Engineers design and develop technology that affects the world around them. Two types of engineers, in particular, make a major impact on the world. Civil engineers create the structures, ranging from bridges and roads to airports and water treatment facilities, that society uses on a daily basis for living, working and transportation. Environmental engineers develop technology and processes to solve problems in the natural environment. Both careers can be rewarding in many ways, and there is certainly overlap between the two disciplines. The benefits of choosing a civil engineering degree instead of an environmental engineering degree include having a more versatile education and broader set of career opportunities and seeing more rapid job growth.

civil engineering vs environmental engineering

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A Broader Field of Study and Employment

One reason why civil and environmental engineering are often compared is because there’s a good deal of overlap between the two fields. Environmental engineering is actually a subarea within the larger field of civil engineering, which happens to be among the oldest and broadest engineering disciplines. As a result, studying civil engineering allows for a broader and more versatile education than studying just one specialization within the discipline.

Naturally, there are pros and cons of both a broader and a narrower program of study. A more focused program can be beneficial when employers are seeking a candidate with in-depth knowledge about a smaller field of study but detrimental when graduates don’t have a broad enough knowledge base. Conversely, students in a program that prizes breadth over depth might know the foundations of a lot of subjects but lack enough substance in the subjects that matter for job performance. In the case of engineering, however, the technical and practical skills students gain while earning their degrees mean that they rarely find their education unmarketable due to its breadth. Many civil engineering degree programs also allow students to pursue more specialized academic tracks or concentrations alongside their broader major requirements.

Civil engineering vs. environmental engineering

Because of its breadth, civil engineering offers its students many more potential job opportunities. A civil engineer designs and develops all kinds of structures, infrastructure projects and transportation systems, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Close to half of all civil engineers work in the engineering services industry, while others find employment in nonresidential building construction or in government roles at the local, state or federal level. Students majoring in civil engineering take courses such as Civil Engineering Materials, Construction Engineering, Transportation Engineering, Surveying, Structural Analysis, Soil Mechanics, Environmental Engineering, and Steel and Concrete Design. They can use technical electives and free electives to delve deeper into the areas of civil engineering that most interest them.

Environmental engineering is both a narrower field of study and an interdisciplinary one. Knowledge of soil science, chemistry and biology is as important in this occupation as a background in the principles of engineering, according to the BLS. Unlike civil engineers, environmental engineers focus on improving environmental issues in all of their work. However, the environmental projects they work on can range from waste disposal to climate change and from recycling to water and air pollution, the BLS reported. The coursework in an undergraduate environmental engineering program should prepare students for all of these possible career paths. Environmental engineering majors often take classes such as Introduction to Environmental Engineering, Green Engineering and Sustainable Design, Air Pollution Control, Water Quality Control, Transport Processes and Chemical Engineering Process Design.

Specialties in the field of civil engineering include construction engineering, structural engineering, geotechnical engineering and transportation engineering.

A Better Job Outlook

Environmental engineering jobs are growing, but they aren’t growing as quickly as civil engineering roles are. The BLS expects jobs for environmental engineers to increase by eight percent over a decade, matching the eight percent job growth expected for engineering occupations as a whole and barely above the seven percent growth rate predicted for all occupations. If estimates are correct, 4,500 new jobs will join the 53,800 existing roles for environmental engineers.

For civil engineers, the BLS predicts a faster than average growth rate of 11 percent. While three percentage points does not seem like a lot, when it comes to a large occupation like civil engineering, it translates to a huge number of new jobs. The 303,500 existing jobs for civil engineers will grow by 32,200 new jobs, according to predictions.

Civil engineering is not only the largest of all engineering disciplines but also the engineering occupation expected to gain the most new job opportunities over a decade, the BLS reported.

Additional Resources

What Classes Will I Have to Take for a Degree in Civil Engineering?

What Classes Will I Have to Take for a Degree in Environmental Engineering?

What Should You Know When You Interview for a Job With a Degree in Civil Engineering?

What Kind of Job Can You Get With a Degree in Civil Engineering?

How Advanced Does My Degree in Environmental Engineering Need to Be to Get a Good Job?

What Are the Highest Paying Jobs With a Degree in Civil Engineering?

What Are the Benefits of Pursuing a Degree in Civil Engineering?