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Engineering is a tenured area of study whose fundamentals date back to the ages of the wedge, lever, and wheel inventions. Today, engineers are responsible for the transportation and building infrastructure of the world, development of up-and-coming technology/software/hardware/electronics, the development of chemicals, machinery, and businesses.

Below you will find out the steps you need to take to obtain your Professional Engineer license. Before jumping in to the engineering field, it is important to understand the outlook for engineers and STEM graduates.

The field of engineering is considered by some as stable, predictable, and necessary for the world to run. Opportunities are nearly endless for engineers, and it is an excellent profession to enter if you are the right fit. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is a focus for the U.S., and especially the government.

This bodes well for anyone interested in any of those fields, as the government can help drive opportunities for a long-lasting career, especially in the engineering field. Combine that with the fact that on average, STEM graduates earn 26 percent more non-STEM degree holders, according to the Economics & Statistics Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

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Steps to Get Into Engineering

First, we will take you through the basic and more general steps to get into engineering and earn PE certification.  This involves pursuing an education and experience so you can earn certification for being a Professional Engineer (PE).  There is a more specific route for those involved with surveying, where you can obtain your Professional Surveyor (PS) licensure.  Most engineers opt for the PE route, but there are some that specialize in surveying – view our civil engineering page for more information on the PS licensure.  Read on for more information about becoming a PE.  Generally speaking, the path to becoming an engineer – regardless of specialization – goes as such:

1. Pursue your entry level degree (associates or bachelors).

If you do not have a degree yet and are looking for degree options, start with our featured list here. You can use our engineering school search below to find a program near you (or online).

Key fact: Multiple engineering careers rank near the top in terms of average salary (source: BLS)

2. Most degrees require an internship or a co-op prior to graduation.

Regardless, to start to earn real-world experience and get some experience on your resume, we strongly recommend you get an internship or co-op either while in school or soon thereafter. It will help you gather experience, which is a huge plus in the engineering profession.

Key fact: ~80% of employers view internships as the new way to find full-time hires (source: ASME/

3. Prep for your initial licensure.

There are multiple routes you can go here. Generally, you need to decide if you are going to pursue your engineering licensure (this is outlined below.), or pursue your surveying licensure (then you’ll want to first take the FS exam – Fundamentals of Surveying. Read about the surveying licensure here). Most engineers pursue the FE-PE route.

Key fact: There are a number of FE licensure practice tests and exams you can find online

4. To pursue your engineering licensure, prep for the FE (you’ll need a bachelor’s degree).

While still in school, start preparing for the FE exam (Fundamentals of Engineering). The FE exam is designed for recent graduates. Typically you need to be within 1-2 semesters of graduation but be sure to check with your state.

Key fact: California has the most licensed engineers, with over 80,000 as of ’12 (source: NCEES Licenses)

5. Take the FE (Fundamentals of Engineering) exam, pass it, and earn your “FE” designation / engineering certification.

This is the first step to getting your PE (see below) license. The FE is no breeze – it is 110 multiple choice questions, and the time allotted is 6 hours. Visit the NCEES for more info on sample tests, study info, outcomes, and typical pass rates.

Key fact: The FE exam is 110 multiple choice questions, and you are allotted 6 hours (source: NCEES)

6. Get an engineering job to start your career.

If you have graduated and earned your four-year college degree and passed the FE exam, you will be a very strong candidate. Although your first job will be entry level, you’ll be well-compensated, as engineers are among the higher compensated positions in the US.

Key fact: Those in a STEM career earn 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts (source: ESA)

7. Continue your education to retain your FE license.

There are continuing education classes and workshops that you can attend – most FE engineers find they have more than enough time to keep their FE license.

Key fact: Continuing education requirements vary by state, but usually include courses, classes, or seminars on law or professional ethics

8. Work for 4 years, then get your PE (Professional Engineer) certification.

This test is difficult (8 hours long, two sessions in morning and afternoon), but becoming a PE is well worth it. Expect more responsibility, more trust from clients, more respect from colleagues, and maybe most importantly, more money as PE’s tend to have higher salaries. There are some prerequisites, such as having a four-year college degree and work experience. As you can imagine, the pass rates for a a PE license are less than the FE. View the NCEES website for more info.

Key fact: STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17.0 percent from now to 2018 (source: ESA)

9. Continue your education to retain your PE license.

Notice a theme here? You’ll want to keep attending those workshops and classes to keep your PE license.  As stated, earning your PE licensure is key to having a long-lasting and extremely successful career as an engineer.  Possibilities are endless, and most PE’s have opportunities to as project manager, get into management to advance within their company – private or public, and some PE’s end up opening up their own private engineering company.

Key fact: As a PE, you can sign off on designs and plans, or run your own firm (source: NCEES)

Here are a few resources for you to get started:

  1. Find an entry level associates or bachelors engineering degree near you
  2. If you are an engineer already and have a four-year degree, find masters-level engineering programs here (on-campus and online)
  3. Understand engineering degree requirements
  4. Study which type of engineering degree specialization you should pursue