Letter from the Chair

Dear Prospective Undergraduate Student:

I am delighted that you are interested in studying Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Berkeley.

US News & World Report has ranked CEE's undergraduate program in environmental engineering and civil engineering among the top three undergraduate programs nationwide.

Overall, Berkeley ranked as the top public university.

I want to take this opportunity to answer important questions you may have about what civil engineers do, about the undergraduate program at Berkeley, and about applying for admission.

What do civil engineers do?
Civil engineers design, construct, and operate critical infrastructure systems. We make possible the efficient transportation of people and goods on the highway system, in the air transportation system, through port facilities, and by rail. The structural design and foundations for the world's tallest buildings, long-span bridges, and deep tunnels are all designed and constructed by civil engineers. We also manage water resources, and we design and operate systems that protect air and water quality, both to protect human health and the environment. 

New challenges include development of high-performance and more durable building materials, and analysis of impacts of construction, operation, and decommissioning of infrastructure systems and projects over their full life-cycle. We use systems analysis methods to manage and renew infrastructure at the citywide and statewide levels. We work on real-time sensing and control to enable autonomous systems such as driverless cars and drones. Civil engineers are deeply involved in the design of systems to protect buildings and bridges against natural and man-made hazards such as earthquakes, floods, fires, and malicious acts. Civil engineers also manage large engineering projects of all types.

Is there a demand for civil and environmental engineers?
Demand for our graduates will continue to be strong. In California alone, the population is expected to increase from over 30 million now to 45 million people by 2050. At the same time, the transportation and energy needs of this growing population will have to be met while reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. In the United States, more than $300 billion dollars of construction work is completed annually, providing robust direct and indirect job markets for our graduates. Similar opportunities exist in many other countries around the world.

What is the role of computing in civil engineering?
As with many other fields, computing and web-based systems are revolutionizing the work of civil engineers. New tools now make it possible to design, monitor, visualize, and manage large-scale systems as never before. Demands for improvements to the built environment are ever-present because of increasing population, economic growth, and degradation of existing systems over time. Geographic information systems (GIS) are used extensively in our field.

What does the civil engineering program at Berkeley have to offer?
Our Department is large and includes 45 active professors. Most of our professors are engaged in teaching undergraduate classes every year, and student ratings of our teaching are among the highest in the College of Engineering. Enrolling at a leading research university like Berkeley provides opportunities for you to get involved in research projects while you are an undergraduate. Student organizations and design teams offer an enriching and supportive group of friends with whom to pursue professional development and social activities. Many students take advantage summer internships with top engineering firms that are headquartered in the Bay area.

The philosophy at Berkeley emphasizes learning the fundamentals of science and engineering as a foundation for future innovation and positions of leadership in the field. Laboratories, design classes, and student-led teams provide hands-on experience with designing, building, and testing materials and systems. In the first two years, you will take math and science courses, in addition to introductory engineering courses in computing, materials, mechanics, and the environment. The upper division involves a set of core courses, from which you have flexibility to select courses in areas of greatest interest. You will complete your undergraduate program with a  capstone design experience and engineering electives, again selected in areas of interest to you. To ensure that the engineering education is well rounded, all students take six humanities and social science electives in other top-ranked departments at Berkeley.

Do you have advice about applying for admission?
Admission into the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Berkeley follows the standard application procedure for UC admission. Be sure to indicate your selection of Civil Engineering as your intended major in the application.

In the fall of your senior year in high school, writing an excellent essay is your best opportunity to improve your chances for admission. It is essential that you explain why you want to study engineering in your essay. Do you know someone who is an engineer? What is appealing to you about the work they do? What courses in high school did you especially enjoy and why? Do you have experience designing or building things? Do you like spending time/doing project work outdoors? As with all good writing, make sure you allow enough time for editing and improving a first draft. Set your first draft aside to think about what you wrote, proofread it, then edit and improve it until you are satisfied with what you wrote.

In recent years, a picture has emerged suggesting that entry to the College of Engineering has become extremely competitive, and this has discouraged many from applying to Berkeley. It is true that there is much pressure on admissions to certain fields such as computer science, and it is also true that entry to Berkeley Engineering remains competitive. This does not mean, however, that admission to many majors, including civil engineering, is beyond reach for good applicants. If you are interested in studying civil engineering, I encourage you to apply to Berkeley.

If you have questions or need more information, contact us at cee-ug@berkeley.edu.

Sincerely,

Robert Harley
Carl W. Johnson Professor in Civil Engineering
and Chair, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering