Do you like to build things? Are you interested in improving transportation systems? You can do both with a career in highway and transportation engineering.
Highway and transportation engineering is a specialization within civil engineering. As a civil engineer in the transportation field, you might work on location or in an office designing highways. You need to be aware of the physical environment, geology and ecosystems where you plan to build transportation structures, as well as being responsible for calculating costs and estimating project completion time. Since many transportation projects are rather large and involve many specialists from other fields, written and oral communication skills are very important.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), civil engineers were projected to see a 24% increase in jobs between 2008 and 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations (www.bls.gov). Most of the growth in civil engineering was expected to come from new projects resulting from a growing population and the need to repair existing transportation systems. Since transportation projects generally take years to complete, civil engineers should experience good job stability even in slow economic periods. The BLS reported that civil engineers earned a median annual wage of $77,560 in 2010.
You need a bachelor's degree in engineering for most entry-level positions in civil engineering, and many schools offer a concentration in transportation engineering. A bachelor's program prepares you for work at consulting firms, engineering companies and government agencies. You could take courses in civil engineering materials, structural analysis and infrastructure management. If you want to continue your education after getting your undergraduate degree, or if you are already a professional civil engineer, a variety of master's programs in civil engineering train you in highway and transportation engineering. A master's program in transportation engineering provides advanced courses, including advanced soil mechanics, transportation planning and project management.
When choosing a school, it is important to check if the engineering program is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), since most states require completion of an ABET program for licensing. Licensing requirements may vary between states, but in general, you need to complete a 4-year degree program, pass an exam and have up to four years of related work experience. A number of civil engineering certifications are offered, which can lead to better job prospects and opportunities for advancement. The Professional Transportation Planner designation can be a good option if you already work in civil engineering.