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What is the world outside school like?

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Hello everybody,

I am currently studying Structural Engineering at University of California, San Diego. I do not know much about this field and I have a lot of questions and concerns. I hope experienced people likes yourselves can perhaps give a fledgling some guidance.

1. Is a Master's degree a must to find a job? I know some of my friends in the major are planning to go to graduate school, but I think that I cannot survive 1-2 more years in school. I just want to get out into the real world as soon as possible! And also, I do not know if I can even afford those extra years of school.

2. GRE scores and GPA for graduate school? If it does come to the point where I HAVE to get a Master's to get any sort of job, any idea what kind of score and GPA I should be getting for the top-mid tier graduate schools. I have a 3.2 right now and I am truly worried.

3. How is the job market out there? I have read on a lot of the websites. Some say that the job growth expectation is about 20% and some say that there are no jobs out there. This is only making my anxiety even worse. I was studying electrical engineering for a year and because I thought it was too difficult and because structural/civil engineering fit my interests more, I switched.

4. How much do Civil/Structural engineers get paid straight out of college? I have done my research online and the sites always tell me that it is around 50-55k. That is below my expectations. Maybe it is because I do not know any better but I thought most engineers make around 65k out of college.

5. Any tips on how to find jobs and network?

6. Does GPA and extracurricular (structural engineering clubs) matter to employers/grad school?

I am literally at the point where I am so worried about my future that I might consider just switching to a higher paying/higher demand major. maybe even back to Electrical Engineering since I do not need a license and extra schooling. I like buildings, bridges, and everything structural/civil does, but I am willing to give up all that to get a decent paying job and search till world's end for a low paying civil engineering job. Thank you for all those who took the time the provide me with some answers and assistance. I am very grateful for your guidance and your time. Thank you!

Some not as important questions for those that have time:

1. Is the program at UCSD well known to those outside of California?

2. If you have the chance to do go through undergrad all over again, what would you do?

3. Electrical Engineering vs. Civil/Structural Engineering?

4. Will you critique my resume?

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I finished school and got a job right before the recession hit, so the landscape has probably changed quite a bit, but here's my impressions.



1. Is a Master's degree a must to find a job? I used the extra room in my schedule during my last semester of my BS to start my MS, then took online and night courses to finish while working. I'm very happy with that decision. I feel I probably got a lot more out of my coursework by taking it while I was working because I could go into work the next day and apply that knowledge. Also, the coursework made a lot more sense after doing real design work for a while.



2. GRE scores and GPA for graduate school? I didn't have any issues getting into grad school. I can't really speak to what you'd need.



3. How is the job market out there? If you are looking to stay in a specific city, you might have trouble. If you're willing to go anywhere and you have a decent resume/GPA, you can probably always find something. From what I've seen, good workers generally don't stay unemployed long, especially if they go where the oppotunities are. I'd also avoid any decisions that tie you down to one area (like buying a house), until you're well-established in a place you want to stay.



4. How much do Civil/Structural engineers get paid straight out of college? 50-55k is probably about right where I'm at (Missouri), but the coasts are always skewed higher than the midwest. You should try to get ahold of the ASCE salary survey which breaks down typical salaries by region and experience level.



5. Any tips on how to find jobs and network? If you're in any extracurricular activities, try to get in contact with alumni that were involved in that group. Also, there's a million recruiters on linkedin. I'm not sure if they usually do any recruiting for people right out of school, but you might try finding one in your area and contacting them.



6. Does GPA and extracurricular (structural engineering clubs) matter to employers/grad school? I got involved in just 2 or 3 organizations, but got heavily involved in running them. I always figured that was more impressive than just listing 10 or more organizations because I figured everybody would know that I wasn't really doing much with any one of those organizations. Any work experience you have will probably have more weight to a perspective employer than extracurricular activities, but they are good resume filler if you don't have much work experience.


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your priorities are little backwards. you are worrying about $ over whether you will like what you do even before you get out of school. you have some soul searching to do.


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Dude/Dudess----SLOW DOWN! HELL, I am literally exhausted just reading your rant on this board. Take a deep breath and slow down. We have all been where you are, we have all survived and are enjoying life. You need to enjoy life as well.



1. No Master's degree necessary to find a job. In fact, coming right out of school with a Master's degree, without any experience, you won't be any more employable than your colleague with just a BS degree. Why? No practical experience. You need to get 3-5 years of real world experience before you think about graduate school. It will make more sense to you and you will enjoy it more. Now, if you get married and become a parent, this becomes tougher, not impossible, tougher.



2. A 3.2 GPA and a good GRE score will get you into grad school. They are always seeking good graduate students and have stipends to help the costs. However, this is NOT your primary concern today. Continue to work to get good grades-- work hard-- this will solve itself.



3. Job market is spotty-- nationwide. Yes, there are jobs-- you have to search. I have worked with several students that are finding jobs, however, you have to work at it. This means out and about, not sitting on your butt and pushing buttons on the computer-- out and about banging on doors. Not easy or simple, however, again, we have all done it. Not impossible in any way.



