How to Become a Land Surveyor in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a land surveyor. Learn about education requirements, job duties, median wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Engineering & Technology Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Land Surveyor?

A land surveyor is a technical specialist who uses mathematics and data gathered from existing sources, specialized tools such as global positioning systems and direct observation to measure surface distances and boundaries. Your duties would include observing and recording elevations, depressions and contours in a given land area, calculating the coordinates of geographic features and verifying accuracy of calculations and data. You'll also research property information to identify boundaries and prepare sketches, maps and reports. You will need to learn and understand how to use a Global Positioning System (GPS) to pinpoint locations precisely. Geographic Information System (GIS) software will also be used present information.

Consider the information in the following table to determine if a career as a land surveyor is right for you.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree typical; associate's degree acceptable in some states
Key Skills Communication, problem solving, technical, time management and visualization skills
Licensure Required Required in every state before a surveyor can certify legal documents
Projected Job Outlook (2014-2024) -2% for all surveyors*
Median Salary (2015) $58,020 for all surveyors*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Step 1: High School Courses and Apprenticeships

If you're interested in surveying, high school courses in algebra, trigonometry, geometry, drafting and computers may help prepare you for this type of work. A bachelor's degree is usually required but high school graduates without any post-secondary education may be able to secure work as apprentices for some companies.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you'll need at least a bachelor's degree to work as surveyor (www.bls.gov). You'll find many universities offer bachelor's degree programs in cartography, surveying, and geography. Degrees in engineering and computer science are also useful for this occupation.

A bachelor's degree program in surveying is designed to give you a mix of practical skills, fundamental concepts and theory. Courses include satellite surveying and remote sensing, land information systems, survey research, statistical methods and real estate law. Technical schools and community colleges offer surveying programs if you're seeking a 2-year degree.

Step 3: Obtain a Surveyor's License

All states require surveyors become licensed. Most states accept the results of two exams administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (www.ncees.org). The first example, the Fundamentals of Surveying (FS), can be taken after you've completed your undergraduate degree. A passing score allows you to work as a surveying intern. The second exam is the Principles and Practices of Surveying (PS), which you are eligible to take after four years of supervised experience as a surveyor.

Step 4: Seek Employment

You'll find surveying jobs mainly at government agencies and at architectural, engineering, mining, construction and utility companies. The BLS states about 44,300 people worked as surveyors as of 2014. Employment is expected to decline 2% between 2014 and 2024, according to the BLS. These jobs will be the result of more demand for surveyors, especially on infrastructure projects, as well as the retirement and turnover of current workers.

Step 5: Advance Your Career with Certifications and Specializations

Many employers prefer to promote workers who have obtained a voluntary Certified Survey Technician (CST) certification from the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS). This four-tier certification is available at stages throughout your first six years of experience as a surveyor.

With experience, you could specialize in areas such as geodetic surveying, geophysical prospector surveying or marine surveying. As a geodetic surveyor, you would use high-quality data for land surveying and aerial mapping. If you worked as a geophysical prospecting surveyor, your job would be to locate potential sites to extract subsurface minerals, petroleum or other resources. Marine surveyors map the shoreline, depth and topography of rivers, lakes, harbors and other bodies of water.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If surveying is not exactly what you want to do, there are other options that are related and require a bachelor's degree, such as becoming an architect or civil engineer. Architects plan, design, manage and market structures such as homes or office buildings. They work with building contractors to construct their designs. Civil engineers work on various types of constructing projects that may include roads, bridges, buildings and tunnels. They use data and maps to plan projects, research costs and other factors they might need to consider. They do complete some surveying for these projects.

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