The Complete Guide to Applying for Your PE License and the PE Exam


The Complete Guide to Applying for Your PE License and the PE Exam
If you’re looking into how to become a professional engineer, you’ve come to the right place.  This is the complete guide to applying for your PE license and the PE exam.  
Each state’s application process can vary slightly but they all share a similar process.  We’ll discuss that process so you’ll know what to expect and how to sail through it as smoothly as possible.
There is alot to becoming a PE.  You must obtain and document your experience. There is application paperwork to complete. And of course you must study for and pass the FE and PE exams.
I’ll walk you through the whole process and tell you what you need to know, show you some tips, and help you avoid potential pitfalls.
This article will detail the entire process for you and provide links for more information about each topic.
Here’s an outline of the process so you can skip to the section you need.
The Complete Guide to Applying for Your PE License and the PE Exam [hide]

Applying for Your PE License

States regulate professional engineering in the US.  Each state’s requirements are different, but the application process is generally the same.  Each state has an engineering board that regulates the practice of engineering in that state.  They are who you will apply to for your engineering license and are the ultimate authority on the specific rules and requirements of your state.
The first step is to make sure you meet the qualifications to be eligible to be licensed.  The next is to submit all documentation and information to the state board for approval.  Once approved, you will be able to sign up for the PE exam through the NCEES website.
Let’s look at each step in more detail.

Qualifications

The “3 E’s”  describe the minimum qualifications required to become a PE.  The requirements are very similar in all states.  The “3 E’s” are education, experience and examinations.

EDUCATION

There are several educational avenues in which people can become licensed.  Most people graduate from ABET accredited engineering programs.  Others may have graduate degrees, degrees from foreign or non-accredited engineering programs, engineering technology or related science degree, or in some cases no degree at all.  
States differ on how they handle degrees that aren’t ABET accredited 4 year Bachelor’s degrees.  Some states allow those without such a degree to become professional engineers with more than the typical 4 years of experience.  Some allow those without a degree at all to become licensed with enough years of documented experience (usually 12+).  Other states prohibit those without a degree from ever becoming professional engineers.  Foreign degrees are acceptable by some states with additional review or commercial degree evaluation, such as NCEES Credentials Evaluation, and some treat them as a non-ABET engineering degree. Other states prohibit those with these degrees from becoming licensed.
States treat engineering technology degrees differently.  Some states allow these degrees with additional experience (more than the typical 4 years) while other states prohibit them entirely.
Most states allow provisions to waive the FE and PE exams based on combinations of education and experience.  Although the bar for waiving either exam is high, it’s much less common and much more difficult to waive the PE exam than it is the FE exam.

EXPERIENCE

You must obtain the minimum amount of engineering experience required in your state.  This is typically four years for someone possessing an ABET-accredited Bachelor’s degree or eight years for a degree not accredited by ABET.  With advanced degrees, the experience requirement can be less.  Those states which allow licensure with no degree, the experience requirement will be highest (10-12 years or more of verifiable engineering experience).  Each state has it’s own requirements for education and experience.
If your state has decoupled the exam, you may take the PE exam earlier than the experience requirement would dictate.  For example, you may required to obtain 4 years of engineering experience.  You could take your test before the 4 year mark.  You would knock the test out early.  But you would of course still have to wait the full 4 years to get your license though.
Qualifying experience can usually be described as fitting into one of these categories:
  • Engineering design
  • Engineering calculations
  • Planning for engineering works
  • Prep and review of engineering plans
  • Prep and review of engineering specifications
  • Engineering analysis
In some cases, full-time engineering work experience obtained within a couple of years of completing your engineering degree can be counted toward your experience requirement.  Sometimes at 50% of actual time, often with a maximum amount that can be claimed prior to graduation.
Advanced degrees and foreign experience are often counted and verified in the same manner.

EXAMINATIONS

You must first pass the eight hour FE exam administered by NCEES.  This is usually done before graduating college, or soon after.  Most states don’t care when it happens as long as you do it before applying for your PE license and sitting for the PE exam.  You can sometimes get a waiver for the FE exam by claiming an exemption such as possessing additional work experience or education.  You may be required to provide additional information in addition to the standard application such as more references, etc in order to qualify for the FE exam.
If you passed the FE exam in another state, contact NCEES and have them send the verification directly to the board of the state you are applying to.
After passing the FE exam, you must pass the eight hour PE exam for your engineering discipline, also administered by NCEES.  Some states allow you to sign up for the exam without their prior consent, while others required that they pre-approve you before sitting for the exam.  Often, your application will have to be submitted and approved first.

