In this article, we take a high level look of what is the NCEES Fundamentals of Engineering Exam, sometimes referred to as the EIT exam. We go over what are the steps to become a licensed professional engineer in the United States and how each step to licensure works. Additionally, we touch on why you should take the FE exam and what it means for your career to become an engineer-in-training (EIT) and later on a licensed professional engineer (PE).
The NCEES Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam is the first of the two exams engineers must pass in order to become licensed professional engineers (PE) in the United States.
Engineering college seniors or working engineers must pass the FE exam and then gain four years of engineering work experience before becoming eligible to take the PE exam. Upon passing the PE exam, the examinee becomes a licensed professional engineer (PE). A licensed professional engineer is someone who has the legal right to stamp and seal engineering documents that go out to the public.
The NCEES FE (EIT) exam is a ~5.5-hour, 110-question long, multiple-choice test that covers the majority of the courses seen in an engineering undergraduate curriculum. The exam is taken on a computer at a Pearson Vue test center location. You are only allowed to bring an approved calculator, and you are provided a PDF of equations and tables that you will refer to during the exam. No “cheat sheets” or notes are allowed.
You should pass the FE exam now, and therefore become an EIT, so you can become a professional engineer (PE) a few years down the road or have the option later on. Professional engineers have the legal right to stamp and seal engineering documents that go out to the public.
Depending on what industry you are in (or could be in), being a PE is an absolute requirement for management positions or a clear differentiator amongst your peers for career advancement.
The importance of being a PE, and by default an EIT, varies based on the industry you work in or could find yourself working in. For the construction industry, such as the industry almost all civil engineering grads go into, professional engineering licensure is often a prerequisite for non entry-level positions and EIT certification is often a requirement for entry-level positions.
For other engineering disciplines such as mechanical, electrical-computer, environmental, and chemical… the level of importance of professional engineering licensure varies depending on the job. Industries for mechanical engineers such as HVAC often require professional licensure, likewise industries for electrical engineers such as public power generation do too. Chemical engineers, industrial engineers, and really any type of engineer often choose to become licensed engineers now in case they decide to provide any kind of engineering consulting work as an additional source of income down the road. To provide any kind of engineering work to the public or a private business as a consultant, you must be legally licensed as a professional engineer to do so.
While there are approximately 70,000 new engineering graduates annually, about forty thousand people take the FE exam every year, according to NCEES's annual publication, Squared. Another angle to look at professional engineering licensure is not just whether or not it is a requirement to get a job at the moment but how it can help you differentiate yourself amongst your peers and help you advance in your career.
You can file the paperwork for your engineer-in-training (EIT) certification in your state after passing the FE exam. You then accrue four years of work experience until you’re eligible for the final step, passing the PE exam.
In general, you must gain four years of engineering experience as an EIT before you’re eligible to take the PE exam. However, some states such as Kentucky will allow you to take the PE exam before the four years of engineering experience, but your actual licensure won’t be effective until the four years have passed. Taking the PE exam soon after taking the FE exam can be very advantageous as the topics are still fresh in your mind. You can then request to transfer your professional licensure from Kentucky to your home state. Transferring professional engineering licensure has a lot of technicalities both states must agree on. Check with your state’s licensing board for more details.
Remember passing the FE exam is simply a required, intermediate step before becoming eligible to take-pass the PE exam. Will passing the FE help you get a raise? It depends.
If you are a civil engineer, it is expected for you to pass the FE exam from the very beginning of your career. It's likely your employer will hold off on giving you a promotion solely based on the fact that you are not an EIT yet. So for civils, passing the FE will make you more money in the sense that you will not be held back from getting a promotion because you hadn't passed the FE exam. What about the PE exam, will that make me more money? Yes, it is standard practice for civil engineers to get a raise immediately after passing the PE exam. The standard raise immediately after passing the PE exam is an additional $2,000-$5,000 per year in compensation. Additionally, you will now be eligible for project engineer or team manager positions after passing the PE exam which tend to pay $10K+ more than entry-level EIT positions.
If you are a mechanical, electrical, or chemical engineer....the value of passing the FE solely depends on how much your employer values it. Unlike civils, other engineering disciplines are not expected to have passed the FE exam before their first day of work. Passing the FE exam will impress your boss and likely become a contributing factor in you getting your next promotion faster than you normally would, which is a way of you making more money. The Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) estimated mechanical engineers with a PE license, by default also passed the FE, made $16,000 more per year than their non-licensed counterparts. The sole reason to pass the FE is so you can pass the PE later down the road. So if passing the FE doesn't make you more money, passing the PE will.
Engineer-in-training (EIT) certification is an intermediate and necessary step to licensure. You cannot stamp or seal engineering documents, as a PE could, with an EIT certification. EIT certification doesn’t grant you any special powers; it simply indicates you’ve passed the FE exam and that you are on your way to become a licensed professional engineer (PE). An EIT certification also works as a proof to employers that you possess the technical competence required to pass a comprehensive engineering exam.
If there is something all engineers can agree on is that you should take the FE exam during your senior year of college or immediately after graduation while your courses are still fresh in your mind. The exam tends to become significantly more difficult for people who have been out of school for year.
For most states, you must have completed or be close to completing an undergraduate bachelors or graduate engineering degree from an EAC/ABET-accredited program. A few states will allow you to take the FE exam without a bachelors or graduate degree in engineering after many years of experience. Check with your state board for details if those conditions apply to you.
The FE exam is offered year-round at Pearson Vue test centers throughout the country. You can take the FE up to 3 times per year. You can sign up for the FE through NCEES.
The FE exam is comprehensive and covers most topics you would see in an undergraduate engineering curriculum. There are several different types of FE exams (civil, mechanical, electrical-computer, environmental, chemical, industrial, and other disciplines), all with different lists of topics.
PrepFE has put together a comprehensive service specifically targeted for practicing what you need to know to pass the FE exam. PrepFE is the fastest growing FE exam prep service out there with hundreds of practice problems and detailed solutions in an interactive, online experience.
Additional FE exam prep resources (free and paid) exist. We compiled the best 9 FE exam prep services out there, so you can decide which service is the best fit for you.