Reach New Heights with Our Guide to 7 Types of Civil Engineering Specializations (Plus Tips).

Reach New Heights with Our Guide to 7 Types of Civil Engineering Specializations (Plus Tips).Civil engineering has a variety of specializations that focus on different topics and project goals. When undergraduate students choose this major, it’s …

Reach New Heights with Our Guide to 7 Types of Civil Engineering Specializations (Plus Tips).

Reach New Heights with Our Guide to 7 Types of Civil Engineering Specializations (Plus Tips).Civil engineering has a variety of specializations that focus on different topics and project goals. When undergraduate students choose this major, it’s important they select an area of study so they can receive specific training and better prepare for a future career. By learning some fundamental information about civil engineering specializations, you can determine a career path that best suits your interests and long-term goals. In this article, we define what civil engineering specialization is, list the different types and provide examples of project opportunities, salary information and tips for your selection process.

What is a civil engineering specialization?

A civil engineering specialization is a subfield of a larger academic study that involves a specific operation, material or object. As civil engineering involves multiple types of infrastructure projects, it’s often helpful if professionals have a comprehensive knowledge of one particular area. Undergraduate students typically choose a specialization after selecting a civil engineering major in their degree program. After they graduate, they can either gain a higher degree in their specialization or enter the workforce for their niche.


Types of engineering specializations

Here are the seven primary types of engineering specializations you can study:

1. Structural engineering

Structural engineering students learn how to design large structures and ensure they can stay functional during high winds and natural disasters, like earthquakes. They study the gravitational properties of a structure to determine how much weight they can handle, as this step allows them to create support mechanisms through beams and columns. It’s important for these students to take courses on other physical science topics, including kinetics, shock waves and airflow. After they graduate from a program, they can further specialize in building, bridge design or aircraft engineering.

Consider the following examples of projects that a structural engineering graduate might conduct:

  • Bridge design

  • Site inspection

  • Home improvements

  • Foundation development

  • Vehicle and airplane design

  • Skyscraper design

2. Construction engineering and management

In this specialization, civil engineering students can learn the design principles of construction, building code regulations and operation steps for a project. They typically take courses on how to manage a project’s resources and equipment, then how to construct buildings that are safe, functional and sustainable. Students also study how to organize each construction process step, including making a timeline, maintaining a materials inventory and preparing a budget. Programs with a management component often emphasize building information modeling (BIM), which is an information technology tool that many construction engineers use for their endeavors.

Here are some examples of building projects a construction engineering and management graduate might conduct:

  • Residential buildings

  • Commercial buildings

  • Roads and bridges

  • Water treatment plants

  • School locations

  • Hospital environments

3. Geotechnical engineering

Geotechnical engineering is a specialization that involves the study of rocks, soil and any artificial materials that support a system. For example, a graduate may coordinate the construction of an underground mining facility. It’s important for geotechnical students to learn about the chemical properties of earth materials, as different types of rock may require different building techniques. When completing their degree, students often study water and soil interactions, plus how to design pavement structures and predict whether a natural slope can handle the additional weight.

Here are some examples of projects for a geotechnical engineering graduate:

  • Water tank reservoir systems

  • Sewer tunnel systems

  • Pavements and roads

  • Natural embankments

  • Historical monument restoration

  • Soil sampling and testing

4. Environmental engineering

Environmental engineering students learn how to reduce the overall impact of an artificial system on the world’s ecosystem and manage natural resources for a construction project. They typically study the chemical properties of water, soil and air so they can design technical mechanisms that solve pollution issues. After they graduate, they may help companies improve the sustainability of their facilities and advise legislators on environmental policies. Their projects often result in the production of green energy, which is a renewable power source from natural occurrences like sunlight or water.

