How to Become a Surveyor in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a surveyor. Learn about education and licensure requirements, job duties, 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 Does a Surveyor Do?

Surveyors measure, create and map boundary lines for land, air and water spaces. This is done to facilitate construction, engineering, land evaluation and the sale of real estate. Surveyors investigate previous records and examine the area in question for any prior surveys. Locations of land masses, features and structures are noted to ensure accuracy of the measurements. The results are recorded, filed appropriately and presented to the client or responsible agency.

The following chart gives you an overview about becoming a surveyor.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Surveying and mapping; land surveying/geomatics; surveying engineering technology
Key Skills Detail oriented; mathematical and technical skills; problem-solving skills; written and verbal communication skills
Licensure and Certification Licensure is required in all states; certification is voluntary
Job Growth (2014-2024) Decline, 2%*
Median Salary (2015) $58,020*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Surveyor?

A surveyor is a technical specialist who determines boundaries and creates surface maps using measurements gathered from land and data from deeds, titles, maps and previous surveys. You would measure contours, depressions, elevations and distances; determine the longitude and latitude of prominent features; and direct and coordinate the activities of subordinates. You would also organize existing records, verify the accuracy of land measurements, enter data into mapping software and write descriptions of a surveyed area.

Step 1: Prepare in High School

High school level courses in geometry, algebra and trigonometry help build a base of background knowledge you can apply to surveying. Courses in drafting or mechanical drawing, computers and geography may also be helpful. A high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) certificate is generally an admission requirement for bachelor's degree programs, and surveying programs may require prerequisites in math.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

According to O*Net OnLine, about 55% of surveyors have bachelor's degrees Some states may require you to have a degree for licensing purposes. Relevant bachelor's degree majors include surveying and mapping, surveying and geomatics and surveying engineering technology.

Surveying degree programs generally include a combination of classroom instruction and field experiences to teach you applied technical math, computer-aided design and the use of tools such as Global Positioning System (GPS) and Global Information System (GIS) technology, laser rangefinders and AutoCAD design software. Boundary law, statistical analysis and photogrammetry are other possible course topics. Some schools may require you to complete a capstone project.

Step 3: Obtain a License

You need a surveyor's license in all U.S. states and territories; some may require you to pass the Fundamentals of Surveying (FS) exam administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. After working under supervision for four years, you may attempt the Principles and Practice of Surveying (PS) exam to become fully licensed. Many states supplement the PS exam with their own exam.

Step 4: Pursue a Job

Architectural and engineering firms are your leading employment prospects, but a small number of opportunities are also available with government agencies, construction firms and utility companies. Estimated figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show about 43,140 surveyors held jobs in 2015. From 2014-2024 employment was projected to decline 2 percent. According to the BLS, the decline may be due to the increased use of advances in surveying technology, thus allowing surveyors to complete more work in less time and reducing the demand for more personnel. As of May 2015 surveyors earned a median salary of $58,020.

Step 5: Consider Certification

Obtaining certification is voluntary but could lead to a promotion or a higher salary. You can earn the Certified Survey Technician (CST) credential from the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS), which offers the credential at four levels. Level one is open to anyone who can pass the exam. To be eligible for the level two exam, you need 1.5 years of experience. Level three requires 3.5 years of experience and level four requires 5.5 years. NSPS rules obligate you to pass the level three exam before you can take level four exam.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Cartographers and photogrammetrists are natural progressions from surveyor. Collecting and measuring geographic characteristics, they develop and/or revise charts and maps of an area for various purposes. Cartographers are in fact map makers. Photogrammetrists are specialized mapmakers who use various imaging equipment to produce photographs of an area in order create models, which are in turn used to create maps. Licensing requirements vary by state, but some require that cartographers and photogrammetrists to be licensed surveyors.

Landscape architects work within surveyed areas to design, map, layout and create the dedicated use of outdoor spaces, often through the use of specialized computer-aided design software. Some common projects which landscape architects develop include parks, gardens, recreation facilities, landmarks, residential areas and outdoor campus spaces. In general landscape architects consider functionality, environmental impact and aesthetics.

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