Surveyors

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Surveyors Do[About this section] [To Top]

Surveyors make precise measurements to determine property boundaries. They provide data relevant to the shape and contour of the Earth’s surface for engineering, mapmaking, and construction projects.

Duties of Surveyors

Surveyors typically do the following:

  • Measure distances and angles between points on, above, and below the Earth’s surface
  • Travel to locations and use known reference points to determine the exact location of important features
  • Research land records, survey records, and land titles
  • Look for evidence of previous boundaries to determine where boundary lines are located
  • Record the results of surveying and verify the accuracy of data
  • Prepare plots, maps, and reports
  • Present findings to clients and government agencies
  • Establish official land and water boundaries for deeds, leases, and other legal documents and testify in court regarding survey work

Surveyors provide documentation of legal property lines and help determine the exact locations of real estate and construction projects. For example, when a house or commercial building is bought or sold, it may need to be surveyed to prevent boundary disputes. During construction, surveyors determine the precise location of roads or buildings and proper depths for building foundations. The survey also shows changes to the property line and indicates potential restrictions on the property, such as what can be built on it and how large the structure can be.

When taking measurements in the field, surveyors make use of the Global Positioning System (GPS), a system of satellites that locates reference points with a high degree of precision. Surveyors use handheld GPS units and robotic total stations to collect relevant information about the terrain they are surveying. (Robotic total stations use laser systems and GPS to automatically calculate distances between boundaries and geological features of the survey area.) Data is then loaded into a computer, where surveyors interpret and verify the results.

Surveyors also use Geographic Information Systems (GIS)—technology that allows surveyors to present spatial information visually as maps, reports, and charts. For example, a surveyor can overlay aerial or satellite images with GIS data, such as tree density in a given region, and create digital maps. They then use the results to advise governments and businesses on where to plan homes, roads, and landfills.

Although advances in surveying technology now allow many jobs to be performed by just one surveyor, they also may work with the help of a crew. The crew may consist of a licensed surveyor and trained survey technicians. The person in charge of the crew, known as the party chief, may be either a surveyor or a senior surveying technician. The party chief leads day-to-day work activities.

Surveyors may be involved in settling boundary disputes. When property is sold or new construction takes place, such as the building of a fence, issues may arise because of outdated records or the misinterpretation of available records. A surveyor can be called in to settle the dispute, and may provide testimony in court if the involved parties do not come to an agreement.

Surveyors also work with civil engineers, landscape architects, and urban and regional planners to develop comprehensive design documents.

Some surveyors work in specialty fields to survey particular characteristics of the Earth.

The following are two types of surveyors:

Geodetic surveyors use high-accuracy technology, including aerial and satellite observations, to measure large areas of the Earth’s surface.

Marine or hydrographic surveyors survey harbors, rivers, and other bodies of water to determine shorelines, the topography of the floor, water depth, and other features.

Work Environment for Surveyors[About this section] [To Top]

Surveyors held about 44,300 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most surveyors were as follows:

Architectural, engineering, and related services 70%
Government 11
Construction 8

Most surveyors work for private surveying or engineering firms. Some also work in construction and for state and local governments.

Depending on the specific job duties, surveying involves both fieldwork and office work. Fieldwork involves working outdoors in all types of weather, walking long distances, and standing for extended periods while measurements are taken. Surveyors sometimes climb hills with heavy packs of surveying instruments. When working near hazards such as traffic, surveyors generally wear brightly colored or reflective vests so they may be seen more easily.

Traveling is often part of the job, and surveyors may commute long distances or stay at a project location for an extended period of time. Those who work on resource extraction projects may work in remote areas and spend long periods away from home.

Surveyor Work Schedules

Surveyors usually work full time. When construction activity is high, they may work more hours than usual.

How to Become a Surveyor[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Surveyors near you!

Surveyors typically need a bachelor’s degree. They must be licensed before they can certify legal documents and provide surveying services to the public.

Surveyor Education

Surveyors typically need a bachelor’s degree because they work with sophisticated technology and math. Some colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degree programs specifically designed to prepare students to become licensed surveyors. A bachelor’s degree in a closely related field, such as civil engineering or forestry, is sometimes acceptable as well.

Many states require individuals who want to become licensed surveyors to have a bachelor’s degree from a school accredited by ABET and approximately 4 years of work experience under a licensed surveyor. In other states, an associate’s degree in surveying, coupled with more years of work experience under a licensed surveyor, may be sufficient. Most states also have continuing education requirements.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Candidates with significant work experience as a survey technician can become licensed surveyors. To receive credit for this experience, candidates must work under a licensed surveyor. Many surveying technicians become licensed surveyors after working for as many as 10 years in the field of surveying. The amount of work experience required varies by state.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require surveyors to be licensed before they can certify legal documents that show property lines or determine proper markings on construction projects. Candidates with a bachelor’s degree must usually work for several years under the direction of a licensed surveyor in order to qualify for licensure.

Although the process of obtaining a license varies by state, the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying has a generalized process of four steps:

  • Complete the level of education required in your state
  • Pass the Fundamentals of Surveying (FS) exam
  • Gain sufficient work experience under a licensed surveyor
  • Pass the Principles and Practice of Surveying (PS) exam

Important Qualities for Surveyors

Communication skills. Surveyors must provide clear instructions to team members, clients, and government officials. They also must be able to receive instructions from architects and construction managers, and explain the job’s progress to developers, lawyers, financiers, and government authorities.

Detail oriented. Surveyors must work with precision and accuracy because they produce legally binding documents.

Physical stamina. Surveyors traditionally work outdoors, often in rugged terrain. They must be able to walk long distances for long periods.

Problem-solving skills. Surveyors must figure out discrepancies between documents showing property lines and current conditions on the land. If there were changes in previous years, they must discover the reason behind them and reestablish property lines.

Time-management skills. Surveyors must be able to effectively plan their time and their team members’ time on the job. This is critical when pressing deadlines exist or while working outside during winter months when daylight hours are short.

Visualization skills. Surveyors must be able to envision new buildings and altered terrain.

Surveyor Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for surveyors was $57,050 in May 2014. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,740, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $93,370.

In May 2014, the median annual wages for surveyors in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Government $65,790
Construction 59,570
Architectural, engineering, and related services 55,310

Surveyors usually work full time. When construction activity is high, they may work more hours than usual.

Job Outlook for Surveyors[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of surveyors is projected to decline 2 percent from 2014 to 2024. Advancements in surveying technology, such as robotic total stations, let surveyors complete more work in less time, reducing the demand for surveyors. However, some surveyors will continue to be needed to certify boundary lines, work on resource extraction projects, and review sites for construction.

Surveyors Job Prospects

Job opportunities for those with a bachelor’s degree in surveying or a related field are expected to be good. Increased use of sophisticated technology and math has resulted in higher education requirements. As a result, those with the right combination of skills and a bachelor’s degree from a school accredited by ABET will have the best job opportunities.

Demand for traditional surveying services is closely tied to construction activity, therefore job opportunities will vary by geographic region, and often depend on local economic conditions. When real estate sales and construction activity slow down, surveyors may face greater competition for jobs. However, because surveyors can work on many different types of projects, they may have steadier work than others in the industry when construction slows.

Employment projections data for Surveyors, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Surveyors 44,300 43,400 -2 -900


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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