In this article (and video above), which is the first in a two-part series, I take you through the requirements and qualifications needed to apply for the PE Exam.
Registration for the October 2021 pencil-and-paper PE exams opened on June 14 and will close on August 26th at 3:00 pm EST. Registration for the computer-based PE exams is however open all year-round.
States regulate professional engineering licensing in the US. Each state’s requirements are different, but the application process is generally the same. Each state has an engineering board that regulates the practice of engineering in that state. They are who you will apply to for your engineering license and are the ultimate authority on the specific rules and requirements of your state.
The first step, before you officially apply for the PE exam, is to make sure you meet the qualifications to be eligible to be licensed. The next step will be to submit all documentation and information to your state board for approval, and that second step I will cover in the next video.
Minimum Qualifications Required To Apply For the PE Exam:
The “3 E’s” (reference: PE Exam Coach) describe the minimum qualifications required to become a professional engineer. The requirements are very similar in all states. They are:
There are several educational avenues in which people can become licensed. Most people graduate from ABET accredited engineering programs. Others may have graduate degrees, degrees from foreign or non-accredited engineering programs, engineering technology or related science degree, or in some cases no degree at all.
States differ on how they handle degrees that aren’t ABET accredited 4 year Bachelor’s degrees. Some states allow those without such a degree to become professional engineers with more than the typical 4 years of experience. Some states allow those without a degree at all to become licensed with enough years of documented experience (usually 12 or more). Other states prohibit those without a degree from ever becoming professional engineers. Foreign degrees are acceptable by some states with additional review or commercial degree evaluation, such as NCEES Credentials Evaluation, and some treat them as a non-ABET engineering degree. Other states prohibit those with these degrees from becoming licensed.
States treat engineering technology degrees differently. Some states allow these degrees with additional experience (more than the typical 4 years) while other states prohibit them entirely. Most states allow provisions to waive the FE and PE exams based on combinations of education and experience. Although the bar for waiving either exam is high, it’s much less common and much more difficult to waive the PE exam than it is the FE exam.
You must obtain the minimum amount of engineering experience required in your state. This is typically four years for someone possessing an ABET-accredited Bachelor’s degree or eight years for a degree not accredited by ABET. With advanced degrees, the experience requirement can be less. Those states which allow licensure with no degree, the experience requirement will be highest (likely 10 to 12 years or more of verifiable engineering experience). Each state has its own requirements for education and experience.
If your state has decoupled the exam, you may take the PE exam earlier than the experience requirement would dictate. For example, you may be required to obtain 4 years of engineering experience, however you could take your test before the 4 year mark. You might pass the test early, but you would of course still have to wait the full four years to get your license.
Qualifying Experience Can Usually Be Described as Fitting Into One of These Categories:
- Engineering design
- Engineering calculations
- Planning for engineering works
- Prep and review of engineering plans
- Prep and review of engineering specifications, and
- Engineering analysis
In some cases, full-time engineering work experience obtained within a couple of years of completing your engineering degree can be counted toward your experience requirement. Sometimes at 50% of actual time, often with a maximum amount that can be claimed prior to graduation. Advanced degrees and foreign experience are often counted and verified in the same manner.
You must first pass the eight hour FE exam administered by NCEES. This is usually done before graduating college, or soon after. Most states don’t stipulate when it has to happen as long as you do it BEFORE you apply for the PE exam. You can sometimes get a waiver for the FE exam by claiming an exemption such as possessing additional work experience or education. You may be required to provide additional information in addition to the standard application such as more references, etc. in order to qualify for the FE exam waiver.
If you passed the FE exam in another state, contact NCEES and have them send the verification directly to the board of the state you are applying to.
After passing the FE exam, you must pass the eight hour PE exam for your engineering discipline, also administered by NCEES. Some states allow you to sign up for the exam without their prior consent, while others require that they pre-approve you before sitting for the exam. Often, your application will have to be submitted and approved first.
In addition to the 3 E’s of education, experience and examinations, you must qualify for some and or all of the following, depending on your state’s requirements. You must:
- Possess the proper immigration status (citizen or legal permanent resident).
- Not have committed any crimes that would be grounds for denial of license.
- Are of good moral character as determined by the board.
- Are of appropriate age.
- Not be behind in child support payments.
- Not be behind in student loan payments.
You will likely be required to provide documentation in your application with regard to these items.
Some states may allow licensure outside of these parameters under special circumstances. For example, the New York board’s website reads:
“On recommendation of the board, the department may waive specific requirements, except as to age, character, education and citizenship, in the case of applicants who are possessed of established and recognized standing in the engineering profession and who have practiced lawfully for more than fifteen years.”
Check with your state board’s website for details about licensing under special circumstances or call them to answer any specific questions regarding your situation.
I hope you found this video helpful. In upcoming videos I will take you through the actual application process step by step and show you how to complete your application the right way.
Pass the PE Exam videos will publish weekly, so be sure to click the subscribe button so you don’t miss something that could make a substantial difference in your exam result.
Lastly, I encourage you to ask questions in the comments of this video, or on this page and I’ll read and respond to them in future videos. So if there’s a specific topic you want me to cover or answer, we have you covered.
I’ll see you next week… on Pass the PE Exam
Anthony Fasano, P.E.
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success