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Engineer: How to Become Licensed in the Field of General Engineering

Research the requirements to become a licensed general engineer. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in engineering. View article »

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  • 0:00 Licensed General Engineer
  • 2:08 Step 1: Earn a…
  • 3:19 Step 2: Take the FE Exam
  • 4:01 Step 3: Gain…
  • 5:10 Step 4: Take the PE Exam
  • 6:09 Step 5: Earn a Master's Degree

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Video Transcript

Licensed General Engineer

So you think you might like to become a licensed general engineer. Engineering is the application of scientific knowledge to solve real-world problems. There are many different types of engineering degrees and specializations to choose from. The six main branches of engineering include mechanical, civil, electrical, chemical, management, and geotechnical. Most engineering students will select one of these branches or their sub-fields to pursue in order to obtain a bachelor's degree and will then pursue a general engineering master's degree later.

Most engineers have strong math and science backgrounds and use logical and rational thinking processes. However, engineering is a creative field too, as engineers work to design new structures and to develop creative solutions to solve problems. The work environment of an engineer depends largely on the specialty. Many different types of engineers work primarily in office settings, but some, such as industrial or civil engineers, also visit project sites in order to oversee work as it proceeds and make adjustments to plans as necessary. The majority of engineers work at least full-time, although overtime is not uncommon, especially as deadlines approach. Physical demands vary by sub-field but are usually relatively light, and personal safety risks are limited to visits to job sites.

Career Requirements

So what are the career requirements? Starting with the right education is important.

Degree Level Bachelor's degree required for licensure as a professional engineer (PE)
Degree Field One of the main branches of engineering or one of the sub-fields
Licensure Vary by state; necessary to perform certain duties
Experience Minimum of four years
Key Skills Excellent written and verbal communication, problem-solving organizational skills, engineering principles and practices, math and scientific skills, computer skills
Salary $91,010 per year (Median salary for engineers)

Sources: National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), Online job listings from employers (January 2013), U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2016)

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Prospective engineering students should spend some time reviewing the different major branches of engineering and choose which field they would like to pursue. Some of the most common engineering degrees include aerospace, biomedical, chemical, civil, computer, electrical, environmental, industrial, mechanical. Most engineering programs have certain admission requirements about the types of high school classes, the grade point average, and the SAT or ACT scores. As you determine which sub-field you would like to pursue, also review the different colleges that offer the desired program and become familiar with the requirements for entrance into the program.

To be eligible for licensure, aspiring engineers need to attend a program that's accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Double check the program you choose and make sure they maintain this accreditation. The coursework for a bachelor's degree will include a heavy concentration on math, science, computers, and specialized engineering classes. During the senior year, prospective engineers may take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, also called the FE exam.

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Step 2: Take the FE Exam

During the senior year of college, prospective engineers may take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, also called the FE exam. The NCEES and NSPE offer online study materials to help students prepare for the 180-question test. The test is given twice a year, once in spring and once in the fall. Candidates have eight hours to complete the multiple-choice exam.

Scores are usually released in 8-10 weeks after completing the exam. After passing the exam, aspiring engineers are given a classification as an engineer-in-training (EIT) or an engineer intern (EI).

Step 3: Gain Qualifying Experience

Each state mandates that candidates for licensure complete at least four years of qualifying experience before sitting for the Professional Engineer (PE) exam. Qualifying experience has to meet several requirements, such as being in a major field of engineering where the candidate is proficient. In most cases, a licensed professional engineer must supervise the EIT throughout the four years. Additionally, the work must start out with simple tasks and a low-level of responsibility, gradually increasing complexity and responsibility level.

Tips for Success:

  • Research state licensure requirements. Every state has a licensing board. Requirements for state licensure vary from state-to-state but typically include completing a set amount of experience.
  • Prepare for the PE exam. Similar to the FE exam, online preparatory materials for the PE exam are available through the NSPE and NCEES websites. Options include online study resources, online study courses, and in-person preparatory classes.

Step 4: Take the PE Exam

The PE exam covers technical and professional topics specific to each engineering discipline. Topics range from agricultural or architectural engineering to software or structural engineering. The NCEES states that passing the PE is typically the final step toward becoming a licensed professional engineer.

The test is open-book, and candidates can bring bound reference materials into the exam facility. Candidates are given eight hours to complete the test. Scores are released within 8-10 weeks.

Tips for Success:

  • Research requirements for maintaining licensure. Although the requirements may vary from state-to-state, maintaining a license as a professional engineer generally includes completing continuing education, filling out an application, and paying a renewal fee. Continuing education gives general engineers an opportunity to improve their skills and stay on top of any new technology or other advancements in the field.

Step 5: Earn a Master's Degree

To improve their career opportunities, many engineers will go back to school to complete a master's degree in general engineering or their area of specialization. Many colleges are beginning to offer online classes for this degree.

Earn a bachelor's degree, take the FE exam, gain qualifying experience, take the PE exam, and earn a master's degree are the steps to follow to make the most of a career as a licensed general engineer.

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