Civil Engineering vs Architecture. Which Degree to Study in 2021?

The Golden Gate Bridge, the Panama Canal, Burj al Arab, the Tokyo Sky Tree — these are only a few of the numerous examples of engineering and architectural marvels in our world.

But if you’re fascinated by this type of structures, buildings, and the complex planning behind them, what should you study: a Civil Engineering or an Architecture degree? What’s the difference between them and which one should you choose for a successful career in the construction industry?

Let’s find out!

Civil Engineering vs Architecture – What’s the difference?

What is Architecture?

Architecture deals with the design and planning of buildings, such as houses, factories, museums, sports arenas, office buildings, skyscrapers, and so on.

Architects are usually involved in the pre-construction phases (designing, planning) and don’t oversee the construction process itself. As an architect, you’ll spend most of your time in an office.

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What is Civil Engineering?

Civil Engineering is much broader than Architecture and deals with the design, planning, and construction of buildings, roads, bridges, dams, tunnels, and other infrastructure projects. Civil engineers are involved in all the construction phases (designing, planning, overseeing the construction process).

As a civil engineer, you’ll spend half of your time in the office and the other half on sites, supervising the work of construction managers, mechanical engineers, and other professionals.

Civil Engineering vs Architecture specialisations

No matter which specialisation you choose, there’s a wide range of subdisciplines available. Here are only a few of them to get you started:

Civil Engineering specialisations

Architecture specialisations

Supertree Grove, Gardens by the Bay, in Singapore

Civil Engineering vs Architecture classes

You should always choose the curriculum before enrolling into any academic programme. It’s a quick and easy way to:

  • ensure that the courses you’ll take meet your expectations
  • see if you’re happy with the ratio between theoretical and practical classes

Civil Engineering or Architecture programmes vary based on where you study (country, university), the level at which you study (Bachelor’s, Master’s), the length of the academic programme, and so on.

To give you a general idea, here are some of the typical classes that might be part of your future syllabus:

Civil Engineering classes

  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Infrastructure Condition Evaluation
  • Geotechnical Analysis
  • Bridge Engineering
  • Heat and Mass Transfer in Buildings
  • Advanced Concrete Structures
  • Soil Structure
  • Air Quality Modelling
  • Risk Assessment

Architecture classes

  • Foundations of Architecture
  • Architectural Representation and Modelling
  • Design Research
  • History of Art and Architecture
  • Foundations of Drawing
  • Building Information Modelling
  • Construction Technology
  • Timber Structures
  • Architectural Graphics
  • Architecture Studio Project

Top universities where you can study Civil Engineering or Architecture

According to the latest higher education rankings, the following are the best universities where you can study Civil Engineering or Architecture:

Best Civil Engineering universities

Check out other top-ranked Civil Engineering schools.

Best Architecture universities

  • MIT, the US
  • Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands
  • University College London (UCL), the UK
  • ETH Zurich, Switzerland
  • Harvard University, the US
  • UCB, the US
  • Politecnico di Milano, Italy
  • Manchester School of Architecture, the UK
  • University of Cambridge, the UK
  • EPFL, Switzerland

Explore the full Architecture ranking created by TopUniversities.

To explore different options and ranking criteria, check out other world university rankings:

Civil engineer working on a building design

Civil Engineering vs Architecture skills

To be successful as a civil engineer or an architect, these are the most critical skills you need to develop and continuously improve:

  • design skills – essential for the planning phase of projects, when you’ll use both hand-writing and computer-design skills to create elegant and functional buildings or infrastructure
  • mathematics – you can’t be a civil engineer or architect without advanced mathematics, which will help you to establish the dimensions, materials, potential risks, stress factors, and so on.
  • computer skills – both civil engineers and architects use computer-aided design (CAD) and building information modelling (BIM) software on a daily basis
  • communication – both oral and written communication will be essential while dealing with clients, overseeing construction workers, planning with suppliers, and so on.
  • creativity – you will face challenges in the form of the natural environment, official regulations, the available materials, etc. This is where creativity will help you think out of the box and find innovative solutions.
  • technical/engineering skills – this applies mostly to civil engineers, who are also involved in the construction process, where they’ll need to supervise and coordinate the project until the end.

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Civil Engineering vs Architecture jobs and salaries

Both Civil Engineering and Architecture open the doors to well-paid and in-demand jobs in the construction industry. For most positions, a Bachelor’s diploma is enough to get you started, but you will need a Master’s degree to apply for more senior positions.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular jobs in Civil Engineering and Architecture. As a bonus, we’ve included the annual salaries in the US based on official data from PayScale:

Civil Engineering jobs and salaries

  • Structural Engineer – 69,620 USD/year
  • Geotechnical Engineer – 66,630 USD/year
  • Environmental Engineer – 66,060 USD/year
  • Marine Engineer – 79,160 USD/year
  • Civil Engineer – 67,140 USD/year

Architecture jobs and salaries

  • Landscape Architect – 59,750 USD/year
  • Urban Planner – 57,930 USD/year
  • Interior Designer – 50,115 USD/year
  • Design Architect – 61,840 USD/year
  • Architect – 66,850 USD/year

Which is better Civil Engineering or Architecture?

We cannot talk about ‘better’, but we can talk about scope and preference.

You should choose Architecture if:

  • you only want to design and plan regular buildings (houses, hospitals, factories, office buildings, etc.)
  • you don’t want to be involved in the actual construction process
  • you prefer working in an office without the need to do field work

You should choose Civil Engineering if:

  • you want to be involved in every phase of the construction process: designing, planning, supervising of the construction process, risk assessment, etc.
  • you want to divide your time between the office and construction sites
  • you’re more technically oriented and enjoy working with and solving engineering challenges

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