The earliest practice of civil engineering may have commenced between 4000 and 2000 BC in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia (Ancient Iraq) when humans started to abandon a nomadic existence, creating a need for the construction of shelter. During this time, transportation became increasingly important leading to the development of the wheel and sailing. Within this time frame, the pyramids were engineered and constructed. Other iconic structures could not have been completed without civil engineers:

  • Parthenon in Ancient Greece by architect/engineer Iktinos
  • Appian Way by Roman Engineers
  • The Great Wall of China by General Meng T’ien- military general and architect

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the scope of the profession is “the design and maintenance of public works such as roads, bridges, water and energy systems as well as public facilities like ports, railways and airports.” Civil engineering dates back centuries and is one of the largest sectors in the engineering field. Civil engineers are involved with these projects at every step, from the beginning designs to the construction to the oversight when the project is complete. Because of their step-by-step involvement in a particular project, he/she may need to perform experiments, such as soil testing to determine the strength for a foundation, assess building materials, and provide cost estimates for equipment, materials and labor.


Civil engineers typically possess a degree in civil engineering. The length of study is three to five years, and the completed degree is designated as a bachelor of engineering, or a bachelor of science. The curriculum generally includes classes in physics, mathematics, project management, design and specific topics in civil engineering. After taking basic courses in most sub-disciplines of civil engineering, they move onto specialize in one or more sub-disciplines at advanced levels. While an undergraduate degree (BEng/BSc) normally provides successful students with industry-accredited qualification, some academic institutions offer post-graduate degrees (MEng/MSc), which allow students to further specialize in their particular area of interest.

A typical undergraduate program entails these courses (partial list):

  • Calculus and Physics
  • Art of Structural Design
  • Urban Infrastructure
  • Structural Analysis
  • Computer-aided structural design
  • Soil Mechanics
  • Elastic and plastic analysis of structures
  • Bridge design and management
  • Capital planning and financing
  • Forensic Structural Engineering
  • Design of large scale buildings

A Master’s program, such as the one offered by Columbia University in New York city, is available through the school’s Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. This graduate program leads to the degree of master of science (M.S.) in either civil engineering or engineering mechanics. Their master of science degree is awarded upon the satisfactory completion of a minimum of 30 points of credit of approved graduate study extending over at least one academic year. This program involves concentrations in structures, construction engineering, reliability and random processes, soil mechanics, fluid mechanics, hydrogeology, continuum mechanics, finite element methods, computational mechanics, experimental mechanics, acoustics, vibrations and dynamics, earthquake engineering, or any combination thereof, such as fluid-structure interaction.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2013 the median salary for civil engineers was $80,770 with a Bachelor’s degree. The highest 10 percent earned $126,190 and the lowest-paid averaged $51,810 in 2013. The BLS projects the job growth to be 20% or the change/addition of 53,700 jobs through 2022.