietnam War was at its peak. I couldn’t afford to pay for college and was likely to be drafted. I enlisted in the Marine Corps instead. My service in the Marines got me four years of college under the VA Bill. I started taking flying lessons about the same time I entered the University of Nebraska at Omaha in February 1971.
The University of Nebraska didn’t have an aeronautical engineering program at either the Omaha or Lincoln campuses. I didn’t want to have to pay non-resident tuition at an out of state college, so an advisor at UNO suggested I could take the basic engineering courses at UNO then transfer to Lincoln and pursue a degree in mechanical engineering, which would be just as desirable to an employer as an aeronautical degree. I started college with that plan in mind. I had trouble with a couple of subjects during my 3rd semester of college, which made me question whether I could succeed as an engineer. The summer following that semester I was employed as an engineering aid by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management at their office located in Canon City, Colorado. I worked directly under a civil engineer and in some really beautiful countries. I felt like he had the ideal job. He surveyed projects in the field during the summer months, then prepared plans and specifications for them in the winter months. I decided to go for a CE degree.
What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of your career?
I liked design work the best. Preparing drawings for something like a parking lot, for instance, and then seeing it actually constructed.
What types of skills does a student develop in a strong civil engineering degree program?
Like the medical field, civil engineering has become quite specialized. Structural engineers design things like the frame of buildings and bridges. Water resource engineers work on the design of dams and canals to supply water for irrigation, hydroelectric generation, and to prevent flood damage. Sanitary engineers are primarily concerned with treating water to make it suitable for drinking and treating wastewater to prevent pollution. Geotechnical engineers are mainly concerned with designing adequate foundations for buildings, dams, and other structures that special consideration of soil conditions. Transportation engineers design roads, rail lines, airports, and harbor facilities.
Mathematics, especially calculus, is important in all engineering fields. In civil engineering, however, the student will need to develop skills unique to the specialty they wish to pursue. For instance, the structural engineer needs to know how the properties of steel and concrete affect the strength of beams, columns, and girders made from those materials. A student needs to know how to read and prepare construction drawings even if the student, as an engineer, may not be preparing the drawings.
Describe your typical day-to-day work while you were employed for the government as an engineer.
When I was employed as a design engineer, I was involved in a project from conception through completion. On a typical day, I might start out working on a set of drawings, preparing sketches for the draftsmen, or doing some calculations. Then I might be called away because some unforeseen problem arose on a project I designed. I would have to resolve the problem, keeping the cost of the solution at a minimum. During the day I might also have to take a survey team out to take some measurements I needed for project design. I might also have to search catalogues (probably done online these days) to select certain materials or equipment I might need for my current design project.
What advice would you give someone who wants to establish a career for themselves in this industry?
I think the best advice I can give is to find out what you are getting into. If you are interested in highway engineering, for instance, see if you can spend a day shadowing a highway engineer to see what he actually does. As an alternative, you can search the internet for job descriptions, but I usually find the descriptions to be rather vague. Perhaps a better approach would be to talk to some civil engineering professors at the closest college. Most college professors that teach engineering courses had previous experience as engineers before being hired by the college. In fact, many are still doing a little consulting on the side.
Resources for Civil Engineering Students
Professional Civil Engineering Organizations
Civil engineering students and graduates benefit from professional organizations. These groups provide scholarships, offer continuing education and professional certification opportunities, organize regional and national networking events, and advertise job opportunities across the country. Some also host mentoring programs, allowing recent graduates to tap into the expertise and connections of established civil engineering professionals.
American Society of Civil Engineers: ASCE represents more than 150,000 civil engineers around the globe. Members can attend research conferences, seek certification in one of seven professional areas, and review technical reports on subjects like forensic engineering and infrastructure resilience.
American Society for Engineering Education: Since 1893, ASEE has worked to advance innovation and excellence within engineering education. The group hosts an annual conference, provides scholarships and research fellowships to engineering students and professionals, and publishes a scholarly journal.
International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering: IABSE aims to enhance the practice of structural engineering through research, education, and international collaboration. In addition to hosting events and disseminating research through publications, the association offers an eNewsletter that updates members on new developments and job opportunities.
American Academy of Environmental Engineers & Scientists: AAEES serves engineers and scientists working to protect human health and natural ecosystems. Along with free online training webinars and specialty certification programs, the academy also supports student chapters and awards exemplary service to the field.
Institute of Transportation Engineers: ITE provides transportation professionals with knowledge, skills, and resources to better serve communities. The institute's career development center, for example, offers webinars, podcasts, professional certification, and a job board.