Overview of Online Civil Engineering Bachelor's Degrees
A bachelor's degree in civil engineering teaches students to apply key scientific and technical principles to problems of human infrastructure. Faculty teach students how to create lasting structures and systems for transportation engineering, water resources and power supply, and enterprise. Of the 23 engineering specialties examined by the American Society for Engineering Education, civil engineering programs granted the fourth-highest number of bachelor's degrees in 2019. However, online students should be cautioned that very few colleges offer online bachelor's degrees in civil engineering that are ABET accredited. Other engineering disciplines offer more online options with the necessary accreditation.
Civil engineering bachelor's programs typically require 120 credit hours and are designed to be completed in four years of full-time study, but will take longer for students who attend part-time. As with all bachelor's degrees, students take general education courses in addition to classes in the major. In addition to fully online coursework, a college may require an internship or other in-person field experience to graduate, which would typically take place at an agreed-upon location close to the student's home.
Students seeking degrees in civil engineering, whether online or on-campus, should select programs that are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. ABET-accredited programs have been certified to meet engineering industry standards. Because of the nature of civil engineers' work, these standards include not just engineering knowledge but also some coursework in project management and public policy.
It's important to note that ABET currently only accredits one online degree program in civil engineering, which is at the University of North Dakota.
ABET-accredited programs are usually designed to prepare students for licensure exams administered by the American Society for Civil Engineers. Most states require a license to practice as a civil engineer on public projects — a crucial component of any civil engineer's job — so prospective students should review the licensure requirements in their state before committing to any program.
Some states may allow the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying to approve a candidate's educational credentials so they can sit a licensing exam, but it's not guaranteed that a non-ABET-accredited degree will pass the council's review. In other words, enrolling in an online civil engineering program that isn't accredited by ABET may have adverse effects on a student's ability to obtain licensure.
In addition to program-level accreditation, entire schools can be accredited. For civil engineering, it is important that the program itself is accredited, but there are schools on our list without program accreditation that are institutionally accredited, namely Liberty University and Old Dominion University. Liberty University is seeking programmatic accreditation in 2023.
Online Civil Engineering Courses
Required courses for a civil engineering major focus on applying the lessons of mathematics, physics, geology, material mechanics, and other disciplines to the construction of public works. Because civil engineers usually work for or alongside government agencies, many degrees include courses in public policy, along with discussions of professional ethics and project management. To give applicants a flavor of a civil engineering bachelor's program, we've listed a few common online courses below.
This branch of mathematics involves the concepts of limits, differential equations, and derivatives. Engineering students focus on using calculus to determine the stress of forces on the different structures they design and build.
Faculty discuss the movement of fluids (liquids and gases) and the forces that affect them. Students learn how to calculate flow, drag, the conservation rate of mass and momentum, and viscosity. Civil engineering students are introduced to the practical applications of fluid mechanics theories in their field.
This course covers the composition and variability of the ground that civil engineers build on. Topics include soil, groundwater, rock composition, and seismology. Professors also discuss the suitability of different types of rocks as building materials.
Students learn the nature of forces and their various applications in civil infrastructure. These include kinetic energy, magnetism, waves, electricity, and sound waves. Later units in the course may introduce concepts from advanced engineering physics, such as lasers and nanotechnology.
In this online class, professors discuss structural engineering in terms of the forces that hold structures together and the various materials that civil engineers can use to build. Students test a variety of physical loads to determine a structure's strength. Faculty may dedicate lessons to structural failure and ways to mitigate the physical stresses that can lead to collapse.
Some online degree programs allow civil engineering students to specialize. Below are a few examples of concentrations that are available in some civil engineering programs — interested applicants should check that a college offers a specialty concentration before enrolling.
Coursework for this concentration focuses on shepherding people, materials, and workflows through complex engineering projects. Besides engineering fundamentals, students learn team management and project management principles, budgeting and accounting, and construction safety practices. Construction engineering students may be encouraged to take business courses that are relevant to their concentration.
Environmental engineers create solutions to problems in the natural environment. Students learn about the complex interplay between humans and natural resources such as water, air, forests, and animal life, as well as real-life case studies of both successful and failed environmental projects around sustainability. This is one of the less popular specializations in engineering as a whole: environmental and dual civil-environmental graduates constituted just 1.5% of engineering bachelor's degree graduates in 2019, according to the ASEE.
Site developers combine knowledge and practices from civil and environmental engineering with land surveying. Topics in this concentration include soil surveying, groundwater and drainage, and hydraulics. Students also learn to perform the legal and bureaucratic functions of their chosen field, absorbing lessons in domain law and public policy.
Structural design focuses exclusively on the design aspect of civil engineering. Students concentrate on the physics and mathematics needed to understand key concepts that include material strength, structural integrity, and physical load balancing. Courses may include lessons on the computer modeling software used in design.
Careers for Civil Engineers
Many alumni of civil engineering degree programs land job opportunities with some variation of "civil engineer" in the title. The median annual salary of $88,570 is well above the U.S. median for all jobs, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects 8% job growth rate through 2030. There is also a very low 1.5% unemployment rate for bachelor's-level civil engineering graduates. Below, we've listed some career opportunities that a bachelor's in civil engineering might qualify candidates for, as long as the program is accredited. In addition to an undergraduate degree, some students may choose to pursue online master's in civil engineering programs in order to make themselves more marketable in their fields, but graduates can access the following without pursuing a master's program.
Median Annual Salary: $97,180
Job Growth Rate: 8%
Construction managemtent is an available concentration in some degree programs, so it's perhaps not surprising that civil engineers find work managing construction projects. These professionals can work for private firms or government agencies at the municipal, state, or federal level.
Median Annual Salary: $92,120
Job Growth Rate: 3%
Environmental engineers solve problems relating to human communities' interactions with nature. They work in all sectors of the workforce on issues such as animal and plant conservation, water and air quality and treatment, and hazardous material removal.
Median Annual Salary: $95,640
Job Growth Rate: 2%
Civil engineering education requires extensive familiarity with materials science, stresses, and loads. It may be possible to transfer this knowledge into work as a materials engineer, who is tasked with testing and designing materials and structures in labs. These professional engineers generally don't need licenses at the entry level.
Median Annual Salary: $75,850
Job Growth Rate: 11%
Civil engineers who develop a taste for municipal design may want to become urban planners, though this will require a master's degree and licensure. These professionals help communities plot their growth, improvement, and renewal, working for government departments or the private sector.
Should I Get a Master's Degree?
Leadership, research, and teaching positions are typically only available to those who hold graduate degrees. If these career paths interest you, it may be worth pursuing a graduate program such as a Master of Science in Civil Engineering.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the median starting salary for a master's degree graduate is $9,000 higher than that of a bachelor's graduate in civil engineering. This provides some evidence that a master's degree can lead to a bump in pay. However, note that this survey's sample size is relatively small for civil engineering (22 for bachelor's and six for master's), and a graduate program is a further commitment of money and time — you'll need to weigh your personal circumstances when deciding whether it's the right path. Interested applicants generally need to meet prerequisites, furnish undergraduate transcripts showing a minimum 3.0 GPA, submit letters of recommendation from professors or professional mentors, and possibly show GRE scores.