How to Become a PE (Professional Engineer)? Study Guide & Tips

When you have a status as a professional engineer (PE) and the relevant license for it, a bright future is waiting ahead of you! A PE often earns a bigger respect from industry professionals and those in the engineering community understand that it has the necessary skills and knowledge to earn its status.

So, do you want to become a real PE? Are you already in the process of becoming one? If you answer yes to one of these questions, you have come to the right place! In this article, we will show you several important things about becoming a PE, including a step-by-step guide and why it is a good idea to become one!

Why Should You Become a Professional Engineer? 

There are a lot of reasons for one to become a PE. Considering the high standards in the industry, having a professional status allows one to get more credibility. In addition to earning a higher respect from peers and potential clients, below are several other important reasons for one to take the road to becoming a PE.

  • Career Opportunities

If you want to succeed in this industry, you should keep in mind that the presence of a PE license can be a very deciding factor throughout the hiring process. It is common for a company to only choose one from two equally qualified applicants based on whether they have the license or not.

Yes, these two candidates may have similar academic backgrounds and they both have been in this business for several years. Still, for a hiring manager, choosing a licensed candidate is the safer bet for a company. For this reason, you should see how a license not only enhances your standing but also highlights your leadership potential.

  • Higher Salary

You are actually lucky if you work as an engineer and live in industrial cities. Companies and factories around these areas usually give higher salary rates for their engineers, whether they work in the field or as a consultant. But, if you don’t live near such areas, one effective way to get more money is to earn a PE license.

A 2018 salary report from ASME shows that the median salary for a licensed PE is situated around $120,000. Those who are not licensed get a median salary of around $95,000. Moreover, if one holds a PE license in an engineering specialty, their median salary can jump to approximately $130,000.

  • Better Industry Authority

For many new engineers, having a PE license is one of the best ways to advance and earn the chance to get greater responsibilities. One reason for this is only a licensed engineer is allowed to sign and submit different kinds of project plans and drawings. So, unless one has such a license, they are prohibited from doing these things.

Earning a PE license also allows one to oversee work in the private sector. They can also serve as a qualified expert witness that is rightful in front of the law. Also, numerous government bodies and academic institutions also require the presence of a PE license before one can take part in certain kinds of projects.

  • Job Security

The job market is a volatile environment, which is why the demand for qualified engineers went up and down in the past several years. Even so, when you can prove that your role is irreplaceable and can actually make contributions to a company, your hiring manager will never think of replacing you with someone else.

As a soon-to-be licensed PE, you should understand that your job’s security is substantially related to the value you can bring to the table. Therefore, you should have the commitment to upgrade your skill set, industry knowledge, as well as credentials. Otherwise, you risk being easily replaced by determined, young engineers.

Five Easy Steps to Become a Professional Engineer

A PE has a certain level of authority and responsibility in the industry. Therefore, having a degree is not enough for you to become an authorized engineer. The roles and implications of this title are the reasons why a person should go through several strict and rigorous processes before becoming one.

1. Get a Degree From an ABET-Accredited Institution

ABET is the board that gives accreditation to people in the engineering and technology sectors. According to its official website, an ABET accreditation shows that an educational institution can fulfill the requirements and standards for engineering and technology professions. Therefore, it is safe to say that, when you graduate from an ABET-accredited academy or college, you have the right competency for the job.

If you are not sure whether a school is ABET-accredited, a quick Googling session can actually tell you about it. But, if you want a more certain answer, you can go to ABET’s official website and go to the “Find Programs” section. Type in your school’s name and see if it shows up on the result page.

Once you are sure that your school is ABET-accredited, it’s now your job to join its engineering program and finish it. On the other hand, if you don’t go to an ABET-accredited school (whether it is a local or foreign school), you should find another way to complete this first step of earning a PE license.

The approach will vary based on the region you live in. For example, if you live in Utah, you can bypass this requirement if you have an engineering degree in a foreign country. You can also do so if you have practiced as a principal for at least five years in another state for the past seven years. You may also find similar regulations in other states, but you still need to make sure about it just to be safe.

2. Work With a Licensed Professional Engineer for Four Years

Graduating from an ABET-accredited institution does not necessarily mean that you can use a PE title. In fact, you still need to go through several years of working under a licensed PE. Specifically, you have to spend at least four years at this stage!

No, the four-year period does not include any time you spend working before you graduate. If you want to figure out what other requirements you need to pass this stage, you should read the local regulations in your area. While each state may have different details, the requirements are typically similar.

