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Structural Engineer

Career Guide: How to become a Structural Engineer


Welcome to the comprehensive career guide designed exclusively for aspiring structural engineers. If you're fascinated by how the strength and stability of buildings and bridges are determined, a career as a structural engineer might be a perfect choice. Structural engineering is a pivotal field within civil engineering that focuses on designing and analyzing structures to ensure safety and durability.

Whether you are just starting your journey, looking to switch careers, or simply seeking to deepen your understanding of this vital profession, this guide offers essential insights into the role of a structural engineer. We will explore what a structural engineer does, the qualifications required, the skills necessary, career prospects, salaries, and effective strategies for landing a job in this discipline. This guide aims to equip you with a clear path to becoming a structural engineer and advancing within this dynamic field.

What Is a Structural Engineer?

A structural engineer is a specialized civil engineer whose primary role is to understand, predict, and calculate the stability, strength, and rigidity of built structures. These structures can range from buildings and bridges to towers and dams. This engineering discipline focuses primarily on ensuring that structures are safe and capable of withstanding various stresses and forces they might encounter throughout their life cycle.

Structural engineers are involved from the initial concepts of a construction project through to its completion, ensuring that the structure is safe for use and fulfills all required design criteria. This might include assessing the durability against environmental impacts like earthquakes, wind, and other natural calamities.

They perform crucial analyses to ensure a building's integrity and safety, which includes calculating the loads, such as weight and pressure, that the structure can endure. While closely related to architecture, structural engineering is more concerned with the strength and functionality of a structure rather than the aesthetic and spatial design provided by architects.

The contribution of a structural engineer is vital not only in the creation of new buildings and other infrastructures but also in the inspection and renovation of existing structures to improve their safety or to repurpose them.

Key Responsibilities of a Structural Engineer

Structural engineers play a crucial role in the construction and engineering sectors. Their primary responsibility is to ensure the safety and durability of buildings and structures. Below, we outline the main duties that define the role of a structural engineer:

  • Design: One of the primary tasks of a structural engineer is to design structures that are safe, sustainable, and economically viable. This includes creating detailed drawings, using specialized software, and adhering to construction and safety codes.
  • Analysis: Structural engineers must analyze the physical properties of building materials and the environmental factors that could affect the structures, such as wind, gravity, and earthquakes. This analysis helps to determine the structure's ability to endure various stresses and pressures.
  • Consultation: Regular consultation with architects, construction managers, and other engineers is crucial. Structural engineers need to collaborate effectively to ensure that the architectural vision is feasible and that projects are completed within code and safety standards.
  • Inspection and Monitoring: Once a project is underway, structural engineers are also responsible for inspecting and monitoring construction sites to ensure that the work aligns with the design specifications and safety regulations.
  • Problem-solving: Inevitably, unforeseen challenges will arise during construction. Structural engineers must be able to quickly address these issues, often creating innovative solutions to maintain project timelines and safety standards.
  • Project Management: Often, structural engineers will also take on project management responsibilities, overseeing the budget, timelines, and resource allocation, ensuring that projects are completed efficiently and effectively.

A career as a structural engineer is complex, requiring a balance of creativity, technical expertise, and communication skills. These professionals must also stay updated with the evolving engineering standards and technology to maintain their effectiveness in the field.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Structural Engineer?

Becoming a structural engineer is a journey that demands a considerable investment of time and dedication, primarily due to the rigorous educational and licensing requirements involved. The timeline can vary based on individual circumstances and choices. Here’s a breakdown of the typical path:

  • Bachelor’s Degree: The first step is to earn a bachelor's degree in civil engineering or a related field, which typically takes four years. This program must be accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) to ensure it meets the standards required for future licensing.
  • Internships: While studying, or shortly after graduation, aspiring structural engineers often begin internships. These can last from a few months to a year and provide crucial hands-on experience.
  • Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam: Graduates can then sit for the FE exam, an essential prerequisite to becoming a licensed engineer. Most take this exam immediately after completing their bachelor’s degree.
  • Work Experience: After passing the FE exam, candidates enter a period known as the Engineer-in-Training (EIT) or Engineer Intern (EI) phase. During this time, which lasts typically four years, they work under the supervision of licensed engineers to gain practical experience.
  • Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) Exam: With four years of work experience, engineers can take the PE exam in the structural engineering discipline. Passing this exam is crucial as it licenses them as Professional Engineers (PE).
  • Continuing Education: Even after obtaining licensure, structural engineers must engage in continuing education to keep up with technological advancements, changing building codes, and other professional developments.

