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Civil engineers Marilyn Reece & Carol Schumaker, at a Reece-designed freeway interchange, Los Angeles, 1964.

A civil engineer (in English usage) is a person who practices civil engineering, one of the many professions of engineering. Originally a civil engineer worked on public works projects and was contrasted with the military engineer, who worked on armaments and defenses. Over time, various branches of engineering have become recognized as distinct from civil engineering, including chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering, while much of military engineering has been absorbed by civil engineering. In languages other than English, a term corresponding to "Civil engineer" refers instead to an engineer with a high enough academic degree.

In some places, a civil engineer may perform land surveying; in others, surveying is limited to construction surveying, unless an additional qualification is obtained. On some U.S. military bases, the personnel responsible for building and grounds maintenance, such as grass mowing, are called civil engineers and are not required to meet any minimum educational requirements.


Civil engineering is usually divided into particular specialties, such as geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, land development, transportation engineering, hydraulic engineering, or environmental engineering.

Education and licensure

In most countries, a civil engineer will have graduated from a post-secondary school with a degree in civil engineering, which requires a strong background in mathematics, construction and the physical sciences; this degree is typically a four-year degree, though many civil engineers study further to obtain a masters, engineer, doctoral and post doctoral degrees. In many countries, civil engineers are subject to licensure. People who do not obtain a license may not call themselves "civil engineers."



In Belgium, Civil Engineer (abbreviated Ir) ( , ) is a legally protected title applicable to graduates of the five-year engineering course of one of the six universities and the Royal Military Academy. Their speciality can be all fields of engineering: civil, structural, electrical, mechanical, chemical. This use of the title may cause confusion to the English speaker as the Belgian "civil" engineer can have a speciality other than civil engineering. In fact, Belgians use the adjective "civil" as an opposition to military engineers. The belgian Civil Engineer studies are considered to be among the most difficult engineering studies in the world.

The formation of the civil engineer has a strong mathematical and scientific base and is more theoretical in approach than the practical oriented industrial engineer (ing.) educated in a four-year program at a polytechnic. Traditionally, students were required to pass an entrance exam on mathematics to start civil engineering studies. This exam was abolished in 2004 for the Flemish Community, but is still organised in the French Community.


In Scandinavian countries, civil engineer (civilingenjör (Swedish), sivilingeniør (Norwegian), civilingeniør (Danish)) is a first professional degree, approximately equivalent to Master of Science in Engineering, and a protected title granted to students by selected institutes of technology. As in English the word has its origin in the distinction between civilian and military engineers, as in before the start of the 19th century only military engineers existed and the prefix "civil" was a way to separate those who had studied engineering in a regular University from their military counterparts. Today the degree spans over all fields within engineering, like civil engineering, computer science, electronics engineering, etc.

There is generally a slight difference between a Master of Science in Engineering degree and the Scandinavian civil engineer degree, the latter's programme having closer ties with the industry's demands. A civil engineer is the most well-known of the two; still, the area of expertise remains obfuscated for most of the public. A noteworthy difference is the mandatory courses in mathematics and physics, regardless of the equivalent master degree, e.g. computer science.

Although a 'college engineer' (högskoleingenjör, diplomingenjör/mellaningenjör (Swedish), høgskoleingeniør (Norwegian), diplomingeniør (Danish)) is roughly equivalent to a Bachelor of Science in Scandinavia, to become a 'civil engineer' one often has had to do up to one extra year of overlapping studies compared to attaining a B.Sc./M.Sc. combination. This is because the higher educational system is not fully adopted to the international standard graduation system, since it is treated as a professional degree. Today (2009) this is starting to change due to the Bologna process.

A Scandinavian "civilingenjör" will in international contexts commonly call itself "Master of Science in Engineering" and will occasionally wear an engineering class ring. At the Norwegian Institute of Technologymarker (now the Norwegian University of Science and Technologymarker), the tradition with a NTH Ring goes back to 1914, before the Canadian iron ring.

In Norway the title "Sivilingeniør" will no longer be issued after 2007, and have been replaced with "Master i teknologi". In the English translation of the diploma, the title will be "Master of Science", since "Master of Technology" is not an established title in the English-speaking world. The extra overlapping year of studies have also been abolished with this change to make Norwegian degrees more equal to their international counterparts.


In Spain, a Civil Engineering degree can be obtained after three or five years of study in the various branches of mathematics, physics, mechanics, etc. In the first case, the earned degree is called Ingeniero Técnico de Obras Públicas (ITOP), literally translated as "Public Works Engineer"; at the second case, the academic earned degree is called Ingeniero de Caminos, Canales y Puertos (often shortened to Ingeniero de Caminos or ICCP), that literally means "Roads, Canals and Harbors Engineer", though civil engineers in Spain practice in the same fields as civil engineers do elsewhere. The first Civil Engineering Institute was the Escuela Especial de Ingenieros de Caminos y Canales, established in 1802 in Madrid, followed by the Escuela Especial de Ayudantes de Obras Públicas, founded in 1854 in Madrid.

In Spain, a Civil Engineer has the technical and legal ability to design projects of any branch, so any spanish Civil Engineer can oversee projects about structures, buildings (except residencial structures which are reserved for architects), foundations, hydraulics, the environment, transportation, urbanism, etc.

In the near future, the present structure of Civil Engineering studies will be modified by the implementation of Bologna Process, consisting of a 4-year Civil Engineering Degree, called Grado en Ingeniería Civil and a 1 or 2-year Master of Civil Engineering, called Máster en Ingeniería de --especialidad-.

The wider degree is called industrial engineer, that includes mechanical and electrical engineering.

United Kingdom

A chartered civil engineer (known as certified or professional engineer in other countries) is a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and has also passed chartership exams. However a non-chartered civil engineer may be a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers or the Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors. The description "Civil Engineer" is not restricted to members of any particular professional organisation although "Chartered Civil Engineer" is.

North America

United States

In the United States, most civil engineers practice in particular specialties of civil engineering, such as geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, transportation engineering, hydraulic engineering, earthquake engineering or environmental engineering. Civil engineers are typically employed by municipalities, construction firms, consulting engineering firms, architect/engineer firms, state governments, and the federal government. Each State requires engineers who offer their services to the public to be licensed by the State. Licensure is obtained by meeting specified education, examination, and work experience requirements. Specific requirements vary by State. Typically licensed engineers must graduate from an ABET-accredited University or College engineering program, pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, obtain several years of engineering experience under the supervision of a licensed engineer, then pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam. After completing these steps and the granting of licensure by a State Board, engineers may use the title "Professional Engineer" or PE in advertising and documents.

See also


  1. [1] National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying; Licensure for Engineers; Engineering licensure - what is it?

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