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Difference Between Civil Engineering and Structural Engineering

Civil Engineering vs Structural Engineering

The two terms, civil and structural engineering are used to denote two engineering disciplines. Traditionally, structural engineering is classified as a sub discipline of civil engineering. However, structural engineering has grown by such proportions, it is now considered as an engineering discipline on its own. Both civil and structural engineering, deal with the analysis, design construction and maintenance of elements. Civil engineering and structural engineering covers from private to state and small to huge projects. Although, one is sub discipline of other, there a many differences between civil engineering and structural in scope of coverage, teaching, and job.

Civil Engineering

Civil engineering is one of the oldest engineering disciplines. It began when humans started to build shelters for them. In the traditional sense, civil engineering was defined as any engineering that is not related to military engineering, but in the present, it is used to separate or distinguish civil engineering discipline from other engineering disciplines like electrical engineering, electronic engineering, mechanical engineering etc. Civil engineering, generally contains structural engineering together with other sub disciplines like transportation engineering, environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering etc. Civil engineering deals with dams, roads, buildings, water treatment, canals etc.

Civil engineering is offered as a first degree in universities after a four year full time course or equivalent. It is very rare to find a Masters or PhD level course termed as, “masters in civil engineering”, or “PhD in civil engineering”. After graduation, civil engineers join various disciplines in the field. Civil engineering graduate is expected to be familiar with all the sub disciplines of civil engineering. The civil engineering job might cover one or more sub disciplines of civil engineering.

Structural Engineering

Structural engineering deals with the design, analysis, building and maintenance of load bearing or resisting structures. For example, dams, skyscrapers, bridges are covered in structural engineering. In structural engineering, structures are divided in to small elements according to the load bearing mechanism they are plates, shells, arches, columns, beams, and catenaries. Structure of any size or shape is divided into theses small elements and analyzed.

Structural engineering is taught as a subject in civil engineering course at the university. It is very rare to find structural engineering as a first degree for undergraduates. However, structural engineering is offered as a master or PhD degree. When one joins as a structural engineer, his/her job will cover the structural engineering part of the project.

Civil Engineering vs. Structural Engineering

Although, for some, the terms civil engineering and structural engineering may look similar, the truth is, they are quite different from each other. Civil engineering is a collection of engineering sub disciplines, whereas, structural engineering is one of such sub disciplines. For example, structural engineer might work on designing the structure to host a water treatment plant, however, the treatment systems are out of his scope. On the other hand, the design, analysis, building, and maintenance of water treatment system, and the whole building combined can be called as civil engineering work.

Civil engineering is offered as a first engineering degree in universities while, structural engineering is offered as second and third engineering degrees. A civil engineer might be expected to carryout some structural engineering work, however, the vice versa is not always expected.


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  • heropass

    Thanks. Useful info.

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