Surveyor: Career Definition, Occupational Outlook, and Education Prerequisites

Explore what it takes to become a surveyor. Read about education and licensing requirements, work responsibilities and potential job growth to see if this is the right field for you. Schools offering Engineering & Technology Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Surveyor?

Surveyors measure and define the boundaries and spatial characteristics of landscapes and parcels of land to ensure responsible and sustainable land use and development. They travel to various locations to measure the angles and distances between points across land, and look for evidence of previous boundary lines. Surveyors incorporate the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology to collect and prepare information. They may also need to research old land titles or records to help find, set or verify boundaries. Surveyors check the accuracy of their work, and must present their findings to government agencies or clients, typically in the form of reports and/or maps. The following table outlines the general requirements for this career.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Land surveying, civil engineering
Key Skills Math, research skills, communication, teamwork
Licensure Required Surveyor's license
Projected Job Outlook (2014-2024) -2%*
Median Salary (2015) $58,020*

Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Will I Do as a Surveyor?

Your primary duty as a surveyor is to accurately measure the features of a landscape in order to establish borders and boundaries. The tools you use include measuring rods, laser rangefinders, GPS signal receivers and mapping software. In addition to direct measurement, you might analyze existing data and study official documents pertaining to the geographic area under scrutiny. You also verify your measurements and data, compose reports of your findings, prepare maps and provide expert testimony about land boundaries during court proceedings.

Your duties as a surveyor might vary if you choose to work in a sub-specialty of the field. For example, as a geophysical surveyor you measure subsurface features and identify promising sites for exploration. As a hydrographic surveyor, you measure the shoreline and topography of lakes, rivers and harbors. If you're a geodetic surveyor you measure land masses and other large, surface areas of land.

Where Could I Work?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of professional surveyors work with architectural and engineering firms, and as of 2015, their average annual income was $60,870. Surveyors employed by state government agencies took home average annual salaries of $71,370, while those who worked for the federal government earned an average of $84,490. Texas, California and Florida are home to the highest numbers of working surveyors. The District of Columbia offers the highest salaries with surveyors earning an average of $88,300 a year. Alaska comes in second with surveyors earning average incomes of $83,490, followed by California where the average salary is $83,470.

What Education Do I Need?

Surveying was once a skill learned on-the-job, but today most surveyors have a bachelor's degree. Bachelor's degree programs are a mix of classroom study and field experience. In the classroom you learn to apply mathematical concepts to spatial measurements. You also learn the basics of assorted software applications and the methods of translating data into maps. In field courses you learn to use assorted measurement tools, GPS and GIS technology, and teamwork.

Do I Need a License?

All U.S. territories and states require you to have a license to work as a surveyor, and a growing number require you to have a bachelor's degree as well. Some states specify degree programs vetted by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.

In addition to using their own written exam, many states have adopted a series of tests from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) as part of their licensing requirement. Licensure is a multi-stage process. You must pass the NCEES's Fundamentals of Surveying exam, work for at least four years under supervision, pass the Principles and Practice of Surveying exam and pass your state's exam if it has one.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Cartographers and photogrammetrists have similar careers that require a bachelor's degree. These professionals measure and interpret geographic information to create or update things like maps or charts used in education, emergency response and more. Civil engineers and landscape architects also have alternative careers that require at least a bachelor's degree. Civil engineers design, build and maintain construction projects, such as bridges, roads and tunnels. Landscape architects design outdoor spaces in places like parks, campuses or homes.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

Popular Schools