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The P.E. license

“Professional engineer,” or P.E., is the title used by professional engineers throughout the United States. State licensing boards grant the P.E. to engineers who meet certain requirements in education, experience, and exams.

State laws limit the practice of engineering to licensed professional engineers, which means that a P.E. is required for such things as

  • Stamping and sealing designs
  • Bidding for government contracts
  • Owning a firm
  • Consulting
  • Offering expert witness testimony
  • Advertising services to the public

Engineers who do not perform the above functions can also benefit from holding a professional license. As a P.E., you are likely to reach managerial positions more quickly and earn a higher salary than your peers. The P.E. acts as a standard that shows you have met a series of stringent professional requirements and are a member of a select group of practicing engineers.

A higher standard

Because engineering is licensed at the state level, a professional engineer who practices in multiple states must be licensed by each of those states. NCEES Records is a service for licensees who need to practice in multiple jurisdictions.

Licensure requirements

The requirements for becoming a P.E. can be divided into three areas: education, experience, and exams. While each state has its own specific laws and rules concerning professional licensure, the information below describes the general process of obtaining a P.E.

Education

Generally, engineering licensing boards require P.E. candidates to have at least a bachelor’s degree from a program accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET. The ABET website allows you to search for accredited programs (select EAC in the “accredited by” field).

If your degree is not from an accredited program, most states require your credentials to be substantially equivalent to that of a graduate of an EAC/ABET-accredited program. NCEES offers a Credentials Evaluations service that compares the education of foreign-educated candidates (as well as those earning engineering degrees from domestic, non-ABET accredited programs) to established criteria standards.

Changes to education requirements

In 2006, NCEES member licensing boards voted to amend the NCEES Model Law to include an additional education requirement for P.E. licensure beginning in 2020. The new language calls for candidates to complete a master’s degree or its equivalent before attempting the PE exam. The specifics on the educational paths that meet the “or its equivalent” clause are the subject of ongoing work by the Council. In order for the requirement to go into effect in a particular state, that state must incorporate it into its law. If you anticipate applying to take the PE exam in 2020 or later, or if you are interested in learning more about these requirements, read more here. A timeline showing the evolution of the new requirements is located here.

Experience

Most states require four years of qualifying work experience. This is consistent with the NCEES Model Law, which classifies qualifying experience as “progressive experience on engineering projects of a grade and a character which indicate to the board that an applicant may be competent to practice engineering.” This is typically done as an engineer intern (sometimes called an engineer-in-training or EIT) under the supervision of a P.E.

The NCEES Model Law grants one and two years of experience credit for those with qualifying master’s and doctoral degrees, respectively.

Exams

P.E. candidates must also achieve acceptable results on two exams: the FE, which is usually taken in the senior year of college, and the PE, which is typically taken after at least four years of work experience. Both exams are developed by professional engineers with the assistance of testing experts known as psychometricians.

The FE exam tests knowledge learned during college. After passing the FE exam and approved by your board, you will become an engineer intern.

When should I take the FE?

The PE exam is typically the final hurdle before obtaining the license. It is more specialized, testing knowledge and skills learned through work experience in a particular engineering discipline. NCEES offers several separate PE exams, each with its own specifications that correspond to the engineering discipline.

The P.S. license

Each state and territory in the United States requires professionals who perform the tasks defined as the practice of surveying to hold a professional surveying (P.S.) license. In general, if you want to be a surveyor, you must become licensed.

The education requirements for surveying licensure vary by state, so it is best to contact your state’s licensing board before planning your educational path. You are also required to achieve acceptable results on the FS and PS exams to become licensed, with most states requiring four years’ of qualifying experience as a surveyor intern (the period between passing the FS and sitting for the PS exam).

Because surveying is licensed at the state level, a professional surveyor who practices in multiple states must be licensed by each of those states. NCEES Records is a service for licensees who need to practice in multiple jurisdictions.