Civil Engineer vs. Structural Engineer: Role Comparison


Engineering has lots of different areas and job options. Civil engineer vs. structural engineer career paths are very important for building modern society in today’s world. If you’re thinking about becoming an engineer, you might be curious about how these two areas are different, so you can pick the one that matches what you like and are good at. In this article, we’ll explain what civil and structural engineering are and show you how they differ.

What is civil engineering?

A civil engineer is someone who designs and oversees the building of public projects like roads and bridges. Here are some of the things civil engineers do:

  • They create designs using different materials.
  • They look at maps, drawings, and photos to plan the project and set budget limits.
  • They talk to clients, subcontractors, and architects.
  • They estimate how long the construction will take.
  • They check if a project is possible by looking at how practical the designs are.
  • They work together with structural engineers.
  • They offer advice, suggest different options, and solve problems.
  • They make sure their plans follow government rules.
  • They ensure that the construction sites comply with legal standards and codes.

To become a civil engineer, you need at least a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Some civil engineers go further to get a master’s or doctoral degree. Civil engineers also need a license to work publicly, and the requirements for this license can differ from one state to another.

What is structural engineering?

Structural engineering is a specific type of civil engineer specialization. Structural engineers start by studying civil engineering, and then learn more about how to deal specifically with structures. Here’s what they do:

  • They analyze different parts of a building or structure to see how much stress and pressure they can handle, whether from people using the building or from environmental factors like wind or earthquakes.
  • They do a lot of math to figure these things out.
  • They design structures to withstand all kinds of stress and pressure.
  • They use computer software to create detailed plans and models of the structures.
  • They constantly adjust and refine their designs until they find the best one.
  • They write reports and keep track of how the project is progressing.
  • They visit construction sites to check on the work and make sure safety rules are being followed.
  • They work closely with project managers and contractors.

Structural engineers typically need a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil or Structural Engineering. They can also go on to get advanced degrees in structural engineering. To work professionally, they need to be licensed as engineers. For certain projects, like schools and hospitals, they might also need a special structural engineer’s license.

Basic Engineering Principles

Both structural and civil engineers can work in several areas:

  • Geotechnical engineering: These engineers look at the ground conditions of an area before anything is built there.
  • Construction engineering: This field is about overseeing the building of both public and private construction projects.
  • Transportation engineering: These engineers work on all kinds of transportation systems to make sure they work well and can be improved.
  • Water resources engineering: This involves studying and managing water systems.
  • Urban planning engineering: These engineers plan how land in cities should be used and help create policies for it.
  • Environmental engineering: Environmental engineers work on ways to clean up the environment and reduce pollution.

Difference Between a Civil and Structural Engineer

Career paths in structural engineering and civil engineering are different in these ways:

Degree Programs

Students can first get a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering. If they want, they can then go for higher degrees in this field. Structural engineering is usually studied at the graduate level. However, there are a few colleges in the United States where you can study structural engineering in a bachelor’s program. If students want to focus on structural engineering during their undergraduate studies, they can choose to specialize in it while taking a general engineering program.


Civil engineers are in charge of designing and planning new constructions and their upkeep. They also manage the construction site and make sure that everything follows the rules. Structural engineers focus more on making sure that buildings are strong and stable, concentrating on how buildings support weight and checking the materials used. They do help plan projects at the beginning, but their main job isn’t planning.


Civil engineers and structural engineers often work together. Civil engineers come up with and show off their designs, and structural engineers help make sure those designs are strong and stable. Structural engineers concentrate on the parts of the design that need to hold up the structure, using their training in civil engineering to do this.


Civil engineers and structural engineers tackle different issues. Structural engineers understand how different conditions affect buildings and structures, so they step in if something like a bridge collapses because of poor design. On the other hand, civil engineers focus on planning to prevent and solve problems that affect people’s daily lives.

For example, if a river floods a bridge because the effects of seasonal changes and flood levels weren’t properly considered, that’s a job for a civil engineer. Similarly, if traffic is bad, a civil engineer might look at traffic patterns to decide how many lanes should be added to help reduce congestion.

Types of Projects

A civil engineer manages projects that involve building and fixing things we use in daily life, such as:

  • Roads
  • Bridges
  • Systems for cleaning water and sewage
  • Railways
  • Studies about floods in the area
  • Systems for collecting rainwater
  • Building utilities like electricity and water lines
  • Making riverbanks stable
  • Systems for managing water overflow and storage
  • Dams and large water storage areas
  • Studies on traffic flow

A structural engineer focuses on designing and checking the safety and stability of structures including:

  • Parts of a water treatment plant
  • Towers that control water levels in reservoirs
  • Designing new bridges and fixing old ones
  • Checking the condition of bridges and buildings
  • Walls that hold back earth or water
  • Walls of dams
  • Deep foundations for buildings
  • Renovating old buildings


Civil engineers and structural engineers usually make about the same amount of money, and their salaries generally go up as they gain more experience. On average, a civil engineer earns $87,225 a year, while a structural engineer earns a bit more, about $88,385 a year. As more new buildings and structures are built and older ones need fixing, there will be a steady need for both civil and structural engineers to work on these projects.

Know the Civil Engineer vs. Structural Engineer Differences to Choose the Right Career

Interested in shaping the future through engineering? Whether you’re drawn to civil engineering’s broad scope, from roadways to water systems, or the specialized challenge of ensuring structures like bridges and buildings are safe as a structural engineer, there’s a place for you. Explore the various degrees and find your path in these essential fields that keep our society running smoothly and safely. Choose engineering, and start making a difference today.


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