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2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in Civil Engineering

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 6/12/2023
2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in Civil Engineering Badge

An online master's degree in civil engineering teaches students how to design, build, and maintain systems and infrastructure that are crucial to a functioning society. This degree involves an advanced exploration of skills (designing, building, and operations), infrastructure (airports, tunnels, and roads), and influences (legal, social, and material). 

In order to become a professional civil engineer, students must complete a minimum of a bachelor's degree and pass their state's licensing exam. A master's degree in civil engineering may be necessary to seek management positions. Students may find similar success with a master's in mechanical engineering or a master's in industrial engineering

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2023 Best Online Master's Degrees in Civil Engineering

RankSchool Salary Score Median Starting Salary
# 1 #1 University of Southern California 95 95 $81,695
# 2 #2 Columbia University in the City of New York 95 $81,566
# 3 #3 North Carolina State University 93 $80,860
# 4 #4 Ohio University - Main Campus 91 $79,594
# 5 #5 Villanova University 90 $79,452
# 6 #6 New Jersey Institute of Technology 88 $78,762
# 7 #7 Norwich University 82 $77,018
# 8 #8 University of Washington - Seattle 76 $75,560
# 9 #9 University of Florida 59 $72,375
# 10 #10 Auburn University 57 $72,066

#1 University of Southern California

  • Salary Score: 95
  • Median Starting Salary: $81,695
  • Locations: Los Angeles (CA)
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

The University of Southern California (USC) is a private institution that features a Master of Science in Civil Engineering - Structural Engineering requiring 28 credit hours. Full-time students usually complete this degree in under two years, while part-time students may take between two to three years.

At USC, students use Blackboard as their learning management system (LMS), which delivers courses online. The core curriculum for this program emphasizes experimental and analytical studies as they relate to infrastructure and its relation to human and environmental behaviors. Here are three examples of required courses: Advanced Mechanics, Dynamics of Structures, and UQ Concepts. This is a non-thesis program with no practicum. Career opportunities include environmental engineers, project planners, and architects.

#2 Columbia University in the City of New York

  • Salary Score: 95
  • Median Starting Salary: $81,566
  • Locations: New York (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Columbia University in the City of New York (CU) is a private university that offers a Master of Science in Civil Engineering. This degree requires 30 credit hours, which is generally completed in two years while studying full time. CU students can choose from civil engineering concentration options, such as geotechnical engineering and structural analysis and design.

CourseWorks is the main LMS used by CU students during their online degree programs. The civil engineering curriculum is flexible, and the majority of required credits are devoted toward the core curriculum — including classes in Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering, Theory of Vibrations, and Uncertainty and Risk in Infrastructure Systems. An additional 12 credits are required for elective courses that may include Supply Chain Management, Operations Management, or Principles of Applied Mathematics. In general, civil engineering master's graduates may pursue roles as transportation engineers, project engineers, and traffic engineers.

#3 North Carolina State University

  • Salary Score: 93
  • Median Starting Salary: $80,860
  • Locations: Raleigh (NC)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

North Carolina State University (NCSU) is a public institution with a Master of Civil Engineering requiring 30 credit hours. Typically, students graduate within two years while studying full time. There are a variety of concentrations to choose from, such as transportation systems, construction engineering, and structures and mechanics.

All online courses at NCSU are delivered through the Moodle LMS, which allows students to study fully online, with no requirements for on-campus visits or residencies. The curriculum looks at advanced computer applications and systems analysis for modern-day engineering. Among the major requirements are Computer-Aided Engineering Systems, Advanced Topics in Civil Engineering Computing, and Introduction to Numerical Methods for Civil Engineers. No thesis is required for graduation. Graduates are often prepared to become transportation, water, and wastewater engineers.

#4 Ohio University - Main Campus

  • Salary Score: 91
  • Median Starting Salary: $79,594
  • Locations: Athens (OH)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Ohio University - Main Campus (OU) is a public university offering a Master of Science in Civil Engineering that requires a minimum of 29 credit hours. If studying full time, students can complete this program in two years. Students may choose from four concentrations: (1) Construction Engineering and Management, (2) Environmental Engineering, (3) Structural Engineering, and (4) Transportation Engineering.

