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Qualifying to Take the NCEES PE Exam

November 29, 2021
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Deciding to take the NCEES Professional Engineer (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. Below is a brief overview of the qualifications:

  • Meet your state’s education requirement. 

  • Successfully complete the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam.

  • Meet minimum experience requirement through a licensed PE (typically four years).

  • Complete a background check.

  • Build and submit an Experience Record (ER) endorsed by your references.

  • Send the application paperwork to your state board.

  • Complete state-specific ethics exam.

PE Exam Requirements by State

Each state acts independently to set its own education experience and residency requirements. States can have widely different requirements in these areas. A few states have residency requirements for taking the FE and PE exams. Most do not, however, since it is common for consulting engineers to be registered in adjoining states.

I took the FE exam in another state, do I have 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 another state. It may not be recognized in any other states.

NCEES PE Exam Degree Requirements

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 a degree in engineering technology, physics, math, or chemistry, or without any degree at all, providing you meet experience requirements. These requirements are nearly always greater for applicants without an accredited engineering degree.

PE Exam Qualifications: Military Education

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 Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)-accredited 4-year engineering degree.


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 ABET-accredited for a certain number of years.

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 is from a foreign university?

Degrees from foreign universities are accepted in some states. However, it can be 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.

How much does the NCEES PE exam cost?

The costs that factor into taking the Professional Engineer exam can vary in each state. For more information about registration fees and payees, find your state and exam location at

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

How to Become a Civil Engineer Without a Degree

Although it is difficult to become a civil engineer without a degree, it is not impossible. For entry-level positions, a PE license is often not required and can be earned later on in your career. Working in the field of civil engineering requires many years of hard work and the development of specific skills. 

Separate from the education requirements, notable attributes of successful civil engineers include skillsets in:

  • Problem-solving: Civil engineers deal with many variables in their work and need to recognize and assess intricate problems.

  • Decision Making: Civil engineers often make decisions based on several objectives at once using best practices from their own experience and technical knowledge.

  • Organizational: As with problem-solving, civil engineers need organizational skills to juggle multiple projects at once, managing their time and resources effectively.

  • Leadership: Leadership skills are important for civil engineers to manage teams in planning, surveying, construction, technology, and more.

  • Math: Of course, civil engineers use all kinds of math principles during the analysis, design, and troubleshooting phases of their projects.

  • Writing: Proficient writing skills are required when communicating projects to regional and urban planners, architects, and elected officials with little technical knowledge.

  • Speaking: Civil engineers should be comfortable with conversing and explaining reports including complex scientific information to diverse audiences.

It’s important to note, due to steep requirements and responsibilities, the quickest and simplest way to find success in this career path is to obtain a civil engineering degree. 

Qualifications to Become a Civil Engineer

For the most part, a career in civil engineering requires a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Depending on your specialty, related occupations and degree coursework can include:

  • Civil engineering technologies

  • Construction

  • Statistics

  • Fluid dynamics

  • Math

  • Engineering mechanics and systems

As with other engineering degree programs, a civil engineer degree program must be ABET-accredited to qualify for a PE license. Depending on your state, a bachelor’s in civil engineering technology can all meet the academic requirement for a PE license.

Qualifying Work Experience for the NCEES PE Exam

Only experience wherein you have made use of your engineering knowledge will count. This can include:

  • Graduate school/academic research

  • Teaching college-level engineering courses 

  • Relevant military experience

Research in an accredited graduate school can qualify as experience. 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. Most states will give some credit for teaching engineering courses at the college level. But generally, the full experience requirement cannot be satisfied with just teaching.

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.

In terms of the military, all branches 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 if my engineering experience included some irrelevant tasks?

Most engineers spend a portion of their time doing non-engineering 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 six years of work experience, and you spent 33% of your time drafting the designs that you developed, then you really have only four years of work experience.

PE Exam References 

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. You will need at least one reference from every engagement for which you are claiming as qualifying work experience. Typically, states require around four to six references. 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.

Qualifications for Professional Engineering References

Most states require all (or a majority) of your references to 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.

Normally, a reference from an engineering co-worker (someone who was level with you on the organization chart) will be accepted. Most of the time, college professors won't have any direct knowledge of your work experience (duration or nature). Only engineers can judge engineering work. References from nonengineers usually have no value.

What if I can’t find enough professional engineer references?

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. The next best option is any staff engineer with knowledge of your work history.

How do I know my NCEES PE exam application is completed?

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.

Will I have to take the PE exam again to become licensed in a different 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. You will have to take an NCEES exam if;

  • You got your PE license by some non-examination method (e.g., interview, eminence, grandfathering)

  • You took a non-NCEES exam

  • You took an NCEES exam in a different discipline

What about unique, state level engineering exams?

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 professional engineering license?

Some states offer reciprocity, meaning that one state’s PE license is valid in another state. But this is not typical. Most states offer only a generic PE license. Other states register by discipline (e.g., "civil engineer," "mechanical engineer," etc.), or offer licenses unique to those states (e.g., "maritime engineer," "traffic engineer," etc.). With the exception of Texas, states do not currently recognize certifications from other countries.

Complete Your PE Exam Application and Start Studying

Qualifying to take the NCEES PE exam is not a simple task. But if you stay organized and reach out to all of your helpful professional engineering contacts, you’ll be prepping for your PE exam before you know it! Be sure to explore our resources section to learn more about the NCEES PE exam and find out what happens after you pass.


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