Road to Engineer's License is Both Difficult and Worthwhile

Many professions involve some certification procedure whereby practitioners can demonstrate competency. For lawyers, it's the bar exam. For accountants, it's the CPA. For engineers, it's the P.E.—the Professional Engineer's license.A P.E. license entitles practitioners to advertise themselves as "engineers" and offer engineering services to the public.


Many professions involve some certification procedure whereby practitioners can demonstrate competency. For lawyers, it's the bar exam. For accountants, it's the CPA. For engineers, it's the P.E.—the Professional Engineer's license.

A P.E. license entitles practitioners to advertise themselves as "engineers" and offer engineering services to the public. However, not all practicing engineers are PEs. There is an "industrial exemption" that allows a company's engineers to provide services related to the design and manufacture of the firm's products. However, a P.E. license is mandatory for projects that may affect public safety, such as building bridges, designing electrical power systems, automating hazardous processes, and the like.

Obtaining a P.E. license is not easy. The process is designed to allow only experienced and competent engineers to become officially licensed and assume the attendant responsibilities.

The first step is passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, which is also called the EIT (Engineer in Training) exam. The FE exam covers a broad range of topics common to most engineering disciplines—mathematics, chemistry, applied physics, etc. It is given in two four-hour segments on the same day across the nation. (See the test dates at right). All the questions are multiple choice, but applicants are only allowed to use the supplied reference book to help solve them. Successful applicants with four years of experience or four years of college become official EITs.

The big exam

Next, an EIT must train on the job for at least four more years (or two with an advanced degree) before proceeding to the Principles and Practice (PP) exam—also commonly known as the PE exam. Successful completion of the PP exam allows an EIT to register as a Professional Engineer. However, just applying for the exam requires considerable effort. Applicants must supply details of work experience and usually five letters of reference. In most states, at least three of the references must themselves be licensed PEs.

The PP exam itself consists of two four-hour segments, covering design problems of the type en-countered in upper-level undergraduate design classes. Applicants choose to solve a subset of the problems available in each segment. In some states, applicants can also choose an exam for a particular discipline such as civil engineering, electrical engineering, or control systems engineering (CSE). The CSE exam is relatively new, but is now available in 44 states. The CSE exam consists entirely of multiple choice questions.

Requirements and format of the PE registration process varies somewhat from state to state. Exams are standardized nationally by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES, Clemson, S.C.), but each state decides which PP exams to offer and what the passing scores will be. As a result, not all states recognize all PE licenses. Some degree of reciprocity exists, and state registration boards can provide information on which out-of-state licenses they recognize.

Furthermore, each state regulates PEs differently. Exactly what kinds of projects require PEs to perform which duties varies considerably. In Mississippi, for example, there are no industrial exemptions for staff engineers.

For more details about the PE exams in general, contact your state's Board of Registration or the NCEES by mail at P.O. Box 1686, 280 Seneca Creek Road, Clemson, SC, 29633-1686; by Tel: 800/250-3196, or on the web at .

For more details about the CSE exam in particular, contact ISA, the International Society for Measurement and Control at 67 Alexander Drive, Research Triangle Park, NC, 27709; Tel: 919/549-8411; or on the web at .



Principles and Practice (PP) exam:

April 24, Oct. 30

Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam:

April 25, Oct. 31


PP: April 23, Oct. 29

FE: April 24, Oct. 30


PP: April 14, Oct. 27

FE: April 15, Oct. 28

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