At OU, students use the Blackboard LMS to access their core courses, which are taught completely online. The curriculum for this civil engineering program uses advanced mathematics and physical science in order to train engineers to design and build with ecology in mind. Required courses include Engineering Writing, Project Management, and Civil Engineering Seminar. Graduates may have career opportunities as structural engineers, environmental engineers, and transportation engineers.

#5 Villanova University

  • Salary Score: 90
  • Median Starting Salary: $79,452
  • Locations: Villanova (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Villanova University (VU) is a private institution with a Master of Science in Civil Engineering requiring at least 30 credit hours. Generally, those who are studying full time are likely to complete the degree in two years. The curriculum also features five concentrations, such as Transportation Engineering, Water Resources Engineering, and Environmental Engineering.

VU uses the Blackboard LMS to deliver online coursework. This software allows students to finish their degrees entirely online, with the option to add on-campus classes. While classes will vary depending on the chosen emphasis, some classes may include Lake, Stream and Wetland Ecology; Foundation Engineering; and Construction Project Management. Students may choose between a thesis or a non-thesis track. Graduates may go on to work for architecture, construction, and engineering firms.

#6 New Jersey Institute of Technology

  • Salary Score: 88
  • Median Starting Salary: $78,762
  • Locations: Newark (NJ)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

At the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), a public institution, students can earn an online Master of Science in Civil Engineering with several possible areas of concentration. Options include construction engineering and management, transportation engineering, and structural engineering. Each concentration has its own curricula, but all students take courses in technical procedures, management, and high-level math and science. Some programs require a thesis or master's project. Applicants who do not have a bachelor's degree in civil engineering must complete several prerequisite courses.

NJIT students access their online courses through the Canvas learning system. The school has a fairly competitive acceptance rate of 69% and a graduation rate of 74%.

#7 Norwich University

  • Salary Score: 82
  • Median Starting Salary: $77,018
  • Locations: Northfield (VT)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

Norwich University is a private, non-profit college that offers an online Master of Civil Engineering. Enrollees can choose one of four possible areas of concentration: construction management, structural engineering, environmental / water resources engineering, and geotechnical engineering. Coursework is designed to help students develop their creative problem-solving, collaboration, analytical, and communication skills along with technical expertise.

Norwich University has an 87% acceptance rate and a 62% graduation rate. Online students can take advantage of the school's services, such as library resources, academic advising, career development coaching, and writing assistance.

#8 University of Washington - Seattle

  • Salary Score: 76
  • Median Starting Salary: $75,560
  • Locations: Seattle (WA)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

University of Washington - Seattle students have two options for earning a master's in civil engineering online. The Master of Science in Civil Engineering with a concentration in construction engineering is designed for professionals in the heavy construction industry who want to develop their technical expertise and management skills. The Master of Science in Civil Engineering with a concentration in Energy Infrastructure caters to professionals who want to lead the transition from fossil fuels to renewables by managing energy infrastructure projects. Both programs include courses in management, environmental issues, public safety and health, and the law.

Online students at this state-run university use the Canvas learning platform to access course materials, engage in class discussions with peers, and submit assignments.

#9 University of Florida

  • Salary Score: 59
  • Median Starting Salary: $72,375
  • Locations: Gainesville (FL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of Florida (UF), which is a public university, offers two online master's programs in civil engineering. The curriculum for the Master of Engineering in Civil Engineering is identical to that of the Master of Science in Civil Engineering. The difference is that the Master of Engineering program only accepts applicants who have earned a Bachelor of Science in an engineering discipline from an ABET-accredited institution. To ensure graduates have acquired all of the appropriate technical expertise, students enrolled in the Master of Science are required to pass a comprehensive final exam.

At UF, online learners access their course materials through the Canvas learning platform. As a competitive school, UF accepts only 30% of all applicants.

