Civil engineers typically possess an academic degree with a major in civil engineering. The length of study for such a degree is usually three to five years and the completed degree is usually designated as a Bachelor of Engineering, though some universities designate the degree as a Bachelor of Science. The degree generally includes units covering physics, mathematics, project management, design and specific topics in civil engineering. Initially such topics cover most, if not all, of the sub-disciplines of civil engineering. Students then choose to specialize in one or more sub-disciplines towards the end of the degree. While an Undergraduate (BEng/BSc) Degree will normally provide successful students with industry accredited qualification, some universities offer postgraduate engineering awards (MEng/MSc) which allow students to further specialize in their particular area of interest within engineering.
In most countries, a Bachelor's degree in engineering represents the first step towards professional certification and the degree program itself is certified by a professional body. After completing a certified degree program the engineer must satisfy a range of requirements (including work experience and exam requirements) before being certified. Once certified, the engineer is designated the title of Professional Engineer (in the United States, Canada and South Africa), Chartered Engineer (in most Commonwealth countries), Chartered Professional Engineer (in Australia and New Zealand), or European Engineer (in much of the European Union). There are international engineering agreements between relevant professional bodies which are designed to allow engineers to practice across international borders.
The advantages of certification vary depending upon location. For example, in the United States and Canada "only a licensed engineer may prepare, sign and seal, and submit engineering plans and drawings to a public authority for approval, or seal engineering work for public and private clients.". This requirement is enforced by state and provincial legislation such as Quebec's Engineers Act. In other countries, no such legislation exists. In Australia, state licensing of engineers is limited to the state of Queensland. Practically all certifying bodies maintain a code of ethics that they expect all members to abide by or risk expulsion. In this way, these organizations play an important role in maintaining ethical standards for the profession. Even in jurisdictions where certification has little or no legal bearing on work, engineers are subject to contract law. In cases where an engineer's work fails he or she may be subject to the tort of negligence and, in extreme cases, the charge of criminal negligence. An engineer's work must also comply with numerous other rules and regulations such as building codes and legislation pertaining to environmental law.