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Thoughts on civil engineering as a major/career for our son?
Old 10-15-2015, 08:52 AM   #1
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Thoughts on civil engineering as a major/career for our son?

One of our high school sons is trying to figure out what he might like to study in college. One of the potential choices is civil engineering because he has always been interested in building/construction and likes the idea of not being working in an office all the time.

He is isn't super talented at math but gets good grades because he is a very hard worker and organized.

I am wondering whether folks on the forum have advice on what types of people do well in this area.




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Old 10-15-2015, 09:08 AM   #2
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Excellent spacial orientation and an aptitude for creating drawings would help. Math is not as important as in other fields of engineering.
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Old 10-15-2015, 09:40 AM   #3
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My father was a civil engineer and spent 100% of his time in an office.

Surveying is a job that gets you 'out & about' a lot.

Construction management might be another career that gets you out of the office.

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Old 10-15-2015, 09:53 AM   #4
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You still have to pass all of the math courses to get the degree in any engineering program. The math takes out a good percentage of the freshmen. I'm not a civil but the ones I worked with were in the office for the most part, it just depends on the project.

Engineering School Dropout Rates

Many make it through the math even if it is not their strength. There are also engineering technology programs that are lighter on math and take a more practical/hands on focus.
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Old 10-15-2015, 09:54 AM   #5
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Check out a similar thread back in May of this year entitled "Another Question for College Bound Kid." There was some good discussion and some other alternatives were offered, including Construction Management, as noted by the previous poster.


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Old 10-15-2015, 10:02 AM   #6
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As stated, any engineering major requires passing the high level math up through differential equations, which is after calculus. So if son is not so good at math, then it does not matter which type engineering, he will have to make it through the math. Also a lot of physics and other sciences, which can use the math.

Now once graduated and out working, he will likely never use that math. I am engineer, and joke that the hardest math I do is adding up my expense account.
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Old 10-15-2015, 10:57 AM   #7
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Hard workers do well anywhere.

My grandfather was a construction engineer in an auditing type of function. He had to sign off and had authority to stop any work that wasn't up to spec.That required some serious attitude to deal with construction foremans, and he was outside all the time.

From what I gather from people I know who have done construction engineering, pretty much any character can make it provided there is enough intelligence and diligence to go on.

Office types stay inside and design / do tenders. Outgoing types can go do things like my grandfather. Or you can go management consulting and/or management afterwards. Careers likewise can be local or very international, mega-corp or small engineering design firm.

Long story short: I think you can't go wrong with studying construction engineering if there is serious interest. In most cases you end up working on stuff that actually matters (building bridges, hospitals, ..). And if your son doesn't make it past first year of engineering school, at least he tried.
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Old 10-15-2015, 11:00 AM   #8
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As stated, any engineering major requires passing the high level math up through differential equations, which is after calculus. So if son is not so good at math, then it does not matter which type engineering, he will have to make it through the math. Also a lot of physics and other sciences, which can use the math.

Now once graduated and out working, he will likely never use that math. I am engineer, and joke that the hardest math I do is adding up my expense account.
Engineer here too (M.E.)! I am good at math and went through 5 courses of calculus with no trouble, then Diff E hit. I had to practically memorize the text book to get through it. But I was taking Diff E in the math department with all the math majors. I struggled and got a C, which was the only C I got in college.

As mentioned above, most CE's work in the office but sometimes get out to a job site to "see how it's going".
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Old 10-15-2015, 11:11 AM   #9
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When I was in Engineering school we used to have a jokey name for Civil Engineering: Dirt Dynamics. This wasn't an insult, but a recognition that civil engineers had to do all the math/physics that electrical, mechanical and chemical engineers did, but instead of modeling the flow of electricity or chemical reactants or the strength of materials they had to understand and predict the, if anything, more complex dynamics of soil.

A vital field, but not an easy one.
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Old 10-15-2015, 11:19 AM   #10
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Another engineer here. Like others I had to take all the math courses in college, but I never even did algebra in my working life. Sure, you need to understand the concepts, but it is not like you spend your days doing calculus problems by hand.