#10 Auburn University

  • Salary Score: 57
  • Median Starting Salary: $72,066
  • Locations: Auburn (AL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

At the state-run Auburn University, students can enroll in an online Master of Civil Engineering program. They have several areas of concentration to choose from, including environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering, pavements and materials, and structural engineering. The 30-credit hour program is designed to give students the technical expertise and managerial abilities they'll need to become leaders in their field. Auburn only accepts students who hold an accredited bachelor's degree in civil engineering or a related discipline.

Auburn faculty deliver their online courses through the Canvas learning platform. Students use the system to view lectures, complete homework, and network with their classmates and instructors.

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What Is a Master's in Civil Engineering Degree?

Master's degrees in civil engineering are designed to train engineers for high-level jobs designing, building, and testing infrastructure. These degree programs contain advanced coursework in math, science, and design principles, often with a specialty concentration and at least some coursework in management for students who want to move into leadership. 

Online engineering degrees often feature asynchronous courses that don't have live class meetings. Instead, enrollees sign in to a learning management system to do coursework. This might consist of recorded lectures, downloadable readings, interactive lessons and exams, and discussion forums and messaging features. 

You don't necessarily need a bachelor's degree in civil engineering to enroll in a master's program. But admissions officers tend to prefer candidates with STEM degrees that demonstrate their ability to handle a program heavy on math and science. It's common for applicants with an engineering undergraduate degree to seek a graduate degree in a different type of engineering.

It's important to understand a program's accreditation status and how it can affect your engineering career. Some employers may only consider candidates with diplomas from schools that the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredits, while others may not have this requirement. ABET has historically accredited very few online civil engineering programs, but you can search the organization's database of accredited programs for the latest information. You should only consider institutionally accredited colleges even if you decide against attending an ABET-accredited program.

Degree Requirements

To apply for an online degree in civil engineering, you'll submit your official college transcripts alongside professors' letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a resume. It helps to have an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0 to make sure you're competitive with other candidates. Your school might require an entrance exam such as the GRE or GMAT.

You must finish 30-36 credit hours of courses to graduate with your master's degree. Some courses include lab work that you may be able to do using an at-home kit or a virtual simulation. Alternately, you may need to travel to campus or use an approved facility to do a lab, because a physics-focused discipline like civil engineering can require expensive and sensitive equipment.

Any internship or other field experience will take place in person for an approved employer in your community. Internships aren't very common for master's programs because many master's students are already employed or have engineering experience.

Civil Engineering Courses

A graduate-level civil engineering curriculum covers topics such as structural analysis, statics, differential equations, and fluid mechanics. The core class can help prepare graduates for high-level engineering work, but some schools also include a concentration to help students specialize in a focused area of civil engineering. Some popular choices include structural engineering, environmental engineering, and transportation systems. 

Common courses that you're likely to find in a civil engineering master's program include:

Engineering Data Analysis

This course teaches methods for collecting raw data and polishing it into a useful form. Instructors emphasize analyzing the forms of data that civil engineers need to create safe, lasting structures.

Geotechnical Engineering

Faculty for this class discuss the interaction between the earth and infrastructure on top of it. Topics usually include soil mechanics, plate tectonics and seismic activity, materials science, and the physics of solid foundations.

Multiscale Mechanical Methods

Students practice writing and solving models that describe materials and structures at different scales. Professors might cover probabilistic analysis, error analysis, behavior of various materials, and governing equations.

Structural Dynamics

This course describes the solidity of and changes in structures such as buildings, roads, and bridges. It often includes work in a lab where students test stresses and loads on structures built with various materials.

What Can You Do With a Master's in Civil Engineering?

As the name implies, master's degrees tell employers that you've mastered a discipline to a high degree. Earning a civil engineering master's degree might open a range of career opportunities not available at the bachelor's level without many years of experience. But you can also choose to study more, which we detail below.

Further Education

You have several options for continued education that may prove useful in your civil engineering career.

