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What Happens After You Pass the NCEES PE Exam?

October 29, 2021
Read through common questions about what to do next after passing the NCEES Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) Exam.

If you’ve just passed your NCEES Professional Engineering Exam - congratulations! If your PE exam date is fast approaching, we wish you the best of luck! Remember to take advantage of PPI’s many resources available to you. Whether completing the NCEES PE exam is in your rearview mirror, or still ahead of you, here’s what you need to do after passing the PE exam.

Unfortunately, passing the exam doesn’t immediately make you a professional engineer. Next, you’ll need to apply for a professional engineer license. The major steps after passing the PE exam include:

  1. Applying for the PE license with your state board.

  2. Submitting your NCEES records to your state board.

  3. Displaying your new designation.

  4. Requesting your wall certificate.

  5. Purchasing your stamp or seal.

Be sure to verify your state’s requirements to become a licensed professional engineer. In general, for a PE license application, you’ll need to verify that you have:

  • Passed the FE and the PE exams.

  • Achieved an engineering degree from an ABET-accredited school.

  • Completed at least four years of experience under a professional engineer.

  • Paid the submission fee.

It’s important to note that the submission fee amount varies from $80 to over $300 depending on your state.

Displaying Your New Professional Engineer Designation

Important places for displaying your new designation can include your business cards, job applications, email signatures, and more. But how should this information be arranged? And what information must be included, versus what can be left out? The sections below address these concerns as well as other questions that arise after passing the PE exam.

The Difference Between PE, P.E., RE, and CE

The designations "PE" and "P.E." (Professional Engineer) are synonymous. Modern style is to omit the periods, but this is not universal. The designation "RE" (Registered Engineer) and "CE" (Consulting Engineer) may also be available for use in your state, although their meanings are largely unknown by the public.

What about PE (US) vs. P.Eng. (Canada) vs. Ing. (Mexico)?

The Canadian "P.Eng.," the Mexican "Ing.," and other similar foreign designations are not recognized in the US. Technically, their use is not restricted by state laws. However, giving the appearance of a properly licensed "PE" would probably be subject to scrutiny. Foreign certification (registration, licensure, etc.) status does not convey any legal rights in the United States.

Engineering Disciplines or Specialties On Your PE Business Card

e.g., "Civil Engineering" or "Geotechnical"

No, you do not have to list your engineering discipline (e.g., “Civil Engineering”) or area of engineering specialty (e.g., “Geotechnical”) on your PE business card. However, most engineers practice in only one discipline, and it is common to include some type of clarifying phrase (e.g., Consulting civil engineer") on the business card.

Should I list the licensed state on my PE business cards?

If you represent your company or perform work in more than one state, you should avoid giving the impression that you are licensed in states where you are not. You have three options: 

  1. Obtain reciprocal licenses for all states in which you do business. 

  2. List "Licensed in the State of XXXX" (or similar) on your business cards. 

  3. Omit "PE" from your business cards. 

Options (2) and (3) will not let you avoid being subject to a state's engineering laws, but they will eliminate misrepresentation. Unless required by your state, you do not have to list your license number or your state on your business cards. However, these should be shown on your stamp or seal.

Preparing for the PE exam? Test your skills with a free sample quiz.

Choose your discipline: PE Civil, PE Electrical, or PE Mechanical.

How do I get my wall certificate?

Delivery time and procedure for getting the wall certificate vary from state to state. Most states do not include the wall certificate with your notice of having passed the PE exam--the certificate comes automatically several weeks or months later. In some cases, you have to request the certificate. In rare cases, you are asked to pay a small fee for it.

Can I use my state professional engineering society certificate instead of a state-issued PE certificate?

Some professional and technical organizations can provide membership and/or recognition certificates, usually for a fee. These can be used to advertise your accomplishment, status, and membership. However, they satisfy no legal requirements nor do they convey any legal rights. When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to display your state-issued PE certificate.

I received an EIT (FE, IE, EI, etc.) wall certificate. Should I display it?

