Why not get your P.E. license?
What is stopping you from obtaining your P.E. licensure? I know that there are hundreds of
reasons to put it off or convince yourself that you don’t need that licensure at all. I certainly
had my share of reasons, but ultimately, I chose to say “why not”? What about you – why not
I’m sharing my story because you may find something in here that strikes a chord in
you. Especially right now – at this time of year when you are mentally recapping where you
have been and evaluating where you would like to go. Getting your P.E. should not be one of
those new year’s resolutions that you make in January but then let it fizzle out very shortly
2019 can be your year!
I believe this because 2018 was my year.
My Journey to the PE Exam
I have a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering, which was awarded to me in 1982. (That
is not a typo.) In fall of my senior year of college, I failed the EIT exam (what the FE exam was
called back then) by one point.
I took the exam again in April, I had the flu and felt terrible, so I bailed out on the second half of the exam and did not complete it. Second failure.
I had a great GPA, and it was a time when there were very few females in the College of Engineering, so I had multiple job offers to choose from and I convinced myself that since I would not be building
bridges or nuclear reactors that I probably wouldn’t really need P.E. licensure.
I didn’t give the PE another thought until many, many years later. Over the next several years I worked in a manufacturing facility, got married, and I worked in R&D. I jumped off the corporate career track, stayed at home to raise children, to run a household and to support my husband’s career goals for 15+ years. I finally went back to work with a home builder, doing office work. It was a challenge to convince potential employers, and myself, that I was smart and capable after choosing to stay home for several
How Getting My PE License Became a Personal Goal
After building some confidence in an office atmosphere, I had the urge to get back to the
science and the technical work that I loved. I was able to find work with a small engineering
firm, doing some lab work and report writing; a step in the right direction. It really upset me
when the company’s owner wouldn’t let me say that I was an engineer to clients, or in reports,
or have that printed on my business cards. I had a B.S. in Chemical Engineering for crying out
loud, and I proudly thought of myself as an engineer. But the owner, who was a P.E., said I was
not a professional engineer so I could not make the engineer title claim.
That is when I began to see, that this is more than some letters after your name, more than a
claim, and even though I was not building bridges or nuclear reactors, that licensure meant
something – professionally and personally.
The Steps I Needed to Take to Sit for the PE Exam
I wanted to be taken seriously – this mother with a dusty diploma. I started to evaluate what it
would take to get PE licensure, and was initially thwarted because of the cumbersome act of
having to compile my Supplementary Experience Record (SER). And there was that
embarrassing failure of the FE exam, so many years ago.
If I couldn’t pass that preliminary exam back when I was in college, when differential equations and stoichiometry were fresh on my mind, then how the heck was I going to pass that now, so many years later? I gave up, again; another few years passed, and I changed jobs.
The new company I went to work for was also a small engineering firm, but there was a
different vibe, a very encouraging office atmosphere – there were folks learning everywhere!
There were young co-workers completing their bachelor’s degree while working, others were
completing their master’s degree while working, there were three P.E.s in the office, and
several new hires that had committed to taking the FE exam in order to begin their journey
towards licensure. Since others around me were learning and striving for professional goals, I began to think about obtaining my PE – again.
I carefully read the requirements on the State Board website and discovered that I could waive
out of the FE exam requirement if I had eight years of engineering work experience, and could
get five currently licensed P.E.’s to sign off on my SER. I had much more engineering work
experience then that so I gave it a whirl. The deadline was only a few weeks away to submit
all the necessary information to my state P.E. Board to have my application reviewed; the Board
would have to give me permission to waive the FE exam and allow me to sit for the PE exam. I
think the deadline worked in my favor because I really hustled to make it happen, and I did not
procrastinate and back out again on the PE dream.
I was absolutely thrilled when the Board replied that I would be allowed to sit for the PE exam! Now, no more excuses, this was all on me. All that stood in the way of me and PE licensure was a passing grade on the PE exam.
Studying for the PE Exam: My Strategy
It was December 2017 and I was approved to sit for the exam in April 2018. I could have
allowed myself more time to study and registered for the October 2018 exam, but I did not
want fear to cause me to procrastinate. I selected the Civil Engineering PE exam with a focus
on Water Resources and Environmental. I selected Civil rather than Chemical because 1) it had
been many years since had done anything that remotely looked like Chemical Engineering, 2)
Civil Engineering seems like the “backbone” to the other engineering disciplines and 3) Civil
Engineering is also closest to the current work I was doing.
