What is a Structural Engineer?

You have probably heard of a civil engineer, but what is a structural engineer? A structural engineer is a civil engineer who has specialized in engineering structures that are weight bearing or must be able to resist weight loads. For example, if you worked in this field you might deal with designing buildings, oil rigs, or dams. You might become an expert in aircraft design or tunnels or any other type of structure.

This is an important job because the integrity of the design will determine the viability and safety of the structure.  The roles of a structural engineer include the following:

  • Analyze the needs that must be addressed including safety, aesthetics and environmental impact
  • Design the structure insuring it meets all load requirements and conforms to regulatory codes and requirements
  • Research the engineering specifications
  • Determine appropriate materials to be used that affect structural integrity
  • Prepare construction drawings
  • Complete cost estimates
  • Work with the construction personnel to insure engineering specifications are understood and properly incorporated
  • Make necessary changes as needed during construction

Reading the list you can see that, as a structural engineer, you are a blend of designer, accountant, construction supervisor and safety coordinator.

Excellent Pay Reflects Training and Responsibilities

To be a structural engineer it is necessary to earn a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.  The structural engineer degree is awarded as a specialty civil engineering degree. You can also pursue a master’s degree specifically in structural engineering. The classes you will take include math, physics, general and special engineering, and engineering computer software like AutoCad among others that include life sciences.

To work as a structural engineer, you must also be state licensed. To obtain a license it’s necessary to graduate from a school that has been accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. You must also have 4 years of actual engineering work experience and pass a state administered exam.

During the course of your career, you can also earn a number of specialty certifications by attending professional workshops and completing additional courses offered by professional engineering organizations.

Entry level structural engineers, with less than 4 years of experience needed for licensing, earn $47,000 to $62,000 according to PayScale.  With a license your pay will increase significantly. Structural engineers with 5 to 9 years of experience are paid an average annual salary between $58,000 and $75,000.

How much does a structural engineer make a year with more than 10 years experience? Earnings increase to between $68,000 and $89,000.  An expert in structural engineering can make as much as $111,000 with 20 years or more of experience.

Great Employment Prospects Match Great Salary!

The employment prospects for civil engineers are excellent. The number of jobs is expected to grow by 24 percent by 2018 according to the U.S. Department of Labor. This is due to population growth leading to increasing need for buildings in general and supporting public structures like water facilities.

You can find employment with many different organizations and agencies. Structural engineers work for construction firms, universities, and state and federal agencies.  With a license and experience you can also work as a self-employed consultant.

The structural engineer salary you can expect to earn is partially dependent on the city where you work. For example, structural engineers in New York City are paid an average salary between $57,000 and $79,000.  San Francisco is another high paying city with the average salaries running between $60,000 and $85,000.

But if you work in Dallas, the average salary figures drop to $54,000 to $70,000.

The next question is: how much money does a structural engineer make a year by industry?  The highest paying industry is the aerospace and defense industry which pays an average of $63,000 to $91,000.  Structural engineers working in the construction industry are making an average salary of $51,000 to $68,000.

Other industries where you can look for employment include general and specialty engineering consulting firms.  Some engineering firms specialize solely in structural engineering consulting.

Project managers have the most responsibilities and the pay reflects that fact. Project managers are paid an average annual salary of $56,000 to $79,000.  You can compare this to structural engineers specializing in engineering design who are paid an average of $53,000 to $73,000.

Exciting Career

Structural engineering is an exciting career because the work you do becomes enduring structures the benefit people. You also get to work with many other professionals including architects, builders, government inspectors and other civil engineers. Many of your projects will require working as a member of a team so you need to work well with people from all walks of life.

If you are considering going into engineering and enjoy detailed work that relies on technology this is a great career choice.  You can earn excellent money while working on varied and interesting projects.