What Is a Soil Engineer?

The job of a soil engineer is to analyze the soil structure of a proposed building or construction site and to understand problems of existing structures due to conditions of the ground underneath them. To learn more about the field of soil engineering, as well as the education and licensing required, read on. Schools offering Environmental Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

A soil engineer, also known as a soils engineer or a geotechnical engineer, is a civil engineer who specializes in evaluating the characteristics of the ground upon which a structure is built. A soil engineer investigates and analyzes a site for such qualities as soil characteristics, composition, and drainage. Soil engineers also consider the weight-bearing capacity of the ground under a building's foundation. They evaluate the likelihood that the building will settle or shift over time.

Important Facts About Soil Engineers

Required Education Bachelor's Degree
Median Salary (2018) $87,620 per year (for all environmental engineers)
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 8% growth (for all environmental engineers)
Similar Occupations Civil Engineer, Environmental Scientist, Natural Sciences Manager

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Work Environment

Soil engineers' calculations are necessary both for designing a foundation for a structure and for designing the structure itself. Soil engineers take borings and soil samples and investigate soil composition and grade, among other factors. This analysis is needed not only for buildings but also for bridges, levees, roads, and reservoirs. A soil engineer's consultation may be sought when retrofitting an existing structure.

Education and Licensing

Soil engineers must be licensed by the state in which they work. Countries outside the U.S. have their own licensing requirements for soil engineers. Soil engineers must first obtain a civil engineering license. Some states, such as California, require an additional license in geotechnical engineering for soil engineers. A civil engineering license usually requires the following background:

  • Future soil engineers earn a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from an ABET-accredited college or university. Many civil engineers obtain advanced degrees.
  • Near or after graduation, the engineering student passes the Fundamentals of Engineering exam offered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).
  • The young engineer then performs appropriate work experience supervised by licensed engineers. The length of experience required may vary from state to state.
  • By passing the NCEES exam in Principles and Practice of Engineering, the engineer becomes qualified to hold a civil engineering license.

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