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How Do I Become a Topographical Surveyor?

By T. L. Childree
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A topographical surveyor maps natural and man-made land features using highly accurate instruments and technology. A two- or four-year college degree is typically required to become a topographical surveyor in most countries. Several years of on-the-job training will also be needed to acquire certain practical skills. A regional license is usually required after completing your education and gaining sufficient work experience. Professional certification in this field will help to keep your skills up-to-date after you become a topographical surveyor.

Topographical surveyors are licensed land surveyors who specialize in mapping topographical land features for construction and other purposes. The career path for this occupation is very similar to that of a general land surveyor. Completion of a bachelor’s degree in surveying in the United States or a Higher National Diploma (HND) or Higher National Certificate (HNC) in the UK is typically required before you can become a topographical surveyor, though there may be different requirements in other countries. Some employers will permit you to begin on-the-job training after completing an associate’s degree or during your last two years of bachelor’s degree studies. During college, you will take courses in data collection and terrain mapping, as well as geography and advanced mathematics.

You must also learn the practical application of your classroom training before you become a topographical surveyor. These skills are usually acquired after several years of on-the-job field and office training. Most surveyors begin their career in an entry-level position to learn all aspects of the profession. You will probably work as an assistant to a licensed surveyor and be given additional responsibilities as your skills increase. The amount of time spent during this training period varies and is usually determined by regional licensing requirements.

Once you have gained sufficient work experience, you must take and pass different examinations depending on what your country requires. In the United States, for example, two comprehensive licensing exams are administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), including the Fundamentals of Surveying and the Principles and Practice of Surveying. The first consists of multiple-choice questions covering a wide variety of knowledge areas and may be taken immediately after college graduation or upon completion of your on-the job training period, and the second is the final requirement for licensing. Exact licensing requirements will vary from one region to another and complete information can be found at the NCEES website. Other countries will have different testing requirements in order to become a topographical surveyor.

In addition to regional licensing, some employers may also require you to become professionally certified. In the United States, the certification is provided by the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) and is awarded after passing a comprehensive skills-assessment test. Test preparation materials along with examination dates and locations are available from the NSPS website. In most countries, certification must be updated periodically by completing certain continuing education courses. Receiving and maintaining professional certification will help to keep your skills current after you become a topographical surveyor.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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