Online Civil Engineering Degree Overview
There are many civil engineering colleges available throughout the country and many that offer online formats for degrees in the field. Online civil engineering programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels and may allow students to further focus their studies with concentration areas. Students in these programs also typically receive hands-on training in the field through different projects and assignments. Compare and contrast the different degree levels in civil engineering available online.
Online Associate Degrees in Civil Engineering
Students can pursue an Associate of Science (AS) or an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Civil Engineering or Civil Engineering Technology, but typically these degree programs are not available in online formats. These programs may require between 64 and 68 credits and take about 2 years to complete. Many of these programs are specifically designed to help students transfer credits from the program to a 4-year school to further their studies. Most of the coursework is made up of general education courses, but students take some introductory courses in civil engineering to give them an overview of the field. Some programs may include hands-on labs.
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Civil Engineering
Most online bachelor's degree programs in civil engineering or civil engineering technology are available as Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees. Students may be required to take between 120 and 131 credits. Some schools may allow students to earn their bachelor's and master's degrees in the field through an accelerated dual degree program online. Other programs may be specifically designed to prepare students for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, which is the first step to becoming a licensed engineer. Despite being online, students still get hands-on experience in civil engineering through projects and other assignments.
Online Master's Degrees in Civil Engineering
Online master's programs in civil engineering are most commonly available as Master of Science (MS) degrees, but some online Master of Engineering (MEng or ME) degrees are available in the field as well. Credit requirements for these degree programs may range between 30 and 36 credits. Some MS programs may offer a thesis and/or non-thesis option, while MEng degrees may require a final design report. MEng programs are usually more course-based, while MS programs may be designed to prepare students for doctoral study and/or research-based careers. Students can usually complete these degree programs within 1 to 3 years.
Online Doctoral Degrees in Civil Engineering
There is at least one Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Civil Engineering available in an online format, but most doctoral programs in the field are on-campus programs. Students studying at this level are typically responsible for completing a dissertation and comprehensive exams. The curriculum for these programs is usually customizable to better align with students' research interests. These programs are research-focused and may include orientation courses, core courses in civil engineering, and research courses for the dissertation.
Online Certificates in Civil Engineering
There is a wide range of certificate programs available in different areas of civil engineering. For example, students can pursue a certificate in areas like structural engineering, transportation engineering, sustainable engineering management, and more. These certificate programs may be available to undergraduate and graduate students. Typically, these programs can be completed in 1 year or less and may require around 12 to 15 credits. Depending on the school, students may be able to count credits from the certificate towards a degree program.
Civil Engineering Specializations/Concentrations
Civil engineering incorporates several different subfields, and students may be able to focus their studies in one of these areas by choosing an available concentration. Students usually take multiple courses in these different concentration areas to prepare for careers in a specific type of engineering. Concentrations for civil engineering are most common at the bachelor's and master's degree levels. Some available concentrations for bachelor's degrees in civil engineering or civil engineering technology include:
- Structural design
- Site development
- Construction management
- Environmental and water systems
- Transportation systems
- Geotechnical systems
Concentrations that may be available at the master's level are usually more focused. These concentrations may include areas like:
- Sustainable and resilient infrastructure systems
- Societal risk management
- Water resources engineering and science
- Structures and mechanics
- Transportation materials
- Environmental, water resources, and coastal engineering
Curriculum/Coursework for a Civil Engineering Degree
Although there are some free online civil engineering courses available, these don't typically lead to a degree or college credit. Students wishing to study the subject more in-depth can pursue an online bachelor's degree program in the field. Like most bachelor's programs, students take general education courses, core civil engineering courses, and electives and/or concentration courses. Throughout the curriculum, students learn how to apply the skills they are learning through hands-on projects. Many of these engineering programs also include training in programming and technologies that are vital to the field, like Java and AutoCAD. Students also usually gain experience with design, research, project management, contract administration, and more. Some programs conclude with a final thesis or project of some sort. While specific course titles vary by program, some common topics and courses required for these online civil engineering programs include:
- Transportation engineering
- Project and construction management
- Hydraulic engineering
- Fluid mechanics
- Structural design
- Geotechnical engineering
- Engineering math
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Bachelor's in Civil Engineering?
The time to degree completion varies for online bachelor's degree programs in civil engineering. Many of these degree programs are designed to be completed in the traditional 4 years. However, some degrees are designed to be completed a little faster and allow students to finish in about 3.5 years, and others are designed to take a little longer and may have students graduating in 4 to 5 years. Students can also complete their degree faster if they transfer in credit from earning an associate's degree or other college-level studies. Some programs may allow students to transfer up to 75% of the required credits for the bachelor's degree.
Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Civil Engineering Degrees
Several online bachelor's degree programs in civil engineering hold both institutional accreditation and program accreditation. Accreditation at the institutional level indicates that a college or university has met general academic standards set for each degree level. This accreditation also qualifies students at the institution to apply for federal student aid and/or may affect the transferability of credits. Some schools that offer online bachelor's degree programs in civil engineering may be accredited by organizations like the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) or the Higher Learning Commission.
At the program level, some online bachelor's programs in civil engineering have additional accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering & Technology (ABET). This additional level of accreditation helps ensure students that their engineering program has met set academic standards specific to the field of engineering. Typically, programs with this accreditation are best prepared to help get students ready for a career in the industry.
