How do I Study Structural Engineering?

Ken Black

Most universities do not offer a major known as structural engineering, so the best way to become a structural engineer is to pursue a civil engineering degree. This degree, in association with an emphasis in structures, is the most common path to a career in the structural engineering field. Before getting to that point, you should take advanced courses in math and physics, if your overall goal is to study structural engineering. Gaining practical work experience along the way should also be a priority.

A structural engineer often leads the design process for skyscrapers and other structurally intensive projects.
A structural engineer often leads the design process for skyscrapers and other structurally intensive projects.

You should begin working on your goal to study structural engineering as soon as you think it is a career that interests you. Take as many advanced courses in mathematics in high school as possible. This includes courses such as geometry, trigonometry and calculus. These courses provide a basic framework around which engineers make many of their calculations, and are vital to doing the job properly and succeeding at the next level.

If you decide you want to study structural engineering after graduating high school, there are ways to overcome the lack of background in math and science. If you are still in your first two years of college, try to take as many elective math and science credits as possible, especially in higher mathematics. This could save a substantial amount of money later on because many of those math courses are prerequisites for engineering programs. Always consult with an academic adviser at your college, who should know of your desire to become a structural engineer and provide you with a clear path to achieving that goal.

Once you have the general education requirements out of the way, the next step is to be accepted in the engineering program and continue working toward your goal to become a structural engineer. Engineering programs and degrees will require a mix of elective coursework and required courses. Structural elective courses will be very important in this phase of your education to differentiate yourself from other types of engineers. If you find that another type of engineering interest you more, this may be the best time to change paths.

During the last two years of an undergraduate program is the best time to seek out internships in engineering firms, including those that specialize in the design and repair of structures such as buildings and bridges. In such places, you will work under the tutelage of a licensed engineer, who should help you learn a great deal about applying what you have learned in class in a practical way. Many colleges may require an internship prior to graduation.

After graduation, you must typically pursue licensure. Standards for a license typically require two tests, along with suitable work experience. The first test, the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, can be taken upon graduation, and earn an individual the designation of "engineer in training". The second exam, the Principles and Practice of Engineering, can be taken upon suitable work experience, which is four or more years of experience in the field. Upon passing this exam, the structural engineer can earn the designation of professional engineer.

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