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 requires 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 face-to-face on-campus lab assignments. Some programs do not have any campus attendance requirements and instead assess hands-on capabilities through course projects.
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. 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. 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 generally 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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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 varies from school to school), there are some commonalities that are helpful to understand.
Every program is different, but most undergraduate programs start 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).
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.
Some civil engineering programs are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Students wishing to pursue a master's in civil engineering may need an undergraduate degree from an ABET-accredited program to qualify. Similarly, qualifying for the Professional Engineer (PE) license may call for a degree from an ABET-accredited program, but students may undergo a separate evaluation process if their program does not have this recognition. Conditions in various states vary (e.g., New Jersey).
Applicants for licensing must have completed an undergraduate degree (at minimum) and at least four 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 the same as another, but there are similarities.
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 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 what 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 graduate certificate.
At the University of Illinois, for example, there are several specialized graduate certificates in civil engineering. Their foci include construction management, pavement engineering, railroad engineering, and transportation engineering.
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 four years to complete, depending on the final dissertation project.
Auburn University, based in Alabama, offers an online master of civil engineering (MCE) degree program, with tracks in environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering, pavements and materials, and structural engineering. (It has additional tracks available on-campus only.) These programs are available through the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.
The U.S. News and World Report has ranked Auburn’s master’s offerings among the best online engineering 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.
To be eligible for this program, students must have a bachelor's degree in civil engineering or a similar discipline from an accredited institution, GRE scores, three letters of recommendation, and TOEFL scores (for international applicants only).
This 30-credit-hour program involves courses such as advanced analysis of framed structures, fatigue and fracture mechanics, earthquake engineering, pavement management and rehabilitation, advanced stress analysis, and engineering project.
Dr. Mark Barnett is a professor of environmental engineering and associate chair in the Department of Civil Engineering at Auburn University. He teaches courses such as an introduction to environmental engineering, chemical principles of environmental engineering, and advanced chemical principles of environmental engineering, among others.
Dr. Barnett’s research interests include water quality, the treatment of drinking water, the effect of metals, and public policy. He has published his research in high-impact journals such as the Journal of Contaminant Hydrology and the Journal of Environmental Management. He completed his PhD at the University of North Carolina, as well as his MS and BS at the University of Tennessee.
Dr. Anton K. Schindler is a professor and director of the Highway Research Center at Auburn University. Some of the courses he teaches include the mechanics of materials, structures design project, reinforced concrete design, and advanced concrete materials.
Dr. Schindler’s research focuses on concrete structures, the durability of concrete, and computer-based concrete modeling. He has published his work in journals such as the Journal of the Transportation Research Board and the Journal of Materials in Civil Engineering. He is a member of professional organizations such as the American Concrete Institute, and the American Society of Civil Engineers. He earned his PhD and MS from the University of Texas at Austin, and his BS from the University of Pretoria.
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 levels, 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 University offers a standard civil engineering option and a construction engineering and management concentration. Both master's programs are available completely online, while the doctoral program requires some campus visitation, in particular for the dissertation defense.
The master’s program involves 30 credit-hours, providing students with a solid foundation in the fundamentals of civil engineering. Courses in the master’s program include elastic and plastic analysis of structures, uncertainty and risk in infrastructure systems, managing engineering and construction processes, prevention and resolution of construction disputes, and advanced soil mechanics.
Dr. Maria Q. Feng is the Renwick Professor at the Columbia University School of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. She has received 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.
Dr. Feng’s current research focuses on sensors and structural health monitoring for civil infrastructure and military applications. She earned her PhD from the University of Tokyo, her MS from the University of Electro-Communications, and a BS from Southeast University.
Dr. Ioannis A. Kougioumtzoglou is an assistant professor in civil engineering at Columbia University. He teaches classes on random processes in mechanics and uncertainty and risk in civil infrastructure systems, among others. By way of his research, he has received various recognitions, including the 2014 European Association of Structural Dynamics (EASD) Junior Research Prize. Notably, he also serves as the co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Earthquake Engineering.
Dr. Kougioumtzoglou is a part of both the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He has published his findings in prominent journals such as the Journal of Engineering Mechanics, the ASME Journal of Applied Mechanics, and the International Journal of Non-Linear Mechanics. He completed his PhD and MS from Rice University.
Kansas State University offers a fully online civil engineering master’s degree allowing students to customize their curriculum and meet their career goals. The program provides the following five concentrations:
Admission requirements for the program include a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from an institution accredited by ABET, a statement of objectives, three professional references, and unofficial transcripts from each institution attended. Students who do not have a bachelor’s degree from an ABET-accredited institution, must submit GRE scores.
Designed for working professionals, this online master’s degree is made up of 30 credit-hours. Courses in the program might include water treatment processes, environmental engineering chemistry, advanced soil mechanics, advanced geotechnical design, advanced steel design, traffic engineering, or design of groundwater flow systems.
Dr. Mustaque Hossain is a professor and associate director in the Department of Civil Engineering at Kansas State University. He has taught 14 undergraduate and graduate classes at Arizona State University and Kansas State University. Currently, he teaches courses such as civil engineering materials and sustainable transportation asset management.
