For anyone who has not pursued online education before, it is important to understand how the process works and how it allows students to receive a high quality, marketable education while learning online. Civil engineering, in particular, is a discipline that appears it should require a good deal of hands on instruction. However, online civil engineering programs are able to work with students to provide a solid foundation in courses like math and physics via online modules, and then have those students participate in minimal hands on work, often through on-campus lab assignments. Some programs do not have any campus attendance requirements and instead assess hands on capabilities with the help of course projects that must be completed.
Online learning can be a particularly attractive and effective choice for non-traditional students. For instance, working professionals who want to pursue a new degree are able to take courses on their own time, without quitting their jobs or uprooting their families. The same is true to active military members who want to further their education but do not necessarily live near a university, or even in the U.S. In this way, online learning can open up otherwise unavailable opportunities to passionate learners who just can’t make a regular degree program work.
Students who are most successful in an online learning environment tend to be extremely organized and self-motivated. Depending on the program, courses may be set up in different ways, but those students who are able to set aside specific blocks of time throughout the week in order to study and participate in online class discussions are far and away the most successful online students. While flexibility is one of the most attractive features of online learning, it is finding structure and accountability within that flexibility that is key to success.
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Most online civil engineering programs utilize their offline professors for their online courses as well, meaning that distance learning students get the same quality education as their peers on campus. The following are five highly regarded civil engineering professors who teach both on and offline.
Charng Hsein Juang is a professor of Civil Engineering at Clemson University, where he is the Glenn Professor of Civil Engineering. He has been the recipient of many awards, including the Chi Epsilon Outstanding Teacher Award.
Jorge A. Ramirez is a professor of Hydrologic Science and Engineering as part of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Colorado State University, where he has taught since 1990. He has held a wide range of academic positions at locations as diverse as the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and NASA.
Asad Esmaeily is a professor of civil engineering at Kansas State University where he specializes in structural engineering education. In addition to his extensive publications, he has been the recipient of a number of teaching awards including the 2012 Holli's Teaching Award and the 2011 Meyer's-Alford Teaching Award.
Debra McAvoy is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology's Department of Civil Engineering at Ohio University. McAvoy's research interests are highway safety, traffic engineering, traffic signal system optimization and progression, roadway design and human factors engineering.
Khaled El-Rayes is a professor and William E. O'Neil Faculty Scholar at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He has received numerous awards for his research contributions to the field of civil engineering, including the ASCE Journal of Construction Engineering and Management Best Paper of 2009 Award, ASCE Thomas Fitch Rowland Prize, and the National Science Foundation CAREER Award.
Applying to any university program can be stressful, particularly if you don’t know exactly what to expect from the process. While it can be quite different for graduate and undergraduate admissions, and can vary from school to school, there are some commonalities that are helpful to understand.
Undergraduate Online Civil Engineering Programs
In applying to an undergraduate civil engineering program, students should expect to demonstrate an aptitude for math and science, through high school transcripts as well as standardized testing. The online application process generally comes along with a nominal fee and must include said transcripts, test scores, personal essays, and a letters of recommendation.
Every program is different, but most undergraduate programs start in during the fall semester, with applications being due towards the beginning of the year (January or February is common). Those programs that allow for spring admission tend to accept applications for that semester during the previous fall (September or October is common).
Graduate Online Civil Engineering Programs
Graduate programs for civil engineering can be quite competitive and have stricter experience and academic requirements for admission. The majority of civil engineering graduate programs require that entering students already have a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering, although some programs may accept degrees in a closely related field, such as another type of engineering.
Similarly, civil engineering doctoral programs require that applicants obtain a Master’s degree in civil engineering prior to admission. Some schools, such as Columbia University, offer programs that allow students to earn a Master’s degree from the same program before admission to the doctoral track.
Civil engineering programs are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). However, civil engineering licenses are issued on a state by state basis and there is no official requirement for accreditation in order to obtain said license, although there may be accreditation requirements for entering some graduate programs. That is, students wishing to pursue a Master’s in civil engineering must have an undergraduate degree from an ABET accredited program.
Applicants for licensing must have completed an undergraduate degree (at minimum) and at least 4 years of work as an engineer before applying for the Professional Engineer (PE) license. Licensing exams are offered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).
For a full listing of engineering licensing boards in each state, visit the NCEES website.
As with most academic programs, the exact curriculum for one online civil engineering program will not be exactly the same as for another but there are similarities and many courses are virtually the same.
Undergraduate online civil engineering students can expect to take a lot of foundational courses in engineering, including courses in design, construction, soil mechanics, and AutoCAD. Many programs also include some degree of research or internship that involves hands-on professional experience.
In addition, undergraduates should expect to complete any university prerequisites required for an undergraduate degree, which may include courses in liberal arts, languages, writing, or elective courses. These prerequisites may be decreased for students who transfer into a program from a community college.
For those civil engineers who want to specialize in a certain field, choosing to pursue a Master’s Degree is typically the right course of action. Most programs offer a Master’s of Science (MS) degree, although some offer a Master’s of Engineering (ME). Courses in master’s programs will be, in many cases, higher level versions of undergraduate courses, such as Advanced Foundation Design, Computational Hydraulics, or Air Pollution Control Engineering. High level courses in statistics, physics, chemistry, and other sciences may be required depending on which undergraduate courses were completed.
Licensing exams for civil engineers are offered by the NCEES in five separate specializations:
These specialties closely mimic the types of programs that are available to graduate students in civil engineering programs and will determine that type of curriculum a student should expect. In general, students must choose one specialty and earn a degree in that area. A standard MS or ME program takes approximately two years to complete, regardless of specialization.
