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

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 mark and document the location of legal property lines. For example, when a house or commercial building is bought or sold, surveyors may mark property boundaries to prevent or resolve disputes. They use a variety of measuring equipment depending upon the type of survey.

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 automated systems known as robotic total stations to collect relevant information about the terrain they are surveying. Surveyors then interpret and verify the results on a computer.

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, other jobs may be performed by a crew, consisting of a licensed surveyor and trained surveying 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 also work with civil engineers, landscape architects, cartographers and photogrammetrists, and urban and regional planners to develop comprehensive design documents.

The following are examples of types of surveyors:

Boundary or land surveyors determine the legal property lines and help determine the exact locations of real estate and construction projects.

Engineering or construction surveyors determine the precise location of roads or buildings and proper depths for building foundations. They show changes to the property line and indicate potential restrictions on the property, such as what can be built on it and how large the structure can be. They also may survey the grade and topography of roads.

Forensic surveyors survey and record accident scenes for potential landscape effects.

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.

Mine surveyors survey and map the tunnels in an underground mine. They survey surface mines to determine the volume of materials mined.

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Work Environment

Surveyors held about 49,200 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of surveyors were as follows:

Architectural, engineering, and related services                                        69%
Government 10
Construction 8
Self-employed workers 6
Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction 2

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 taking measurements. 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. When working in underground mines, surveyors work in enclosed spaces.

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.

Work Schedules

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

Education and Training

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

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. Many states require individuals who want to become licensed surveyors to have a bachelor’s degree from a school accredited by ABET. A bachelor’s degree in a closely related field, such as civil engineering or forestry, is sometimes acceptable as well. An associate’s degree may be sufficient in some cases with additional training.

Training

In order to become licensed, most states require approximately 4 years of work experience and training under a licensed surveyor after obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Other states may allow substituting more years of work experience and supervised training under a licensed surveyor in place of education.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

In some states, surveying technicians can become licensed surveyors after working for as many as 10 years under a licensed surveyor. The amount of work experience required varies by state. Check with your state for more information.

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 usually must 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:

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

Most states also have continuing education requirements for surveyors to maintain their license.

Personality and Interests

Surveyors typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a surveyor, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Surveyors should also possess the following specific qualities:

Communication skills. Surveyors must provide clear instructions to team members. They must also 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 due to the legal nature of the documents they produce.

Physical stamina. Surveyors traditionally work outdoors, often in rugged terrain. Therefore, they must be able to walk long distances for several hours.

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 figure out the reason for the changes so that property lines can be reestablished.

Technical skills. Surveyors use sophisticated technologies such as distance- and slope-measuring “total stations” and GPS devices to collect land survey data.

Time-management skills. Surveyors must be able to 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 distances.

Pay

The median annual wage for surveyors was $63,420 in May 2019. 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 $36,110, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $104,850.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for surveyors in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Government $73,220
Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction 65,640
Construction 65,060
Architectural, engineering, and related services                                 61,640

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

Job Outlook

Employment of surveyors is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Surveyors will continue to be needed to certify boundary lines, work on resource extraction projects, and review sites for construction.

Job Prospects

Overall job opportunities are expected to be good, but those with knowledge of a variety of surveying specializations and a bachelor’s degree from an ABET-accredited school 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 other 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.

For More Information

For information about surveying, career opportunities, and licensure requirements, visit

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

National Society of Professional Surveyors

For information about a career as a geodetic surveyor, visit

American Association for Geodetic Surveying

For a list of schools offering accredited programs, visit

ABET

 

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