Consider the following examples of projects for an environmental engineering graduate:

  • Solid waste management

  • Recycling systems

  • Water treatment

  • Drainage systems

  • Crop irrigation

  • Facility investigation


5. Transportation engineering

In a transportation engineering specialization, students learn how to design networking systems that individuals use for traveling purposes, including railroads, subways, airways and seaways. They study how to develop infrastructure to help people move between locations safely and efficiently, including pathway plans. Transportation engineering students also learn how to modify natural environments to plan transportation systems, like an artificial canal. When taking coursework, students typically study physical science properties like applied force and lateral force, which involves how earthquakes or wind storms may affect a system’s durability.

Here are some examples of projects a transportation engineering graduate might complete:

  • Airport design

  • Traffic monitoring systems

  • Automated public transit

  • Bicycle path development

  • Road access management

  • Pedestrian bridges

6. Water resources engineering

Water resources engineering involves developing infrastructure for safe drinking water in towns and cities. Students learn the hydrologic cycle, which is how water molecules move between the atmosphere and the earth over time. They use this knowledge of natural systems to design water sanitation facilities and artificial lakes or ponds. This civil engineering specialization also involves hydraulics, which refers to how water moves through pipes and channels through natural forces in physical science.

Consider the following examples of projects a water resources engineering graduate might complete:

  • Irrigation systems

  • Water distribution centers

  • Fishing facilities

  • Waterways

  • Plant nurseries

  • Flood protection facilities

7. Materials engineering

This specialization involves the study of all items and components required for a construction project, such as wood, steel and concrete. They may also study stones, soil, plastics and fabrics, depending on a university program’s requirements. Materials engineering students learn the chemical properties of these items, which allows them to determine the best possible materials for a project or adjust them on an atomic level. For example, a professional might measure a component’s ability to handle heat or conduct electricity.

Graduates can work on a variety of different projects, as most engineering endeavors require a type of material. Here are a few examples of projects a materials engineering graduate might complete:

  • Cement mixing

  • Spacecraft design

  • Welding processes

  • Clothing design

  • Sunscreen development

  • Biodegradable product design


Average salaries for civil engineering specializations

Civil engineering specializations have varied salary figures that may change according to an individual’s education level, work experience and geographical location. Here are the average salaries for the above civil engineering specializations and related professions, according to Indeed Salaries:

  • Structural engineer: $85,404 per year

  • Construction manager: $77,418 per year

  • Geotechnical engineer: $70,492 per year

  • Environmental engineer: $82,193 per year

  • Transportation planner: $66,570 per year

  • Hydraulic engineer: $80,311 per year

  • Water resources engineer: $78,709 per year

  • Materials engineer: $94,887 per year

Tips for choosing a civil engineering specialization

Consider the following tips for choosing a civil engineering specialization at college:

  • Evaluate your skill sets: Assessing your technical capabilities and learning goals may help you narrow your options. For example, if you’re skilled in chemical analysis, you might benefit from a career as a materials engineer.

  • Assess your interests. Reflect on your hobbies and value system to determine a career path that can lead to fulfillment. For instance, if you express an interest in activism, education and sustainability, you may enjoy an environmental engineering specialization.

  • Apply for an internship. Many companies and research centers offer internships to high school students and individuals with a GED, which may help you learn which most appeals to your interests. To find opportunities, you can connect with an academic adviser or research options online.

  • Consider job outlook and salary potential. Depending on your long-term purchasing goals, it may be important to consider a field’s growth rates and the salary range you prefer. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that civil engineering may have an 8% growth rate in the next nine years.

  • Connect with professionals. Consider asking an engineering professional some questions about their specialization, including about their work environment and day-to-day responsibilities. You can either ask a mentor you know personally or participate in a networking activity.

  • Take introductory courses. If you’re already taking classes at a college or university, you may benefit from taking a course on a specialization’s fundamentals. You can also bond with your professor and classmates, who may help you find career opportunities in the future.

  • Use school resources. Academic advisors or career centers can offer helpful advice and valuable insights when choosing a civil engineering specialization to study. For instance, they can provide an assessment tool or decision-making outline to help guide your process.

  • Review degree requirements. Reading the curriculums for each specialization to learn which classes you can take can help you determine what type of academic trajectory you prefer. Some specializations offer more coursework, while others involve independent projects or professional training opportunities.