How to Become a Civil Designer: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a civil designer. Research the education requirements, training information, and experience required for starting a career in the civil design field. View article »

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  • 0:03 Becoming a Civil Designer
  • 1:05 Career Requirements
  • 2:01 Step 1: Earn a College Degree
  • 2:46 Step 2: Gain Work Experience
  • 3:26 Step 3: Become Certified

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Video Transcript

Becoming a Civil Designer

So you think you might like to become a civil designer?

Civil designers use computer-aided design (CAD) programs to draft, scale, and fine-tune drawings and maps for roads, bridges, and other construction projects. They also assist project managers and engineers in determining material, labor, and other costs. Civil designers may work on a variety of specialized projects, such as wastewater control, water supplies, erosion control systems, underground utilities, or traffic management. Civil design jobs can require a combination of office and occasional field work, depending on the project.

Many designers work for architectural and engineering firms; competition for jobs in this specialty can be fierce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the job market for drafters in general can be affected by the expansion or contraction of the economy, just like other occupations related to the construction industry.

Career Requirements

So what are the career requirements for civil designers?

Degree Level Associate's
Degree Fields Civil engineering technology, drafting, CAD, or a related area
Licensure/Certification Certification voluntary but may improve job prospects
Experience 3-5 years' related experience
Key Skills Time-management, written and verbal communications, analytical, interpersonal, and organization skills; decision-making ability; knowledge of computer programs, such as AutoCAD, MicroStation, and Microsoft Office; knowledge of building codes and environmental standards
Median Salary (2015)* $53,470 (for all architectural and civil drafters)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),,

Step 1: Earn a College Degree

A career in civil design begins with completing a minimum of an associate's degree program in drafting technology or computer-aided design for architecture and engineering. Programs generally include introductory courses in computer-aided design (CAD), blueprint reading, and surveying. Other courses might include design graphics, geographic information systems (GIS), and construction planning.

Some programs are geared toward a particular profession. For example, some civil design courses focus more on architectural principles, while others may place more attention on construction-related issues, such as project estimating, safety, and contract law.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Architectural Drafting and Design
  • CAD Drafting and Design Technology
  • Civil Engineering Drafting and Design
  • Mechanical Drafting and Design

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

While a degree can provide a valuable foundation for aspiring civil designers, some employers require work experience in order to be considered for employment. An internship in civil design or computer-aided drafting can provide a structured, hands-on learning environment that will give prospective civil designers the firsthand experience required by many employers. Many internships, regardless of the field, can lead to a job upon completion, and they're a great opportunity to network and establish a contact base to call upon when looking for employment or a higher-ranked position.

Step 3: Become Certified

The American Design Drafting Association (or ADDA) credentials civil designers as Certified Drafters (CDs) or Certified Design Drafters (CDDs). While not mandatory, a design credential shows employers that a job applicant is qualified and may help increase employment opportunities and advancement in the field.

Each respective certification exam is multiple-choice, lasts 90 minutes, and includes questions on drafting principles and practices. Test takers who receive a 75% or better become certified. Once credentialed, individuals must be re-certified every three years. In addition to paying recertification dues, CDs and CDDs must either be employed for two out of those three years or attain 30 hours of ADDA-approved training.

Success Tip:

Gain advanced design experience. Some job ads call for candidates who have experience with specific design and drafting applications, such as AutoCAD or Bentley Systems' MicroStation. While some employers may accept candidates who have experience with 2-D design software, others are looking for those with knowledge of GIS or other 3-D design programs.

More elevated positions may mandate that candidates have specialized experience in a particular field or type of construction, like drainage systems for roads, building structures, or other facilities. Knowledge of these programs can give civil designers a competitive edge and open up opportunities to rise to a higher position in the field.

Earning a degree, gaining work experience, and getting certified are great ways to make the most of a career as a civil designer.

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