How to Become a Surveyor in 5 Steps

Surveyors create and map boundary lines for land, air and water spaces. Learn the typical duties of a surveyor as well as the education and licensure requirements. Schools offering Engineering & Technology Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Surveyor?

A surveyor is a technical specialist who determines boundaries and creates surface maps using measurements gathered from land and data from deeds, titles, maps and previous surveys. You would measure contours, depressions, elevations and distances; determine the longitude and latitude of prominent features; and direct and coordinate the activities of subordinates. You would also organize existing records, verify the accuracy of land measurements, enter data into mapping software and write descriptions of a surveyed area.

Step 1: Prepare in High School

High school level courses in geometry, algebra and trigonometry help build a base of background knowledge you can apply to surveying. Courses in drafting or mechanical drawing, computers and geography may also be helpful. A high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate is generally an admission requirement for bachelor's degree programs, and surveying programs may require prerequisites in math.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

According to O*Net OnLine, about 55% of surveyors have bachelor's degrees (www.onetonline.org). Some states may require you to have a degree for licensing purposes. Relevant bachelor's degree majors include surveying and mapping, surveying and geomatics and surveying engineering technology.

Surveying degree programs generally include a combination of classroom instruction and field experiences to teach you applied technical math, computer-aided design and the use of tools such as Global Positioning System (GPS) and Global Information System (GIS) technology, laser rangefinders and AutoCAD design software. Boundary law, statistical analysis and photogrammetry are other possible course topics. Some schools may require you to complete a capstone project.

Step 3: Obtain a License

You need a surveyor's license in all U.S. states and territories; some may require you to pass the Fundamentals of Surveying (FS) exam administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. After working under supervision for four years, you may attempt the Principles and Practice of Surveying (PS) exam to become fully licensed. Many states supplement the PS exam with their own exam.

Step 4: Pursue a Job

Architectural and engineering firms are your leading employment prospects, but a small number of opportunities are also available with government agencies, construction firms and utility companies. Estimated figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show about 43,950 surveyors held jobs in 2010 (www.bls.gov). From 2008-2018 employment was projected to reach 66,200. Demand for your services will arise from growth in the construction industry and increased use of maps for urban planning, marketing, security and resource exploration. As of May 2010 surveyors earned a median salary of $54,800.

Step 5: Consider Certification

Obtaining certification is voluntary but could lead to a promotion or a higher salary. You can earn the Certified Survey Technician (CST) credential from the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS), which offers the credential at four levels. Level one is open to anyone who can pass the exam. To be eligible for the level two exam, you need 1.5 years of experience. Level three requires 3.5 years of experience and level four requires 5.5 years. NSPS rules obligate you to pass the level three exam before you can take level four exam.

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