Now, don’t the rules intimidate you just yet! While they may easily overwhelm you, many of the points actually do make sense and you should meet them without excessive effort. And, don’t be worried if your job starts with doing simple tasks because you can still count them in.

Any engineering firm that works with a licensed PE knows that this step is crucial for you and they will be happy to help you along the process. When you think about it, you may realize that it’s in their best interest to help you get your license. On the other hand, you can get much-needed hands-on experience when you join the firm.

Nevertheless, you did spend four years in the engineering school, didn’t you? So, don’t overthink about spending another four years working in an engineering firm. In fact, those who have earned their PE license will tell you that this working stage will be much simpler and include more fun than the school part.

3. Pass the FE Examination

Unfortunately, you cannot go through the 4-year working with only having fun at work. In the first or second year, you should face the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, which is an annual computer-based assessment that tests your understanding of engineering basic concepts.

While there is no regulation that states exactly when you should do it, experts agree that it is best to take this exam not long after your graduation. The reason for this is that the materials of the test will be similar to what you learned in school, increasing your chance to succeed in it.

The exam itself consists of 110 questions and may take around 5 hours to complete. To register for the FE exam, you can go to the NCEES website. Usually, you should pay around $175. Once you have registered and paid the admission fee, you can choose any working day to do the test. Still, you can only take once in each quarter (and no more than three times in each year).

Passing this exam should not be very difficult. You can find several reference handbooks online and use them to familiarize yourself with the test questions and materials. Those who have taken the test said that a two-week study period is more than enough to prepare yourself.

4. Pass the PE Examination

After succeeding in the FE exam, you must also pass the PE exam. Yes, once you are at this stage, you are actually very close to getting your PE license. However, this is actually the time when things feel like getting real and you are required to prepare yourself better before facing the test. 

Just like the FE exam, it is also a computer-based assessment. However, it only consists of around 80 questions and takes up to 8.5 hours to complete. Moreover, the test focuses more on particular engineering disciplines and you will see that it was developed to test the quality of engineers with a minimum of 4-year experience.

The special thing about this exam is that not all engineers are allowed to take it. Before registering yourself at the NCEE website, a test-taker must meet several requirements. Thus, if you want to improve your chance to be approved, it is advised that you apply early. In general, each state will hold this exam once or twice a year.

Unlike the FE exam, this one is separated into two parts: morning and afternoon sessions. Typically, you will get the results within ten weeks after the exam day. Don’t try to make contact with the board because you will never get the results through the phone.

This test is more complicated than the FE exam, mainly because outside reference materials may be used for the assessment. Consider yourself lucky if you are allowed to take it the first time you apply for it! If this happens to you, set aside enough time to study and develop a smart test-taking strategy.

5. Get Your License From the State’s Licensing Board

Congratulations on passing the PE exam! However, just because you have earned the four-year professional experience and passed the tests, it does not mean that you have the right to use a PE title. The next thing you need to do is apply to get your license from the state board.

To apply for it, you can go to the Member Licensing Directory of the NCEES website. There, you can choose your state directory and get the necessary details about the requirements. Normally, you will be taken to your state’s licensing board.

Before they give you your license, the board member usually will require you to do three things: go pass a verification test, provide recommendations from five people, and pay a fee for the procedure. Board members of certain states will also do a background check on you.

Depending on your state, the whole process may take several months. But, it can be quicker if you have all your documents lined up and fill in your information on the NCEES record. It makes it easier for the board to track your experience verification, recommendations, and exams.

The Value of a Professional Engineer License

Now, do you think that it is worthwhile to earn a PE license? Do you believe that it will actually bring you many benefits? If you want to take your engineering career to a new level and open up new doors for opportunities, then the answer is: YES!

As you may have learned from the previous sections, when you have the appropriate license, you can convince users and authorities in your area that you are an authorized PE that has been through stringent processes. Even if not all states require a PE to get a license, clients may ask for one when they want to hire you as a consultant. 

You may also get into trouble with the law in certain territories when you don’t have the license to become a PE. For this reason, having the relevant accreditation for the job allows one to work anywhere within the country without having to worry about laws and regulations.

The Takeaway

The road to becoming a professional engineer (PE) might be long and challenging. A lot of practice hours are required and you also need to take several exams along the way. But, when you put enough dedication into it and have the right kind of support around you, it can definitely be an enjoyable and worthwhile journey!

Once you have earned the PE title, people will look upon you and ask for your guidance and expertise. For this reason, you will have better career opportunities waiting in the future. Just remember, earning a license is just a start, as many state authorities and accreditation agencies require PEs to continually improve their skills and knowledge.

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