Become a Surveyor: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a surveyor. Research the education requirements, training and licensure information and experience you will need to start a career in surveying.

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Should I Become a Surveyor?

Surveyors work with teams to take land measurements used by construction companies, government agencies, utility companies, or highway departments. The information gathered by surveyors is used to establish property boundaries, determine the layout of construction developments, or provide data for mapping applications.

Much of their work is performed outdoors in all types of weather and in many locations, so travel is a common requirement. The job can also require a significant amount of walking and standing with heavy equipment. While year-round, full-time work is common for surveyors, they're typically busier during periods of increased construction. Surveyors work for architectural and engineering firms, local and state government agencies, and construction companies.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field Surveying, surveying technology, civil engineering or another closely related field
Licensure All states require surveyors to be licensed
Experience Four years of work experience to earn a license
Key Skills Communication, time-management, listening, interpersonal, attention to detail, visualization, physical stamina, knowledge of Autodesk AutoCAD, Microsoft Excel, project management software, analytical or scientific software and map creation software
Salary (2015) $58,020 per year (Median salary for surveyors)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net OnLine, National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

Step 1: Earn a Degree

The licensing requirements in most states include obtaining a degree in surveying, surveying technology or a related field, such as engineering, computer science or geography. Some states require that prospective surveyors attend a school accredited by the ABET, Inc (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). Coursework for a bachelor's degree in surveying includes geology, mapping, statistics and probability, boundary laws and remote sensing. Students must also take calculus, statistics and physics as part of the program or before beginning their surveying major.

Success Tips:

  • Keep yourself in good physical shape. Surveyors often have to stand for hours at a time, and some work in rugged terrain.
  • Develop communication skills. Most surveyors work in teams and must be able to work well with others. They may be called upon to interview landowners and use the information they find to settle boundary disputes. They also may have to give clear instruction to other team members and update other professionals, such as lawyers, owners or government authorities, on the team's progress.

Step 2: Pass the Fundamentals of Surveying (FS) Exam

Most states require surveyors to pass two exams administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). The first NCEES exam is the Fundamentals of Surveying, which assesses knowledge in areas such as probability and statistics, boundary law and geographic information systems. Candidates typically take this exam near the end of their bachelor's degree program.

Success Tip:

  • Study. The NCEES provides a book with questions that have been used in past exams, along with other materials that students can use to prepare themselves.

Step 3: Gain Experience

With a passing grade on the Fundamentals of Surveying exam, a prospective surveyor may begin the next step in the licensing process, which is to work a minimum of four years alongside a licensed surveyor. During this period, surveyors-in-training obtain hands-on experience with laser measuring systems, map-making applications and global positioning systems.

Step 4: Pass the Principles and Practice of Surveying (PS) Exam

This test covers standards such as mapping accuracy and government regulations as well as legal issues, including property titles and land rights. This exam also assesses aspiring surveyors' knowledge of business and professional practices, like conducting procedures in the field, performing research, planning a project and reducing safety concerns.

Step 5: Obtain State Licensure

After NCEES exam results are sent to a candidate's state licensing board, candidates may focus on completing the final steps toward licensure in their state. Many states require candidates to pass additional state-level examinations after completing the PS Exam. These exams can cover regulations and standards specific to the state in which the surveyor will be employed. If a surveyor works for a company that operates nationally, acquiring licensing in more than one state may be helpful.

Step 6: Join A Professional Organization

Surveyors seeking upward career mobility may consider joining a professional organization, such as the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS), which offers its members a variety of benefits such as advocacy programs, outreach opportunities, continuing education and other resources for career growth and advancement.

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