Chemical Engineering vs Civil Engineering

Ola Akinsunmade
Ola Akinsunmade

Chemical Engineer

Table of Contents


What’s the difference between Chemical vs Civil Engineering? What kind of jobs can you get with these degrees? What kind of courses do you have to take? What is the career outlook?

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably asking yourself some of these questions as you try to navigate your different career options.

This article will try to answer some of these questions and provide insight into both degree pathways to add ease to your decision making process. 

Let’s begin!

What is Civil Engineering?

Here are some responses from practicing Civil Engineers from LinkedIn:

“Civil Engineering is the design and maintenance of built infrastructure that directly impacts/affects civilians. It is civilian engineering because it usually directly impacts civilians”

“I like the practicality of it (Civil Engineering), it’s incredibly helpful to have fundamental knowledge on how to make repairs or renovations to facilities like a home

“Civil Engineering is building things

“Civil Engineering is meeting the needs of the community with solutions that can only be implicated using building sciences and technology

A more technical definition can be derived from combining Mishael and Tolu’s answers: 

Civil Engineering is the discipline of engineering that meets the needs of the community through building science and technological solutions. It can be described as civilian engineering as its focus is on the design and maintenance of infrastructure that directly impacts civilians.

What is Chemical Engineering?

Here’s an excerpt from out article “Is Chemical Engineering Right For Me” which summarizes what Chemical Engineering is all about: 

“Chemical and biological engineers are at the forefront of solving many societal challenges facing us today. We find them working on the development of processes and technologies such as fuel cells, conversion of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to green chemicals, mining of electronic waste, vertical farming, new vaccines, medical devices, or conversion of wood to fabrics for clothing, just to name a few.”

Whilst Civil Engineering deals with meeting communal needs through infrastructure, Chemical Engineering focuses on designing chemical and biological processes that produce products that meet our everyday needs.

Chemical vs Civil Engineering

Civil and Chemical Engineering aim to solve very different problems. This requires specialized skills and knowledge obtained mostly through degree specific university courses. 

Both Chemical and Civil Engineering are typically 4 year courses with an additional year if you are interested in enrolling in a cooperative education program (Co-op) or working a few internships (highly recommended)

Here is a comparison of some of the main courses taken by Civil and Chemical Engineers.

Civil Engineering

Chemical Engineering

Fundamentals of Environmental Engineering 

Material and Energy Balances 

Soil Mechanics 

Chemical and Biological Engineering Thermodynamics

Fluid Mechanics

Transport Phenomena/Fluid Mechanics 

Construction Engineering and Management 

Unit Operations 

Modelling and Decision-Making in Civil Engineering

Kinetics and Reactor Design 

Structural Mechanics

Computer Flowsheeting and Unit Operation Design 

Civil Engineering Materials 

Process Synthesis

Transportation Engineering 

Process Dynamics and Control 

Comparing Job Responsibilities and Industries

Specialized skills mean specialized responsibilities. 

Here are some examples of roles and job responsibilities performed by individuals who hold a Civil Engineering degree:

Civil Engineering Roles

  • Project Engineer
  • Transportation Engineer
  • Project Coordinator
  • Structural Engineer

Project Engineer

  • Monitoring progress of Contractors against established schedules and construction milestones for all areas of the construction project as well as preparing progress reports and issuing progress schedules for the Owner’s Team
  • Ensuring construction methods and procedures for the project are maintained based on the Project Management Team’s expectations and project guidelines.

Transportation Engineer

  • Provide overall work progress and technical performance on highway engineering projects to ensure timelines and targets are being met
  • Provide guidance and oversight in the preparation of proposals, developing work proposal/project work plans, schedules, budgets, fees. and negotiations
  • Contribute technical expertise to business development activities including responding to requests for proposals, preparation of proposals and statements of qualifications

Structural Engineer

  • Thorough knowledge in analysis and design of concrete and steel structures to Canadian codes and standards.
  • Prepare cost effective structural engineering designs from conceptual design to detail design, tender and construction in accordance with Canadian Codes and Standards.
  • Perform analysis and design of steel structures and concrete foundations for industrial and mining projects.
  • Perform site visits and inspect existing structures. Perform evaluation and analysis of existing structures for modifications and additions, and propose reinforcement solutions.