You may, if you wish, display your EIT wall certificate. Passing the FE exam is an accomplishment to be proud of.

Do I have to display my Professional Engineer wall certificate?

Passing the PE exam is an accomplishment you can be proud of. Normally, you do not have to display your wall certificate. However, some states (for example, California) require you to provide notice of licensure to your clients. Displaying your wall certificate is one way of satisfying this requirement. It’s worth noting, however, that if your company is covered by the industrial exemption, you do not have to display your certificate.

Other Ways to Provide Notice of PE Licensure to Clients

If your company has multiple locations, it will not be possible to display wall certificates in all locations. Instead of displaying your wall certificate, you may also be able to post a listing of all of the licensees in your company, provide a statement of acknowledgment of licensure for your clients to sign, or include the statement in the signed contracts for services. Other options may exist in some states.

Where do I get my PE stamp or PE seal?

Most large office supply stores produce custom stamps. Engineering stamps are one of the "stock" designs usually available. Engineering stamps and seals can also be ordered online. Stamps are typically under $30, while mechanical embossing seals are under $40. Generally, stores do not require any proof of licensure to purchase a stamp/seal. Improper use of stamps/seals is regulated. However, possession is not.

What's the difference between a PE stamp and a PE seal?

A "stamp" is a "rubber stamp." It may be self-inking, or it may need to be used with a stamp pad. A "seal" is a design embossed onto the paper. The word "seal" is also used to describe the hand press used to do the embossing.

Do I have to buy a stamp/seal after passing the PE exam?

That depends on the state in which you are licensed. Some states require you to obtain a stamp or seal upon registration as a PE. In other states, it isn't necessary to buy one unless you intend to sign off on finished designs. Check with your state board for what applies in your state.

What is the required format or design of the PE stamp/seal?

The actual design is specified by your state. The design is generally round and includes: 

  • The phrase "professional engineer”

  • Your state name

  • Your name

  • Your license number

Your PE stamp or seal may also list your license's expiration date or provide a place for you write in that date. You should contact your state board to obtain the exact design specifications, as generic designs do not always satisfy state law. Unless you are directed otherwise, always use black ink with your PE stamp.

How do I use my PE stamp/seal?

Although usage varies, normally you will stamp/seal a document, write in the expiration date of your license (if this information is required by your state and is not part of the stamp/seal), and affix your signature and date.

What should I use my PE stamp/seal for?

You should affix your stamp/seal only when you are taking responsibility for the design (i.e., when you are in "responsible charge"). Although you could use your stamp/seal to make a greater impact when signed letters or contracts, this is generally not done.

What is "plan stamping"?

Plan stamping is the use, either by you or by someone else, of your stamp or seal to certify designs that you did not perform, check, or supervise. Plan stamping is illegal in every state.

Can you pass an FE or PE exam and not receive a license, title, wall certificate, or professional status?

Yes. In some states, it is possible to pass the FE exam but be denied EIT status because you "only" have a BS degree in engineering technology, physics, or chemistry. In some states, it is possible to pass the PE exam before you have met all of the experience requirements. In such states, your legal rights will "kick in" only after you have met the experience requirements.

As a Professional Engineer, what am I allowed to do?

Your rights as a PE are determined by state law, and they include the right to use the title "Professional Engineer" and/or the right to practice engineering as a consultant. Your license may also permit you to design in certain areas (e.g., hospitals and schools). This is a matter best determined by a reading of your state's engineers act.

As a Professional Engineer, what am I NOT allowed to do?

This subject touches upon both state law and ethics. Generally, you gain--rather than lose--legal rights when becoming a PE. However, your practice may be limited by state law to a certain engineering discipline or certain categories of designs (i.e., buildings). Regardless, you should voluntarily refrain from working outside of your area of expertise in any case. You cannot use your stamp/seal to certify designs you haven't been involved in. Generally, you are held to higher ethical standards.

Can passing the PE exam increase my salary?