Dr. Hossain’s areas of research include pavement design evaluation, nondestructive testing of pavements, pavement performance and management, highway materials, and soil stabilization. He has published his work in respected journals such as the Geotechnical Testing Journal, the Journal of Transportation Engineering, and the Journal of Materials in Civil Engineering. He also has won many awards such as the Alford-Myers Teaching Excellence Award and the Dean’s Teaching Excellence Award. He completed his PhD at Arizona State University, as well as his MS and BS at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
Villanova University offers a completely online civil engineering master's program. 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. The concentrations offers are as follows:
In order to apply, students must hold a bachelor of science in civil engineering (BSCE) degree from an ABET-accredited program (or its equivalent), official transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate universities attended, two recommendations, a statement of purpose, a current resume, official GRE scores, and official TOEFL or IELTS scores for international applicants.
The MSCE program consists of 30 credit-hours and includes courses such as lake, stream, and wetland ecology; hazardous waste management; an introduction to hydraulics and hydrology; railway engineering; geosynthetics; geoenvironmental engineering; traffic engineering; and sustainable pavement systems.
Dr. Robert G. Traver is a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Villanova University. He has taught courses and conducted research in hydraulics, hydrology, urban stormwater management, and all facets of water resources.
Dr. Traver’s areas of expertise include flood control, urban watersheds, water resources, and stormwater management and policy. His research has been published in prominent journals such as the Journal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering, the Journal Environmental Engineering, and the Journal of Hydrologic Engineering. Professor Traver also has won numerous awards such as the William H. Wisely American Civil Engineer Award and the Chester County Watershed Stewardship Award. He earned his PhD from Pennsylvania State University, his MCE from Villanova University, and his BSCE from the Virginia Military Institute.
Dr. Wenqing (Vicky) Xu is an associate professor at Villanova University. 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.
Dr. Xu’s research builds upon the fundamental understanding of environmental interfacial chemistry, with the goal of applying them to both natural and engineered systems for addressing today's environmental challenges. She has published her research in influential journals such as the Journal of Agro-Environment Science, Environmental Science & Technology, and the Journal of Materials Chemistry. She earned her PhD from Yale University, her MSE from Johns Hopkins University, and her BE from Nankai University.
Iowa State University offers a 100 percent online master's degree program in civil engineering with an emphasis 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. The program provides students with managerial and technical education, helping them overcome problems in a construction environment. The program focuses on three areas of construction engineering: construction operations, management techniques, and construction methods.
For admission, students must have an undergraduate degree in engineering from an accredited program with a GPA of 3.0 (or higher), three letters of recommendation, and English language proficiency for international students.
Made up of 30 credit-hours, the program includes courses such as construction project engineering and management, construction management functions and processes, and water pollution control processes.
Dr. Alice A. Alipour is an assistant professor at Iowa State University. She has published her research in prominent journals such as the Transportation Research Record Journal, the Journal of Infrastructure Systems, and the Journal of Structural Engineering. For her work, Professor Alipour has won accolades as the Hojjat Adeli Award for Innovation in computing from the Journal of Computer-Aided Civil and Infrastructure Engineering. She earned her PhD from the University of California–Irvine, her MS from the University of Tehran, and her BS from KNT University of Technology.
Dr. Charles T. Jahren serves as the associate chair for the construction engineering program at the Iowa State University. His teaching interests include construction equipment, cost estimating, and construction process design. His current research explores the improvement of the construction process, electronic data exchange in construction and design, and advanced technologies for improving learning. He has more than six years of industrial experience as a research engineer and as a bridge construction project engineer.
Notably, Dr. Jahren has won awards such as Richard R. Torrens Award, the Charles W. Schafer Award, and the Learning Community Outstanding Innovation Award. He holds a PhD from Purdue University, as well as an MBA and a BS from the University of Minnesota.
Johns Hopkins University offers an online master’s in civil engineering, as well as an online graduate certificate in civil engineering. Both these programs prepare students for challenges in the field, offering advanced courses taught by experienced civil engineering professionals and researchers. Students can study structural engineering or pursue general civil engineering studies.
For admission to these programs, students must be in the last semester of undergraduate study (or hold a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university). They must have a grade point average of at least 3.0, transcripts from all college studies, and proof of English language proficiency (for international students only).
The master's program involves ten courses, while the graduate certificate involves six courses. Courses in these programs include mathematical methods for engineers, structural mechanics, geotechnical engineering principles, natural disaster risk modeling, sustainable coastal engineering, independent study in civil engineering, and environmental biotechnology.
The North Carolina State University offers an online master of civil engineering program which can be completed entirely online and does not have any on-campus residency requirement. The program provides the following concentrations:
To be accepted into this program, students must have a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from an accredited institution, an overall grade point average of 3.0, and TOEFL or IELTS scores (for all international applicants, except those who have completed one year of full-time study at a U.S. university). The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is automatically waived for applicants who have an engineering degree from a US institution.
Made up of 30 credit-hours, the program includes courses such as information technology and modeling, construction project management, the physical principles of environmental engineering, geomechanics of stress and deformation, and transportation systems.
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 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.
Most online master's programs in civil engineering are 100 percent online, which is convenient. These programs may involve submitting physical projects, but that does not necessarily involve traveling to the school's campus.
Internships are another 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 can help them identify appropriate internships and work experiences that they can participate in locally in order to complete their education. Some programs leave the internship portion up to the student but have staff available to assist in the process.
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