Insurance for your Chemical Engineering Career

What if I told you that you were one exam away from becoming a more employable Chemical Engineer? For many young professionals and recent college graduates who aren't sure about their next career move, becoming a licensed professional engineer (P.E.) is an easy way to open doors and increase the commercial viability of their Chemical Engineering degree. The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) website offers the following plug for PE licensure:

To a client, it means you've got the credentials to earn their trust. To an employer, it signals your ability to take on a higher level of responsibility. Among your colleagues, it demands respect. To yourself, it's a symbol pride and measure of your own hard-won achievement.

How to become a Professional Engineer

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) is responsible for the development and scoring of exams that engineers must take to become a P.E. Each state or territory has its own specific procedures and requirements for becoming a licensed engineer, but the general process is below:

  • Graduate from an ABET-accredited four-year university program in engineering
  • Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Accumulation of engineering experience with increasing levels of responsibility under PE supervision, 4 years in most states
  • Pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam

According to the NCEES website, "Adding the P.E. to your name may be the ticket to greater job security, more career opportunities, and a higher salary." But the time and effort spent studying for and passing both exams, as well as maintaining the P.E. license after it has been received, has many of us asking ourselves, "to license or not to license?", or alternatively, "to P.E. or not to P.E.?"

Higher Salary

According to an annual NSPE salary survey of its members, licensed PEs should expect to be paid 20% more than engineers with no professional license. Auxiliary factors, other than just the PE license itself, have been rolled into this statistic, such as the level of responsibility, identity of employer, and others. But taken by itself, will a PE license increase your value to a company overnight? Obviously the answers to this question will vary based on the particular situation, but a scan through a few engineering blogs and forums shows that the average Joe has received salary increases (all less than 10%) and/or a lump-sum reward (worth hundreds of dollars to several thousands of dollars) merely from adding P.E. to their title.

Career Opportunities and Job Security

A PE license provides a licensed engineer with enhanced credibility and increased marketability. If job security is a concern, keep in mind that law permits only a licensed engineer to perform the following tasks:

  • Stamp and seal design
  • Bid for government contracts
  • Be a principal of a firm
  • Perform consulting services
  • Offer services to the public

Paradigm Shift

As a recent college graduate, I've noticed that many of my peers attended school where FE exam preparation was stressed by the faculty, if not folded into the curriculum. In many cases, those who have not already taken the FE exam intend to do so in the near future. With school still fresh on their minds, recent college graduates (and college students) risk very little and have much to gain from beginning the licensing process. As time passes we may find the P.E. license to be more common in the work place, at which time we should not only ask ourselves the benefits of licensing, but also the disadvantages of not doing so.

Getting Started

Chemical Engineering isn't like riding a bike. As your graduation memories fade, so will your ChE knowledge. According to NCEES, the national pass rate for examinees who take the FE exam while in college is 76%. If you wait and take the exam 2 years after graduation, the pass rate drops to 67%. And examinees that wait 5 years or longer to take the FE exam have a 63% pass rate. With this data, it really is in your best interest to take the exam while in school or immediately after graduating. The NSPE encourages that all eligible students take the FE exam prior to graduation. Sufficient preparation for the FE exam may be a quick review of classroom notes for a college senior or recent graduate whereas an industry veteran may require months of preparation. The FE exam is given on a Saturday, twice a year in every state. The exams dates for 2010 are April 17th and October 30th. Registration deadlines vary by state, so make sure to visit the NCEES website soon and register for an exam location near you.

Useful P.E. Links:

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) website Frequently asked questions for the FE exam: Frequently asked questions for the PE exam: Free online FE review and tutorial from the University of Oklahoma Video Post: Advantages of Getting a Professional Engineer License

Any PEs out there with thoughts on the topic?


I read all these stats before I got my PE. My employer at the time got me a cake, the next employer didn't seem to care at all - definitely didn't get a salary bump. That being said, I completely agree with the article. Get it and get it as soon as possible. I waited a year after school for FE and I needed to study, during school I could have done it without any extra work. There is no risk to getting it, but waiting until you need/want it could make it much more difficult. Besides the studying, the hardest thing was getting to work under a PE to sign for me. Depending on the industry you are in at the time it might be hard to find one.

Robert, I found many discussion threads on the internet that described your employer's attitude. Unfortunately I didn't find any flashy statistics to corroborate, just underwhelmed engineers on discussion forums. The statistics I did find were from the organizations that promote PE licensure themselves, so as always take with a grain of salt - I probably should have been more blunt about that.