I selected Water Resources because no reference books were required for the afternoon depth section. (These may not be the best reasons for my selections, but they are the honest reasons for my selections!)
I printed out a blank monthly calendar for the first four months of 2018 and taped it to my
office wall. This gave me a visual of where I was and when the exam was.
I wrote in the trips or events that I had already committed to, so that I could work around them. I like to play trivia with friends on Wednesday nights after work (yes, I am a bit of a nerd), so I would allow myself that mid-week break.
It was easy for me to see on this calendar where the studying would have to be scheduled. I pre-decided to say no to social gatherings that came up that were not on this calendar; for a few months, I could commit to a curtailed social life.
I signed up for a live review class, because I know that’s how I learn best. I know me. I know I
can find all sorts of way to let my mind drift during an online class, but if I was sitting in a hotel
conference room with a real person talking in front of me, then I would pay attention and have
the best chance to retain the information. Being physically present at these classes was
another way for me to hold myself accountable to the work I needed to put in.
I decided to do the remainder of my studying at my office, after hours and on the weekends.
When the work day ended, I ate the sandwich or microwaved the meal I had packed,
cleared off my desk, and pulled out the CERM and began to read.
I also used the computer to watch videos. I found a Mechanical Engineering teacher who posted videos explaining how to determine forces in structural members. I found videos that reviewed the concepts behind flow nets. I found videos that were funny, videos that were from a classroom lecture, videos that
were good, and videos that were useless – there is a lot out there and I used as much as I could
– I had a lot to learn.
How Civil Engineering Academy Helped Me Achieve My Goal
One of the best online resources I found was from Civil Engineering Academy. Civil Engineering
Academy posted great videos presenting problems in all five of the depth specialties. I
tried to do them on my own, but more often than not, I would have to follow along as the
problem was solved to understand the best approach, to learn what part of the CERM
contained the equations I would need to use, to learn to weed out irrelevant information from
the problem, and to learn tricks and shortcuts.
The few months flew by. The exam date had seemed far enough away that four months of
studying seemed like it would be plenty, but as April approached, I was scared that I had not
prepared well enough. I had put in a lot of time, but I was not particularly fast in solvingproblems. Strategies did not jump out at me when I looked at a problem, but when I was able
to think about it for a while, I could figure out how to solve it. I was not feeling overly
confident, but I was going to give this exam my best shot.
Exam Results Are In!
After the exam I felt about the same way I did going in – the chances of success were 50/50. I
felt that if I passed or failed, it would be close. Did I guess enough correct answers? If I passed,
it would be a lucky break for me because I did not feel confident, but it certainly could happen.
Wait, wait, wait for the results.
When the results came in, I had failed, by one point. I had learned so much in four months, and was able to get within one point of passing, and I viewed that as encouraging! I could pass this exam. I only needed to be a little more proficient to pass, maybe a little quicker at problem solving.
It was hard to buckle down and study again, but I felt with more work, I could pass. This was a goal I
could still meet in 2018, this was within my reach. I signed up for the October test right away.
The Second Time Around
I took a short break and started studying again. I printed a new study calendar and taped it to
my wall. I went to the live classes again. I worked problems I found online again. I updated the
tabs on my CERM. I did practice exams again.
When the October exam rolled around, I felt much more confident. But it’s still scary and fear
creeps in – what if I think I’m ready and I fail again? The days leading up to the exam I was
confident and terrified and tired all at the same time. When I completed the exam the second
time, I did feel like I passed. I guessed at fewer questions. I was more proficient in the subject
areas that had confused me in the spring.
Wait, wait, wait for the results.
When the results came in, I had passed! I had improved my score by ten points! It is an amazing feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction and pride and relief.
2019 is your year!
This morning I read a quote, which is not new to me, but I think it’s very telling that it popped
up again on the very day I’m writing this. These are excerpts from a speech by Teddy
Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts….the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the
arena….who strives valiantly….because there is no effort without error and shortcoming”. This
is very powerful advice, to not listen to your critics, but instead to get in the ring and make the personal effort.
Be brave, make the commitment, put in the work, believe in yourself, and overcome the obstacles in your
way. It can be done.
Make 2019 the year that you obtain PE licensure. Why not try?