Civil Engineer Definition

What Is a Civil Engineer?

A civil engineer is a professional with the know-how to conceptualize, design, build, supervise, operate, and maintain infrastructure projects and systems. Civil engineers apply these skills in the public and private sectors.


  • A civil engineer is a professional with the skills and expertise to conceptualize, design, build, supervise, operate, and maintain infrastructure projects and systems, such as roads, buildings, bridges, water treatment, and the like.
  • A real estate development project often requires one or more civil engineers to design, plan, and oversee the physical development, particularly its construction.
  • Professional civil engineers require at least a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or an equivalent, plus a license from the state where they practice.
  • The civil engineering profession includes many subcategories, such as environmental engineering, coastal engineering, military engineering, and geotechnical engineering, among others.

What Does a Civil Engineer Do?

A civil engineer is a professional who designs, builds, and manages the construction of a variety of infrastructure systems. They plan and design the construction of projects such as buildings, roads, bridges, water and sewage systems, airports, and other public works. Water resources engineering is also within the scope of a civil engineer’s expertise[1].

civil engineer

As large-scale project managers, civil engineers must consider factors such as construction costs, environmental impact, and potential risks to public safety. Civil engineers work closely with other professionals, including architects, surveyors, contractors, and other engineers (environmental engineers, construction engineers, other civil engineers, etc.) to complete infrastructure projects on time and within budget. They also help the project’s stakeholders, including workers and employees, comply with safety and quality standards.

Civil engineers typically have a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering or a related field, and may also be required to be licensed by the state where they practice.

The field of civil engineering includes several branches. Civil engineers can take on various roles within these specific areas of expertise[2]:

  • Structural engineering.
  • Construction engineering.
  • Municipal engineering.
  • Environmental engineering.
  • Water resource engineering.
  • Transportation engineering.
  • Geotechnical engineering.
  • Surveying.

Note that this list is not exhaustive.

Education and Qualifications of a Civil Engineer

Most civil engineers develop their skills and expertise via a bachelor’s degree program in one of these specialties or civil engineering technology. A civil engineering degree program includes coursework in subjects like math, engineering systems and mechanics, fluid dynamics, and statistics. Anyone looking to work in the field of civil engineering must have a strong grasp of the physical and scientific principles that relate to building and engineering in general.


math subjects

The civil engineering course consists of a mix of traditional classroom sessions, laboratory work, and fieldwork. Students may also participate in cooperative programs to earn work experience while pursuing their bachelor’s degrees.

Typically, completing a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering may take four years, and another one or two years for a master’s degree. The duration may vary depending on the degree program and the university that the students attended[3].

Licensing Requirements

To become a licensed engineer, civil engineers must complete a bachelor’s degree program recognized by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)[4].

Typically, civil engineers must be licensed to provide services to the public. Licensure requirements vary from state to state. Generally, however, licensure candidates throughout the United States and its territories get their licenses after completing the three steps outlined below.

1. Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) administers the FE exam. This computer-based test for engineering disciplines is administered year-round at various NCEES-approved test centers[5].

civil engineer exam

Those qualified to take the FE exam must have graduated from an engineering program approved by their respective state licensure board. Successful FE examinees are classified[6] as “engineers-in-training” or “engineer interns.”

2. Gain Professional Experience

Licensure candidates in all states must complete four years of qualifying engineering experience, typically under the supervision of a professional engineer.

3. Pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) Test

The licensure board of each state sets this exam. The country’s professional engineers organizations, like the National Society of Professional Engineers, provide in-person study and online self-study courses for a PE test.

BY THE NUMBERS: Over 10% of the American workforce is employed in architectural, engineering, and related services.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Civil Engineers’ Role in Property Development

Civil engineers master a profession sometimes called “The Science of the Art of Construction”[7]. Every time a new building or structure is built, whether commercial or residential, public or private, a civil engineer is involved.

hard hat

This happens so often that civil engineers are commonly confused with property developers[8]. However, a property developer’s primary focus is to look for ways to maximize profit from new construction on a land parcel. Civil engineers, on the other hand, oversee the whole real estate development process from its design to completion[9].

The following are some of their key roles in property development[10].

  • Site profiling. Civil engineers analyze and assess raw land and the infrastructure to support its development, including its highest and best use.
  • Development analysis. The input of a civil engineer helps property development teams minimize costs while maximizing property value.
  • Zoning study. A civil engineer ensures that site and building designs comply with local zoning ordinances and other local property use limitations and regulations.
  • Construction planning. Civil engineers plan the systems, structures, and materials used in a development project.
  • Infrastructure design. Plans for various infrastructures required in a project, such as roads and utilities, are handled by civil engineers.
  • Project supervision. A civil engineer oversees the construction process from start to finish and monitors the worksite to ensure safety and adherence to plans and timetables.


  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (n.d.) What Civil Engineers Do. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved from
  2. TO Engineers. (n.d.) The Different Types of Civil Engineering. Retrieved from
  3. Shorelight. (n.d.) Bachelor of Engineering Degrees.Retrieved from
  4. California State University Northridge. (n.d.) Program: B.S., Civil Engineering. Retrieved from
  5. National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (n.d.) FE Exam. Retrieved from
  6. National Society of Professional Engineers. (n.d.) How to Get Licensed. Retrieved from
  7. Jacobsen, A. (2019.) Civil Engineers: The Science of the Art of Construction. Schmidt Associates. Retrieved from
  8. Inhouse Consulting Engineers. (2019.) Property Developers And Civil Engineers: How Are They Different? Retrieved from
  9. LSU Online. (2020.) Building a Future: Architecture vs. Civil Engineering. Retrieved from
  10. Mensch, J.P. (n.d.) Choosing a Civil Engineer. CCIM Institute. Retrieved from

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