Civil engineers who are not ready to commit to a Master’s program, or who have already earned a Master’s degree but want to expand their credentials can choose to earn a postgraduate certificate such as those offered by Iowa State University in Environmental Engineering. Typical courses might include Surface Water Hydrology, Environmental Impact Assessment, or Microbial Systems Engineering.
There are currently only two universities offering online PhD programs in the civil engineering field: The University of South Carolina and Columbia University. Even more so than Master’s level programs, doctoral programs vary widely depending on the specialty that a student chooses to pursue. For instance, a PhD candidate in Transportation Engineering will have to take courses in Traffic Flow Theory while someone studying Water Resources will take courses in River Mechanics.
All PhD students will have to complete a dissertation in order to complete the degree. PhD programs can take around 4 years to complete, depending on the final dissertation project.
Auburn University, based in Alabama, offers an online Master of Civil Engineering (MCE) degree program , specifically Environmental Engineering, Geotechnical Engineering, and Structural Engineering, through the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. U.S. News and World Report has ranked Auburn among the best Graduate Engineering Online programs in the country. It is important to note that internships are a key part of engineering graduate programs and Auburn is not currently approved to offer internships in all 50 states, so interested applicants should be sure to review the list of approved states prior to applying.
Mark O. Barnett is a professor of Environmental Engineering within the Civil Engineering Department at Auburn. In 2007, he became the Malcolm Pirnie professor, a position he stills holds, which belies his dedication to research within the area of environmental engineering.
Anton K. Schindler is a Professor as well as Director of the Highway Research Institute at Auburn University. He has received numerous awards for his research as well as his teaching, including the William F. Walker Merit Teaching Award and the Excellence in Teaching, Southern District award from the Civil Engineering Honor Society.
As part of the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, Columbia University offers online civil engineering programs at both the Master’s and Doctoral level as well as a post-graduate certificate. The school has been consistently ranked among the top Online Programs by U.S. News and World Report. Of particular interest to those looking for a Master’s program, Columbia offers a standard civil engineering option as well as a Construction Engineering and Management Concentration. Both Master’s programs are available completely online while the doctoral program requires campus visitation at times, in particular for the dissertation defense.
Maria Q. Feng is the Renwick Professor at the Columbia University School of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. She has been the recipient of many awards for her contributions to the field, including the Alfred Noble Prize awarded jointly by the ASCE, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers, and the Western Society of Engineers.
Ioannis A. Kougioumtzoglou is an Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering at Columbia University. By way of his research he has received many types of recognition, including 2014 European Association of Structural Dynamics (EASD) Junior Research Prize. He is also co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Earthquake Engineering.
As part of the Case School of Engineering, Case Western Reserve University offers a completely online Master’s of Science in civil engineering. This 27 credit program allows students to specialize in structural engineering and offers the flexibility of three starts throughout the year, in addition to world class faculty.
Dario Gasparini is a professor of Civil Engineering at Case Western Reserve University who teaches in the online MS program. He has published in numerous academic journals, including the ASCE Journal of Performance of Constructed Facilities and the ASCE Journal of Structural Engineering.
YeongAe Heo is an Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering at Case Western. Her extensive research interests include Big Data Analysis Application to Civil Engineering, Strain Rate-Dependent Extreme Response of Structures, and Risk-Based Sustainable and Resilient Structural Systems.
Villanova University offers a civil engineering Master’s program that is entirely online where students can choose from among found specialities, or opt for an interdisciplinary approach that combines specialties. The university offers a great deal of flexibility for online students, meaning it is a good option for those who wish to continue their careers while going to school.
Robert G. Traver is a professor at Villanova teaching both undergraduate and graduate courses in water resources. He is also director of both the Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership and the Villanova Center for the Advancement of Sustainability in Engineering.
Wenqing (Vicky) Xu is an Assistant Professor at Villanova. Her students comprise the Environmental Interfacial Chemistry (EIC) Group and are actively engaged in finding solutions to environmental problems through the use of civil engineering.
Iowa State University offers a 100% online Master’s degree program in Civil Engineering with a focus on Construction Engineering and Management. This highly practical degree requires students to learn management techniques and other real world skills in addition to the engineering component.
Charles T. Jahren is the W.A. Klinger Teaching Professor in Civil Engineering at Iowa State University. In 2009 he was the recipient of the ISU Award for Outstanding Achievement in Teaching and has continued to demonstrate his commitment to students in the field of civil engineering.
Alice A. Alipour is an assistant professor at ISU and despite her short tenure has already proved herself a capable and passionate engineer. She has published her research in many different places and received such awards as the Hojjat Adeli Award for Innovation in Computing from the Journal of Computer-Aided Civil and Infrastructure Engineering.
While programs do not uniformly report their campus visitation requirements for online programs, we can get a general idea about how much campus time is required from the various programs. Some programs, such as the University of Florida Master’s Degree program, require no campus time at all. Others, such as the PhD program at Columbia, are more of a hybrid online and in person program, requiring campus visits each semester. Indeed, the majority of online master’s programs are 100% online, which is quite convenient. These programs may involve submitting physical projects but that does not necessarily involve traveling to the school’s campus.
Internships are a common requirement for civil engineering programs, but these can usually be completed in the student’s state of residence, so long as it is a program that has been approved in that state.
Choosing the right online civil engineering program will depend largely on what the student hopes to achieve in the program. While many Master’s level programs make it easy to complete an entire degree online, more advanced students may find it difficult to complete a doctoral dissertation without one-on-one counseling.
Internships are another critical portion of advanced engineering education. While an internship cannot take place online, it is important for students to make sure that the program will help them identify appropriate internship and work experiences that they can participate in locally in order to complete their education. Many programs leave the internship portion up to the student to find, but have staff available to assist in the process.
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