Your surveying career involves a two-part qualification process. First, you must complete a bachelor's degree program in a relevant field, such as surveying technology. This program includes courses in mapping, geology, probability and statistics, remote sensing, boundary laws, physics, and calculus. A bachelor's degree in civil engineering or geography might also be acceptable. Keep in mind that some states mandate that graduates earn the degree from a school with ABET accreditation (ABET was formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). You'll also find that most states also require surveyors to complete continuing education requirements.
Next, you must satisfy the requirements for a surveyor's license. Note that you must have a valid license before you can certify legal documents pertaining to property lines. You must also be licensed before you can publicly market your surveying services. If you don't have a license yet, but still want to work as a surveyor, don't despair. You can work as a survey technician, under a licensed surveyor's guidance, until you complete your licensing requirements.
Although the surveyor licensing process varies in each state, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying has provided some general guidelines. First, you must complete your state's required level of education. Next, you must pass the Fundamentals of Surveying (FS) Exam, which judges your competence in geographic information systems, probability and statistics, and boundary laws. You'll often sit for this exam when you've almost completed your bachelor's degree requirements.
If you pass the FS Exam, you must then obtain adequate work experience under a licensed surveyor's supervision. Be prepared to learn (literally) from the ground up; as you haul equipment, trudge through the muck, and perform any other tasks required to develop your surveying skills. As a rough estimate, figure you'll need about four years of post-bachelor's degree experience to earn your surveyor's license.
Finally, you must pass the Principles and Practice of Surveying (PS) Exam. This practical applications test addresses your knowledge of government regulations, mapping accuracy, and legal issues. You'll also be tested on your knowledge of professional practices, business management, project planning, and safety issues.
But wait, there's more! Many states have invented some additional licensing hoops that drag the process out a bit longer. You might have to pass more state-specific exams, such as standards and regulations that apply in the state where you will work. Finally, if you plan to work for a firm that operates in more than one state, you'll want to obtain a surveying license in each state where you might work.
Odds of Getting In
This surveying gig could turn out very well for you. For starters, surveyors' employment is expected to increase. The country's infrastructure is showing its age, just like the people who use it. These deteriorating roads and bridges mean more construction will be needed to repair, upgrade or replace the existing facilities. Of course, you might not find the same abundance of surveying opportunities in all parts of the country, so do your research carefully. Consider an area's economic conditions, along with its construction market, before you hang your hat there.
Fortunately, surveyors don't have to limit themselves to construction projects, which means their employment prospects increase substantially. Many companies are recognizing the value of geographic information systems (GISs), which provide geography-related data for multiple applications. For example, emergency planners, security firms, and urban planners use this data to create digital maps and other products. Where does a surveyor come in? Well, you have to certify the data's accuracy before anyone can use it.
Of course, any profession will have employment opportunities due to attrition. Surveyors will retire, move to other parts of the country, or simply move on. That means better odds for your surveying career.