4.$50-55K "Below your expectations" -- Perhaps your expectations are skewed. Talk to the career center at your school. See what other grads are getting. Find a copy of the CE salary guide-- you will have to do some research to find this--this is kind of like a treasure hunt-- this is not impossible to find-- go search for it.



5. Finding jobs-- get involved in alumni affairs-- Tau Beta Pi or discipline Honor society. Get your PE-- attend meetings of the PE chapter in your town. Get involved in your community. Nobody is going to come and hand you a job-- you have to get out and search-- they are there-- go find one.



6. GPA/Extra curricular have a greater impact on initial job assignments. The further you are from school after graduation, the less GPA matters.



What does matter is communication, responsibility and leadership skills. I helped a kid that had a 2.7 GPA from a good regional school. He was not a star student, but had outstanding leadership skills, (so said his major professor)-- he got a job that was $10K better than any of his colleagues-- 3 years ago in Mechanical engineering. He got $69K out of school, when the average Mechanical was getting $59K. He did have great leadership skills. His technical skills kicked in when he found a job. He is doing well.



OK, this is much crisper than I normally am on here. However, you need to get a real big dose of reality. I will help provide that for you. You are doing fine-- just slow down and enjoy life--. You are in your discipline far enough now to finish and do well. A 3.2 GPA is good.



You need to plan on taking the FE examination when you are able-- but before you leave school. That program is going all computer based testing in Jan 14, you can go to NCEES web site and learn all about it.



UCSD is not MIT, GA Tech or Stanford. It is a very good ABET accredited regional university. What you need to worry much more about is how YOU are doing and how YOU will represent the university if/when you graduate. Yes, the big name schools have better alumni recognition-- however, an engineering degree from UCSD will do just fine.



Recall this-- when Warren Burger was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he earned his law degree from a no name school in Minneapolis, at night. Name of the school is much less important than the education you receive and how YOU employ that education.



Yes, If I have not scared you off at this point, I will be happy to review your resume. Send me a PM.


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1. Master's typically not required. If you are doing construction, may be a hindrance even.


2. 3.2 should be fine for most grad schools. GRE is a bit of a joke. The math is about 8th grade level but the vocab is way out there. I think some schools require is an obstruction to weed out people who aren't serious.


3. Getting better than a few years ago. Not as good as it was 2006 and before though. But people are starting to buy more stuff meaning states have more road money and stores have more money to expand which is good for the CE industry.


4. It will vary depending on location. Mid to high 40s is probably more likely but with higher cost of living in Cali you might get into the 50s.


5. Get an internship while still in school. Most schools usually have a program to help you do this. A lot of companies don't mind paying a student a few dollars an hour to draft for them. This will get you some contacts.


6. Not that much. I graduated cum laude and all I got for it was "cum laude" written in 4 point font below my degree on my diploma. No one has ever cared about my TBP or Chi Ep memberships either. Once you start working somewhere they will value you being smart but grades are not always a good indicator so no a lot of people care.



Also, I did mostly structures in college but hated working in it and switch careers to transportation fairly early. In the class room the problems are usually well defined and you know what you are designing for but I found real world that you generally get an architect's drawing and ASCE 7 and are on your own. I found it pretty stressful assuming the loads and all but other people differ. Different strokes...


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1. A Master's degree is not a must to find a job. If I were you, I would stick it out and get the MS now, not later. I know many advise to go work a while, but a while might turn into forever. It's easier to get the Structural MS now, even if you are tired. As a structural, just look at the job descriptions out there, MS is a requirement or sought after for structural design.



2. 3.2 is not enough for a top tier school, and that's what you must aim for. I did not believe it, until I experienced it and saw it. UC Berkeley will open way more doors than your current school. There are top global companies that, no kidding, only recruit from a selective list of top tier schools, they don't even bother with regionals. There are reasons for that, but if I enumerate them, it might upset people, and I'm not a Berkeley graduate, so I won't got there.



Basically, aim high. If you don't get in, at least you tried. Your local school will provide a decent education, but getting into a top tier school pays off big dividends intellectually and monetarily in the end.



The GRE is no joke. A lot of engineers make it sound easy, but you also need to get a score close to perfect in math, not just above average to be competitive. When was the last time you did IQ style math problems with no calculator; basically 8th grade math on steroids? Don't take the GRE lightly.



In this competitive environment, everything counts, especially your writing score because it's about logically explaining yourself, something an engineer needs to be able to do well. You come up with answers, and market them to the client, your boss, your co-workers, etc...



3. I don't know how the job market is. I got a job, but it wasn't easy, and I don't particularly love my job, but am thankful for it.



4. Your expectations are too high, period. I think 35K is ok, as long as I can see some growth prospects. 40K and above is fine, stability, growth, interesting work, and work life balance are way more important to me than money.



5. Maybe, I don't know.



Here's your real problem; you transitioned from electrical to structural. That means you did not start school with such a burning passion for bridges, buildings, soil, concrete, etc... that you would do it, even for 35K, even for 30. The fact that you even consider going back to something as radically different from structural engineering, or civil engineering, as electrical shows that inside, you have not really made up your mind.



