Structural Engineering Career Path

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Structural Engineering Career Path

Structural engineering is a fascinating and important field that plays a critical role in the safety of our built environment. But what does a career in structural engineering entail, and how can you become one? In this post, we’ll explore the basics of structural engineering, including what it is, what it entails, and how to get started. We’ll also take a look at some of the exciting opportunities that are available in this field. So if you’re interested in learning more about structural engineering, read on!

1. What Is Structural Engineering?

Structural engineering is a discipline within the field of civil engineering. It involves creating structures using steel, concrete, advanced materials, and other building components in order to safely support people and property. Structural engineers are concerned with every aspect of a structure’s design–from its foundation all the way up to how it will weather over time.

The field of structural engineering is applied in architecture, manufacturing, and construction, as well as renovation and rehabilitation.

2. Why Choose a Career in Structural Engineering?

As a structural engineer, you’ll be involved in designing, planning, and engineering structures that are safe for their users. You’ll work with other engineers, architects, contractors to ensure that your designs work in practice.

Structural engineers can typically pursue careers at big firms or small companies where they will be able to make the most difference. While salaries vary depending on one’s experience, sector, and location, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that structural engineers earned a median salary of $82k in 2015. Those with advanced degrees and extensive experience may see salaries closer to $100k or more.

3. What Are the Responsibilities of a Structural Engineer?

Structural engineers are responsible for ensuring that a structure is safe for its users. Structural engineers make sure the structures they design meet safety standards and will not collapse under stress or in response to environmental factors such as heavy rain, earthquakes, or high winds.

Structural engineers test their designs through various means, including the physical testing of scale models and computer simulations. They often work on teams with other engineers, architects, and specialists from various fields to ensure their designs meet the needs of those who will use them as well as safety standards.

4. How Can I Become a Structural Engineer?

While there are several routes you can take to become a structural engineer, one of the most common paths is through higher education at an ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accredited program in civil engineering.

The requirements for programs vary by institution; however, they typically begin with college algebra, trigonometry, physics, chemistry, and biology. Upon acceptance into an ABET-accredited program, students will need to take courses in structural engineering where they will learn about topics like design, steel and concrete design, building codes, stability, and materials.

Before sitting for the Professional Engineering (PE) exam, in order to become a licensed or professional engineer, one must typically have four years of experience in the field at a level comparable to an Engineering Intern (EI). One can apply for this experience after completing four years of studies and work towards licensure while working with a sponsoring employer who will guide, mentor, test, and evaluate them.

The requirements for licensure vary by state; however, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) offers a guide on what they require.

Practicum and work-study opportunities are also available through the department’s cooperative programs, which allow students to gain experience while completing their degrees. Other ways to gain hands-on experience include taking courses in modeling, materials testing, computer programming, structural analysis/design, and learning about building codes.

5. What Skills and Qualities Should I Have to Become a Structural Engineer?

As a structural engineer, you should have the following:

In-depth knowledge of math (including trigonometry and algebra), science (such as physics and chemistry), engineering (design, materials science, stability, etc.), and computer programming/software. You also want to be comfortable with learning new things when necessary.

Good problem solving, critical thinking, and listening skills. You’ll also need a strong focus on detail since you will have to work with other engineers and architects in order to produce the best results possible.

Good communication skills when working with other design teams as well as clients. The ability to work well under pressure is another necessary skill when projects may need to be completed quickly or when disasters occur.

Organizational skills to keep track of your thoughts, deadlines, meetings, and other work tasks.

6. How Do I Advance in my Career as a Atructural Engineer?

As with any profession, advancement often depends on experience and job performance. You may have the opportunity to take on greater responsibility early in your career, but greater responsibility often leads to a higher salary. If you show that you are willing to go above and beyond your job duties, it may help open the door for greater advancements.

Other ways to advance include earning a Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) or Master of Science (M.S.) degree in your field, pursuing licensure as a professional/licensed engineer, getting experience through internships and cooperative programs, attending conferences related to structural engineering, taking industry-related courses, working towards certifications like the Professional Engineering (PE) exam or becoming a registered architect, and/or volunteering your time to structural engineering associations.

7. How Much Does a Structural Engineer Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salaries for civil engineers in 2011 were $83,540, with top earners making $129,450.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) also asks for information from its members in its Salary and Workplace Survey. In 2012, members reported a salary range between less than $29,999 and more than $250,000, with an average of about $89,200.

8. What Types of Structural Engineering Positions Are There?

There are several opportunities for structural engineers, including (but not limited to):

Entry-level positions would include internships, co-op opportunities, and assistant engineer positions. Mid to senior-level opportunities can range from the manager of design or project development to structural practice specialist or business development.

Women are still underrepresented in the field of civil engineering, so there also may be less competition for jobs compared with other fields. Opportunities may include women’s networking groups and other career advancement programs.

9. The Job Outlook for a Structural Engineer

It was looking good. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment of civil engineers is expected to grow by 21 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations.”

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook also expects that structural engineering jobs will increase about 13% over the next decade (about average for all occupations).

10. What Are the Best Engineering Colleges/Universities in the Country?

According to U.S. News & World Report, here are the top ten engineering schools whose graduates were employed by themselves or other companies in 2012:

  • 1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – Cambridge, MA
  • 2. Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) – Chicago, IL
  • 3. Stanford University – Stanford, CA
  • 4. California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, CA
  • 5. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology – Terre Haute, IN
  • 6. Lehigh University – Bethlehem, PA
  • 7. Worcester Polytechnic Institute – Worcester, MA
  • 8. Colorado School of Mines – Golden, CO
  • 9. Stevens Institute of Technology – Hoboken, NJ
  • 10. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute – Troy, NY

11. Online Courses for Structural Engineering

There are a variety of free and low-cost online courses for civil engineers in general, but if you’re looking specifically for structural engineering or architecture courses, here is a list of some of the online courses you should opt for:

The Comprehensive ETABS Professional Course (RCC and Steel) by Udemy- Are you looking for a course that covers the basics of structural engineering? Are you familiar with ETABS software and want to learn more about steel or reinforced concrete design? This course covers both topics using the latest version of ETABS.

Apply Now

Fundamentals of Structural Analysis by Udemy- Another interesting course not just for structural engineers but also for those who are into architecture. The instructor of this course is a well-known professional in the field and highly recommended by many people, including an expert from Google. This course is free and created using OpenSees, so it’s another valuable experience.

Apply Now

The Art of Structural Engineering: Bridges by Edx- This course is great for those who are up to date with the latest technologies. Created by MIT, this comprehensive online course was recorded in Spring 2016 and has four main categories: design criteria, design of steel structures, design of concrete bridges, and behavior and design of cable-stayed bridges.

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MicroMasters® Program in Structural Design by Edx- A mix of free and paid courses, this online course will help you gain the necessary knowledge on how to design any sophisticated structure both in steel and concrete. The instructor of the course is one of the best structural engineers, so it’s definitely worth checking out.

Apply Now


Structural engineering is a challenging and rewarding career path that offers many opportunities for growth. If you are interested in pursuing a career in structural engineering, it is important to have a strong foundation in mathematics and physics. As with any field, experience is the best teacher, so get involved in extracurricular activities and try to gain as much hands-on experience as possible. We wish you the best of luck on your journey to becoming a successful structural engineer!

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