What Happens After You Pass the NCEES PE Exam?

April 27, 2021
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I've passed the PE exam. On my business cards, should I put PE, P.E., RE, or CE after my name?

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.

On my business cards, should I list the state in which I am licensed?

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.

What about the designations "P.Eng." and "Ing."?

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.

Do I have to list my engineering discipline (e.g., "Civil Engineering") or area of specialty (e.g., "Geotechnical") on my business card?

No. 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.

Do I have to put my license, certificate, or registration number on my business cards? How about the name of the state in which I am licensed?

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.

When/where/how do I get my wall certificate?

Delivery time and procedure for getting the wall certificate varies 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 for it.

My state professional engineering society (technical association, etc.) also provides a certificate (plaque, etc.). Can I use this instead of a state-issued 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.

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.

After I get my Professional Engineer wall certificate, what do I do with it? Do I have to display it?

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.

I work in an industry (i.e., for a company) that is covered by the industrial exemption. Do I have to display my wall certificate?


What are some other ways to satisfy the requirements to provide notice of licensure to my 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 acknowledgement 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 can I get my certificate framed really nicely?

Most people display their certificates in a nice frame. An attractive, coordinated wall set can be achieved by similarly treating your college diplomas, society membership certificates, and any other special awards or credentials you have received.

What's the difference between a stamp and a 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.

Is there a stamp/seal for the EIT/FE exam?

"EIT" (FE, IE, EI, etc.) is a designation, not a license. There is no stamp/seal for this.

Is it mandatory that I buy a stamp/seal after I pass 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.

Where do I get my stamp/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.

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

The design is generally round, includes the phrase "Professional Engineer," lists your state name, your name, and your license number. It may also list your license's expiration date or provide a place for you write in that date. The actual design is specified by your state. You should contact your state board to obtain the exact design specifications, as generic designs do not always satisfy state law.

About how much should my stamp/seal cost?

Stamps are under $30. Mechanical embossing seals are under $40.

What do I have to do/show to prove to the store that I am entitled to a stamp/seal?

Generally, stores do not require any proof of licensure to purchase a stamp/seal. Improper use stamps/seals is regulated. However, possession is not.

What should I use my 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.

How do I use my 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 color ink should I use with my stamp?

Unless you are directed otherwise, always use black ink.

Are there provisions for using an electronic seal, electronic signature, or electronic certificate of authenticity?

This is an area of ongoing development. Currently, most documents certified by professional engineers must be inked and signed.

Is it possible to pass an FE or PE exam and NOT be given a license, title, wall certificate, or professional status at all?

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.

Do I need professional liability or errors and/or omissions insurance in order to practice as an engineer? To practice as a consultant? To be a professional engineer? To use my stamp/seal?

Although some jobs require bonds, it is not a legal requirement to have liability and/or errors and omissions insurance in order to practice engineering as a consultant. Federal, state, county, and local ordinances may require other types of insurance, however.

Should I tell my boss/employer I am taking the exam before I pass it?

This is a personal matter, and the answer depends on your relationship.

How much of a raise should I expect from my boss/employer for passing the PE exam?

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).

How should I approach asking my boss for a raise because I passed the PE exam?

This is a personal matter, and the answer depends on your relationship. The reward for becoming a PE is usually established by precedent, contract, union requirement, or regulation rather than previous agreement. It is possible, but unlikely, that a raise will be awarded just for announcing your accomplishment.

Do I have to take recertification exams 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.

Do I have to take continuing education courses to renew my PE license?

Approximately half of the 50 states have continuing education requirements. Check with your state board.

As a PE, 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 PE, 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.

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.

How do I go about setting up my own consulting engineering business? Should I incorporate? What is a "Professional Corporation"?

This is much too complex of an issue to be answered in this FAQ. There are many excellent books available on business formation and structure. The American Consulting Engineers Council (ACEC) and Small Business Administration (SBA) are sources of useful information. For best results, see an attorney.

Where do I obtain "standard contracts" ("standard agreements, "standard forms")?

Standard contracts (between owners, engineers, contractors, and architects) are developed and published jointly by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), the American Consulting Engineers Council (ACED), the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and other related organizations. These standard contracts are essentially the same, regardless of issuing organization. Standard contracts have withstood the test of time (i.e., have been litigated) and should be used whenever possible. For other types of agreements, consult an attorney.

When in business for myself, what should be my hourly rate? How much should I charge?

There are many ways to bill out your time. These are described in most books covering consultancy. Some methods of billing out time are based on an hourly rate, others are not. A logical billing rate is very difficult to determine without a prior history of job costs and a good accounting system. A CPA can provide valuable assistance in this area, as can consulting engineers in your local area.

I want to extend my license to other states. What do I have to do?

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.

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.

What is the NCEES Records Retention Program (Records 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.

How long does it take for a Model Engineer to obtain a reciprocal license from another state?

Several states claim that they can process a comity application for a 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.

Which states accept the NCEES records?

Virtually all states accept some aspects (e.g., education, experience, license, and/or references) of the NCEES records, and most accept all aspects. Contact NCEES or your state board for more information.

Should I participate in the NCEES Records Retention Program?

If you or your firm are not going to offer engineering services in other states, there will probably be no advantage to you in participating. However, if the opposite is true, participation is a logical method of extending your license to other states.

What does it cost to register with the NCEES Records Retention Program?

NCEES charges a fee to register with the Records Retention Program, as well as to distribute copies of your file to various states. These fees are subject to change but are posted on the NCEES website.

How do I go about participating in the NCEES Records Retention Program?

Contact NCEES. There is a charge to obtain the application.

What is the difference between "reciprocity" and "comity"?

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.

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