Structural engineering, a subset of the civil engineering field, is an area of expertise that is in high demand. In fact, CNN Money ranked it No. 47 on its list of “Top 100 Best Jobs in America.” Many students ask, “How do I become a structural engineer?” Consider the following.
What is it like to be a structural engineer? Structural engineers provide a vital component to meeting the demand for new structures and maintaining existing ones. They plan, design and supervise construction projects, including skyscrapers, apartment complexes, bridges, airplanes, ships, oil rigs, dams, tunnels and many other structures. They can also hold positions designing roadways, water and sewer systems and various other types of critical infrastructure. Individuals who want to become a structural engineer work to apply the principles of science and math, combined with environmental and human use, to ensure the stability, longevity, safety and cost effectiveness of the structures they design.
Those seeking to become a structural engineer must first obtain a bachelor’s degree. In order to get a structural engineering license, students must complete a degree program approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. At the undergraduate level, students focus on math, science, and mechanical, civil and structural engineering. It is common for students to obtain a bachelor’s degree in civil or architectural engineering. Some institutions offer a general engineering bachelor’s degree as well. Although not required for most entry-level positions, many students focus on structural engineering at the graduate level. Students wanting to serve in management roles or launch their own engineering company often add an MBA in business or management to their education portfolio.
In order to become a structural engineer, more is required than classroom education. Individuals must complete an apprenticeship with an experienced structural engineer that lasts four to five years. During this time, you are allowed to complete the first half of your individual state’s licensing test, entitled the Fundamentals of Engineering and Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam. If you pass, you are classified as an Engineer in Training or Engineer Intern. The second half of the exam can be completed once your apprenticeship is finished. The exam is a requirement to be licensed and become a structural engineer in any state.
Depending on state requirements, some structural engineers may have to complete continuing education courses to get re-licensed.
As a whole, it is projected that engineering fields will experience an 11 percent increase in job opportunities by 2016, with civil engineering having an 18 percent growth rate. As population grows, structural needs grow. Positions in demand can vary from design and planning to managing people and projects. Other professionals may work on the research and teaching side of structural engineering. Many qualify for government positions, designing roadways, water systems and other infrastructure.
Salaries for structural engineers can vary based on education, experience, certifications and geographic location. An entry-level applicant can expect to make an annual salary of $45,000 to $58,000. The average base salary for entry-level positions nationwide is $56,000 in the Northeast, $50,400 throughout the South, $54,300 in the West and $52,000 in the Midwest. The average yearly salary for all structural engineers was calculated in 2009 to be $79,560.