How Do I Become a Structural Engineer?

If you enjoy mathematics, design and using computers, you may be wondering how to become a structural engineer.

A structural engineer is part of the team involved in the design and creation of usually large-scale projects, including architectural structures like bridges and other unusual constructions. Structural engineering is sometimes considered a specialization of civil engineering, especially in the United States. The main concern of a structural engineer is the durability of the structures they design. When designing a structure, structural engineers must weigh factors such as environmental conditions, safety requirements, availability of technical resources, economic concerns and the strength and properties of building materials.

Though structural engineers work closely with architects, they are less concerned with the aesthetics of design and more concerned with analyzing the conditions that will make a structure safe, strong, and durable. Structural engineers also work closely with professionals in other disciplines of engineering as well as professionals in the construction industry.

Like other types of civil engineers, structural engineers find work in a variety of places. Some are employed in the construction industry directly. Others work for the local, state or federal government, for utility or oil companies, or for private architectural or engineering firms.

Success in the field of structural engineering requires strong technical, mathematics and analytical skills. Aspiring structural engineers should be computer-savvy, since their career will require them to use computer software to design and evaluate the plans for large-scale projects. Other valuable skills include teamwork, communication and problem-solving skills. Work as a structural engineer may require travel, in the context of both scheduled trips to sites and unscheduled emergency trips should a structure display any indication that it could collapse.

A career in structural engineering requires a college education. A few schools, like the University of California, San Diego, offer a Bachelor of Science in Structural Engineering. Many aspiring structural engineers earn their undergraduate degree in civil engineering, though some schools offer a concentration in structural engineering. Accredited graduate programs in structural engineering are more common than undergraduate programs. Advanced degrees may be necessary for structural engineers to be promoted to management positions.

Upon completing their formal education, aspiring structural engineers should earn their Professional Engineer license as a Civil Engineer. Certain states also require those pursuing this career to obtain separate Structural Engineer license. As in other engineering disciplines, licensure requirements vary by state, but most require a degree from an accredited college or university, work experience and the successful completion of exams. Following graduation, bachelor’s degree-holders may complete the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. Work experience must be acquired before a candidate is eligible to take the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. After passing the exam, a candidate may apply for licensure as a professional engineer.

Structural engineering is an industry that affects the safety and function of the world around us. If you enjoy design and have strong skills in mathematics and computers, knowing how to become a structural engineer is your first step to your rewarding new career.

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