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Is it the goal of engineers to become PE licensed?

EastonEaston Posts: 57Registered User Junior Member
edited July 2007 in Engineering Majors
I know this is probably more so in civil than other fields, but I'm wondering if this is the ultimate goal of engineers to reach PE status. Let's say as a civil engineering major, are my chances of career advancement and salary raises limited if I don't ever become licensed?

How common is it for engineers to fail the PE exam repeatedly and end up never passing it? In previous threads, I've read that the exams (especially for civil) are difficult with passing rates between 30-40%.
Post edited by Easton on
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Replies to: Is it the goal of engineers to become PE licensed?

  • CorbettCorbett Posts: 1,599Registered User Senior Member
    I know this is probably more so in civil than other fields, but I'm wondering if this is the ultimate goal of engineers to reach PE status.
    Only a minority of engineers, perhaps 20%, will ultimately get a PE license. See this thread for more info on who needs one and who doesn't.

    Some engineers become PEs, even if they don't need the license professionally, purely as a matter of personal pride. In California, for example, you aren't legally an "electrical engineer" or "mechanical engineer" until you become a PE, even if you have valid BS or MS degrees in these fields. It's like law: you aren't an "attorney" until you've passed the Bar, even if you have a valid JD degree.
    Let's say as a civil engineering major, are my chances of career advancement and salary raises limited if I don't ever become licensed?
    In civil and related fields, the answer is typically yes. You would generally expect a senior-level civil engineer to be a PE, just as you would expect a lawyer to have passed the Bar exam, or an accountant to have passed the CPA exam. You might be able to get by without a PE license if you had terrific managerial or sales skills, but it would be a conspicuous absence. You would not, by law, be able to take technical responsibility for any projects that you managed.
    How common is it for engineers to fail the PE exam repeatedly and end up never passing it?
    Nationally, most people who take the Civil PE exam pass it on the first try. According to NCEES, the October 2006 pass rate for first-time examinees was 64%.

    The pass rate for the repeat takers (who are, by definition, low performers on the exam) is always much lower; it was only 30% in October 2006. NCEES didn't publish the overall pass rate, but it should be somewhere in between, depending on the ratio of first-time to repeat takers.

    Some people do take the PE exam repeatedly. However, NCEES recommends limiting the number of attempts that you are allowed, and some states have already imposed such limits. Other states currently have no restrictions.

    Some states, notably California, are believed to have unusually low pass rates. The problem with California is that they require two supplemental Civil PE exams (on seismic and surveying issues) that are not used in other states. So civil PE candidates in California typically have to prepare for three exams, not just one. It's reasonable to suppose that this hurts their performance.
  • Mr PayneMr Payne Posts: 8,850Registered User Senior Member
    Just to make sure, you believe 20% of Civils become licensed...
  • ken285ken285 Posts: 3,882Registered User Senior Member
    His post says 20% of engineers, not just civil engineers.
  • calkidcalkid Posts: 168Registered User Junior Member
    Can you get your PE without a degree? Can you get a job like this?

    PE no degree vs Degree no PE. What's better?

    i have a feeling these questions are pointless but i'm just wondering.
  • CorbettCorbett Posts: 1,599Registered User Senior Member
    The National Society of Professional Engineers estimates that "about 20% of all engineers in the United States are licensed." In civil (including subdisciplines like structural, geotechnical, traffic, etc.), the percentage of engineers that will get PEs would be much higher than 20%. In other disciplines, the percentage of engineers that will get PEs would be lower than 20%.

    In some states, it is possible to get a PE license with a degree in science or engineering technology, or even without any college degree at all. This is not a common route to the PE, but it does happen occasionally; you would typically need much more work experience than if you had an ABET engineering degree. Other states strictly require ABET degrees for PE licensure.

    A PE with no degree might well be more employable than someone with a degree but no PE (assuming that you were in a state where it was possible to obtain a PE with no degree). The FE exam is commonly considered to require a BS-level understanding of engineering issues (in fact, some engineering schools require the FE as an exit exam), and the PE exam is commonly considered to require a MS-level understanding.
  • Mr PayneMr Payne Posts: 8,850Registered User Senior Member
    "about 20% of all engineers in the United States are licensed."
    That's the operative word. Yeah, I bet "licensed" includes things that are not PE. Like someone who has passed the FE.
  • bmanbs2bmanbs2 Posts: 1,719Registered User Senior Member
    It's definitely my goal to become a PE. You get that cool stamp.
  • CorbettCorbett Posts: 1,599Registered User Senior Member
    I bet "licensed" includes things that are not PE. Like someone who has passed the FE.
    No, the term "licensed engineer" specifically means a PE. In California, this is spelled out explicitly in state law (Section 6732 of the Professional Engineer's Act, to be exact).

    The 20% figure seems reasonable to me. I don't have nationwide statistics, but I do have statewide figures for California (courtesy of the CA Post-Secondary Education Commission and the CA Board for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors). For 2005, the numbers of engineering credentials issued in California were as follows:

    BS degrees: 7,241
    MS degrees: 4,696
    PhD degrees: 896
    PE licenses: 1,830

    To keep the results as broadly applicable as possible, I only counted passing results on NCEES (national) PE exams. I excluded some supplemental PE exams that are only offered in California.

