One of the least understood areas of the engineering licensure process relates to the question of: What constitutes acceptable qualifying engineering experience for the purposes of licensure?
In this week’s edition of Pass the PE Exam, I’m going to talk about the qualifying engineering experience requirements you will need to satisfy to take the PE Exam. I also cover how to know you are on the right track with your experience, before it’s too late and you realize that you missed out on what could have been years of experience towards your PE license.
This is a VERY important aspect of seeking your PE License, because if the current experience you are getting is not acceptable in your state, then you will need to work additional years before you can sit for the exam, so understanding this topic can truly impact how soon you get your PE license.
Now, Before I jump in, let me remind you that most successful engineers will tell you that getting their PE license was the biggest career growth driver they’ve experienced, whether it was due to a promotion, salary increase or just more exciting projects to work on – you want to get your PE license. However, preparing for the PE exam can be a real challenge, but through the videos on our YouTube Channel you will learn everything you need to know about the licensing process including PE exam preparation.
First of all, it is crucial to know that not all US states require the same educational qualifications for the PE Exam and that you will need to contact your state board or visit their website to find out exactly what education and experience is important in your situation to take the PE Exam.
In order to determine its own education experience and residency requirements, each state acts independently. The guidelines for what qualifying engineering experience is will differ greatly from state to state. Some states require you to have a Bachelor of Science degree from an engineering program approved by ABET, with no exceptions. While other states allow you to take the PE exam with a degree in engineering technology, physics, mathematics, or chemistry, or without any degree at all, providing you with criteria for experience. For applicants without an approved engineering degree, these criteria are almost always greater.
For example, in many states, you are required to pass the FE exam AND have four years of qualifying engineering experience before being accepted to sit for the PE exam, but after having two years of experience, in some states, such as California, graduates of accredited engineering programs are eligible to take the PE exam. This is a HUGE DIFFERENCE, and you must be mindful of that.
A compilation of state laws was developed by the National Society of Professional Engineers (or NSPE) that allows candidates for a PE license to take the exam before gaining four years of experience. The document is from 2018, so you should check with your particular state, but if you determine in which state you should go through the process, this document might be useful. It provides you with a description of all the states and territories of the US.
While all states differ greatly in the qualification requirements for taking the exam, in terms of the type of experience you will need to take the PE exam, I will provide you with some general details. Again, this information came from the National Society of Professional Engineers.
It is usually expected that all of the candidate’s engineering experience be gained after graduation. If, however, you have worked while attending school, probably through internships, and if that job meets the requirements for qualifying experience, you may be able to apply to take the exam in less than four years after graduation, which is what happened to me. That, of course, means that you can show that the experience of the internship counts as qualifying engineering experience.
In my case, based on engineering internships that I had during college, I was eligible to earn almost one year of credit, summing up my summer and winter internships. So it is possible.
On the other hand, if you are not a graduate of an accredited four-year engineering program in order to apply for an engineering license, you would most likely require more than four years of qualifying experience (possibly 8 to 12 years depending on the specifics of your education). Again, each State Engineering Licensing Board can provide details on the number of years of experience required. I’ll also note that in some states the Master’s degree can be recognized as one year of experience with the prerequisite of experience. This is another part of the guidelines that I have been able to take advantage of through my MS degree in civil engineering.
Now, in order to constitute skilled engineering experience, experience must meet a number of requirements, which are also set out on the NSPE website, which I referred to in the description below.
- First, the experience should be from a major branch of engineering.
- Second, experience needs to be supervised. It must be carried out under the ultimate responsibility of one or more trained engineers. Generally trained engineers must be certified by skilled engineers. However, some jurisdictions will recognize experience under the supervision of a trained unlicensed engineer in industrial circumstances where there is no provision of engineering services to the public.
- Third, expertise must be of high quality, requiring the applicant to develop technical skills and initiative in the application of engineering concepts and good judgment in the analysis by others of such applications. Basically, you’ve got to do some highly advanced engineering work.
- Fourth, experience must be broad enough to provide an applicant with a fairly well-rounded introduction to many aspects of technical engineering, along with highly advanced expertise in a specific engineering branch.
- Finally, experience must switch from relatively straightforward activities with less responsibility to work of greater complexity, requiring higher levels of responsibility. In other words, they just want to see that over the last 4 years, you are progressing from simple engineering to more complex ventures.
Now this part is important-In determining whether an applicant is sufficiently qualified and responsible to be entrusted with or independently engaged in engineering work or to supervise engineering work, state engineering licensing boards are looking for proof of independent decision-making and the presumption of personal responsibility for design and implementation.
TWO last things I want to note here: You do need to provide proof of autonomous decision-making and the assumption of personal responsibility in design and application when writing out your experience. I see that many people are denied because they don’t make this clear.
Second, make sure that someone who supervises you is appropriate in the eyes of your State Board. If that person is a licensed engineer, he or she is more likely to be, but if they are not licensed, you need to make sure that your State considers them appropriate. Another pitfall that I’ve seen a lot of engineers dealing with. They’ve been working for someone for years to find out that they’re not an acceptable supervisor for their State Board, losing the years of experience that they worked for that person.
So while studying for the PE exam takes time, effort and a lot of energy, it will be worth it many times over if you secure your PE license.
We publish videos weekly on our Pass the PE Exam YouTube Channel. Be sure to visit our page here and click the subscribe button as you’ll get expert tips and tricks each week – to ensure your best success – that you can’t get anywhere else. Believe me, you won’t want to miss a single video.
Lastly, I encourage you to ask questions in the comments of the videos or here 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
Anthony Fasano, P.E.
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success