Edited to add - I did a lot better in math once I understood the practical applications. Math for math's sake was pretty boring to me.
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Old 10-15-2015, 11:22 AM   #11
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thanks all - this is very helpful information.
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Old 10-15-2015, 11:53 AM   #12
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As I told my son before he went to school, EVERY town of any size has civil engineers working, somewhat like nurses. You can get a job anywhere. He now lives in a town of 4000 and is the county highway engineer, and very happy not having to go to a city unless he wants to(he is an outdoors type). Bonus is my grandkids live in a safe area.
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Old 10-15-2015, 12:04 PM   #13
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As I told my son before he went to school, EVERY town of any size has civil engineers working, somewhat like nurses. You can get a job anywhere. He now lives in a town of 4000 and is the county highway engineer, and very happy not having to go to a city unless he wants to(he is an outdoors type). Bonus is my grandkids live in a safe area.
this plus it's an easy degree - CIVEs party pretty hard - surviving those may be the most difficult part about majoring in CIVE
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Old 10-15-2015, 12:25 PM   #14
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My son started out in chemical engineering to be like dad. It just wasn't working for him, so he changed to construction science, in which he was much happier.

From what I could tell, construction science is similar to civil engineering, but with a bit less math and more project management. It's probably like construction mangement, which other posters have mentioned.

He's just graduated and about to go to work for a major homebuilder.
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Old 10-15-2015, 12:34 PM   #15
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He will need to survive calculus/physics/chemistry for engineering students. That said, you do not need to be a math wiz as a civil engineer, although an affinity for auto cad and creating/reading drawings might be important.

If he is a hard worker, its doable, and it might be better for him in a smaller school where he won't get lost in the crowd.
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Old 10-15-2015, 02:28 PM   #16
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Also an retired engineer here, there is an awful a lot of math classes (calculus, matrix theory,functions), as well as classes that use a lot of math,(solid, fluid,and soil mechanics and the dreaded "structures"). Not impossible, just intense.

I can remember my first freshman engineering seminar like it was yesterday. The professor said and I quote " Look at the person in, front of you, to your left and right, and the one behind you real good, because only one of you five will graduate with an engineering degree. " My grade school and high school best friend did prove him wrong, but everyone else around us didn't.

Like everything else, ya gotta want it.
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Old 10-15-2015, 02:30 PM   #17
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Oh I forgot about fluids - do CIVEs have to take that? That could be a killer.


I didn't think statics or dynamics was that hard.


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Old 10-15-2015, 02:33 PM   #18
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As I told my son before he went to school, EVERY town of any size has civil engineers working, somewhat like nurses. You can get a job anywhere. He now lives in a town of 4000 and is the county highway engineer, and very happy not having to go to a city unless he wants to(he is an outdoors type). Bonus is my grandkids live in a safe area.
But here's where you want to have a P.E. (Similar to CPA exam.) It is an extra step, and can be quite arduous.

It isn't required for all jobs, but PE+Civil gives most opportunities.
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Old 10-15-2015, 03:11 PM   #19
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I can remember my first freshman engineering seminar like it was yesterday. The professor said and I quote " Look at the person in, front of you, to your left and right, and the one behind you real good, because only one of you five will graduate with an engineering degree. " My grade school and high school best friend did prove him wrong, but everyone else around us didn't.
Lol, I wonder if that's a right of passage or something. The lecture professor for our first EEE class asked us to do the exact same thing (combined class for Computer Engineering, Electronics and Communications Engineering, and Electrical Engineering majors). Alas, I'm one of the ones who didn't finish the degree (migrated to the US in 3rd year and started working full-time just a month after we arrived). Surprisingly, you don't need an engineering degree to get your PE in the US. Already have my EIT and I should be eligible to take the PE (Civil Engineering) after logging in some more engineering work experience.

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Oh I forgot about fluids - do CIVEs have to take that? That could be a killer.
The basics are required for all engineering degrees at the very least. There were a bunch of fluid mechanics questions in the EIT exam.
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Old 10-15-2015, 03:37 PM   #20
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ME here. I did use a lot of math in my career, DOE, regression analysis, a little trig & geometry once in a while, probability & statistics, and lots of real life 'word problems.' However, I never used the calculus I took in college.

IME every engineering discipline can offer assignments outside the office, not just Civil. I certainly didn't sit in an office all day, even at the end of my career when in management. Yes there are office only assignments in Ag, Aero, BioMed, Chem, Civ, Const, Elec, Env, Indus, Matl, Mech & Nuclear Engineering, BUT there are also assignments in each that get you out of the office some or lots. Software Engineers may be the only exception.
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