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.

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Should I Become a Licensed General Engineer?

While licensure isn't available for general engineering, individuals may choose to major in engineering management and become licensed in one of the many disciplines. Engineers have to become licensed to complete some necessary duties of the profession, such as sealing engineering work for clients or preparing engineering plans. Beyond state-mandated reasons for becoming licensed, other potential benefits include increased job opportunities and higher salary potential since licensure demonstrates a high level of skill, quality of work, and dedication to the field.

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, 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.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree required for licensure as a professional engineer (PE)
Degree Field Engineering
Licensure Not required in all states; necessary to perform certain duties
Experience Minimum of four years
Key Skills Excellent written and verbal communication, problem-solving and organizational skills; general knowledge of professional engineering principles and practices
Salary (2014) $83,060 per year (Median salary for mechanical 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 2014)

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Although some schools offer general engineering as a major, these programs are generally aimed at students who plan to complete graduate studies in business, architecture or a related field. General engineering programs are typically very broad in nature, giving students a good foundation in engineering and teaching them how to apply the major engineering principles to problem solving. General engineering programs may not be accredited.

To be eligible for licensure, aspiring engineers need to attend a program that is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). One of the options includes programs in engineering management. Engineering management is a multidisciplinary field that combines engineering with management systems, business and technology. Coursework in these programs generally includes engineering economics, quality management and engineering technology. Some programs offer concentration areas either in a discipline or specialization including product innovation, environmental engineering management or international engineering management.

Step 2: Take the FE Exam

The Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam can be taken during the student's senior year in college or after graduating from an accredited degree program. 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 in complexity and responsibility level.

Success Tip:

  • Research state licensure requirements. Every state has a licensing board. Requirements for state licensure vary from state-to-state but typically include submitting financial statements and 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

While there isn't a PE for general engineering, there are many specifications for the different disciplines. The exams cover technical and professional topics specific to each 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; 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. Candidates may receive their results online or by mail, depending on the state.

Success Tip:

  • 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.
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