What Are the Different Types of Structural Engineering Courses?

Judith Smith Sullivan
Judith Smith Sullivan
A structural engineering student might study how skyscrapers are designed and built.
A structural engineering student might study how skyscrapers are designed and built.

There are many different types of structural engineering courses, beginning with basic theory and analysis of structures to classes in design and building. They can be taken at both the undergraduate, and graduate levels. Engineering classes are available in traditional face-to-face settings, online, and in hybrid classes which have both an online and a face-to face-component. Usually such courses are taken in sequential fashion so that all of the knowledge needed to complete a senior design project, master's thesis, or doctoral dissertation has been accumulated prior to the start of design.

Structural engineers sometime specialize in aspects of civil engineering, including tunnel building.
Structural engineers sometime specialize in aspects of civil engineering, including tunnel building.

Beginning structural engineering courses focus on the theory of structural design. Topics include equations, problem solving, and the effects of different types of forces, such as strain, displacement, twisting, and bending. Concepts from higher level math and physics are used, so prerequisites for beginning engineering courses typically include several semesters of algebra and calculus and at least a year of physics.

Concrete can be reinforced with metal bars to withstand tension.
Concrete can be reinforced with metal bars to withstand tension.

More advanced structural design courses focus on the analysis of structures. This also includes structural dynamics, which is the study of how non-constant forces effect structures. For instance, the reaction to wind, human action, and traffic are part of the study of dynamic structures.

Different types of materials are studied in separate classes. Steel, concrete, and wood have very specific properties and react to various forces differently. Therefore, there are usually three different structural engineering courses to study each type of material. The study of mixed materials, such as concrete reinforced with steel or polyresins, is completed in graduate level courses.

Math and science play a large role in the job of a structural engineer.
Math and science play a large role in the job of a structural engineer.

In the final year of college, most engineering students are required to complete a project course. This is a lab and lecture class in which student design, analyze, and build one or more physical structures. It is not uncommon for the first design project to be a bridge, or several designs of different types of bridges. The project course serves as a comprehensive integration of all of the theory and analysis that students have learned during the previous years of structural studies.

Throughout intermediate and advanced structural engineering courses, the use of computer programs is common. Training in the proper implementation of computer programs is an integral part of the course, especially in design classes. Most students end up using computer design and calculation programs in their final design project course.

For graduate classes, it is not uncommon for students to choose independent studies or specific focus classes. These are often related to the thesis or dissertation requirement for the degree and is usually not covered by any other regularly offered classes. Independent studies classes must be supervised by an instructor who guides the direction of the course material and assesses the student's progress on a regular basis throughout the semester.

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    • A structural engineering student might study how skyscrapers are designed and built.
      By: The Photos
      A structural engineering student might study how skyscrapers are designed and built.
    • Structural engineers sometime specialize in aspects of civil engineering, including tunnel building.
      By: bibi
      Structural engineers sometime specialize in aspects of civil engineering, including tunnel building.
    • Concrete can be reinforced with metal bars to withstand tension.
      By: auremar
      Concrete can be reinforced with metal bars to withstand tension.
    • Math and science play a large role in the job of a structural engineer.
      By: Damian Gretka
      Math and science play a large role in the job of a structural engineer.