The path to become a civil engineer is easy to explain. Walking that path to the end is a more challenging event.
The first part of the most common path involves making a decision in high school to pursue a science tract. Most engineering college freshmen completed physics, calculus, and chemistry courses in high school. Undergrads matriculating from larger high school campuses may also have prepared with courses in statics, advanced physics, or electronics.
Those courses are not mandatory from high school. If your heart is set on engineering, you can CLEP out of some college entrance prerequisites, and take others at a community college.
Once in college, the engineering major must pack a little more than 5 years worth of semester units into four years. This is theoretical. Reality is that about a quarter of those who graduate finish in under 6 years. Four years is possible. However, some semesters will be 18 unit and 21 unit semesters. The underwater basket weaving major may have eight 15-unit semesters, but the future engineer must work hard.
Fundamentals of Engineering Exam
The first exam in the path to professional licensure is the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. The exam formerly known as the EIT, or Engineer-in-Training, sounded more like a journeyman. The current nomenclature looks more impressive in a signature block:
John Knowitall, FE
Mary Knowsmore, FE
The National Council of Engineering Examiners Society (NCEES) administers the FE exam. Each state's engineering hopefuls sit for the same exam. There is no difference between states.
Requirements to Sit for the FE:
States vary in requirements to register and take the FE exam. Some states require only payment (e.g. New Hampshire). Other states require three completed years of engineering study at an ABET accredited college or university program. Students from those schools often have excellent prep programs to take and pass the FE exam at the end of their junior year of college engineering. Note: If you only have 2 years of community college, those years do not qualify. No community college in any state is ABET accredited. Once an engineering student enrolls at a 4-year ABET institution, and completes the junior year, those credits qualify.
Format of the FE Exam:
There are two sessions. The morning session lasts four hours. You must answer 120 questions at a pace of 2 minutes per question.
The afternoon exam gives options. You may choose a concentration of your preference. Typically, this should match your major concentration, or the work you perform professionally. The available concentrations for the FE afternoon session are: Chemical, Civil, Electrical, Environmental, Industrial, Mechanical. You can download the prep books here: FE afternoon
The afternoon session lasts the same time, four hours. There are fewer questions. You must answer 60 questions at a pace of 4 minutes per question. Obviously, the questions are more difficult on average than morning session questions.
Materials for the FE exam:
|FE exam study book from PPI.|
You will also need an NCEES approved engineering calculator.
For the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, examinees are not permitted to bring books into the examination center. They are issued a clean copy of the FE reference manual. So, why not buy an e-book?
Professional Engineer Exam
Only those who first pass the FE exam and subsequently meet other criteria may sit for the NCEES Professional Engineer (PE) exam. Requirements vary by state. Typically, a number of years of experience working with licensed engineers, three letters of recommendation, and proof of any education claimed as qualifying years must be provided.
Reviewing, studying, and preparing for the PE exam can be rigorous. The book, Pass the PE like a Pro can help ease the burden. It has a lot of useful links, tips, schedules, and tips. It is a great place to start.
There is a "take-home" exam on ethics. This is completed and sent in with the application.
On exam day, examinees take two sessions, following the same format as the FE exam. The morning session is four hours. So is the afternoon session.
The Morning session has 40 questions (=6 minutes per question). The afternoon session has 40 questions. This is also 6 minutes per question. But, afternoon sessions on the NCEES exam are correspondingly more difficult. As with the FE exam, the morning session is a breadth exam covering all the major specialties within engineering. The afternoon exam is a concentration selected beforehand by the examinee.
How to be an Engineer
Once you pass the NCEES exam, and receive a license from your state board, you can begin calling yourself an engineer. It is illegal in the United States for non-engineers to call themselves engineers or to even use the word "engineer" or "engineering" in advertising, marketing, or official documents. To do so requires having an engineer on staff. In California, an engineering business must be owned at least 50% by an engineer.
Many states require professional development units. Engineers must stay current. PDU classes ensure new learning continues throughout a career. These are also called Continuing Education Units, or CEUs. If your state requires them or not, engineering is a professional field. Each engineer must stay current on civil codes, safety procedures, and design process changes.
Remember, when people say, "scientist", they almost always mean an engineer!