Additional Qualifications

In addition to the 3 E’s of education, experience and examinations, you must ensure some and/or all of the following, depending on your state’s requirements:
  • Possess the proper immigration status (citizen or legal permanent resident).
  • Not have committed any crimes that would grounds for denial of license.
  • Are of good moral character as determined by the board.
  • Are of appropriate age.
  • Not be behind in child support payments.
  • Not be behind in student loan payments.
You will be required to provide documentation in your application with regard to these items.

Special Circumstances

Some states may allow licensure outside of these parameters under special circumstances.  For example, the New York board’s website reads:
“On recommendation of the board, the department may waive specific requirements, except as to age, character, education and citizenship, in the case of applicants who are possessed of established and recognized standing in the engineering profession and who have practiced lawfully for more than fifteen years.”
Check with your state board’s website for details about licensing under special circumstances or call them to answer any specific questions regarding your situation.

Steps of the Process for Applying for Your PE License

Below is the process you will follow when applying for your PE license and to take the PE exam.  There will be slight differences in the process depending on which state you are applying to.  Most states provide detailed checklists indicating the process as well as application process checklists on their respective state board websites.
The process for applying for your PE license for most states is as follows:

Review application instructions.

These are available online at the state boards’ websites.  Review the instructions thoroughly before diving in to ensure that you fully understand the specific process for your state.

Create an account with NCEES.  

Once you register with NCEES, you will be issued an NCEES ID number to be used when taking the PE exam.  You may be asked to provide it on your license application.  You may already have this number from when you registered for the FE exam.

Create an account with your state board.  

This way you can save your application process and check the status through the website, if provided.

Complete PE license application.  

Use their online portal if available, or print and mail the documentation to them.  Some states require the original application to be mailed to them (no email or fax). The information that the state boards require is typically:
  1. APPLICATION FORM

  2. FINGERPRINTING 

    Some states require this and others don’t.  The state board websites give specific instructions for completing fingerprinting requirements.
  3. PROVIDE IDENTIFYING INFORMATION SUCH AS SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER OR DRIVER LICENSE NUMBER.

  4. LICENSE AND OR EXAM VERIFICATION (IF CURRENTLY LICENSED IN ANOTHER STATE AND APPLYING BY COMITY).  

    If you are licensed in multiple states, you must have the state in which you passed the PE exam send the verification.  Contact that state board to have them complete and send the form over to the state you are applying in or do it through the NCEES website.
  5. OFFICIAL SEALED COLLEGE TRANSCRIPTS 

    Your college must send them directly to the board.  There may be a fee by your college to provide this service.
  6. EXPERIENCE RECORD AND REFERENCE FORMS

    These forms are a combination of a detailed description of your engineering experience and a personal character evaluation of you by your reference.  This is how the board will verify that you have a sufficient quality and quantity of experience to be licensed.  They should indicate that you are of sound moral character, competent and worthy of a license.  Each state calls these forms something different, but they are the same basic thing. I wrote a detailed guide to completing this, but here is a summary of the steps required:
    1. Provide a copy of the completed Experience Record with your signature on each page.
    2. Provide completed Reference Forms and signed Experience Records by you and your references.  They usually require 3-4 references.  Place them in sealed envelopes. Reference forms must usually be filled out by licensed professional engineers. They must vouch for your personal character and readiness as well as your engineering experience.  Some states allow a mix of licensed and unlicensed references.  
    3. Send in Engagement Record and Reference Forms to the board. Collect all documents from your references.  Submit them together with your application or have the references send in to the board directly. In either case, the references must seal them.  The board wants to know that you haven’t tampered with them.
  7. FOREIGN STUDENTS MAY BE REQUIRED TO PROVIDE THE FOLLOWING ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

    1. Proof of proficiency in English
    2. Translation of foreign degree – NCEES Credentials Evaluation can provide this service
    3. Verification of Lawful Presence form – This document shows that you are in the country legally.
  8. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION TO BE SEND IN BY APPLICANT IF APPLICABLE:

    1. Waiver of exam form
    2. Proof of last name change
    3. Commercial evaluation of non-accredited degree
    4. Certified court documentation/Statement of Explanation for any criminal issues indicated in your application.
  9. NOTE THAT YOUR APPLICATION MAY REQUIRE NOTARIZATION IN SOME STATES.  

    If so, print application and have it notarized by signing in the presence of a Notary Public.

Pay application and state fees 

Application fees range from $80 (Texas) to $377+ (New York).  The board’s website will detail the fees associated with applying for your license and taking the PE exam.  The Department of Veterans Affairs through the GI Bill may allow you to be reimbursed for your PE exam fees.  Contact the VA for more information.

Complete state law and ethics exam.  

