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A Professional Engineer (PE) is an engineer who is licensed by a state board of registration to practice engineering. A PE license is the engineering profession's highest standard of competence. It is also an assurance of quality as well as a symbol of achievement.

How do you get a PE license?

According to the National Society of Professional Engineers, “To become licensed, engineers must complete a four-year college degree, work under a Professional Engineer for at least four years, pass two intensive competency exams and earn a license from their state's licensure board. Then to retain their licenses, PE's must continually maintain and improve their skills throughout their careers.”

The two exams are the FE (Fundamentals of Engineering) and PE (Professional Engineer). There are different exams for each engineering discipline. The FE exam is often taken during the last year of college. An engineer can stamp and sign engineering drawings and calculations as a PE once the PE exam is passed and the other requirements of the state have been met and they have registered with the state.

Do you need to have attended an ABET-accredited college to get a PE?

Some states require that you have a BS degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program to take the FE exam. Other states allow you to take the exam providing you meet other degree and experience requirements. These requirements are nearly always greater for applicants without an ABET-accredited degree.

Why become a PE?

If you are a PE or on your way to become one, it will make you stand out from the competition when job hunting. You may also get to work on more interesting projects. Only a licensed engineer can submit plans and drawings and be in charge of work in the private sector. A PE license will lead to a higher salary, more respect in your field and greater career potential. 

Is a PE required?

In some engineering disciplines, such as Structural Engineering, it is necessary to obtain a PE. If you do not become a PE you can not sign off on engineering drawings and calculations. In some other engineering disciplines such as Chemical Engineering, it is not as necessary to have a PE to work in the field. Overall, obtaining a PE is a valuable designation to achieve as any engineer.

Experiential learning is the process of learning through experience. Relating to engineering education, this could take the form of internships, co-ops, capstone projects or research. Basically, experiential learning bridges the gap between theory and practice. It provides a hands on experience to learn and understand specific practices in engineering. For example, it is one thing to work on the textbook problem of how to achieve better flow to produce a greater output of Chemical A at processing Plant X, and another to be an intern at Plant X seeing first hand where the issue lies in the piping and raw materials and speaking to the workers involved in the production process to find the best solution to get more output.

Internships and cooperative education programs (co-ops) are learning experiences where the student actually works for a company in a given field. Internships are shorter (a summer or a semester) and could be both paid and unpaid, part time or full time. Co-ops are longer and involve a more in depth work experience. Students stop taking classes to work full time (usually 3-6 months at a time), and are typically paid. The longer work experience of a co-op can give students an edge over their peers when they are looking for jobs after graduation.

Capstone projects and research are other ways to gain valuable experience and knowledge in your field. Working on a research project is a great way to apply the theories learned in your studies and explore a topic in greater depth. Similarly, capstone projects combine theory and practical experience to solve a problem or issue.

Not all engineering programs offer experiential learning opportunities. Many have it built into their curriculum. Others do not offer these experiences and the student has to look for them on their own.

Experiential learning is a valuable way to increase your understanding and knowledge of a subject through hands on experience. In addition, experiential learning will increase the student's value in the job market upon graduation. When looking into engineering schools it is beneficial to find out if the program you are considering offers experiential learning.

What Is ABET?

ABET stands for Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. As stated on their website, ABET is “a not for profit, non-governmental accrediting agency for programs in applied and natural science, computing, engineering and engineering technology and we are recognized as an accreditor by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation... ABET accreditation provides assurance that a college or university program meets the quality standards of the profession for which that program prepares graduates.”

Why Is This Important?

Companies looking to hire new graduates in engineering fields may look to see if the school the applicant is graduating from has the ABET accreditation. The accreditation gives them a better understanding of the curriculum of the applicant's program. This will help gauge whether the applicant has the skills required to do the job they are looking to fill and will be able to meet current and future needs. ABET has high standards in place that the institution must meet and maintain for their program to have ABET accreditation.

From the student's perspective, ABET accreditation ensures that the curriculum at that school meets the current standards of the industry. The student can be reassured that they will be taught the background and skills necessary to compete in that profession today and in the future. ABET accreditation is recognized world wide. ABET also states that licensing, certification and registration in a technical profession often requires graduation from an ABET accredited program as a minimum qualification. In addition, choosing an ABET accredited program helps to establish your eligibility for many federal grants, loans or scholarships.

Do All Engineering Schools Have ABET Accreditation for all their programs?

No. The accreditation is voluntary. Schools are not required to do this. In addition, the agency accredits programs, not institutions. It is possible for a school to be accredited in one program of study, but not all of their engineering programs.

Should ABET Accreditation Determine Your College Choice?

ABET accreditation should not be the only criteria used to decide which colleges to look at. Many schools have quality programs, but not the official designation, and may be a better fit overall for you. The process to get licensed in a technical field is not hinged on whether you graduate from an ABET accredited program. There are other requirements that can be used instead of it. The accreditation can just speed up the process. In addition, there are many educational programs currently undergoing the process for ABET certification, but haven't reached it yet. One would expect the programs working toward ABET certification to be structured to follow ABET requirements as they are going through the process. A degree from that program will have the benefits of ABET accreditation once it is attained, in some cases even if it is after the fact. In short, ABET accreditation is just one of the things to consider when choosing a college for a degree in engineering.

To find out if a school you are considering is ABET accredited, check out this link for the ABET website. https://amspub.abet.org/aps/name-search?searchType=institution