This answer varies "all over the map"--anywhere from nothing to substantial raises, promotions, and increases in responsibilities. Generally, zero or token raises are realized by engineers in commercial/manufacturing industries where the industrial exemption makes the PE license immaterial. The largest raises are realized by engineers in companies with public exposure--where the credentials of the "team" are important to winning contracts. In public service (state and federal), the PE license may qualify you for higher salary ranges and additional responsibility (i.e., higher GS ratings).

Are recertification exams or continuing education courses required to renew my PE license?

No states require you to retest in engineering principles in order to maintain your PE license. However, some states have annual continuing education requirements. Approximately half of the 50 states have continuing education requirements. Check with your state board.

How can I extend my PE license to other states?

In most cases, obtaining an engineering license in another state is largely an administrative matter. A special comity application and payment of fees are required. Unless the registration laws of the new state are significantly different (California, for example, is one state that requires testing in additional engineering subjects), you are not required to take additional exams covering engineering principles. 

In some cases, you may be asked to take a short exam covering the ethics and the laws of the new state. You make your application directly to the new state. The application process may be simplified if you are a model law engineer (MLE) or NCEES Records Retention Program participant.

About the NCEES Records Retention Program

The NCEES Records Retention Program is a voluntary, centralized database program available to all licensees who wish to maintain a record of their education, examination, and experience credentials, including references, to assist them with comity applications. Licensees meeting the requirements are designed as "Model Law Engineers" in the NCEES Records Program. Most states will accept the NCEES record with little additional paperwork required when a Model Law Engineer wants to obtain a reciprocal license. In other words, keeping your NCEES record updated throughout, your career, is an easy way to get licensed in other states

Several states claim that they can process a comity application for an MLE in one or two weeks. Ohio, for example, can process an application within days or hours by obtaining electronic verification of MLE credentials from the NCEES. Contact your state board for more information.

What is a Model Law Engineer (MLE)?

In an effort to obtain better uniformity among the state licensing laws, NCEES has developed (and is continually refining) its Model Law, which is a complete set of generic sample engineering licensing laws. Some states have adopted the Model Law in its entirety; others have adopted it in part, with or without the addition of parts specific to those states. Many states have adopted the Model Law verbatim, and a few have more stringent requirements. But most still have licensing requirements that are less stringent than the Model Law requirements. If licensees meet the requirements of the Model Law, they are considered to be "Model Law Engineers" by NCEES and the states.

Differences Between "Reciprocity" and "Comity" in Professional Engineering

Although the two terms are frequently used as synonyms, there actually is a difference. "Comity" is the act of recognizing your status as a professional engineer and, as a courtesy, exempting you from some of the administrative steps and/or exams that would be required of you if you were not already a professional engineer. 

"Reciprocity" is the act of recognizing you as a "professional engineer" in one state by virtue of your license in another. Most states offer registration by comity. Under comity, you won't have to retake the PE exam, but you might still have to complete an application, submit references, list your experience, take any special state-specific exams, and/or pay a fee. Under reciprocity, your status as a professional engineer in a new state would be (essentially) automatic, given your status as a professional in another.

Can I appeal my PE exam score?

In general, appeals are not allowed on multiple-choice questions. If you think there is a flawed question on the exam, you may file a comment sheet at the time of the test. In most states, you are allowed to check your answer sheet to make sure that it was correctly scanned. To do this, you need to make an appointment with your state board.

In some states, you may appeal your score on an essay-format exam, as long as your score falls within your state's cutoff. NCEES will not review an essay exam with a score below 62 points. A number of states do not allow appeals, so check first with your state board to find out whether an appeal is possible.

Celebrate Passing the PE Exam

As you’re taking the above steps to obtain your professional engineering license, don’t forget to celebrate what you’ve accomplished up to this point. This includes passing the FE exam as well as the PE exam.

If taking the NCEES PE exam is still ahead of you, be sure to check out our resources covering how to prepare for exam day, what to bring to the exam, and even advice from past examinees.


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