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March 10, 2009


Rigorous academic preparation is the first component of a professional career in civil engineering. No one can decide to become an engineer without academic qualifications. As you begin to finish up your undergraduate studies, you can elect to work or enroll in a graduate engineering program. If you choose the former, this step is complex and at times tedious.

Higher learning

Many careers do not depend on the academic training you undergo in college. Engineering is an exception, which can be a blessing in disguise. You will be more prepared for a variety of jobs due to the skill sets you learn as an undergraduate, but this kind of collegiate experience can also be more intellectually challenging. Engineers are thought to possess skills that can help any type of business-from computer technology to statistics to life sciences to mathematics to policy and planning-engineers are well suited for any type of career. But before you actually enter the work force, you have to enroll in an academic program that suits your goals within civil engineering.

What to expect inside the classroom

Once you have been accepted and matriculated into an engineering program, you will need to decide upon a major. Unlike most other majors, engineering requires you to have some idea of where you want to take your academic career. Because of the prerequisite courses, you will begin your academic training in your very first college class. During your freshman year, you are enrolled in the basic science and math courses that will be the foundation of your academic career. Every engineering student, regardless of their chosen major, takes the same classes. A freshman year engineering schedule is normally comprised of physics, chemistry, calculus, and computer science in addition to whatever non-engineering requirements you must fulfill. These prerequisite classes are mandatory to any engineering program. Freshman year is usually the hardest year for engineering students. On top of the normal rigors of college academics, engineering students have to deal with lectures, classes, quizzes, frequent exams, problem sets, and laboratories-all while adjusting to a new environment. Because of the challenges faced freshman year, high numbers of students either don't complete the entry-level prerequisite courses or they drop out of the engineering program after freshman year.

Sophomore year, when students are normally required to choose a major, is typically when you begin to delve deeper into your chosen field. You'll normally continue with advanced math classes, and begin to take introductory departmental courses. Don't worry, even if you decide to begin as a Chemical Engineering major, the first couple of classes you take can probably be transferred over to the Civil Engineering program as departmental optional classes. Most departments also have open houses to help you learn more about the department, the coursework, the staff, and answer any questions. Once you decide on Civil Engineering, you should have a general idea of what courses you have to take and what courses you would like to take within the engineering field.

Most underclassmen are paired with an academic advisor when they begin classes. Normally, your advisor will be affiliated with the Civil Engineering program. They can also provide information on summer internships or programs, applying to graduate school, letters or recommendations, and career counseling. Keep in mind if you choose to complete research work, your research advisor may or may not be your academic advisor. The two are separate and serve separate functions. A research advisor is there to help you in with your specific project and lab work, the academic advisor provides all-around assistance throughout your entire undergraduate career. You generally meet with your academic advisor at least once each semester, however you are free to make an appointment whenever you desire.

A typical Civil Engineering program consists of various disciplines. Structural engineering revolves around the design of structural projects such as buildings and bridges. Geotechnical or geological engineering involves problem solving and design related to the earth's subsurface. With increasing environmental concerns, environmental engineering produces solutions to address the myriad of environmental problems. Improving water quality and developing methods to finding and distributing water falls under water resources. Construction engineers act as project managers on various civil engineering projects. Finally transportation engineering incorporates the design and maintenance of various systems and modes of transportation. Each university offers different concentrations and has different requirements. However, there are across-the-board classes that apply to most Civil Engineering programs. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champlain civil engineering program has been ranked the top undergraduate program offered at schools with doctoral programs, by U.S. News & World Report for 2005 . We will take a look at a typical General Civil Engineering Curriculum for a UIUC Civil Engineering student.

First Year
CEE 195 - Introduction to Civil EngineeringCHEM 102 - General Chemistry, II
CHEM 101 - General Chemistry, ICHEM 106 - General Chemistry Laboratory, II
CHEM 105 - General Chemistry Laboratory, IMATH 130 - Calculus and Analytic Geometry, II
ENG 100 - Engineering LecturePHYCS 111 - General Physics (Mechanics)
GE 103 - Engineering Graphics and DesignRHET 105 - Principles of Composition
MATH 120 - Calculus and Analytic Geometry, I
Social science and humanities electives
Second Year
CS 101 - Introduction to Computing with Application to Engineering and Physical ScienceCEE 292 - Planning, Design, and Management of Civil Engineering Systems
MATH 225 - Introductory Matrix TheoryCEE 293 - Engineering Modeling under Uncertainty
MATH 242 - Calculus of Several VariablesPHYCS 113 - General Physics (Fluids and Thermal Physics)
PHYCS 112 - General Physics (Electricity and Magnetism)PHYCS 114 - General Physics (Waves and Quantum Physics)
TAM 152 - Engineering Mechanics I, StaticsTAM 212 - Engineering Mechanics II, Dynamics
Social science and humanities electives TAM 221 - Introduction to Solid Mechanics
Third Year
MATH 285 - Differential Equations and Orthogonal FunctionsB&TW 261 - Technical and Scientific Communication
TAM 235 - Introduction to Fluid MechanicsCivil engineering core courses
Civil engineering core coursesMathematics, basic science, or engineering science electives
Mathematics, basic science, or engineering science electivesAdvanced technical electives
Social science and humanities electives
Fourth Year
CEE 295 - Professional PracticeFree electives
Civil engineering core coursesSocial Science and Humanities Elective
Free electivesAdvanced technical electives
Social science and humanities electives
Advanced technical electives

Each discipline has its own requirements that can vary from school to school. Whichever concentration you choose to pursue, the courses shown above will give you an idea of the basic civil courses you need to complete.

Most schools require or suggest completing research or thesis work before graduation. During your last two years of school, you should begin formulating an idea of what your proposed work will be. Much of this research may coincide with laboratory work. Many students spend a summer on campus with their project advisor to prepare data that will become the subject of their research. Some students-with the assistance of their advisors and/or graduate students-may later on decide to submit their research for publication in various engineering or science journals, or as papers for conferences and symposiums. International study may also be available to undergraduates. Study abroad programs are offered to students after they have completed their freshman year. The experience is invaluable to many students.

What to expect outside of the classroom

Most of your evenings may be spent preparing for labs, studying for quizzes, or completing problem set assignments. Because the majority of your time inside and outside of class will be dictated by your engineering course load, it is important that you understand what it takes to be academically successful. If you want to understand, learn, and properly apply the material you learn in class, you can't work independently. In the professional world, your duties as a civil engineer involve working on team projects. How you decide to work during your undergraduate years can either help prepare you or set you up for failure later on. Therefore, an important skill to have is an ability to work in groups. This begins with study groups. Many of you are used to studying independently; this may work in high school but is rarely a good idea in college, especially when you are enrolled in technical classes. Study groups help you to become familiar with the material-if you study alone you begin to examine the same information over and over again, with others you may explore information that you are unfamiliar with or have difficulty comprehending. The group environment allows you to ask questions, answer questions, review what you learned in class, and pinpoint something you may have missed. Not only will you bring what you know to the table, you will benefit from the knowledge of others.


Filed Under: Education|Grad School