Qualifying to Take the NCEES PE Exam

July 29, 2021
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Deciding to take the NCEES PE exam is an important step in your engineering career. You may have questions regarding PE exam requirements and what it means once you have your PE license. Here is a comprehensive overview of the qualifications. 

PE Exam Requirements for Education and Residency

Do all states have the same PE exam education requirements?

No. Each state acts independently to set its own education experience and residency requirements. States can have widely different requirements in these areas.

Do I need a degree to take the NCEES PE exam?

Some states require that you have a BS degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program, with no exceptions. Other states permit you to take the PE exam with an engineering technology, physics, math, or chemistry degree, or without any degree at all, providing you meet experience requirements. These requirements are nearly always greater for applicants without an accredited engineering degree.

What does "ABET-accredited" mean?

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, or ABET, periodically reviews, surveys, and visits U.S. institutions with engineering and engineering technology degree programs. If ABET's criteria are met, the degree program becomes accredited for a certain number of years.

How can I find out if my degree is accredited?

ABET lists accredited programs on their website. Your state board is also aware of which programs are accredited and might be willing to tell you over the phone.

What if my engineering degree was obtained before my engineering program became accredited?

If your degree program became accredited after you graduated, your degree is unaccredited.

What if some of the engineering programs at my university are accredited, but my particular degree program was not?

Your degree is unaccredited.

What if my degree is from a foreign university?

Degrees from foreign universities are accepted in some states. However, in some instances, it is difficult to convince your state board that your international degree is equivalent to an ABET-accredited degree. Numerous agreements with organizations worldwide like the Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs) and Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs), enable some foreign universities to become ABET-accredited. To learn more about receiving an evaluation of your foreign engineering credentials, contact your employer or your state board to be referred to a credentials evaluation organization.

What if I have a MS engineering degree from an ABET-accredited university, but my BS degree is not accredited?

Contact your state board. States handle this situation differently.

When should you take the PE Civil Exam?

Once you’ve completed the degree and work requirements listed above, you can register for the PE Civil Exam. Starting in January of 2022, the PE Civil Exam will be offered year-round in a computer-based format instead of biannually in a paper-and-pencil format, as it has been previously. If you prefer a paper-and-pencil testing format and the option to bring your own reference materials into the exam, you should plan to take the PE Civil Exam this coming October. Choose a test date that gives you enough time to study for ~300 hours (2-4 hours, five days a week for 3-4 months).

PE Civil Exam Switching from Paper-and-Pencil to CBT

The PE Civil Exam will switch from a paper-and-pencil format to a CBT (Computer Based Testing) format in January 2022. This transition will allow for greater exam security, more uniformity in testing experience, and a greater variety of question types. In addition to multiple-choice questions, the CBT version of the exam is able to ask multiple-correct, point-and-click, drag-and-drop, and fill-in-the-blank questions. The PE Civil CBT Exam will be offered at Pearson VUE testing centers year-round. 

October is Your Last Chance to Take the Paper-and-Pencil PE Civil Exam

If you’d like to be able to use your own books and reference material during the exam and take it in the traditional paper-and-pencil format, be sure to register for the last paper-and-pencil administration of the PE Civil Exam in October 2021. The exam will be offered exclusively in a computer-based format starting in January 2022. Register for the October 2021 exam by August 26, 2021, and create a study plan that will set you up for PE Civil Exam success. We recommend starting with one of our prep course options, which ensure that you receive comprehensive and up-to-date exam review while catering to your schedule and prep needs. Choose your depth section to view our prep course bundles and additional review materials for the PE Civil Exam.

Preparing for the PE exam? Test your skills with a free sample quiz. Choose your discipline: PE Civil, PE Electrical, or PE Mechanical.

Can I take the PE exam with a math, physics, or chemistry degree?

In some states, yes; in others, no. Contact your state board. The experience requirement may be greater than for someone with an ABET-accredited 4-year engineering degree.

I have an engineering technology degree. Can I take the PE exam?

In some states, yes; in others, no. Contact your state board. The experience requirement may be greater than for someone with an ABET-accredited 4-year engineering degree.

Can I take the PE exam if (a) I have a 2-year technical degree, (b) I have completed some courses toward an engineering degree, or (c) I have no degree?

In some states, yes; in others, no. Contact your state board. The experience requirement will be usually greater than for someone with an ABET-accredited 4-year engineering degree.

I have a military education. Can I take the exam?

It depends on what is meant by "military education." A 4-year engineering degree from West Point or the Naval Academy is probably accredited. However, AIT-type "military training" that is more trade-oriented is essentially the same as no degree at all. Contact your state board. The experience requirement may be greater than for someone with an ABET-accredited 4-year engineering degree.