Most states have an additional exam covering ethics and the engineering laws and rules in the state.  You can complete these online, or print and mail them in.  These are open-book so do them at your own pace.  

Submit application and supporting documentation online or by mail.

Use a tracking delivery service for the portion(s) of the application and supporting documentation sent by mail.  Your board’s website may have an application tracker.  This can help you keep track of what the board has received and what they still need from you.

Register online for NCEES PE exam.  

Once approved by your state board, register for the PE exam on the NCEES website for states that require board approval first.  Some states require board approval before sitting for the exam while some don’t.
  1. Once the board and NCEES communicate, you will be able to proceed with selecting testing location on NCEES website
  2. Note that registering for the exam is an additional step that you must complete on your own. If the board approves you to take test you are not automatically register for the next PE exam in the NCEES system.
  3. During this step, you will choose which discipline you will test in.  Whatever you choose here will show up on your exam authorization.  You will be required to test in that discipline on test day, so choose carefully!

Register online with testing agency (if required in your state).  

Some states use third-party exam administration services instead of the exam administration service provided by NCEES.  This step determines where you will take the exam and to reserve your seat for test day.  They may ask you to provide your NCEES ID, additional documentation, and pay an additional fee. You will then choose which discipline you will test in during this step.  You will be required to test in that discipline on test day.

Tracking Your Application

Most state boards will track the status of your application via their website and/or send you email notifications.  Some state boards don’t provide this service due to the workload involved, but instead offer other options.  For example, California allows you to send two self addressed stamped postcards or envelopes so that the board can send these out to you when your application is received or processed.  

Notification of Approval

The board will notify you by mail that you are approved to be a licensed engineer or are eligible to sit for the PE exam.  Their website may also offer a tracking option that will notify you of approval.  The board will give you further instructions on registering for the exam or processing your new PE license.
The board will also notify you by mail if your application was not approved. They typically retain your application for a year or two. If you file again within that period, you can use the references, transcripts, and other information submitted with the first application on the new application. However, if you file again after that period, all information, including references and transcripts, must be submitted again and will be considered a new application. Application fees are typically not refundable. Plan on resubmitting another application fee when reapplying.

Appealing Denial of Application

If your application is denied by the board, you can usually appeal the decision.  This is done by requesting an appeal in writing within a specific time frame. The time frame is usually 30-60 days from the date of the denial letter.  You’ll have to state your reason for the appeal and support it with additional evidence, more references, affidavits and supplemental information for the board’s consideration.
The board may or may not approve the appeal.  If so, you’ll be able to sign up for the exam.  The appeals process may take longer than the PE exam registration deadline. If so, you’ll have to wait until the next test cycle.
The board may again deny the application. If so, you’ll have to follow their instructions to shore up the issues with your application.
The best way to avoid this situation in the first place is to ensure that the application is complete and that all the requirements are met before filing.  

A Note on Reapplying 

If you apply and obtain approval to sit for the PE exam, but don’t follow through with the taking the test, or fail to pass it, your application will usually remain valid for 2-3 years.  This depends on the state of course.  Once you pass, you will then notify the board and they will process you as a new PE.
Most applications are good for 2-3 years before you have to reapply.
Some states allow you to sign up for the PE exam through NCEES without any prior blessing or approval from the board. They may also allow you to take it repeatedly until you pass it.  Other states place a limit on the number of times you can sit for the exam before having to reapply for board approval again.  Often, if this this is the case, you will be required to gain additional engineering experience or provide more references. You may also be required to take additional college courses.

Additional Requirements

In a few states, there may be additional requirements to be licensed above and beyond what is described here for most professional engineers.  
For example if you are a civil engineering applicant in California, you must pass two additional 2.5 hour computer-based exams on Seismic Principles and Engineering Surveying.
If you are an engineer in Alaska, you are required to complete the Arctic Engineering class before you are able to practice there.

After Passing the PE Exam

If you’ve met all other requirements for licensure from the state board before taking and passing the PE exam, congratulations!  You are now a licensed PE!  Your state board will be notified. They will soon issue you a license number and send your paperwork in the mail.  
If you are in a state that has decoupled the PE exam from the experience component and you took it early, then you’ll continue on as you were until you meet your minimum experience requirement.  At that point, you’ll submit your application and once approved, will officially be a PE!  The board will issue your license number and send your paperwork.

Applying for Your PE License and the PE Exam – The Bottom Line

This complete guide to applying for your PE license and the PE exam will help you navigate the PE application waters.  Once you complete these items in this guide, you’re on your way to becoming a licensed professional engineer.  The next step for most people will be studying for and sitting for the PE exam.  
If you’ve taken your PE exam already, then you’ll be licensed soon and ready for life after the PE exam.

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