How to Become a Structural Engineer

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As the population increases and existing structures continue to require repairs and maintenance, the demand for highly skilled structural engineers will grow. Structural engineers play a key role in meeting the demand for new structures and maintaining the integrity of existing structures that support our lives and lifestyles.


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What does a structural engineer do?

Structural engineers apply the principles of math, science and engineering to design, plan and analyze structures ranging from oil rigs to aircraft. Structural engineers focus on structural integrity, creating cost-effective designs, limiting environmental impact and meeting the public’s needs for functionality and aesthetics. Structural engineers design bridges, buildings, dams, tunnels, ships, towers, oil rigs, aircraft and numerous other structures, ensuring that the structures they design include durable materials and structural integrity that will overcome environmental and use factors and limit deterioration and the need for repairs.

What kind of training does a structural engineer need?

Almost all entry-level structural engineer jobs require a bachelor degree. Undergraduate programs for structural engineering students emphasize math, science and the basic principles of engineering, as well as mechanical engineering, civil engineering and structural engineering. Courses include structural design, dynamics, material science, structural mechanics and structural analysis. It is common for structural engineers to earn a bachelor degree in civil engineering and then continue their education at a graduate level with a focus on structural engineering.

Structural engineers must obtain licensure in the state in which they wish to work. Structural engineers are generally licensed as civil engineers and must complete four basic steps to obtain licensure. These steps include completing a degree program approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), passing the Fundamentals of Engineering and Principles and Practice of Engineering exams, and gaining four years of experience working in the engineering field.

What are the prospects for a career as a structural engineer?

The field of engineering is expected to experience an 11% increase in employment opportunities between 2006 and 2016. This is on par with the anticipated growth rate for all industries across the country. The civil engineering specialty, which is often where structural engineers can be found, is expected to see an 18% growth rate in employment, largely due to population growth and the need to repair and improve existing structures. (1)

How much do structural engineers make?

Entry-level structural engineer salary varies depending on level of education and experience, the size of the employer, geographical location, additional certifications obtained and specialty. For example, the median base salary range for structural engineers working in Structural Engineer I positions is $45,855 to $58,518, with most structural engineers in this position making between $49,391 and $56,020. Average base salaries for Structural Engineer I positions across the country are $56,000 for the Northeast, $55,300 for the Middle Atlantic area, $50,400 in the South, $52,000 in the Midwest, and $54,300 in the West. (2)

Structural engineering is a popular career choice in the civil engineering field. People who appreciate the integrity and aesthetics of structures, and who would like take part in designing and maintaining these structures, will find structural engineering a fulfilling career choice.

Joshua T Osborne

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