In total, it typically takes at least eight years to become a fully licensed structural engineer—four years studying for a bachelor’s degree, followed by a minimum of four years of practical work experience. However, the journey can extend further as professionals continue to learn and specialize in their careers.

Master's Degree Consideration

While a master’s degree is not necessarily required, obtaining one can significantly enhance a structural engineer’s qualifications, particularly for specialized or advanced positions. This usually requires an additional two years of study post-bachelor’s degree.

Certifications in specific areas of structural engineering, obtained after achieving licensure, can also extend the timeframe but are beneficial for career advancement.

What are the Qualifications Required to Become a Structural Engineer?

Becoming a structural engineer typically involves a combination of formal education, licensure, and sometimes, specialized certifications. Here’s a detailed look at the educational and professional requirements you need to meet:

Educational Requirements

  • Bachelor’s Degree: The first step towards becoming a structural engineer is to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering or a closely related engineering discipline from an accredited program. This degree provides foundational knowledge in physics, mathematics, project management, and fundamental engineering principles.
  • Master’s Degree (Optional): Although not always required, earning a Master’s degree in Structural Engineering can provide deeper knowledge of the field and may be preferred by some employers. It can also be beneficial for career advancement and specialization in areas like seismic design, bridge engineering, or skyscraper construction.


To legally work as a structural engineer, obtaining licensure is mandatory in many countries, including the United States. This typically involves:

  • Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam: Graduates must first pass this exam to become an Engineer in Training (EIT) or Engineering Intern (EI).
  • Professional Experience: After passing the FE exam, a candidate must accumulate a certain number of years of supervised experience, typically four years in the U.S.
  • Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) Exam: After gaining the necessary experience, structural engineers must pass this exam to become licensed Professional Engineers (PE).

Special Certifications

While not always required, obtaining certifications can showcase expertise and commitment to the field. These might include:

  • Structural Engineering Certification Board (SECB) Certification: This certification is for those who wish to demonstrate further expertise in structural engineering.
  • LEED Certification: For engineers involved in green building and sustainable design, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification can be valuable.

Meeting these qualifications not only complies with legal requirements but significantly enhances a structural engineer's credibility and marketability to potential employers. Continuous learning through professional development courses and seminars is also crucial to keep up with technological advancements and changes in building codes and safety regulations.

What are the Skills and Knowledge Required to Become a Structural Engineer?

Structural engineering is a profession that demands a specific set of skills and knowledge to ensure the safety, functionality, and durability of buildings and structures. The successful structural engineer will typically possess a blend of technical, analytical, and interpersonal skills.

Technical Skills:

  • Mathematical Proficiency: Structural engineers require advanced skills in mathematics and physics to accurately calculate loads, stresses, and strains.
  • Computer-Aided Design (CAD): Proficiency in CAD software is imperative for drafting and visualizing structural components.
  • Engineering Software Knowledge: Familiarity with engineering-specific software like AutoCAD, Revit, and SAP2000 for analysis and design is crucial.
  • Building Codes and Standards: An in-depth understanding of local, national, and international building codes and standards is essential for compliance and safety.

Analytical and Problem-Solving Skills:

Structural engineers must be adept at identifying and solving complex engineering problems. They should be able to foresee potential challenges and design solutions that are both effective and efficient.

Communication and Team Collaboration:

Effective communication is crucial, as structural engineers often work in multidisciplinary teams. They must be able to convey technical information to non-engineers clearly and persuasively.

Project Management:

Many structural engineers take on project management roles. Skills in budgeting, scheduling, and overseeing projects from inception to completion are valuable.

Attention to Detail:

Meticulous attention to detail ensures safety standards and project specifications are met without compromise.

Innovation and Creativity:

As engineering challenges arise, creativity in designing solutions and utilizing new materials and technologies is increasingly important.

Continuous Learning:

The field of structural engineering is always evolving. Successful engineers commit to lifelong learning to keep up with new technologies, codes, and standards.

In summary, becoming a skilled structural engineer involves developing a mix of highly technical skills complemented by strong analytical abilities and soft skills such as communication and management. For those aspiring to this career, strengthening these areas is key to success and advancement in the field.

How Much Does a Structural Engineer Make?