There are two kinds of engineering students. One kind loved electricity, or ditches, or cars, and then became an electrical, civil, or mechanical engineer. They may not be great at math or science, but they have a concrete dream, and there is no chance they will change majors, it's either make it, or quit to some b.s. lib arts major, they won't switch to another field of engineering. These people have trouble in the short run at school, but long term, they're in it for the long haul and won't get easily bored of their discipline.



The second kind of engineering student is probably someone like you. Good at math and science, engineering seemed to be a lucrative, good fit. In the short term, you excel in school; but long term, you may or may not stick it out. This type of student often goes into management, or takes their degree and spins it off into finance.



There is nothing wrong with either one or two, and they are generalizations based on personal experience.



Bottom line, you have some soul searching to do. What are you passionate about? If the answer is nothing, and that's fine, just pick the most lucrative option. My only real actionable piece of advice is to get your EIT before you graduate, no matter what road you take.


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1. A masters degree is not required for structural engineering but it is quickly becoming preferred for engineering firms located in either San Francisco or Los Angeles. I know of several firms that will not interview young engineers without them. (Ie degenkolb engineers and more high level analytical firms) At the same time there are more firms that don't really care. (Ie kpff and more design oriented firms) If you can stand the school and you plan on working in a major area in California I would recommend it.

2. I believe US News and World report has a graduate school ranking that lists average gre and GPA for schools. Unfortunately, going to grad school in engineering will not immediately give you a significant increase in salary. Therefore, I highly recommend going to the best school that will let you go for free. If you wait a few years before you go to grad school GPA doesn't matter as much. I went to UC Berkeley right out of Cal Poly had a 3.95 and perfect score on GRE math. I was able to get a full ride scholarship. At the same time I knew someone who had a similar GPA as you, significantly lower gre score, and also had a full ride to uc Berkeley because she had worked for 3 years first.

3. If you are good at what you do the market is fine. (At least in the Bay Area). You have a good degree from a great school. I wouldn't worry too much. Plus the market is always changing. The latest recession hit our industry the hardest but the next one will probably hit a different industry. It's hard to predict so stick with whichever field you have the most interest in.

4. It largely varies depending on your location. I believe in general civil makes more than structural (seems odd but they are closer to the money as they generally contract directly with the owner while structural goes through architect). I made $52,000 in LA in 2006 out of undergrad. Worked for a year, went to grad school and made $65,000 in SF after. I now make $100k + bonuses. Everyone's experience will be different though.

5. I'd recommend applying to jobs at job fairs that come to your school. I had tremendous success at those. If you know a professor well enough who has connections to any firms that is $$$. I applied to a big firm online didn't hear anything for 3 months. My professor sent out an email to to 3 big firms for me. Heard back from all of them within 1 week with interviews

6. This all largely depends on the school and employer. I've heard uc Berkeley for instance has an equation that looks at your GPA + math gre (don't care about the others from what I've heard). If you are above a number you are in. If you are below you are out. If you are in the grey area they look at everything else. The further you get away from graduation and have experience the less your GPA matters. I'd join clubs you are interested in and contribute to, not just ones to put on a resume.

UCSD is a great school and you should be proud. It has one of the finest structural engineering programs in the country. If that is where your interest lie stick with it. No reason to do something you don't like just because you think it may potentially make more money. Money will fall into place do something you can stand doing everyday for the next 30+ years. Good luck.

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A couple more thoughts. If you do get a masters and you want to work in California, is highly recommend getting it from a school in California or at least one that is well known for earthquake engineering.

I'm not sure if UCSD is different but at Cal Poly I learned very little about seismic design (one pretty basic class to calculate base shear etc). In grad school my entire program was dedicated to seismic design. These classes taught you not only how to design to the building code requirements but where theses requirements came from and what the purpose of those requirements are. I've found that information invaluable to me.

Also keep in mind that NCEES is moving towards requiring a masters for the SE Exam. (I believe their 2020 model license). It probably won't effect you, but more and more of your peers will have that degree. It may have an impact on future

Promotions depending on the size of your company and where are you are located. If you are moving outside of California I imagine a lot of what I said doesn't necessarily apply

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To answer your post question:


"What is the world outside school like?" In my opinion, stressful, but rewarding. At least you are being paid for the work, unlike in college.



I think you have received good advice from almost everyone, and I will try not to duplicate everything. You should not be that stressed out in college. And I agree with other posters, you do not need to choose your career based on the salary, or furthermore, especially the starting salary. Study what you think you will enjoy doing, and the money will come later.



As some have already said, the master's is not necessary, but is on it's way to being required. I think even more important in Structural, and probably even a little more for the CA area, but I'm not in the west, so I can't say for sure. For now, it's just a competition with what your peers will have or not have when applying for the same job.



My advice to students is: If you have a job lined up after undergrad, take the job. If you do not have any offers, go to grad school. I think the two years on the job experience is worth more than the 2 yrs spent in grad school and not working. Also, if you go ahead and take the job, you can work on the Master's in the evenings, and hopefully get some financial help through your employer.



I still think the job market is a little sketchy, but there are things out there, they just take a little more effort to obtain than before the recession.



Good luck.




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