Have you always wanted to build something, whether a skyscraper, a home, a bridge or a highway? If so, you may have already come to the conclusion that a role as a civil engineer or an architect is the perfect career for you. While there are similarities between civil engineering and architecture, these are distinct fields that require different educational paths and prepare students for different careers.
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Civil Engineering Degree Programs
Engineers solve problems by applying complex science and mathematical concepts to real-life situations. When it comes to civil engineering, those real-life problems revolve around the “built environment,” including the buildings, bridges, transportation systems and water supply systems. To do this work, aspiring civil engineers naturally need a strong foundation in science, math and engineering principles. Studies in subjects such as fluid dynamics and engineering mechanics and systems are important parts of a civil engineering program, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A civil engineering degree program accredited by ABET (the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) typically requires four years of full-time study and incorporates classroom lectures, laboratory science courses and practical experience through fieldwork and cooperative programs.
You don’t need a license to become a civil engineer. However, you may need a license for certain roles in civil engineering, including senior leadership positions like engineering manager and roles in which you provide engineering services directly to the public, the BLS reported. If you wish to attain a license, you should first take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam after you earn your bachelor’s degree in civil engineering so that you can become an engineer intern (EI) or engineer in training (EIT). Then you will continue to acquire work experience – usually, four years of professional experience – and take a second test called the Professional Engineering (PE) exam.
Some schools offer dual degree programs in civil engineering and architecture. Students graduate with two bachelor’s degrees or a master’s degree in civil engineering plus a bachelor’s degree in architecture.
Unlike most bachelor’s degree programs, a Bachelor of Architecture (B.Arch) degree program takes five years of full-time education to complete, according to the BLS. This lengthy undergraduate program combines studies in building design, architectural theory, types of architectural structures, construction methods, the history of architecture and computer-aided design and drafting (CADD). To earn your architecture degree, you will also need to complete courses in mathematics and the liberal arts and sciences.
Typically, there is less emphasis on complex science and mathematical principles in an architecture degree program than in a civil engineering program. However, architects still need a strong understanding of subjects such as physics, calculus and geometry. Students in an architecture degree program should expect to spend a good deal of their time studying design and producing their own designs, in the form of drawings and models, in a studio environment.
Before you can become a full-fledged architect, you will have to gain at least three years of internship experience, pass a professional examination and attain a license. You may be able to use internships you completed during your B.Arch education to count toward your internship requirement, the BLS reported. Often, aspiring architects who have completed their college education find paid internship opportunities through the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards’ Architectural Experience Program (AXP). A typically internship may include tasks such as helping with designing a project and creating architectural documents, drawings, models and CADD construction drawings. Some aspiring architects may work as interns with general contractors or engineers. Once you complete three years of internship, you are eligible to take the Architect Registration Examination and attain your license to work as an architect.
In 35 states, aspiring architects must earn their Bachelor of Architecture degree from one of the 122 schools that has attained National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) accreditation.
Job Opportunities for Civil Engineers and Architects
Both civil engineers and architects design buildings and other structures. Architects focus more on designing structures such as houses, office buildings and factories, while civil engineers are more responsible for creating infrastructure such as bridges, roads, tunnels, airports, dams and water systems, according to the BLS. When it comes to architecture vs. engineering, many of the distinctions between the two fields come down to differences in perspective and personality. While there are some traits that both civil engineers and architects should have, including effective speaking and writing skills and organizational skills, there are also differences in the ideal qualities of these professionals. An architect will need a good deal of creativity and great analytical, technical and visualization skills. On the other hand, civil engineers have more of a need for math skills, problem-solving skills, decision-making skills and leadership skills, the BLS reported.
Civil engineers earn somewhat higher wages, with a median salary of $84,770 compared to $78,470 for architects, the BLS reported. More than two thirds of all architects work in architectural and engineering services, and another 20 percent are self-employed. Among civil engineers, nearly half work for engineering services, while many others work for state, local or federal government entities. About 303,500 civil engineers are working in America, compared to just 128,800 architects.
While careers in architecture are currently seeing slower than average job growth, the BLS predicts a faster than average 11 percent increase in opportunities for civil engineers.