The salary of a structural engineer can vary widely depending on several factors including geographical location, educational background, years of experience, and the sector in which they are employed. Typically, structural engineers receive a competitive compensation package reflective of their high level of technical expertise and responsibility.

Entry-Level Salaries: Starting salaries for structural engineers generally range from $55,000 to $65,000 per year. These figures can be higher in major metropolitan areas or with companies involved in highly specialized types of construction.

Mid-Career Salaries: With experience, licenses, and possibly a master's degree, structural engineers can expect salaries to rise. Professionals with roughly five to ten years of experience may earn between $70,000 and $90,000 annually.

Senior-Level Salaries: Structural engineers who reach senior management positions, or who have more than ten years of experience, especially those who become licensed Professional Engineers (PE), can see their salaries reach between $95,000 and $120,000 annually. In high-demand regions or in particularly specialized fields within structural engineering, salaries could go even higher.

Additionally, many firms offer benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, and performance bonuses, which can significantly enhance the total compensation package of a structural engineer.

Beyond Base Compensation: Freelance or consulting work can also be highly lucrative in the engineering field. Structural engineers with a strong reputation and network may engage in consulting, which can supplement their income or, in some cases, become their primary source of income.

It's also pertinent to highlight that ongoing education and specialization in emerging areas like sustainable engineering or forensic structural engineering can open the door to higher pay and increased job opportunities, illustrating the dynamic nature of compensation in this field.

Economic Trends Influence Salaries

The economic health of the construction industry and technological innovation also heavily influence the earning potential for structural engineers. As infrastructure needs grow globally and as new construction technologies develop, the demand for skilled structural engineers may increase, potentially leading to further salary increases. Observing these trends can provide insights into future earning potential for those in the field.

Career Outlook for Structural Engineers

The career outlook for structural engineers is quite promising, driven by the continuous need for infrastructure development and maintenance across the world. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of civil engineers, which includes structural engineers, is projected to grow 8% from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Factors Influencing Career Growth:

  • Urbanization: As more people migrate to cities, the demand for new constructions and infrastructures like buildings, bridges, and tunnels rises. Structural engineers will be crucial to ensuring these structures are safe and efficient.
  • Renovation and Maintenance: Aging infrastructure in many countries requires assessment, retrofitting, or replacement. This responsibility often falls under the expertise of structural engineers to extend the lifespan of existing structures.
  • Environmental Considerations: Increasing environmental awareness and regulations mandate buildings and other constructions to be sustainable and eco-friendly. Structural engineers must innovate to meet these green standards, thus increasing demand for those with specialization in eco-friendly design.
  • Governmental Investment: Public sector investment in infrastructure, particularly in transportation and water management systems, also drives employment for structural engineers. This is particularly significant in regions preparing for population growth or upgrading their facilities.

Structural engineers looking to enhance their career prospects can consider gaining expertise in specialized areas such as earthquake engineering, wind engineering, or forensic engineering. Additionally, obtaining certifications like the SE (Structural Engineering) license can offer a competitive edge and lead to higher-level positions and project management opportunities.

While the career outlook remains generally positive, potential structural engineers should be aware of geographical variations. Areas experiencing rapid growth and development will offer more job opportunities compared to regions with slower economic growth. Keeping an eye on global and regional trends in construction and infrastructure development can provide strategic insights into potential job markets.

Overall, structural engineering remains a robust field with diverse opportunities for those interested in designing and maintaining the critical infrastructure that supports modern society.

Finding Jobs as a Structural Engineer

Entering the job market as a structural engineer can seem daunting, but with a strategic approach, it can be a smooth process. This section will guide you through effective strategies for finding opportunities in the field of structural engineering.

Utilize Online Job Boards

The first step in your job search should be to frequent popular online job boards such as Indeed, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn. These platforms not only provide extensive listings of job openings but also offer valuable resources like company reviews and salary benchmarks.

  • Set up alerts: Configure notifications for structural engineering jobs to ensure you don't miss out on any opportunities.
  • Customize your profile: On platforms like LinkedIn, tailor your profile to highlight your expertise in structural engineering to attract potential employers.


Building professional relationships is crucial in the engineering world. Attend industry conferences, seminars, and workshops where you can meet like-minded professionals and potential employers.

  • Join professional organizations: Groups such as the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) or the Institution of Structural Engineers offer networking opportunities and resources for job seekers.
  • Participate in forums: Engage in online forums and discussion groups related to structural engineering to increase your visibility in the field.

