Bridge Design Education and Training Program Information

Oct 10, 2019

Bridge design courses are typically part of a structural or civil engineering degree program. Students may pursue such education at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels, paving the way for licensure through the National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors.

Essential Information

While enrolled in a bachelor's degree program, participants learn about structural materials, fluid mechanics and steel bridge design through classroom instruction and laboratory sessions. Computer programming, math and science are strongly emphasized. Bachelor's degree programs generally take four years of study. Applicants to an undergraduate structural engineering program need a high school diploma or GED certificate.

Once they arrive at the master's degree level, enrollees study advanced engineering concepts and subjects. These programs may offer concentration areas and could include research and thesis requirements. The program typically takes two to three years to complete and requires a bachelor's degree in math, the physical sciences or engineering and submission of GRE scores.

Doctoral programs prepare learners to pursue professorships or academic research positions. Participants may attend related seminars and complete a dissertation. This program can take five to six years to complete. It requires a master's degree in a related field or a bachelor's degree with supplemental coursework. Additionally, an engineering department may request that an applicant pass a qualifying exam.

Bachelor's Degree in Structural Engineering

In order to work in the field of structural engineering, students need to have an understanding of how different solids behave, as well as studying fluid mechanics. A background in math is necessary to construct structural models, and knowledge of computer programs like MATLAB is required to simulate bridge design and performance. Through laboratory classes, students can gain a better understanding of various areas, such as structural performance. Lab assignments may require students to conduct failure testing analysis or design structures that can withstand earthquakes.

Bridge-building involves the assessment of numerous factors, such as the composition of soil where the bridge will be constructed, forces acting on the bridge and analysis of the proposed design. Students take courses in computers, programming and math, as well as completing an internship if required. Students take courses in chemistry, physics, statistics and technical drawing. Other courses in the curriculum may include:

  • Steel bridge design
  • Intro to design and structure
  • Structural materials
  • Lab in material strength

Master's Degree in Structural Engineering

Graduate students in a Master of Science (M.S.) in Structural Engineering or an M.S. in Civil Engineering concentrating in structural engineering program learn additional fundamentals that were not covered in an undergraduate program, as well as advanced concepts. Concentrations such as earthquake or renewal engineering may become the focus of a student's research in a thesis-based master's program. Bridge design students may also have the option of a course-based master's degree, in which they take additional required courses and test their knowledge and understanding of the course material with comprehensive exams.

Students are required to take core courses, courses dealing with their focus area and electives, as well as attending seminars and conducting research if in a thesis master's program. Students interested in bridge design may focus their studies on structural design. Possible courses include:

  • Bridge design
  • Soil-structure and fluid-solid interaction
  • Risk analysis
  • Structural dynamics
  • Advanced design using structural steel
  • Masonry structures

Ph.D. in Structural Engineering

Doctoral programs are research-intensive and prepare graduates for positions with the government or in consulting, academia and industry. Ph.D. candidates are expected to complete an original research project and defend the results, as detailed in a written dissertation.

Students take a certain number of courses, usually 6-8 credits, beyond the master's level. Included in coursework may be a compulsory seminar program. A program may require students to take particular courses, such as applied math for structural engineering. Other courses may include:

  • Inelastic behavior
  • Factor design - resistance and load
  • Reinforce concrete
  • Structural mechanics

Popular Careers ranked the job civil engineer as the 80th best American job in 2015. Civil and structural engineers plan repairs and upgrades of bridges. Graduates with a bachelor's or master's may take jobs in specialty areas, such as:

  • Construction manager
  • Civil engineer
  • Consultant
  • Estimator
  • Bridge or Structural engineer
  • Design engineer

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that civil engineers' median annual wage was $86,640 as of May 2018; oil and gas extraction and pipeline transportation of crude oil were among the top paying industries at that time. The BLS anticipated that employment for civil engineers would grow by 6% from 2018-2028.

Continuing Education and Licensure

The National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors (NCEES) administers examinations for licensure of engineers. Upon obtaining licensure, engineers are called professional engineers (PE). Generally, engineers seek professional licensure if they are dealing directly with the public. State requirements vary; a list of state requirements is available on the NCEES website,

Continuing education courses help structural engineers update their skills and stay current with changes in building codes and technology. Individual continuing education classes through universities may include modeling and designing bridges according to industry standards and specifications, such as the guidelines for load and resistance factor design (LRFD). Continuing education courses may also cover seismic design, bridge testing, inspection methodologies and bridge rehabilitation. New engineers may attend courses that explain how the LRFD specifications apply to designing a concrete bridge.

Structural or civil engineering programs, at all levels, can include courses in bridge design or specialization in bridge design at the post-graduate level.

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