Engineering: Overview of How to Become a Professional Engineer

Mar 05, 2020

Research the requirements to become a professional engineer. Learn about the job description and read the step-by-step process to start a career in engineering.

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Professional Engineers

Professional engineers can specialize in a variety of fields, such as civil, structural, architectural, or mechanical engineering. Job duties vary widely, depending on the area of specialization chosen. Travel is sometimes involved, and overtime is often required to meet deadlines.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field Engineering or a subspecialty in engineering
Experience Minimum of four years of experience is required before taking the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam
Licensure and Certification Licensure as a Professional Engineer (PE) is often required; some may be able to work under the supervision of a PE
Key Skills Skills in mathematics, decision making, problem solving, critical thinking, verbal communication and operations analysis; ability to use common engineering technology, computer-aided design (CAD), and development software
Median Salary (2018)* $86,640 (for civil engineers)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, O*Net Online.

Steps to Be a Professional Engineer

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Engineering

Becoming an engineer begins with graduating from a bachelor's degree program that is ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accredited. This will require meeting science and math qualifications. While the science requirements vary by major and may cover topics from biology to physics, the math requirements generally include a sequence in calculus, plus a differential equations course. Many programs require students to complete foundational engineering and general education courses in their first two years.

During the final two years, engineering students focus on their respective major. Courses include lectures, as well as engineering labs that allow students to work with equipment and practice the principles they may use on the job. Some programs require students to complete a senior design project that allows them to apply concepts learned in their discipline.

Some programs may suggest that students complete internships or gain cooperative learning experience. This can provide further understanding of the concepts outlined in the Fundamentals of Engineering exam or the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. Developing communication skills is also important, since professional engineers have to work with others and communicate technical concepts in a clear and concise manner.

Step 2: Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) requires aspiring PEs to complete two licensing examinations. Students who are close to graduating may take the first exam, the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam.

The FE is closed book and has two sessions. The morning session covers broad topics in science, math, and engineering. The afternoon session is specific to the engineering discipline and covers the major concepts of that branch. Those who successfully complete the examination are referred to as engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). Test takers will not be admitted into the exam without identification and an exam authorization form. Testing sites provide writing materials and scratch paper, but students should have an approved calculator.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

EITs generally need at least four years of work experience before becoming licensed as Professional Engineers (PEs). Work experience varies based on occupation and engineering discipline. For example, civil engineering EITs may test soils and plan road systems, while aerospace engineering EITs may test model aircraft and perform stress tests on airplane systems.

Step 4: Pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam

After passing the FE exam and accumulating four years of work experience, individuals may take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. Exams are divided by engineering discipline and focus on the specific concepts in each branch. Passing this exam typically completes the process of becoming a licensed professional engineer. NCEES allows PE candidates to use reference materials, as long as they are bound when the exam begins.

Step 5: Advance Your Career by Completing Continuing Education

Some states require PEs to complete continuing education. These engineers may gain continuing education credit for completing college courses, attending seminars, and participating in other state-approved activities. PEs can contact their respective state boards for more information and specific requirements.

Aspiring engineers need to complete an accredited bachelor's degree program in engineering, after which they must pass several exams to earn licensure, eventually advancing from an engineer in training to a professional engineer.

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