Chemical Engineering Roles

Here are some job responsibilities performed by individuals who hold a Chemical Engineering degree:

  • Process Engineer
  • Process Development Engineer
  • Manufacturing Engineer
  • Process Safety Engineer

Process Engineer

  • Provide process engineering input on how the scope of change impacts the operation of the facility to ensure the design achieves the expected outcome.
  • Develop the relevant deliverables for the change management process. E.g. Process engineering scope of work, P&ID markups, process engineering studies (H&MB, hydraulics, RVs, pump requirements, etc.).
  • Creating, reviewing and revising process deliverables like PFDs, P&IDs, Line Lists, and data sheets as well as supporting Plot Plan and Piping Layout development

Manufacturing Engineer

  • Work with the engineering and the production teams on product design and tooling to ensure efficient production processes.
  • Recommend and implement improvements and/or modifications in sequence of operations, equipment utilization and related matters.
  • Monitor assigned operations to assure compliance with approved methods and quality standards.

Process Safety Engineer

  • Support and/or facilitate risk assessment activities. Activities may include Bowtie Analysis, Hazard and Operability Studies (HAZOP), Layers of Protection Analysis (LOPA) and other risk assessment techniques.
  • Provide oversight and guidance in maintaining Process Safety Information such as P&ID’s, PFD’s, Cause and Effect Diagrams etc.
  • Provide Process Safety engineering support to sites in areas such as facility siting, relief rate calculations etc.

A lot of these jobs give a snapshot of the types of industries Civil and Chemical Engineers work in, some of which do overlap.

Civil Engineering Industries

  • Construction
  • Oil & Gas
  • Transportation
  • Marine
  • Chemicals

Chemical Engineering Industries

  • Manufacturing
  • Oil & Gas
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Construction
  • Pulp & Paper
  • Specialty Chemicals
  • Food and Beverage Processing
  • Petrochemicals

Key Statistics - Chemical Engineering vs Civil Engineering

Let’s talk about numbers…


Civil Engineering

Chemical Engineering

Projected Total Degrees Awarded, 2020




Projected Growth of Awarded Degrees



Number of Jobs, 2020



Job Saturation Rate



Job Outlook, 2020-30



Median Wage, 2020



*U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics

Total Degrees Awarded

Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that Chemical Engineering degrees are becoming less popular compared to Civil Engineering. 

This decline may be seemingly due to employment uncertainty associated with the cyclical nature of some of the industries Chemical Engineers work in such as Oil & Gas.

That said, it should be noted that most industries often go through boom and bust cycles of employment and unemployment and this is very common for a lot of engineering disciplines.

Job Outlook and Saturation Rate

Saturation Rate describes how saturated a discipline is by comparing the degrees awarded to the jobs available for individuals holding that degree. The higher the number, the more saturated the discipline is.

Based on this metric, Civil Engineering is a very attractive choice due to the number of jobs advertised for individuals holding that degree (7.3% vs 52.6%). 

Median Wage

According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median wage of Chemical Engineers in 2021 was reported as $105,550 per year

Civil Engineering also boasts a respectable median wage of $88,570 per year.

The chances of an entry level Civil/Chemical Engineer earning these amounts of money is quite low. 

The average age of both Civil and Chemical Engineers is 41, reflecting that obtaining salaries of these amounts will require years of experience.

Concluding Thoughts

Both Civil and Chemical Engineering are attractive options for individuals considering an engineering career

There are a lot of job prospects for Civil Engineers as the world population continues to grow and the need for infrastructure to support this growth intensifies.

Nevertheless, Chemical Engineers are responsible for a lot of processes that make our everyday lives a little bit easier. 

If you’re in the process of making a decision between both degrees, we would be interested to hear how you are thinking through that in the comments!

4 Responses

  1. did nor answer my question:
    a cvil engineer sets for exam and if passed he is a PE.

    Is there similar process for achemical engineer

  2. Both the two courses are reasonably good with no doubts
    Though chemical engineering is seemingly becoming a nice course for someone to offer as it cuts across many disciplines

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