Internships and Co-op Positions

Gain practical experience and enhance your resume by pursuing internships or cooperative education (co-op) positions. These opportunities not only provide hands-on experience but also help you establish connections in the industry.

Direct Company Applications

Identify companies that align with your career goals and apply directly through their websites. This approach can be particularly effective with firms that may not advertise their positions on large job boards.

Work with a Recruiter

Consider working with recruiters who specialize in the engineering sector. They can offer insider knowledge on openings and help negotiate contracts.

Prepare Your Application Materials

Your resume, cover letter, and portfolio should clearly reflect your qualifications, skills, and experience relevant to structural engineering:

  • Highlight projects: Include specific projects where you applied key structural engineering principles and achieved successful outcomes.
  • Quantify achievements: Use numbers and statistics to demonstrate your contributions to past projects.

A proactive and well-organized job search strategy can significantly enhance your chances of securing a position that matches your skills and career aspirations in structural engineering.


The role of a structural engineer is both challenging and rewarding, offering a unique blend of creative problem-solving and technical expertise. As exemplified by the information provided in this guide, structural engineering is a career path that not only demands a solid educational foundation and technical skills but also offers a diverse range of opportunities and a promising future.

Structural engineers play a crucial role in shaping our built environment, ensuring the safety and stability of structures ranging from simple houses to towering skyscrapers and expansive bridges. The ability to directly contribute to the development and resilience of infrastructure can be immensely satisfying, making it an appealing field for those passionate about building and innovation.

Moreover, the positive career outlook, with its competitive salaries and growing demand in various sectors such as construction, transportation, and disaster management, underscores the viability and relevance of this profession in today's economy. Structural engineering not only promises a stable career but also offers the chance to make significant impacts on public safety and welfare.

Entering the field may require a considerable investment in education and certification, but the benefits and opportunities within the profession justify the effort. Whether one aspires to work on groundbreaking projects, contribute to sustainable development, or innovate within the safety parameters of existing structures, a career in structural engineering offers manifold paths to personal and professional fulfillment.

Hopefully, this guide has provided clear insights into what it takes to become a structural engineer and the potential rewards that the career holds. For those intrigued by the intersections of science, mathematics, and design, and who are eager to leave a mark on the world’s infrastructural landscape, structural engineering is a profession worth considering.


Q1: What degree do I need to become a structural engineer?

A: Typically, a Bachelor's degree in civil or structural engineering is required. Accredited programs are preferred as they prepare you for professional licensure.

Q2: How do I get licensed as a structural engineer?

A: Licensing requirements vary by state, but generally involve passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, gaining experience under a licensed engineer, and passing the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam.

Q3: Do structural engineers have opportunities for advancement?

A: Yes, with experience, structural engineers can advance to senior technical roles or managerial positions. Further certification and specialization can also lead to roles in project management or consulting.

Q4: Are there specialties within the field of structural engineering?

A: Absolutely! Structural engineers can specialize in areas like earthquake engineering, bridge design, buildings, or aerospace structures.

Q5: What is the difference between a structural engineer and a civil engineer?

A: While both work with infrastructure, structural engineers focus specifically on the integrity and strength of structures, ensuring they are stable and can handle the load they're subjected to.

Q6: What kind of projects do structural engineers work on?

A: Structural engineers can work on a variety of projects, including buildings, bridges, tunnels, towers, and other infrastructures. They may also be involved in designing structures to withstand natural disasters.

Q7: Can structural engineers work internationally?

A: Yes, structural engineering qualifications, especially those recognized internationally, can open opportunities worldwide. Understanding local building codes and regulations is crucial when working internationally.

Q8: How important is ongoing education for structural engineers?

A: Very important. Continuous learning through workshops, seminars, and new certifications, like those offered by the Structural Engineering Institute (SEI), ensures engineers stay current with evolving technology and regulations.

Q9: What software skills are crucial for structural engineers?

A: Competency in software like AutoCAD, Revit, and structural analysis programs like SAP2000, ETABS, or STAAD.Pro is essential for designing and simulating various structural solutions.

Q10: How can I stay informed about developments in structural engineering?

A: Joining professional organizations, subscribing to industry journals, and participating in industry forums and discussions are good ways to stay updated on the latest trends and advancements in structural engineering.

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