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Professional Engineering Licensure: Process Overview and Recommendations

Professional Engineering Licensure: 

Process Overview and Recommendations

            For many Civil Engineers, getting a Professional Engineering (PE) License becomes one of the greatest milestones in the early stages of one’s career. A PE License lets your employer know that you are ready to take on more responsibilities. To new clients, it shows you have the right credentials to earn their trust for new business. And to you, it is a symbol of pride for being hard-working, persistent and disciplined. Plus, it usually comes with a salary increase or first time licensure bonus too.

            Getting licensed in the US can be a long process involving lots of paperwork and mail going back and forth between schools and employers. It also needs due diligence from the applicant as licensure in the US is at a state level, and each state has different requirements for experience and education that must be met in advance. The good thing is that one does not necessarily have to become licensed in the state where one resides and that generally, there is some uniformity in the process among most of the states. Typically, the requirements are: (1) having a US bachelor or foreign approved degree in engineering, (2) passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, (3) accumulating four years of experience in the engineering practice and (4) passing the PE exam.

            If you have a US degree, all you need to do is ask your school to send directly to the board original copies of your diploma, transcripts and courses description. If you have a foreign degree, these documents are either sent to other organizations such as the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), or the state board itself for a comparative education review, to make sure the foreign degree meets US standards. If there are any deficiencies, the board may ask the applicant to complete additional courses.

            Once the education review is completed and approved, the next step is typically to sit for the FE Exam, which is administered by NCEES too. Upon registration, the applicant asks NCEES to deliver test results to the state board(s) where he or she is pursuing licensure. I like to describe the FE Exam as a review of your 4-year engineering degree, which is why sitting for it as soon as possible will make the studying less of a burden and significantly improve your passing rates.

            At the same time, if the applicant already has a job, he or she will start accumulating professional experience to satisfy the four year experience requirement. It is important to know that some boards accept foreign experience, while others do not. Some accept experience that has not been supervised by a licensed engineer, while others do not. Because of these variables, it is very important for the applicant to perform proper due diligence, so the application can be placed with the board that fits best with your personal situation. If you have a US Master’s degree, most of the times, this is credited as equivalent to 1 year of experience. To validate the remaining experience, each employer or manager that you have worked for, must mail original signed forms provided by the boards. The application review process can take several weeks or months, but the boards usually set application deadlines given that the PE Exam is only administered twice a year (April and October). Because of the extensive paperwork involved with the application, make sure the process is started early enough to meet the deadline!

            If the application is approved by the board, the applicant may then register again with NCEES to sit for the PE Exam. This exam obviously requires more knowledge than the FE, but there are great resources out there to help you prepare for the exam such as the Civil Engineering Reference Manual by Michael R. Lindeburg and past exams from NCEES. Personally, I believe that it isn’t so much about the studying itself but rather about how disciplined one is. I recommend building yourself a studying plan that fits your schedule with enough time in advance of the exam that will allow you to cover all the topics and practice sample exams. Generally, applicants take 2-3 months to prepare for this exam.

            The PE Exam is an 8 hour long test, split in two 4-hour sessions. If you are pursuing licensure in the structural engineering disciplines, this one typically comes with an extra day of exam, for a total of 16 hours test split in four 4-hour sessions. After presenting the exam comes the not-so-fun part. NCEES says they take 12-16 weeks to give results, which can feel like a long time after you have been planning this for so long. Regardless, keep calm and enjoy the spring (hot tip: apply for the April exam so you study while in winter, as opposed to the October exam, which you’ll be studying during summer), because if you were disciplined enough, most likely you would have passed the exam. As of 2019, according to NCEES, the passing rates for Civil Engineering PE Exam range from 57-67%, depending on the discipline.

After finally obtaining the PE License, it is important to know that there are requirements one must fulfill to renew or maintain it. With some boards, it involves a fee, some others require completion of a certain amount of continuing education credits or professional development hours, and some require both. The good news is that generally, these requirements are exempt for the first two years of licensure, so at least one gets that after all the hard work!

I was able to obtain my PE License in early 2019 and because of my personal situation (foreign degree and foreign experience), had to go through a longer than usual route, however, it is definitely possible. If you feel you are in a similar situation, definitely feel free to reach out to me via LinkedIn and I’ll provide as much guidance as possible! In the meantime, I wish you the best in your licensure endeavors.
By: Salvador Bentolila, PE, ENV SP
Disclaimer: I do not hold any relationships or affiliations with the companies listed above other than my own LinkedIn profile

Salvador Bentolila, PE, ENV SP is a Civil Engineer, specialized in Water Resources. He currently works as a Water/Wastewater engineer at AECOM and has experience with design and development of water supply, irrigation and wastewater systems.

About Author:

I am Thomas Britto here to share my experiences in the civil engineering field to all my readers.Today many students are struggling to buy books at high prices. So I decided to start a blog and share my experience and knowledge with all my readers.

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