If you want to be a professor or researcher, you can apply to a doctoral degree program in civil engineering. Program administrators typically ask you to focus your coursework on a focused area of civil engineering. You then research and write a dissertation. It can take 3-10 years to earn a doctoral degree. If you want to practice civil engineering rather than teach it, your time is probably better spent working rather than studying for a PhD after your master's.

A graduate certificate might be a good option if you want to add a specialty skill to your toolkit. Certificate programs usually last 6-12 months. Relevant subjects for civil engineers might include disciplines that are common concentrations in civil engineering programs, including construction management, engineering data analysis, engineering leadership, and sustainable building. Some students are curious about the connection between architecture and civil engineering, but there are no certificates that can make a civil engineer into an architect. Architects must have an accredited architecture degree and undergo a years-long apprenticeship.  

Civil Engineering Careers

Civil engineering degrees are designed to prepare graduates for life as civil engineers. The median yearly salary for this profession is $88,050. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 7% growth in new civil engineering jobs during the 2021-2031 period. This works out to more than 24,000 openings per year factoring in turnover. 

But a civil engineering education could lead down a number of career paths because many types of engineering call for similar skills and knowledge. For example, civil engineering specialists might find positions as environmental engineers working on environmental infrastructure projects. Their knowledge of physics and materials chemistry could also be useful as a materials engineer who designs and tests building and manufacturing materials. Both types of engineers tend to earn more than civil engineers, though their job fields are growing more slowly.

You might even apply for engineering manager positions once you have a master's degree, especially if your program offers an engineering leadership concentration. Engineering managers earn very high median wages of $152,350 per year. However, the BLS only expects 2% growth in new jobs through 2031.

Financing Your Master's Degree in Civil Engineering

Graduate school can add extra expense to any student loan debt you've already accrued from college. That's why it's important to plan your finances carefully before committing to a program.

Make sure to apply for all the financial aid that's available, especially the kinds you don't need to repay. These include merit-based scholarships and need-based grants and work-study programs. Use our student loan repayment calculator if you don't find enough gift aid to cover your tuition and fees (most master's students are in this position). This tool helps compare aid packages that different colleges offer you.

Our list of the most affordable online master's programs in civil engineering highlights degree options with relatively low tuition rates.

FAQs About Master's in Civil Engineering Programs

Is a Master's in Civil Engineering Worth It?

A civil engineering master's can be worth the cost and effort if it leads to a higher level job in the field. An ABET-accredited master's degree is more likely to do this because many engineering employers trust degree programs with this stamp of approval. Your degree is therefore more likely to pay off if it has ABET accreditation, which few master's programs in civil engineering do.

How Much Does a Master's in Civil Engineering Cost?

Master's degree costs can vary widely by college. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) determined that $19,749 was the average cost for graduate tuition and fees in the 2020-2021 school year. This is likely a bit higher now. OnlineU's manual research found online civil engineering master's online degrees with tuition as low as $5,745 per year.

Do You Need a Master's in Civil Engineering?

You don't need a master's in civil engineering to be successful. Many engineers top out at the bachelor's level and have long and rewarding careers. But higher education often pays in terms of increased wages and lower percentages of unemployment.

Can a Civil Engineer Get a Master's in Architecture?

A civil engineer with a bachelor's degree can get a master's degree in architecture. However, it's very rare for someone with a master's in civil engineering to subsequently enroll in an architecture program, because architecture master's degrees can take another 3-5 years to complete.

Should I Get a Master's in Civil Engineering?

The answer to this question depends on your personal circumstances and career goals. It might make sense to get a civil engineering master's if you want to reach the highest levels of the civil engineering profession and lead teams of engineers. On the other hand, you might not be willing to take on more loan debt or spend extra time away from your family to study. 

Bottom Line

A master's degree in civil engineering might give a salary and career boost to civil engineers. It might also build skills that could prove useful for other types of engineering. A number of master's programs feature concentrations to help you tailor your studies to an area of civil engineering that you want to specialize in.

You can read through our Guide to Starting Your Online Education if you feel ready to apply to an online program. If you're not at that stage yet, you might browse our college planning resources for ideas about what to study and whether distance learning is right for you. 

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