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Has building and designing things always been a passion for you? Does the idea of a career designing some of the world’s most prestigious buildings appeal to you? If so, you may find becoming a structural engineer to be the perfect fit. Learn what it takes to become a structural engineer as well as what’s out there in terms of structural engineering degrees and what this career has to offer.

When we think of houses and other buildings, we think of structures, and this is because there’s a good chance they’ve probably been designed by structural engineers. Structural engineers design and create a wide variety of structures, including house, museums, theaters, stores and more. Using their knowledge of math and science, they also help solve many design and engineering problems, while also assisting architects in their work.

Structural Engineering vs. Civil Engineering

While civil engineers are the individuals who do the actual designs of buildings, bridges, etc., structural engineers are the professionals responsible for ensuring the structures are sturdy and will stand the test of time. Structural engineers may test a building to see how it withstands strong winds and other natural disasters.

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Some of a structural engineer’s duties include analyzing blueprints, determining water flow rates and material stress factors, estimating material costs and conducting safety studies. These are all things that students learn in a structural engineering degree program. Structural engineering is actually a specialty within the field of civil engineering and, structural engineering is often offered as a concentration in a civil engineering degree program.

Bachelors in Structural Engineering Degree

Becoming a structural engineer requires completing at least a bachelor’s degree program, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The program must be accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), the agency most recognized in the engineering industry. A list of ABET-accredited structural or civil engineering programs can be found on the ABET website. In addition, the National Center for Education Statistics also provides a listing of colleges in the U.S. that offer engineering programs. The NCES allows aspiring students to search for programs based on degree levels and location.

Structural engineers may also pursue graduate degrees if their career goals are to work in management, teaching positions or in research. Graduate programs may take an additional one to four more years beyond a bachelor’s degree and may require completion of a theses and passing comprehensive exams and dissertations. These requirements depend on the degree level chosen.

Iowa State University offers a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering with an emphasis in structural engineering. This four-year program includes courses in critical thinking and communication, general chemistry, mechanics of materials, engineering hydraulics, structural steel design and statics of engineering. Stanford University offers a Master of Science in Structural Engineering. This program, open to those with a civil engineering bachelor’s degree, includes courses in design of steel structures, structural analysis, geotechnical engineering, programming methodology and design of reinforced concrete structures.

Here is a list of a few of the many colleges that offer structural engineering programs or civil engineering programs with an emphasis on structural engineering.

Hybrid & Online Structural Engineering Degrees

Structural and civil engineering degree programs are offered through distance learning at many colleges and universities. Because internships and field work are such a vital part of the programs, they’re generally offered as hybrid programs rather than 100% online. With hybrid programs, the student completes much of the coursework online but completes practical education at an engineering-based facility. This is often done as part of an internship. However, some colleges offer cooperative education programs. Cooperative education can play an important role in not only providing real experience but can play a major role in finding employment in the engineering industry.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers an online structural engineering program at its College of Engineering. An online Master of Science in Civil Engineering with an emphasis in structural engineering is offered at University of California Viterbi’s School of Engineering. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology also offers a civil engineering program through its distance learning program. Online programs typically offer the same type of curriculum as on-campus programs and generally require very similar similar prerequisite courses.

ASCE Structural Engineer Training & Licensure

In addition to earning a structural engineering degree, candidates can also obtain training through the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The ASCE offers various courses, training programs and certifications for structural and civil engineers.

FE Licensure

Structural engineers are required to be licensed in all states. To be eligible for licensure, you must complete an ABET-accredited program, have sufficient work experience and pass a two-part engineering exam. The Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) is the first test and it can be taken as soon as you graduate or even before graduation. The FE is a six-hour, computer-based, closed book test.

PE Licensure

The second test, the Professional Engineering (PE), is an eight-hour, open-book exam. As both a breadth and depth exam, it includes questions on all the areas of civil engineering in the breadth portion and questions specific to structural engineering in the depth portion. Civil and structural engineers must have at least four years of work experience in this field before they can be eligible to take the PE exam.

Structural Engineering Careers

The BLS lists structural engineers in the category of civil engineers because of their similarities in careers. Architectural, Engineering and related services is the industry that most employs civil and structural engineers, according to the BLS.

Civil engineers, according to the BLS, are expected to experience an employment growth of twenty percent from 2012-2022. Completing cooperative education programs increases the career opportunities for structural and civil engineers. Location, level of training and certifications can also affect earning potential.