Working as a Civil Engineer in the United States

The roles that a civil engineer can play in our society are many and varied. At the core of what civil engineers do is a desire to improve the spaces in which we live, work, and relax in order to bring about general improvements in the quality of life of local populations. A civil engineer could find themselves designing a new railway system or airport one month, and then their next project could be deciding where to locate a new library for a city. Many of those currently working in the field of civil engineering cite the range of work available, as well as the opportunity to make a positive difference while doing something that they love, as being the primary reasons for pursuing a civil engineering career.


Licensing for any engineering or surveying professions are administered at the state level. You must obtain the appropriate license for your state in order to refer to yourself as a professional engineer. In order to obtain a civil engineering license there are four parts:

  1. Obtain a four year ABET-accredited degree or an approved equivalent degree. Increasingly, students are studying their civil engineering degree online. As long as you hold a masters degree in civil engineering most employers and institutions don’t mind if it is obtained online or on a campus.
  2. Pass a rigorous six-hour exam, known as the Fundamental of Engineering exam (FE). These days, the FE is administered on a computer and is a multiple choice exam.
  3. Have relevant work experience in a civil engineering job. The amount of time you need under your belt varies from state to state. The requirement is, on average, four years.
  4. Pass the Professional Engineer Exam. The exam is an eight-hour exam and there are several different varieties depending on which specialty you want to work in.


There are several different titles that a civil engineer might adopt. In most states, the titles of ‘engineer’ and ‘civil engineer’ are protected; this means that there are often penalties usually in the form of a fine for those who use the titles without having met the requirements. On the other hand, titles such as ‘chartered engineer’ are not protected and can therefore be used as an alternative for those who don’t meet the requirements for a professional engineer.

It is possible to work in the field of civil engineering without a formal qualification but you will be limited in the roles you are able to perform and obviously most employers would rather hire a candidate who did have the qualifications. An unqualified engineer must be under the ‘responsible charge’ of a professional engineer.

Engineering Bodies

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) administers the FE exam as well as the professional engineer (PE) exam. It is a non-profit organization which exists to lobby on behalf of engineers in order to ensure that engineering and surveying licensing is maintained to a high standard.

Civil engineering is an exciting field to work in that offers innumerable opportunities for those with a keen interest in engineering to turn their skills towards improving the area they live and work in while helping to increase the quality of life of as many people as possible.

Categories: Education

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