How do I Become a Highway Engineer?

Jeffrey L. Callicott

The method by which most people become a highway engineer comprises a three-step course of action. The process begins with higher education, then incorporates on-the-job-training and concludes with finding employment in transportation design. A job as a highway engineer can be in the private sector with a consulting engineering company or in the public sector as a part of a government agency.

An aspiring highway engineer needs to have advanced math skills and study civil engineering in college.
An aspiring highway engineer needs to have advanced math skills and study civil engineering in college.

As with any career choice, the person looking to become a highway engineer should assess whether a job in transportation engineering matches well with his or her skill set and interests. The ideal highway engineering candidate will possess strong math skills and the ability to think in three dimensions. Most importantly, a prospective highway engineer should have a desire to improve the way that humans interact with the world.

After a person has decided to become a highway engineer, the first step is to start a program of civil engineering at an accredited university. This begins with the study of higher mathematics, physical sciences such as chemistry and physics and the introductory design courses that serve as the foundation for all branches of engineering study. After these classes have been passed, some of the courses specific to civil engineering need to be undertaken, including statics, geotechnical studies and fluid mechanics.

Many students who are pursuing a career in road and highway design look for an internship in transportation design concurrent with their classwork; this is often done in the summer. Many companies and governmental agencies offer training programs for students looking for such jobs. This is not a requirement to become a highway engineer but is undertaken by the majority of people who are seeking a career in road design. An internship provides real-world situations from which to learn, and it greatly assists the candidate by establishing his or her first contacts within the engineering community.

As the study in civil engineering continues, many classes with knowledge about how to become a highway engineer are encountered. Among these classes are highway design, design of concrete structures and traffic engineering. After all required courses have been completed, the highway-engineer-to-be will obtain a civil engineering degree, sometimes with an emphasis in a field that is a subset of civil engineering.

In much the same manner as an internship, many people looking for work in highway engineering also attempt to become professionally registered. Like an internship, this is also not required, but the majority of the higher-paying and managerial jobs in highway engineering — including those with the actual designation “engineer” — are restricted to applicants who have obtained sanctioned licensure. Depending on where the registration is obtained, the engineering title will vary. Examples include Professional Engineer in the United States, Chartered Engineer in India and European Engineer in many countries in Europe.

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