Civil Engineering Licensure & Certification
There are many different licenses and certifications available for civil engineers and professionals in related areas. Civil engineering technicians can pursue certification from the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) to help advance their careers after they have obtained the necessary experience.
Any professional engineer may decide to pursue the Professional Engineering (PE) license to work more independently and take on more leadership-based positions. This license requires students to complete an ABET-accredited program, work at least 4 years under a licensed engineer, and pass both the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam after earning a bachelor's degree and the Professional Engineering (PE) exam after obtaining work experience.
Additional certifications are available in types of engineering to help professionals demonstrate their expertise and knowledge. Specifically, for civil engineers, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) provides additional certifications in various areas of the civil engineering field, like water resources engineering or geotechnical engineering. The related field of environmental engineering has the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists, which provides specialized certification as well.
Civil Engineering Career Information
Many graduates of civil engineering degree programs go on to pursue careers as civil engineers. While there may be similar careers or similar types of engineering, civil engineers still stand out with their job duties and requirements. For example, there are differences between an architect and a civil engineer even though they both build things. There are also similarities and differences between a civil engineer vs. an electrical engineer. Within civil engineering there are different types of engineers or specialty areas for students to choose from, including:
- Structural engineering
- Transportation engineering
- Environmental engineering
- Construction engineering
- Geotechnical engineering
- Project management
- Site development
- Water resources
- Environmental regulation
- Engineering design
How to Become a Civil Engineer
While the education requirement for becoming a civil engineering technician is usually only an associate's degree, the requirement for becoming a civil engineer is usually at least a bachelor's degree. Senior positions in the field may require an advanced degree and/or a PE license. Certifications in different areas of civil engineering are also available. Experience in the field can be helpful for civil engineering students and may help prepare them for further education in the subject.
Civil engineers are responsible for developing various types of infrastructure systems from start to finish, as well as maintenance of these systems. This requires them to gather research, design plans, oversee tests on sites and building materials, manage operations, and check for necessary repairs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of 2019, civil engineers made a median annual salary of $87,060 and had a job outlook of 2% from 2019 to 2029.
How to Become an Environmental Engineer
Environmental engineers also typically need to have at least a bachelor's degree. Usually, this degree is in environmental engineering or a related field, like civil engineering. These engineers need to gain practical experience through internships, cooperative engineering programs, and more. Like other engineers, environmental engineers can pursue a PE license and/or additional certifications in different specialization areas of environmental engineering.
Environmental engineers use their knowledge of engineering and apply it to solving a range of environmental issues. They may research a specific problem, design an environmentally friendly solution, oversee the development of the project, and then analyze its effects on environmental improvement. These engineers made a median annual salary of $88,860, as of 2019, and had a job outlook of 3% from 2019 to 2029, per the BLS.
Financial Aid and Scholarship Information for Civil Engineering Degrees
Financial aid and scholarships for students wishing to study civil engineering are widely available. Students first need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to find out if they qualify for federal loans and/or grants. While loans must be repaid, grants and scholarships do not, and there are plenty of scholarships available for all types of demographics and academic qualifications. There are even many schools and professional organizations that offer scholarships specifically for civil engineering students. A few examples include:
- William and Mary Reed Memorial Scholarship- This award is available to undergraduate civil engineering students at the University of New Mexico who have a 2.5 or higher GPA and demonstrate financial need.
- The Cobb/Fendley Endowed Scholarship- Provided by a local organization, CobbFendley, this scholarship is available to undergraduate students in civil engineering at the University of Houston. Students must have a 2.5 GPA or higher and be studying full time.
- The Lawrence W. and Francis W. Cox Scholarship- This scholarship is available through the ASCE for undergraduate students enrolled in a civil engineering program at an ABET-accredited institution.
How to Choose a Civil Engineering School and Program
When selecting an online bachelor's degree program in civil engineering, students may first want to look at the accreditation of the program. Students wishing to earn their PE license at some point in the future need to find an ABET-accredited program, and this may also be preferred by employers. Students should also consider programs that offer additional areas of concentration that align more closely with their career goals. It is also important that students ensure the program of their choice provides them with hands-on experience with different engineering projects and the other technical skills they need in the field, such as programming.
There are several other general factors to consider in addition to those more specific to civil engineering. For example, students may need to search for a school that has tuition rates within their personal budget and offers additional forms of financial aid and scholarships. Some students may also need to find a flexible program with multiple start dates, shorter class times, or part-time formats available to accommodate a work schedule or other commitments.
Professional Organizations in Civil Engineering
Professionals in any field benefit from communicating with one another and staying updated on current events in their fields. A primary way to accomplish this is through professional organizations. These groups commonly provide additional trainings and educational opportunities aimed at further advancing the field. There are several different groups for civil engineers and engineers, including:
- American Society of Civil Engineers- Designed specifically for civil engineers, the ASCE provides membership, specialty certifications, various events, and a wide range of additional resources. Students can explore publications, advocacy issues, job postings, and continuing education opportunities through the group's website.
- National Society of Professional Engineers- The NSPE offers membership and helps encourage and prepare students to earn their PE license. The group is also involved in advocacy, provides scholarships to students and continuing education opportunities, and has podcasts and publications to keep professional engineers updated on engineering news and issues.
- American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists- The AAES is designed for environmental engineers and other professionals in the field. Membership is available, as well as several resources, like a career center, annual events, and publications.