The Differences Between Civil and Environmental Engineering

The Differences Between Civil and Environmental Engineering

Hello everyone! My name is Katy, and I am a fourth-year student studying Environmental Engineering. Hopefully, you found your way to my blog because you are trying to determine the difference between Civil and Environmental Engineering and which one to pick, just like I was doing four years ago! 

CSU Lagoon on campus

Introduction to Civil and Environmental Engineering

At CSU, Civil and Environmental Engineering are in the same department. This means that students in each major will take almost all classes together during the first two years in the program. During your first engineering course in your very first semester at CSU, “Introduction to Civil and Environmental Engineering”, you will explore each major in depth, learn the specializations in each degree, and talk with experts in the field about what their jobs look like. This class serves to help you decide where your interests lie and is a great time tswitch degrees if one sounds better to you! Do not stress too much because switching between the two majors is relatively easy, especially in those first two years. 

After the first two years, courses between Civil and Environmental branch in different directions. Environmental Engineering requires more chemistry and biology than Civil Engineering, while Civil Engineering focuses much more on all aspects of infrastructure.

Difference between civil and environmental engineers meme

What You Might Learn

Civil Engineers might take...

  • Structural Analysis
  • Infrastructure and Transportation Systems
  • Design of Reinforced Concrete Structures
  • Design and Behavior of Steel Structures
  • And more!

Civil Engineering focuses much more on all aspects of infrastructure

Environmental Engineers might take...

  • Organic Chemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Environmental Toxicology
  • Water Quality Analysis and Treatment
  • And more!

Environmental Engineering requires more chemistry and biology

Here you can view the Civil Engineering major requirements and Environmental Engineering major requirements to look at all the differences and similarities between the classes in each year.

Difference between civil and environmental engineers meme


While there are many differences, water is a big overlap between the two degrees. Both majors include Fluid Mechanics, Hydrology, and Hydraulic Engineering.

CSU is recognized globally for our research and innovation regarding water; therefore, most students within Environmental Engineering choose to focus their career somewhere within water: Water Quality, Wastewater Treatment, Water Resources, Water Rights and Law, Hydrology, etc.

As a Civil Engineer, some students also focus on water; however, many will combine this focus with another area and are usually concerned with the quantity and power of water rather than the quality of water. For example, combining infrastructure with water will have you fully equipped to be designing structures that are in water like bridges, piers, or underground/underwater trains like the one in San Francisco, California.

CSU civil engineering students testing a dam
CSU civil engineering students testing a dam. From SOURCE

No matter which degree you choose, you will likely be working with both Civil and Environmental Engineers for the rest of your career. For example, many Civil Engineers get hired through the Construction Management line of work. As a Civil Engineer, you might be working on the structural aspects of a building and selecting the materials, while the Environmental Engineer would need to perform an Environmental Impact Report for the new building and might assist in soils testing to make sure the land is suitable for this building.  

Environmental Engineering Meme

Why I Chose Environmental

Like I mentioned earlier, I am majoring in Environmental Engineering because I love water! I knew I wanted to work in water from a young age. Back in 2014, I was helping build a retaining wall for an orphanage in Haiti. I loved this project and thought that Civil Engineering might be for me. Once I got home, I became very sick and after a few weeks found out that I had a parasite from the water in Haiti. This propelled my passion for all things water. Since then, I have chosen to focus my career in Water Resources and have had a couple of internships in that field. On the other hand, one of my close friends wants nothing to do with water! He has chosen to focus his Civil Engineering career in Transportation Engineering. 

A student wades into a river for water samples
A student wades into a river for water samples. From CSU's Agricultural Water Quality Program

I hope this blog has been helpful and given you some direction on which career path is best for you. But do not stress too much about choosing the wrong major! Through that first and second year, it will be clear what you are truly interested in, and which areas you don’t want to pursueFor even more information, you can click on either of the linked photos above to learn more about some research and stories from both Civil and Environmental Engineering. Good luck! 

Katy Rodriguez, ambassador

Author: Katy Rodriguez

Katy Rodriguez is a fourth-year student from Bakersfield, California and is studying Environmental Engineering with a minor in International Development. She loves her job as an Engineering Student Ambassador, as well as her current internship with Water Supply and Storage Company. She hopes to have a future career in water resources for an international engineering firm that allows her to continue to travel and do her humanitarian work in underdeveloped countries.  


If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to the engineering ambassador team at!