Civil and Environmental Engineering Degree: Is It Right For You?

Industry Advice Engineering

Energy-efficient buildings controlled by AI connected to smart grids. Vast floating offshore wind farms powering cities designed for pedestrians and cyclists. Networks of man-made wetlands which filter pollution, arrest storm surge, and serve as public parks. Sensor arrays that monitor air pollution at the hyperlocal level and drone swarms descending upon buildings post-earthquakes to rapidly assess damage. Satellites scanning global surface water conditions and predicting droughts. Wastewater treatment facilities sequencing viruses and bacteria in real-time, alerting health officials to emerging microbial threats. This is the future of sustainable, resilient cities. And they are designed, built, and maintained by civil and environmental engineers.

Addressing our most critical issues is imperative, and civil and environmental engineers play a pivotal role in making that happen.

If you’re interested in engineering future cities, here’s an overview of what civil and environmental engineering is and the factors you should consider when advancing your engineering career.

What Is Civil and Environmental Engineering?

Civil and environmental engineers, commonly known as the architects building the cities of tomorrow, strive to create communities that are both sustainable and resilient. According to Jerome Hajjar, PhD, department chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northeastern University, “Civil and environmental engineering plays a vital role in human progress and quality of life.” 

Through a focus on the design, construction, and maintenance of built and natural environments, these engineering professionals strive to maintain a balance between addressing societal needs and mitigating impacts on the environment. Some of these settings for improvement include public works (roads, bridges, airports, water treatment systems, etc.) and structural infrastructure (buildings, energy grids, and transportation).

This engineering discipline also aims to prevent new and address existing threats to human and environmental health.

Civil and environmental engineering are indispensable pillars in shaping the future of our cities and communities. Their role in advancing human progress and enhancing our quality of life cannot be overstated. Whether by improving public works or implementing measures to prevent and address pollution, civil and environmental engineering professionals play a crucial role in safeguarding the health and wellbeing of humans and the environment

4 Factors to Consider When Pursuing a Career in Civil and Environmental Engineering

The demand for skilled professionals in the field of civil and environmental engineering has never been higher, but aspiring engineers need to navigate a multitude of considerations before embarking on this fulfilling career path.

Here’s an overview of the top four factors engineers should consider before pursuing a career in civil or environmental engineering. 

1. Employment Opportunities

Whether you’re a career changer or a young professional hoping to advance your career, employment opportunities are an important factor to consider before choosing a career path. Luckily, our analysis of job postings data shows that there are a large number of monthly job postings and hires in the broad and complex field of civil and environmental engineering, meaning an increased likelihood of quick entry into the field.

There are also many sub-disciplines of civil and environmental engineering, allowing professionals to tailor their careers to specific or broad challenges.

Civil Engineering

Civil engineering offers a plethora of job opportunities for aspiring engineers. According to a Zippia report, more than 108,233 civil engineers are currently employed in the United States. These engineering professionals work in a multitude of industries, including engineering firms, consulting groups, municipal governments, and research or academia. However, according to Zippa’s report, most civil engineers prefer to work at private companies over government companies. Many professionals also choose to launch their own startups aimed at solving societal challenges.

Environmental Engineering

Environmental engineering is another promising career path that offers immense opportunities for prospective engineers. In addition to the growing governmental pressure for companies to mitigate their environmental impacts, a majority of Americans support sustainability initiatives like becoming carbon neutral by 2050. As a result, more job opportunities are becoming available in the field. According to our analysis of government-collected job postings data, an average of 13,000 jobs were posted per month for environmental engineering professionals from 2020 to 2022. 

2. Earning Potential

Financial stability is an important factor to consider when advancing your education for a specialized career path. No matter what profession you choose, civil and environmental engineers are significantly rewarded for their work in creating a modern and sustainable society. 

Civil Engineering 

While earning potential depends on a number of factors, civil engineers reportedly earn a median pre-tax annual salary of $115,000, according to the ASCE. This above-average salary underscores the financial rewards and stability that come with pursuing a career in civil engineering, making it an appealing choice for those seeking both professional fulfillment and financial success.

Environmental Engineering 

Professionals working in environmental engineering are also considered high earners. According to our analysis of professional profile data in the industry, the median annual salary for environmental engineers is $139,700, but many earn upward of $175,700 annually depending on their educational background, years of experience, and professional skill set.

3. Industry Growth

There’s no shortage of work when it comes to these engineering specializations. Their steady industry growth is confirmed by the significant increase in related job postings from 2020 to 2022—despite the uncertainty many other industries experienced in recent years. 

Civil Engineering

According to the ASCE, the future of the civil engineering profession is extremely promising, with a projected 5,000 new jobs expected to be created by 2029. This isn’t surprising considering the increased pressure to create a world that can withstand the current population growth. According to the United States Census, the total U.S. population increased by 7.4 percent from 2010 to 2020. As a result, society needs more civil engineers to grapple with the challenges of expanding cities, aging infrastructure, and the need for sustainable solutions.

Environmental Engineering 

With growing national attention around topics such as climate change, sustainability, and public health, industry growth in environmental engineering is predicted to increase for decades to come. According to our analysis of job posting data, almost a quarter of a million jobs were posted for environmental engineering in 2020 alone. This means that the projected 4 percent increase in job postings from 2021 to 2031 will allow even more engineering professionals to make a difference in the world.

4. Educational Requirements

Today, a bachelor’s degree is often the minimum degree requirement for professionals, especially engineers. As a result, a master’s degree is quickly moving from a “nice-to-have” on your resumé to a strategic benefit or, in some cases, a requirement. Enrolling in a graduate program can make you a more marketable candidate in today’s competitive job market and can be an important step on the way to your Professional Engineering licensure.

Civil Engineering

According to a government report analyzing professional profiles of civil engineers, around 71 percent hold at least a bachelor’s degree. However, only 23 percent earned their master’s. Professionals who are just starting to break into this field should consider additional civil engineering education, such as a Master of Science in Civil Engineering, to differentiate themselves in the market.

Environmental Engineering 

Environmental engineers can expect a similar educational breakdown. According to the same professional profiles report of environmental engineers, nearly 65 percent have a bachelor’s degree, while just 27 percent have a master’s. Therefore, with this rise in graduate students enhancing their engineering skills, earning a Master of Science in Environmental Engineering can be an important step in keeping up with the job market.

Choosing a Career That’s Right For You

The fields of civil and environmental engineering both offer unique and rewarding career paths, each with its own set of challenges and opportunities. Whether your passion lies in designing and constructing infrastructure or addressing environmental sustainability, both disciplines play a vital role in shaping the world we live in.

However, if you’re hoping to maximize your potential and develop your core engineering skills, pursuing a master’s degree from Northeastern University’s College of Engineering can make a huge difference in your career. As a leading co-op program that allows students to alternate between academic and paid industry work, professionals can finance their education while learning on the job. By choosing a master’s degree at Northeastern, you can open the door to a future where you can create a more sustainable world with civil and environmental engineering.