How to Become a Structural Engineer

The first step for any career path, is to determine if you'll be a good fit for the work. If you're going to be in it for the long haul, you'd better be willing to take on the ups and downs involved in the day to day work. For example, the traits below describe someone who's well-suited for this career...does it describe you?


Those who become structural engineers typically enjoy such school subjects as mathematics, science, computing, art, geography and design. They also tend to have an interest in unique buildings and structures. They may have spent more time than the average people wondering how tall buildings are made; how they withstand earthquakes, high winds and other forces. 


As the work they're responsible for has an impact on the daily lives of many, a structural engineer must be a highly responsible individual who is able to handle the demanding requirements and pressures of their job.


If you want to enter this field, you must be comfortable with the idea that there is little room for error in your work; you must be able to accurately calculate the stress loads and other elements of structures such as skyscrapers, often using only computer simulations and models to test your work.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a structural engineer. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed

To become a structural engineer, you need Bachelor's degree in civil or structural engineering. Before you earn your engineering degree, you must have a solid foundation in physics as well as specialized areas of mathematics, such as geometry, trigonometry and calculus.


It is crucial to gain knowledge in these areas, as careers in structural engineering involve the application of principles in these areas to solving real-world problems.


To lay solid groundwork for your education, you should begin by pursuing coursework in the above-mentioned areas while you're still a high school student. If you do not gain knowledge in physics and specialized areas of mathematics before entering university, you will be behind and may find yourself trying hard just to catch up.


A university education in structural engineering typically consists of coursework that applies directly to professional applications..


Students will typically study statics and dynamics, conceptual structural design, materials engineering, engineering graphics, computer aided design and structural analysis, among other engineering classes.


Structural engineering students also do in-depth exploration of structural design with each of the commonly used construction materials, including steel, reinforced concrete and composites.


Many structural or civil engineering programs also require students to take classes in English or communications, as much of what structural engineers produce consists of drawings and reports, making it very important for structural engineers to have excellent verbal and written communications skills. 




What is a Structural Engineer?

General job description


Structural engineers are responsible for designing structures that can withstand the pressures of weather and other forces, such as human use. They must ensure that buildings do not collapse, vibrate, twist or bend. Structural engineers work in close partnership with architects in the design of houses, theatres, sports venues, hospitals, high rise buildings, oil rigs, space satellites, ships and aircraft.



What Do They Do?

General job duties


• Examine the structural integrity of existing structures that are deemed to be at risk of collapsing, and advise how to improve their structural integrity

• Apply expert knowledge of the forces that act on structures

• Liaise with contractors to ensure newly erected structures are structurally sound

• Prepare drawings, computer models and specifications of structures

• Calculate the pressures, stresses and strains that each component of a structure will experience from other parts of the structure due to human use or environmental pressures such as weather or earthquakes

• Conduct site tests, such as soil quality, and analyze results

• Liaise with other designers and architects in order to agree on safe designs and their fit with the aesthetic concept of the construction



Who Creates Jobs for Them?

Structural engineers are hired by organizations involved in designing structures, such as buildings and bridges, which can withstand the pressures of weather and other forces. Organizations that hire structural engineers include:


• Federal, state/provincial and municipal government departments

• Engineering firms

• Engineering consulting firms

• Construction contractors

• Property developers

• Public utilities

• Manufacturers of cars, trains, airplanes and other vehicles



Skills and Traits Needed to Succeed

In order to become effective in a career as a structural engineer, you need to posses a certain set of skills and personality traits, as these will allow you perform your duties with competence, and help you to endure the challenges a career in this field is sure to present.


• Have a keen interest in unique structures, including buildings or bridges

• Able to apply the principals of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis and design

• Perform calculations with patience and accuracy

• Able to write reports in a clear and concise manner

• Able to visualize three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings

• Able to work under stressful conditions

• Responsible and accountable

• Able to monitor and evaluate the work at a job site as a project progresses

• A capacity for details

• Enjoy being innovative

• Enjoy having variety in work

• Enjoy doing work that requires precision

• Maintain and advance engineering knowledge





Licensing Requirements

Canada: In Canada, to work as an unsupervised engineer, you must hold the P.Eng. designation (professional engineer) by graduating from an accredited engineering program, completing an internship program, and successfully completing a professional practice examination.


A professional engineer is legally licensed to practice engineering and to take responsibility for their work, while an engineer is not. In Canada, professional engineers are not licensed in a specific discipline but are bound by their respective provincial code of ethics.



United States: Currently in the United States, engineering professionals of all disciplines are charged with the responsibility of protecting the safety, health and welfare of the general public. Because of this responsibility, all 50 states currently require a Professional Engineering (P.E.) licensure to practice engineering within their geographic bounds.


The licensure requirements specifically for structural engineers vary by each individual state. Contact your state licensing board or structural engineering society for more information. 



Gaining Career Experience as a Student

Most undergraduate structural or civil engineering programs in Canada and the United States include co-operative education or internship programs as part of their curriculum. These programs consist of periods of academic study alternating with periods of planned work experience in industry. They are designed to provide students with experience in applying what they learn in the classroom to real world situations, thus giving them a preview of what working in this field would actually be like. 



How Much Do They Earn?

The salary level of structural engineers can vary depending on factors such as their level of education, their level of experience, where they work, the specific responsibilities, and many others.


Structural Engineer Salary Alberta: According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Civil Engineers occupational group earn a mean wage of $44.58 per hour.


Structural Engineer Salary Canada: According to Service Canada, the average salary level of workers in the Civil Engineers occupational group is $75,488 per year.


Structural Engineer Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of workers in the Civil Engineers occupational group is $77,560 per year.



Career Advancement Possibilities

Experienced structural engineers may choose to become project managers, and eventually advance to the management of very large projects. Some experienced structural engineers may also choose to establish their own construction or consulting companies. Those who have doctoral (Ph.D.) degrees may teach at a university or conduct research.



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Typical Working Conditions

Work Hours: Structural engineers often work normal, weekday working hours. However, many structural engineers work on projects that are under contractual deadlines. Because of this they may work longer hours, including evenings and weekends, to ensure deadlines are met.


Work Environment: Structural engineers generally work indoors in offices, which often involves working at a computer workstation. However, they also spend time outdoors at construction sites so they can monitor operations or solve problems at the site. Structural engineers usually work very closely with a team that may include professionals from other engineering and scientific disciplines, contractors, project owners, architects, bankers, lawyers or government officials.



Similar Occupations in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Structural Engineer, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Aerospace Engineer


Civil Engineer

Civil Engineering Technologist

Materials Engineer



References for This Guide

Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a Structural Engineer.



Occupations in Alberta:Civil Engineer.” (March 31, 2018). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 14, 2020.

Architecture & Engineering:Civil Engineers.” (September 4, 2019). Bureau of Labor Statistics - United States Government website. Retrieved January 14, 2020.

Career Guides:How to become a Structural Engineer.” Tom Bunkham (n.d.). website. Retrieved January 14, 2020.

Explore Careers:Structural Engineer.” (n.d.) National Careers Service website. Retrieved January 14, 2020.

Licensing:Frequently Asked Questions.” (n.d.). Engineers Canada website. Retrieved January 14, 2019.



Relevant Scholarships

Scholarships in Canada and the United States listed for majors that are relevant for pursuing the required education can be found on the following pages:


Civil Engineering Scholarships

Mechanical Engineering Scholarships

Physics Scholarships


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a Structural Engineer. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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