Frequently Asked Questions about Engineering Licensing
- How will I benefit from becoming a licensed engineer?
- What are the basic qualifications to become a licensed engineer?
- What exams are involved in the licensing process?
- Are the exams the same in every state?
- How do I contact my state board?
There are a number of good reasons for obtaining an engineering license. If you are interested in performing consulting engineering work at any point during your career, all 50 states require that you obtain a license in order to do so. The majority of states have legislation that virtually prohibits nonlicensed engineers from engaging in private practice, performing engineering services, entering into contracts, or submitting original designs, plans, or specifications for approval.
Most city, state, and federal government agencies now require PE licenses for all their employees who perform responsible engineering duties of any kind.
In the private sector, it is increasingly common for industry employers to require licensure of their responsible engineers because of the rise in the number of product design, product performance, and environmental damage lawsuits. As an added incentive, many companies give a monetary bonus when an engineer becomes licensed.
The exact qualifications required by each state are different, but there is a marked degree of similarity. Most states are reasonably flexible and permit a certain amount of substitution of valid experience for education, and vice versa. The basic requirements are:
- Completing a four-year educational program in an approved branch of engineering leading to a bachelor's degree, conferred by an institution approved by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). (Some states permit engineers without degrees to become licensed.)
- Passing the FE examination.
- Performing a given number of years (usually four, but fewer in some states) of increasingly responsible engineering work at satisfactory professional levels.
- Passing the PE examination.
Becoming licensed usually means taking at least two eight-hour engineering examinations administered by your state. The first is known as the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. It was formerly (and often still is) called the Engineer-in-Training or EIT exam. This exam is given in one day and is divided into two four-hour sections. The morning section covers general engineering topics. In the afternoon, you have the choice of taking one of six different exams: chemical, civil, electrical, industrial, mechanical, or general.
The second eight-hour licensing exam is known as the Principles and Practice of Engineering, or PE, exam. This exam is administered by discipline. Some states require PE candidates in certain disciplines to pass other exams, in addition to the standard national tests written by the NCEES. (For example, California requires civil PE candidates to pass a four-hour test on seismic principles and a four-hour test on engineering surveying, as well as the civil PE exam.)
All US states and territories currently use the FE and PE examinations prepared by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). Exam dates are standardized in all states. All states accept and use the NCEES-recommended minimum passing scores (although they are free to establish their own passing scores if they so choose).
All states do not offer every PE exam, and some states have different or extra components for some PE exams. For example, the civil PE exam in California includes extra, mandatory sections on seismic and surveying principles. It's necessary to check with your state board for state-specific exam information.