    So in California in 2005, new PEs were minted at a rate that was approximately 25% of the total new engineer production rate, as measured by new BS degrees. The PE was less popular than the MS, but more popular than the PhD.
  • Mr PayneMr Payne Posts: 8,850Registered User Senior Member
    Damn. Learn something new every day. That just seems so monstrous. I mean, Civil alone would probably have an 80% PE rate! I mean, how many CPE/EEs get could possibly get a PE.
  • CorbettCorbett Posts: 1,599Registered User Senior Member
    I mean, Civil alone would probably have an 80% PE rate! I mean, how many CPE/EEs get could possibly get a PE.
    Sounds about right. We can compare BS production vs. PE production for the largest engineering disciplines, using the 2005 California data described above.

    Civil BS degrees: 1,693 (includes EnvE and ArchE)
    Civil PE licenses: 1,412
    Ratio: 83 %

    Mechanical BS degrees: 2,178
    Mechanical PE licenses: 208
    Ratio: 10 %

    Electrical BS degrees: 5,726 (includes CompE)
    Electrical PE licenses: 163
    Ratio: 3 %

    Chemical BS degrees: 541
    Chemical PE licenses: 33
    Ratio: 6%

    In California, the PE results are probably more skewed towards Civil PEs than in other states, because of the peculiarities of California engineering law. In most states, all PEs have the same legal authority, regardless of the specific PE exam that they pass. In California, on the other hand, the electrical, mechanical, and civil PEs have more legal authority than PEs in other disciplines; civil PEs have the broadest authority of all. So there is an incentive to become licensed as a civil PE in California, even if your academic background is in another discipline.
  • Mr PayneMr Payne Posts: 8,850Registered User Senior Member
    Why doesn't the BS degrees add up to the figure you presented earlier (not that it matters, just curious)?
  • ken285ken285 Posts: 3,882Registered User Senior Member
    PE no degree vs Degree no PE. What's better?

    A PE with no degree might well be more employable than someone with a degree but no PE (assuming that you were in a state where it was possible to obtain a PE with no degree). The FE exam is commonly considered to require a BS-level understanding of engineering issues (in fact, some engineering schools require the FE as an exit exam), and the PE exam is commonly considered to require a MS-level understanding.

    PE with no degree rarely happens because to sit for the PE exam, you have to have a certain number of years of work experience in that field. It is very very difficult to get a position in any company without a bachelors degree in engineering. So while a PE with no degree may be better, you can't expect to be able to take this route.
  • McCashMcCash Posts: 57Registered User Junior Member
    Yeah....I hate to say it but getting license is the ultimate goal for the engineering major. You are kind of a failure if you could not get it done. It's like going through medical school but the ultimate test is to get State certify.

    So, that lead to my other thought.....it doesn't matter if you went to Columbia, Penn or Pacific dental school, the end result is the same as long as you got that license.
  • CorbettCorbett Posts: 1,599Registered User Senior Member
    PE with no degree rarely happens because to sit for the PE exam, you have to have a certain number of years of work experience in that field. It is very very difficult to get a position in any company without a bachelors degree in engineering. So while a PE with no degree may be better, you can't expect to be able to take this route.
    I agree. The (relatively few) people who do get the PE without an engineering degree are often qualified in some other related technical field (e.g. architects, scientists, engineering technologists/technicians, surveyors, engineering geologists). Such people sometimes find a technical position based on their primary, non-engineering qualifications, then find themselves working with engineers. In a few cases, they will accumulate enough on-the-job engineering work experience and knowledge to pick up the PE as a supplemental credential.

    The non-degreed PE route is fine, if the PE is a supplement to other professional credentials. It's not a practical approach, if the PE will be your only professional credential.
  • CorbettCorbett Posts: 1,599Registered User Senior Member
    Why doesn't the BS degrees add up to the figure you presented earlier (not that it matters, just curious)?
    Because...I messed up. When I queried the CA PSEC database for the degree numbers for specific engineering disciplines, I mistakenly asked for the numbers for all degrees (BS, MS, PhD), not just BS degrees. So let's try it again. Data are for California in 2005.

    Civil BS degrees: 939 (includes EnvE and ArchE)
    Civil PE licenses: 1,412
    Ratio: 150 %

    Mechanical BS degrees: 1,392
    Mechanical PE licenses: 208
    Ratio: 15 %

    Electrical BS degrees: 3,274 (includes CompE)
    Electrical PE licenses: 163
    Ratio: 5 %

    Chemical BS degrees: 324
    Chemical PE licenses: 33
    Ratio: 10%

    So in 2005, the California Engineering Board was actually cranking out Civil PEs at a faster rate than California universities were cranking out Civil BS degrees. This discrepancy probably reflects several factors, including:

    (1) The people getting Civil PEs today got their degrees several years ago, when Civil was a more popular major;

    (2) California imports people who got civil engineering degrees in other states or other countries, then pursue licensure in California;

    (3) Engineers from other disciplines pursue the Civil PE in California, because under California law, Civil PEs have the broadest legal authority.

    In any case, the pattern is still clear: Civils commonly pursue the PE, but engineers in other disciplines usually do not.

    The BS numbers still fall short of the total that I posted originally, because I did not tabulate engineers in smaller disciplines (petroleum, nuclear, aerospace, industrial, etc).
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