My Journey to PE Licensure with Tips and Advice

Journey to Licensure

Today I'm sharing a little question and answer session about my own journey in taking and passing the civil PE exam.  Everyone's journey is different.  Some will take the exam one time and someone else will take it 10.  Some will take their depth section in geotech (like me) and others something else.  The point is that every has they own journey in passing the PE exam.  

What if on that journey you fail?  Does that make you a failure too?  Of course not.  It's a learning process and a stepping stone on that journey.  So, with that said hopefully you can learn a little bit more about me and hopefully prepare yourself a little better for the time you take the PE exam yourself!  

Let's jump right into it shall we?


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What Motivated Me to Get Licensed?

As a civil engineer, earning your PE License is simply a must to further your career and personal knowledge.


Passing the exam help me to be recognized as a professional engineer. If I ever do contract work or have to work as a contractor, I would be required to stamp my designs that would signal that it meets all the standards, codes, and engineering that would give it the safety green light to construct. It puts pressure on you as an engineer with that kind of responsibility but it’s a must. A doctor needs his degree and experience to become a doctor and a licensed civil PE needs the same, and has the same responsibility to keep the public safe and act ethically.

In Utah, you need to have 4 years of experience to obtain the PE. I was motivated when the clock hit 4 years and I knew I could have those PE initials after my name!  It simply eats at you until you get going on it. I wanted to have those initials after my name and I wanted to be recognized as a professional in my field. Getting a raise/money was probably the last thing on my mind (but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t on my mind!).

I also wanted to receive my PE license so that I could help other engineers earn the distinguished honor having gone through the entire experience personally.

My Own Journey to PE Licensure

I first took the PE Exam in the October of 2010 in Phoenix, AZ. I had taken a very short ASCE Young Members review class and thought it was enough to get me through.  Boy was I wrong.  Unfortunately I didn’t pass that exam that round but I learned from the experience and prepared even stronger the next time I could take it in my own state.

I ended up taking and passing in the fall of 2012 and was pretty confident that I had passed at that time because I put so much into studying.  I had gathered a TON of material and practiced every problem I could get my hands on.  It was tough but once I got into the habit of studying it was actually something I enjoyed doing.

Isaac's Notes: The first time I took PE I was single with just drive to get it done.  But life lead me to my wife and I was married the time I took it in Utah.  Shortly afterward we had twins but I was fortunate to pass just before they came into the picture.  If anyone needs a recommendation on when to take the PE then I would simply say the next round is the best round.  Don’t delay.  It doesn’t matter if you are single, married, or have children.  Carve out time to get this massive milestone passed.  

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Overcoming Challenges of the PE

Challenges for me included time, what to study, and figuring out what’s on the exam for real. I'm betting that you've had similar questions or challenges. If you create a good schedule and buy the right resources all those questions go away. You can also reach out to others (like us here at Civil Engineering Academy or at PPI) or even better get a review course to help you on your journey.  And speaking of a review course - the entire month of January at PPI examinees can save 15% on review materials!  

After being out of school for four years, you get busy with a social life, hobbies, work, etc. By that time, schooling and your studies can be far from your mind - like it was for me! I was just engaged/recently married so that took time, but we made it work. That’s the key - communicate with all your friends and family about this massive milestone and they’ll support you to get through it.

Another major challenge is the challenge of failure. What if you happen to fail once or twice or ten? If you find yourself being a repeat taker then you need to learn to not let it get you down and just run the marathon that you’re in. If you try to sprint to the end you’ll get winded. Take your time - practice tons of problems and you’ll be well on your way.  Just promise me if you fail you'll register for the very next exam.  Doing that will keep you going.

Finding the Time for the PE

I studied whenever I could find free time. My work allowed me to do it right there at my office for a few hours when I had my work finished - so basically any break I had or during lunch I would start practicing things.  I would also study at nights after work when I could, and I would also study hard on the weekends. I would try to look at exams on the weekends and I built a schedule around each major category. It was a lot of time, probably around 300 hours of study time.

You have to put in the time to study for this.  If you could just walk right in and pass the exam I would think you were a genius, but for more common folk that just isn't realistic.  You have to put in the time as hard as that might sound.

The Results of Having a PE

By getting licensed, I have gained greater opportunities for advancement at my current workplace as well as others. By having the PE it shows that you understand principles of engineering and when given the responsibility to check or do design work, you are ethical and responsible. You gain all of this when you obtain the PE.  It places the responsibility and any risk squarely on your shoulders.

I was able to advance from a career level engineer into a supervisor role (in time) because I had experience - and now the PE license. It was a huge step up for me. It has also allowed me to have credibility when when trying to help others (like this very site).  

Now, I know that most engineers are not going to immediately jump up in their career, but for most cases you'll negotiate a raise.  And looking down your career road I can guarantee that by having the PE you've increased your opportunities and value, which equates to more pay.  I would even venture to say that by having the PE you are valued more than having a masters degree.

PE Exam Tips and Advice

When should you start studying?  I started studying 3 months before the exam and I always recommend 3 to 4 months before the exam.  If you are super smart then you might get away with less than 3 months of study time but that’s rare and I wouldn’t chance it.  Give yourself 3 months or plan to take the exam the next round.  If and when the exam goes to a computer based model I would recommend the same thing.

Gather your resources early (get them here on our site and over at PPI - use our discount code of CEA15 to get 15% off - they're an affiliate of ours)!  Create a schedule and start working problems (get our free video practice problems here).  

If you need a course then check out what PPI has to offer as part of your review.  This month (January 2018) you'll even receive a free Klean Kanteen with any review bundle or live course purchase!

Working problems is the key to passing.  Don't focus so much on the theory.  Hit as many problems as you can.  Spend a lot of your time in your depth section and make sure that you have a broad understanding of the other subjects.  If you can ace the morning exam it will make the afternoon so much easier on yourself as the scores are combined.

Mark up your Civil Engineering Reference Manual and tab important concept pages.  I found it nice to keep tabs a certain color code - so blue for hydraulics and hydrology, brown for geotech, etc.  Check out my marked up Civil Engineering Reference Manual above.  Yep, that's the beauty I took with me!  #resolvedtogetlicensed.  

So that's my journey, how about yours?  Share with me a photo or story about your journey to get licensed!  What motivated you to get the PE?  I'd love to hear it!  

You can find us on Twitter, Facebook or just email me at  Use the #resovletogetlicensed and get recognized by us and PPI!

Now go get those initials after your name if you haven't already!


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