Do I have to live in the state in which I take the FE and PE exams?

Contact your state board. A few states have residency requirements. Most do not, however, since it is common for consulting engineers to be registered in adjoining states.

Qualifying Work Experience for the NCEES PE Exam

How does the state really know what kind of work I've been doing?

The state bases its decision on the descriptions of your work experience that you and your references provide.

What kind of experience will qualify me to take the PE exam?

Only experience wherein you have made use of your engineering knowledge will count.

Is research in graduate school qualifying experience?

It can be. It depends on what you did. If you only did academic research in the library or on the Internet, it won't count. If you were working in the lab, it could very well count.

What about CAD?

Probably not.

Does teaching at the college level count as qualifying experience?

Most states will give some credit for teaching engineering courses. Generally, the full experience requirement cannot be satisfied with just teaching.

Military experience?

All branches of the military have engineers doing genuine engineering work. In this regard, the military is just like any other employer, and the engineering work experience counts. However, work performed by "combat engineers", electronic repair technicians, and so on is generally not true engineering work.

What kinds of work are not qualifying?

The following activities are generally not considered to be engineering work: drafting, customer service, marketing, inspection, clerical and administrative support, construction and construction site work, site cleanup, safety coordination, newsletter writing, quality control/inspection, management and supervision of nonengineers, writing policies and procedures, accounting, writing (reading, or interpreting) manufacturers' literature, compliance checking, plan checking, field verification, code compliance, contract administration, and architectural detailing.

I have never designed anything myself, but I have checked the work of others.

If you have been checking the work of others, you have been doing engineering. However, this basically requires you to recalculate the design. If all you did was "check the numbers" by punching them into a calculator, then you haven't been doing engineering.

Are there certain terms that would be "red flags" on my application?

While impressive titles are often misleading, low-level titles (e.g. "junior engineer," "draftsperson," "sales associate," "inspector") are usually indicative of the true nature of the job.

My work included some non-engineering and sub-engineering elements. What do I do?

Most engineers spend a portion of their time doing nonengineering work. Don't try to hide or misrepresent your nontechnical work. If it is substantial, you can assign a percentage to your experience, and that will be accepted by the state. For example, if you have 6 years of work experience, and you spent 33% of your time drafting the designs that you developed, then you really have only 4 years of work experience.

What about work experience before I graduated?

There certainly are exceptions, but the state board is going to wonder how you could be doing engineering work without the benefit of an engineering education. Just how were you able to design that roller coaster?

What about work experience in another country?

The work experience does not have to be in the United States. However, it is more difficult to document such experience.

How about design work experience using codes not used in the United States?

The work experience does not have to be based on U.S. codes.

Obtaining References for the PE Exam

Why do states ask for references or recommendations from other engineers with whom I have worked?

The purpose of getting references is primarily to verify the length of your work experience and the nature of your work experience (i.e., whether it is engineering or something else). Character, ethics, and morality are not the primary issues, if they are issues at all.

Do all states require the same number of references?

No. However, all states require some--usually 4 to 6.

How many references should I get?

Your state will be very specific about how many references you need. You will need at least one reference from every engagement for which you are claiming as qualifying work experience.

Can I send in more references than my state requests?

Yes. In fact, one or more of your references may fail to complete or send in the recommendation form. So, arranging for one or two extra is always a good idea.

I don't have enough references. Can I send in fewer references than my state requests?

Usually, there is no flexibility in the number of references required. If your state asks for 6, then you should arrange for 6 references. The completeness of your application will be judged at the administrative level, and if you don't have the required number of references, your application will not get any further. So don't send in fewer references than are required.

What qualifications do my references have to meet?

Most states require all (or a majority) of your references be licensed professional engineers. However, the most important issue to the board is whether the reference has specific first-hand knowledge of the length and nature of your work experience. Another important issue is whether your reference is unbiased. Usually references that are related to you by blood or marriage are not accepted. It is not necessary for all of your references to have supervised you directly, although such a relationship is preferred.

What do I do if (a) I don't know enough PEs? (b) I don't know any PEs? (c) I have never worked for a PE?

Many applicants have this problem. Electrical and telecommunication engineers are often hard-pressed to find enough PEs references, but the problem is not restricted to these areas. Each state has had to deal with similar problems hundreds of times and has developed its own policies in this regard. The states won't give you any specifics about these policies, either in writing or verbally, but there is some flexibility. Basically, you just have to do the best you can. Always get the required number of references. Always get references from each qualifying engagement. Beyond that, a reference from any engineer with first-hand knowledge of your work experience seems to satisfy the states. Your first alternative (which is almost always accepted), is to use your engineering supervisors, even if they are not PEs. Next best is any staff engineer with a knowledge of your work history.

