Civil engineers need a wide range of expertise. So if you're interested in becoming a civil engineer, you should try to get good skills in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM subjects).
Why are maths and science so important?
Most civil engineering projects need to be able to stand up to natural forces (like wind and water), and man-made forces (like vehicles, equipment and people). For example, civil engineers:
- Design roads so they don't sink into the ground when heavy lorries drive along them
- Build flats so they don't fall over when the wind blows
- Construct tunnels so they don't flood when it rains
You need to be able to understand and measure forces and movement, and to calculate the strength of the structures you're designing. What you learn in maths and science – especially physics – will help you do this.
The structures that civil engineers design and build are mainly on the ground and have to be supported by the soil and rocks underneath them. The strength of the ground varies from place to place, and different rocks and soil have different properties (e.g. how quickly water drains through them). If you don’t want your structure to sink into the mud, you have to know about the various types of ground and design the right kind of foundations for the site. For this reason, studying geography or geology is also good idea.
As designers and innovators, civil engineers create things that didn’t exist before and do things in ways that haven’t been done before. They try to make our environment as attractive as possible by designing things that are interesting and pleasant to look at. They also make sure that these things blend in well with their surroundings. So if you're creative and enjoy art and design and technology, these would be good subjects to study too.
Civil engineers usually work in teams and are often involved in projects in many parts of the world. This means that languages, teamwork and communication skills will also come in useful.
What qualifications do I need?
If you live in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland, you have three main options after your GCSEs:
- Stay on at school or college and do A-levels – make sure your subjects include maths and physics
- Stay on at school or college and do a:
- BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Construction and the Built Environment – Civil Engineering
- Or, a BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Construction and the Built Environment – Civil Engineering
- Do an apprenticeship, which combines employment and studying part-time for a BTEC and an NVQ level 3 or the Diploma in Civil Engineering for Technicians (ICE)
If you live in Scotland, after your intermediates or National 5s you can either:
- Stay on at school and do Highers and maybe Advanced Highers – make sure that you include maths and physics in your subjects
- Stay on at school or college and do a Higher National Certificate in Civil Engineering (Scotland)
- Do a modern apprenticeship, which combines employment with studying part-time for an SVQ
Find out more about your options when you finish your GCSEs, Intermediates or National 5s.
Meet students like you
We've pulled together some profiles of students currently at school talking about why they're thinking about a career in engineering. Simply click 'read more' to find out their story.
What comes next?
Once you've completed your GCSEs, you'll have a number of different options that could lead to a career in civil engineering. You could take A-Levels or Highers in subject such as Maths or Physics, or undertake an apprenticeship, combining classroom learning and on site experience.
Find out more about what your post-16 choices