As one of the oldest engineering disciplines, civil engineering covers a number of career options related to the various subjects associated. In the United States, many civil engineers will choose a path that falls under one of these subjects or practice areas. They will have to sit for the fundamentals of engineering and the professional licensing exams. After passing these exams and achieving a certain amount of working experience, they can be professional engineers who can sign and seal plans, specifications and technical reports, among other responsibilities.

Structural Design and Analysis

Structural design may be the practice areas that most people tend to associate with civil engineering. Structural engineers are responsible for designing and detailing members to bear or resist loads for buildings, bridges and other structures. The most common materials that structural designers work with are concrete and steel, but wood and masonry brick are not uncommon. These professionals are chiefly concerned with the strength, failure and serviceability of elements such as columns, beams, arches, trusses and walls. Their responsibilities are usually a combination of design and analysis of existing structures.

Geotechnical Engineering

Geotechnics involves how structures interact with the materials found in the Earth’s crust. For example, a bridge designer usually consults a report developed by a geotechnical engineer to determine the best type of foundation for a particular bridge. These specialists have to be knowledgeable about how soil and rock mechanics investigate subsurface conditions, evaluate soil properties, determine stability and monitor earthwork and site conditions. If you are in the Western United States, consider Geotechnical Engineering Utah. Geotechnics have applications in other disciplines and industries, making it one of the more interesting engineering jobs you might want to consider.


Transportation engineers deal with the design and development of roads, railways, ports, harbors and aviation. Areas of specialization including schematics, plans, profiles and traffic control systems. These professionals deal with the planning, final design, operations and maintenance of facilities related to transportation. They help develop the particular route that a highway or railroad might make between points. They determine the appropriate size of a facility based on route studies, traffic volume and analysis of traffic patterns. For maritime facilities, transportation designers concern themselves with port and harbor design, operations and maintenance. In aviation, transportation specialists focus on airport design, including terminals and layouts of runways and taxiways.

Hydrology and Hydraulics

Engineers that specialize in hydrology and hydraulics (or H&H) are chiefly responsible for conveyance of water. This can include water systems that deliver potable water to homes and businesses, sewer systems that carry wastewater from facilities, treatment plants that process water or wastewater or drainage systems that involve stormwater collection and diversion. H&H engineers work in all types of industries where water delivery and management are major factors in design and construction.

Environmental Engineering

Environmental engineers may have backgrounds in civil, chemical and mechanical engineering. They are usually focused on how various scientific disciplines affect the quality of the lives of organisms and the environment. Common focus areas include wastewater management, air and water pollution control, recycling and waste disposal and public health. Some environmental engineers also work in transportation planning and are responsible for investigating the impact that a planned project may have on the environment, not just scientifically, but also socially and economically.

Construction Management

Increasingly, more civil engineers are starting careers in construction management. Construction management can involve oversight of the progress of a construction project, supervision of construction crews or managing compliance of a contractor to construction drawings and specifications. Public authorities such as state departments of transportation require projects to be managed by licensed engineers. Construction engineers often liaise between contractors and other design disciplines to ensure projects are built correctly, on time, within budget and to the owner’s satisfaction.

The road for a civil engineer can branch off into several directions. Structural design, geotechnics, transportation, water resources, environmental and construction are the most common practice areas for most people with civil engineering degrees. Undergraduate programs provide opportunities for students to focus on these traditional practice areas, but many graduates switch to other practices based on opportunity and interest.