Guide to PE Licensing for Online Engineering Students

Licensed Professional Engineers (PE) enjoy high earning potential and the opportunity to work in a wide spectrum of fields. However, gaining access to this potential and opportunity requires many years of hard work. The path to earning your PE license includes a demanding undergraduate degree program, meaningful real-world work experience, and two comprehensive examinations. But the effort is well worth it if you’re up for a challenge. Professional Engineers contribute new ideas, talents, and innovations to literally every area of modern life from the cars we drive and the homes we inhabit to the smartphones in our hands and the healthcare technology that raises our life expectancy.

This importance is reflected in your earning potential as a PE. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for all architecture and engineering occupations was $81,440 in 2019, as compared to a median annual wage for all jobs of $39,810. Engineering professionals enjoy the opportunity for significantly above-average wages.

This opportunity is multiplied when you earn a PE license. If you plan to do so, the most direct path is through a four-year degree from an undergraduate engineering program with accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). In order to get started, check out our look at the very best online bachelor’s degrees in engineering.

What is a PE License?

The Professional Engineering license is considered the highest standard of engineering competency in the engineering field. Receipt and maintenance of this license indicates a degree of experience, knowledge, and quality in the beholder, and therefore provides certain assurances to partners, collaborators, employers, clients, and professional associations that the individual in question is qualified to plan, lead or serve the public interest. The PE license also indicates complete and ongoing training in the ethical parameters of the engineering practice. PE licenses are conferred at the state level.

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Why Should I Get a PE License?

According to the National Society of Professional Engineers—the chief professional association overseeing administration, verification, and renewal of licensing—the Professional Engineer license is an important threshold for performing several key duties in the field of engineering. Critical among them:

  • Only licensed Professional Engineers are permitted to prepare, sign, seal and submit drawings and plans for approval by a public authority.
  • Any engineer, whether working as a consultant or providing project leadership within a private entity, is legally required to hold a license.
  • The majority of public opportunities at the federal, state and municipal level–due to their potential to impact large portions of the population–are typically only open to those who hold a PE license.
  • Many states require that those who provide teaching or training in engineering be in possession of their state-issued PE license.

The PE license is a distinguishing credential in the field of engineering, one that separates drafters, technicians and engineering assistants from project managers, team leaders, and independent consultants. Likewise, it is a distinction that can denote a significant improvement in your earning potential.

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How Can I Earn a PE License?

Earning your Professional Engineering license is a lengthy and rigorous process, but one that can enhance your technical qualifications, eligibility for professional opportunities, and the esteem in which you are held by others in your industry. But in order to reach this important status, you will need to navigate a challenging path that includes an undergraduate degree, professional experience, and two examinations.

According to the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), in order to become a licensed Professional Engineer (PE), you must:

  • Complete a four-year college degree from a program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology
  • Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam
  • Work under a Professional Engineer for at least four years
  • Pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam
  • Apply for a license from your state’s licensure board.

The NSPE also notes that you must also take steps to renew and retain your license throughout your career through continual maintenance and improvement of your skills.

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What Do I Need To Do To Be Eligible To Sit for the FE Licensing Exam?

The Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam is the very first hurdle to jump on your way to professional status. You will typically be eligible to take this exam either near, or after, completion of your bachelor’s degree in engineering from an ABET-accredited program. Passing the FE licensing exam will qualify you to become an Engineering Intern (EI) or Engineer-in-Training (EIT). Your state may require an application for this status. Once your application has been approved, you’ll be qualified to begin earning real-world experience under a licensed Professional Engineer.

In order to confirm your eligibility, begin by visiting the The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) and find out if you qualify to sit for your FE exam. From there, you may also be required to visit your state board to determine any eligibility requirements specific to your state.

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What Should I Know About the FE Licensing Exam?

The FE licensing exam is administered by the NCEES. As a national examination, it generally adheres to a number of common testing conditions regardless of your state. Among them:

  • You will be required to pay a $175 exam fee to the NCEES. Your state may also have additional fee requirements including a separate state-based application. These requirements vary per state.
  • Testing is available year-round.
  • Your computer-based exam will be proctored at one of the numerous NCEES-approved Pearson VUE test centers.
  • The FE exam is 110 questions long, and candidates typically have six hours for completion.
  • You will receive an NCEES FE Reference Handbook, which is the only reference material that you can use during your exam.

The FE LIcensing exam is available in seven distinct sub-disciplines:

  • FE Chemical
  • FE Civil
  • FE Electrical and Computer
  • FE Environmental
  • FE Industrial and Systems
  • FE Mechanical
  • FE Other Disciplines

The NCEES provides practice tests to assist in your preparation.

You can also check out the resources listed through a partnership between the NSPE and Kaplan for some helpful FE Test Prep materials.

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What Do I Need To Do To Be Eligible To Sit for the PE Licensing Exam?

The PE licensing exam is the final hurdle to clear before becoming a licensed Professional Engineer. In order to reach this stage, you must first:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree from an engineering program with ABET accreditation
  • Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Amass a minimum of four years of working experience as an EI or EIT for a licensed PE.

It should be noted that aspiring PE’s who have graduated from non-accredited programs may be eligible to sit for licensing in some states after accumulating equivalent work experience. For instance, in the state of Alabama, an individual with an unaccredited engineering degree may be able to sit for licensing after amassing six years of professional experience. Opportunities and requirements for graduates with unaccredited degrees will vary from state to state.

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What Should I Know About the PE Licensing Exam?

The PE licensing exam is administered at the individual state level. You’ll need to visit your state’s licensure board, which you can locate by using the directory at the the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) website.

Because exams are administered at the state level, testing conditions may vary somewhat widely. But there are a few common dimensions that you can expect in most states. Specifically:

  • You will usually submit a request for your exam though the state board website.
  • This request typically requires a nonrefundable fee in the range of $100.
  • Following your request submission, you will receive contact from the board in order to set up an exam date.

Beyond that, exams can differ dramatically from one state to the next. According to its state board website, the exam for Alabama is a two-hour engagement, whereas the exam for the state of Delaware is eight hours long.

Some states may provide online proctored exams, while other states may require you to complete your exam at a designated testing center.

Visit your state’s licensing board website to find out more.

You can also check out the resources listed through a partnership between the NSPE and Kaplan for some helpful PE Test Prep materials.

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How Do I Become a Professional Engineer After Passing My Exam?

While the specific requirements may differ per state, you will typically need to submit an application for licensure after passing your PE exam. This process will typically include:

  • Application
  • Experience verification
  • References
  • Official Transcript

Visit your state’s licensing board website to find out how this application process is handled.

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Does My State License Apply in Every State?

Earning a license in any state will qualify you as a licensed PE, however, practicing in a new state may require you to submit a new application, along with fees. This application will prompt a review of your educational and professional background for verification that you qualify to practice in the state in question, and that you’ve never been subject to disciplinary action for professional misconduct.

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What Do I Need To Do To Retain My PE License?

Most states will require you to renew your PE license at different intervals, and to keep your skills and training up to date. Every state’s renewal requirements will differ, but will typically include a renewal fee and verification of your continuous work experience. To find out more, visit your state’s licensure board.

To advance on your path to a PE license, check out these key resources:

Or, check out the very best online doctoral in engineering programs to get started!

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