Can I use an engineering co-worker as a reference?

Usually, a reference from an engineering co-worker (someone who was level with you on the organization chart) will be accepted.

Can I use references from college professors in school?

College professors usually won't have any direct knowledge of your work experience (duration or nature).

Can I use references from administrative staff or contractors with whom I have worked?

Only engineers can judge engineering work. References from nonengineers usually have no value.

What about references from clergy, friends, and other nonengineers outside of work?

Only engineers can judge engineering work. References from nonengineers usually have no value.

What about references who live or are registered as PEs in other states or other countries?

Your qualifying work experience does not have to be in the state in which you are taking the PE exam.

What if I cannot find my old supervisor because (a) my old company is no longer in existence, (b) my old company is in another country, or (c) my supervisor has retired, moved away, or died?

Unfortunately, it is sometimes impossible to document work experience. You might have some collateral evidence (e.g., publications or project reports) of your work during that time that might get you some experience credit, but this will take one-on-one negotiations with your state board.

What if my references don't speak or write English?

Then you will have to get everything translated. Be sure the original foreign-language document is submitted along with the translation. Ask the board if they have translation standards.

Can all of my references come from the same work engagement?
The references must cover a span of time equal to or exceeding the qualifying period. If you have enough years in one company, all of your references can come from that single company.

Will all of the people from whom I have requested references come through for me?

If you're lucky. But some of your most trustworthy friends, co-workers, and supervisors may let you down by not sending in the reference forms that you desperately need. Don't take this personally. Just compensate for the possibility by seeking one or two more references than you need.

How will I know if my application is complete or not?

Some states send out a notification when your application is complete (including having received all of your references). Other states send out an "incomplete" warning telling you who has not yet sent in their references. Check with your state board in this regard.

Should I follow up and remind my references?

Absolutely. You can remind without being too pushy by casually asking, "Any trouble or questions with that form I dropped off a couple of weeks ago?" Most of the time, you will hear, "Oh, no. It was pretty straight forward. I will get it back to you shortly." If you hear anything else, you can offer, "Well, just let me know if there is any information I can help you with."

Reciprocal Licenses, Reciprocity, and Comity

I took the FE exam in another state. Now, I'm living here. What do I have to do to transfer my EIT/FE certificate?

In most cases, you don't have to do anything. Since the FE exam is the same in all states, it is accepted by all states. When you fill out your PE exam application, just list the state, date, and your EIT certificate number. The exception to this rule is if you received a waiver on your FE exam from anther state. It may not be recognized in any other states.

If I get a PE license in one state, will I automatically be a PE in another state?

No. It may be relatively easy to get a reciprocal license, but it isn't automatic.

If I am a PE in one state, will I have to take the PE exam again to get a license in another state?

If you took an 8-hour NCEES PE exam in one state, you won't have to take the same exam in another state. If you got your PE license by some non-examination method (e.g., interview, eminence, grandfathering), if you took a non-NCEES exam, or if you took an NCEES exam in a different discipline, you will have to take an NCEES exam.

Do some states have extra or special exams? How do they work? Who writes these?

Some states have special exams covering topics unique to those states. Many states have "law and ethics" exams covering their state laws and board rules. California has special exams in seismic design and surveying for civil engineers. Exams in cold-regions engineering (Alaska) and high winds (Florida) are also used. The states contract with subject matter experts to have these exams prepared. You will take these exams on a different day from the 8-hour PE exam. Administrative procedures differ from state to state.

Do all states have the same licenses?

No. Some states offer only a generic PE license. Some states register by discipline (e.g., "civil engineer," "mechanical engineer," etc.). Some states offer licenses unique to those states (e.g., "maritime engineer," "traffic engineer," etc.)

Do all states license by discipline?

No. Most states have a generic PE license.

Can I get a reciprocal license for my Philippines PE license?

No, even though the PI PE exam is quite rigorous.

Can I get a reciprocal license for my license from England? Germany? Japan? Any other country?


What about NAFTA?

With the exception of Texas, states do not currently recognize certifications from other countries.

License Renewal and Continuing Education Requirements

Do I have to take a requalification exam?

No states require you to take written examinations to renew your engineering PE license.

Are there any continuing education requirements once you have a PE license?

Approximately 24 states and territories have continuing education requirements. For more information, look up your state on the state board page, and then contact your board for details.

How much does it cost to renew your license?

The cost varies from state to state, running from $25 to several hundred dollars per year.

Ready to ace the PE exam?

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