Become a Geotechnical Engineer: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a geotechnical engineer. Research the education requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in engineering.

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Do I Want to Be a Geotechnical Engineer?

Geotechnical engineers analyze, plan and construct foundations and support structures. These professionals use engineering principles and applications to ensure a structure's stability against earthquakes, mud slides and other natural events. Geotechnical engineers often work in offices; they also conduct site visits and field work. Depending on the job, a geotechnical engineer might put in overtime to ensure a project is completed on-time. Job opportunities for civil engineers, of which geotechnical engineers are just one kind, are expected to be good, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; relevant experience gained while enrolled in a postsecondary education program can boost job prospects.

Job Requirements

Prospective candidates may consider an undergraduate degree in civil, environmental or geological engineering. Postsecondary engineering programs may require students to have completed intermediate and advanced courses in mathematics and science. Entering this occupation generally requires one to have a bachelor's degree and to have begun the state-required licensing process. The following table contains the main requirements for being a geotechnical engineer:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree required; some employers prefer a graduate degree**
Degree Field Civil engineering**
Licensure Licensure as a Professional Engineer (PE) may be required*
Experience 2-5+ years of experience required for many positions**
Computer Skills Software such as Trimble Geomatics Office, geographic information system GIS software, CAD***
Key Skills Math skills, writing skills, problem solving skills*
Technical Skills Use of tools such as scales, distance meters and levels***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Monster.com (December 2012 job postings), ***O*Net Online.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Engineering

Bachelor's degree programs in civil, geotechnical, geological and environmental engineering typically last four years and include general education courses in English, social science and the humanities, as well as courses in advanced mathematics, structural geology and fluid mineralogy. Students may also take courses in computer-aided design (CAD) and use advanced CAD principles to create, analyze and review designs. Prospective engineers should seek schools approved by ABET (formerly known as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology).

Success Tip:

  • Consider an advanced degree. Some employers may prefer candidates who hold a master's degree in civil or geotechnical engineering. Master's degree programs generally last 1-2 years and include courses in earth pressure, foundations structure and soil behavior. Some programs may include research projects or a thesis, the latter in which a student submits a specialized plan of study and formally presents research and results.

Step 2: Find Entry-Level Work

Entry-level employees evaluate and design support structures, such as retaining walls, embankments and anchoring systems. Engineers may use CAD software to design and test structural models and components. Other duties may include taking soil samples, analyzing geotechnical reports and reviewing construction specifications. Entry-level geotechnical engineers may also be required to spend time in adverse weather conditions.

Step 3: Gain Experience

As new hires gain experience, they may become more involved in complex projects. Geotechnical engineers may analyze specifications for bridges, develop support systems for tunnels and assess sustainability issues for dams. These professionals can also take on project management duties, such as cost analysis, budgeting and estimating project duration.

Step 4: Attain a License

All states require engineers to be licensed. While requirements vary by state, licensure generally includes completing an accredited engineering program, showing four years of documented work experience and passing a state examination. College graduates may consider taking the first part of the state-licensing exam on the fundamentals of engineering. Those who pass the exam are referred to as engineers-in-training (EITs).

EITs with four years of documented work experience are qualified to take the second licensing exam, the Principles and Practice of Engineering. Those who successfully complete the exam become Professional Engineers (PEs). Some states may require continuing education for PEs, such as completing college-level coursework, attending educational seminars or publishing research papers.

Success Tip:

  • Attain optional professional certification. Experienced engineers may opt to become certified by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Voluntary certifications are available in the geotechnical, water resources and marine subdivisions. Certification requirements may include 8-12 years of engineering practice and postgraduate study.
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