Civil vs. Mechanical Engineering

two engineers


Civil engineers and mechanical engineers chiefly differ from each other because of what each respective position builds. The former focuses on public and private infrastructure projects and systems, while the latter concentrates on mechanical devices. However, this isn’t the only differentiation. If you go beyond the obvious, you’ll see that the civil vs. mechanical engineering gap is much broader than it may first appear to be.

What Are the Similarities?

The primary similarity one will notice when assessing civil vs. mechanical engineering is that the two professions are charged with turning abstract concepts into reality. Practitioners in these fields possess similar skill sets that lead to the design, development and creation of structures and objects great and small for the betterment of society. For example, both fields require strong math skills, because principles of calculus and trigonometry are often used in project design and troubleshooting. Robust problem-solving skills are also essential, because they can determine efficient courses of action when concepts don’t manifest according to plan.

Additionally, both positions require a firm grasp of culling and interpreting analytical information to produce demonstrative data that affirm the need for a designed item and determine projects’ feasibility from a practical and economical standpoint. The information derived from the data can allow engineers to address concerns that may arise from people and organizations.

Differences Between Civil Engineers and Mechanical Engineers

While comparing civil vs. mechanical engineering yields some similarities, the biggest difference between the two careers is what professionals in the field engineer. A civil engineer helps design and create buildings, infrastructure and other large-scale structural projects. Mechanical engineers, on the other hand, help design and create machines and mechanical devices for individuals or small groups. For example, civil engineers may use analytical data to build a twelve-story building. In contrast, mechanical engineers may use their analytic findings to develop various systems within the building, such as elevators.

The approach in engineering between the respective professions also tends to be different. Civil engineers tend to work with architects and urban planners to develop structures that are familiar and straightforward. Mechanical engineers take a more creative approach, as the machinery or equipment they design is typically complex.

The flow of work from beginning to end is also slightly different. Because of the public nature of civil engineering, practitioners in this field typically will have to work with federal, state, and/or local governments for various compliance purposes. Mechanical engineers face minimal bureaucratic obstacles since mechanical engineering projects tend to be targeted toward the private sector.

The concept of testing also varies between the two fields. Civil engineers analyze building materials like wood or asphalt for structural integrity. They might analyze soil to determine foundational adequacy. Mechanical engineers, on the other hand, will develop and test prototypes of products or devices to determine their performance.

Civil Engineering vs. Mechanical Engineering: Educational Requirements

Mechanical engineers are generally required to obtain a bachelor’s degree in either mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology. To work as a civil engineer, graduates must have at minimum a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, civil engineering technology, or a civil engineering specialty. Most management positions are typically reserved for students who have earned a master’s degree. In most cases, only graduates are permitted to obtain industry licenses, such as a Professional Engineer (PE) license in the civil engineering field.

The Job Market

The job outlook for both civil engineers and mechanical engineers is strong. In 2016, the BLS projected the field of civil engineering to see an 11 percent growth through 2026 and mechanical engineering jobs to grow at a slightly slower rate of 9 percent.

According to the BLS, mechanical engineers with advanced knowledge of cutting-edge technologies may have an advantage in this burgeoning job market, as proficiency in 3-D printing or virtual simulations could translate into a more efficient execution of new and existing engineering concepts. Additionally, the BLS notes that civil engineers could access prime opportunities after completing a co-op program; an educational strategy that alternates semesters of academic study and full-time work.

While civil engineering and mechanical engineering are design-driven fields, there are key differences between the two professions that make them separate careers. These differences not only from what they produce, but also from the production methodologies employed. Even with these differences in place, the two professions still strive for a common goal: to design objects that improve a specific aspect of modern society.

Learn More

As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.

Norwich University offers exceptional opportunities to help advance your knowledge, target your skills, and gain greater proficiency as a professional civil engineer. The online Master of Civil Engineering program at Norwich University is designed to enhance your technical knowledge, management skills and engineering competence by delivering a modern, practice-orientated education that fosters creativity and critical thinking for problem-solving and innovation.


Civil Engineers, Bureau of Labor Statistics

Mechanical Engineers, Bureau of Labor Statistics

What is a Mechanical Engineer, ASME