Becoming a professional engineer takes a minimum of 8 years once you enter college. It takes a lot of hard work, including advanced course work in mathematics, physics, and engineering specialty courses to gain the knowledge needed to be an engineer. The payoff is the ability to receive a license as a professional engineer.
Engineers are in demand for many open positions in the United States and other countries. Most state laws require an engineering license in order to declare yourself an engineer (there are exemptions for "operating engineers" and "train engineers"). An engineering license gives you the authority to seal drawings or paperwork on designs or projects that involve public safety. Most states require that drawings are certified by a professional engineer if the project includes any public funding or involves a public building. With this authority comes responsibility. The following steps can be followed in order to obtain status as a professional engineer.
Attend and graduate from a ABET accredited engineering school.
Go to abet.org to see if the engineering school you are considering is accredited. Go to "Find an accredited program" sidebar heading on the left of the main page. Select "Engineering Programs". You can then search by region, state, discipline, or a combination of discipline and location.
A degree from an ABET accredited school is highly recommended. Most states will only let you take the Professional Engineering (PE) exam if you have a degree from an ABET accredited school. There are a handful of schools like Ohio and Texas, that may allow you to take the PE test if you attend certain technical schools that are not ABET accredited, however, you will typically need 8 years experience after your degree is obtained instead of 4 before you can sit for the exam. I have personally been involved with the ABET accreditation process with my undergraduate college Alma Mata, and have found that degrees from non-accredited engineering schools vary widely and may not be able to properly prepare you for an engineering career.
Take and pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. This test is given each April and October in most states. The FE exam was previously known as the Engineer-in-Training (EIT) exam. This test is a closed book test. You will only be provided a copy of a reference handbook specific for the test you are taking. The reference handbook can be downloaded at any time by visiting the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying website at www.ncees.org/exams/study_materials/fe_handbook/.
Most college seniors take the FE exam before graduation. Based on my experience, taking the FE exam while you are still in school is highly recommended. The test problems are easy, but you have to answer them very quickly. If you take the test while you still remember most of your course work you will be more successful. There is not enough time to think through the problems, since you will have about 2 minutes per problem in the morning and 4 minutes per problem in the afternoon. The morning test section covers all engineering disciplines and the candidates choose their engineering discipline (civil, chemical, electrical, mechanical, industrial, or general engineering) in the afternoon.
The passing rate for this test is typically high (usually over 90%). Some colleges boast near 100% passing rates for their graduates the first time they take the test. It has been my experience from attending undergraduate college, two different graduate schools, and being involved in the ABET accreditation program, that good schools will work with their students after classes and on weekend to prepare their students for the FE exam. Ask the colleges you visit how they prepare their students for the FE exam.
You will then need to gain work experience. The work experience must be in the engineering discipline working directly under a registered professional engineer. Consider this period of time to be your on the job training. Graduating engineers typically still make above average salaries compared to other professions at this point. You will need to have 4 years of engineering work experience before you can take the Professional Engineering (PE) exam.
During this time if you work in a design related area your chances of passing the PE test on your first try will be greatly improved. Performing calculations or checking engineering calculation will help improve the skills needed to pass the exam.
The next step to becoming licensed engineer is to take and pass the Professional Engineering (PE) exam given in most states in April and October. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) develops scores and administers engineering and surveying licensure throughout the United States. The test is an 8 hour test and is open book. You will be required to bring specific standards reference books to the test. The ncees.org website lists the reference materials you will need for the test you plan to take. Most professional engineering exams have 80 questions with 40 questions in each of the morning and afternoon sessions. There is little time to waste during the engineering exam.
Once you have taken the PE test you will receive the results within 12 weeks. The score will be pass or fail. In the past you would receive a number score with anything over 70 considered passing. Now, if you do not pass the exam a diagnostic report will be sent so you will be able to see what you need to work on for the next time you can take the PE exam.
While you prepare for the test visit the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying website at ncees.org. On their website go to "Study Materials". You will find engineering discipline specific study material to pass both the PE test and the FE exam. Also, try www.engineeringlicense.com to find out more about the FE and PE test including tips on how to take the exam and how it is scored.
Once you receive your license in one state you are then legally allowed to practice in the field of engineering. If you want to want to practice engineering in another state you will have to follow the rules of the state you wish to practice in so you can receive another PE license. Most states honor reciprocity with other states in order to receive an engineering license in their state. If you degree was from a non-ABET accredited engineering school, many states will not honor reciprocity if they do not allow candidates with non-ABET accredited degrees to sit for their PE exam. Each state that you receive your engineering license in will require yearly fees and most now require continuing education in order to maintain your engineering license. The continuing education credits are called CE or CPDs. Some states will not allow your continuing education to count for credit for more than one state. Make sure you understand the rules of each state.
By working hard and following these tips, you will be able to map out a course to becoming a professional engineer.