FE and PE exams - later in life

Here’s the story. I’ve spent 24 years in the fire service, the last 12 years I was the fire prevention guy. Inspection, testing, maintenance, plan reviews, etc. The last 2 years I was in charge of fire prevention (as a part of many other duties), overseeing five other people doing various similar work. I also owned a business for the past 8 years that does inspection and testing of aviation fuel systems (fixed sites on the ground, not in aircraft) and teaching others to inspect and/or operate them.

Both of these overlapping careers have been engineering heavy. I never marketed myself as an engineer, nor did I work directly under a PE.

I have jumped to a different, but very closely related career in the past year. I am now surrounded by engineers. Brand new ones, some a year out of school, others at the end of their careers, and everywhere in between. It’s time to get that PE license that I always wanted.

I had leaned towards fire protection engineering in college, however it would have added 1.5 years - that was not in the cards. My BS is in fire science, but was heavily loaded in engineering. My master’s is in Public Administration (I was a fire chief, that’s what I needed at the time). Going back for another master’s is not in the cards.

The top-level engineers I work for seem confident that my experience would count towards the 8-year experience track for licensure as a PE in fire protection. They have my full history, they know the rules there, I will take their word at face value.

It has been nearly 20 years since my BS. I will be sitting for the Fundamentals of Engineering exam (for other disciplines) as soon as I can. I have the NCEES study materials, which I wouldn’t say were written in Greek, but it’s certainly not Massachusetts vernacular. Calculus hasn’t been used inside my head for a long, long time. It’s coming back, but not as fast as I’d like it to.

My question - In the opinion of those in the engineering world, is it reasonable for someone who is 20 years out to expect to pass the FE, and eventually (hopefully next October) the PE exam?

I wouldn’t say I need to be talked off of a ledge, but I’m not confident I’m being reasonable in my expectations.

I suppose like anything it depends on how badly you want it and how well you prepare.

The Fundamentials of Engineering (FE) test is not that difficult. If the engineering fundamentals are coming back to you, it shouldn’t be a problem. I took and passed the FE with almost no studying other than refereshing some engineering economics and basic circuits theory.

I have not taken any of the PE exams but from the study materials and reputation they are far more detailed. You will want to devote several hundred hours of time over the period of a few months to systematic study and self-test. If you are motivated and the material is essentially review it should be feasible, but you really have to stick with it; you can’t just cram a week before the exam.


I teach a review course for the FE/PE exam. I only teach one subject (Engineering Economics) but I’m pretty familiar with the other subjects. I recommend you take a review course at your local college if you really need to pass the exam. It will most likely all come back to you. Good luck!

Sorry but it’s the kind of acronym that’s hard to find: what’s a PE?

The o.p is referrring to the US National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam, which is a prerequisite for receiving Professional Engineering (PE) certification. Although most people working in engineering fields do not have a PE (I have yet to meet an aerospace or electrical engineer, metallurgist, or material scientist who has one) it is a requirement in many states to advertise yourself as an “engineer” professionally and to approve certain types of structures and systems that have a direct impact on public safety like bridges, buildings, or fire protection systems. Outside of civil/structural, it is fairly rare becaise you have to work under the supervision of another PE for several years (I thought it was five but the o.p. said eight) before you can be fully licensed. The PE exam covers specific areas by discipline but it is a pretty intensive test roughly analogous to the bar exam for attorneys or medical licensing exams for doctors, registred nurses, and nurse practitioners.


Stranger, thank you kindly for the reply. Of course you saying a test isn’t difficult is not necessarily solace to us mere mortals… The FE exam is obviously my primary concern for now. It would need to be completed by January to meet the April deadline for the PE exam application. I will have the time to dedicate to the PE, it’s the compressed timeline for the FE that has me worried(ish). I’ve found a few preparatory programs that look promising. The only way to find out is to dive in.

Also, the time needed to work as an intern prior to sitting for the PE exam (in Massachusetts, other states vary) changes based on the level of education. A graduate of an accredited engineering school has the shortest time (as short as 2 years, depending on the level of degree). Someone like me who has a science (but not accredited engineering) degree needs 8 years. No education at all can be licensed at 20 years under certain circumstances.

I’ll say the FE was one of the easiest tests I’ve taken. Because it is so broad there is no single curriculum in undergrad that covers it all. Therefore the test is really about your ability to read, understand variables and do basic algebra. Which is hard for a lot of people. Basically they will give you a word problem with various constants and then ask for an answer. You just need to look through the equation book to find an equation that you have all of the variables for as well as whatever they are asking for. You may need to use algebra to transform the equation to solve for what you need to. Then you just plug and chug. Occassionally you’ll need to use two equations and most of the time you won’t use all of the variables they give you.

As far as the PE I found it really easy too so much so that it freaked me out. I finished the morning session over an hour early and the afternoon session two hours early and passed my first try. I think if you use the stuff and understand what you’re doing it isn’t meant to be hard.

i do know a number of EEs who have their PE license. When I was in school I remember that the EIT test was taken by every civil engineer, some industrial engineers, and the EEs who specialized in power systems. Maybe the odd ME as well.

I’m sure that’s true—they have an EE test, so somebody has to take it—but I’ve never met one in the aerospace or construction equipment fields. At my school, every engineering student regardless of discipline took the FE exam as a precondition for graduation (you just had to take the test, not pass, but I didn’t know anyone to not pass it) and registered as an EIT. As Oredigger77 says, the test is not that difficult and you can make an educated guess at answers even if it is outside your discipline. I had intended to take the PE exam but because I never worked under a PE and it has never been necessary in the fields I’ve worked in I haven’t had cause to.


I took the FE way back when it was called the EIT. I’ve passed both the Structural PE exam and the additional exams that you need for the CA Civil PE (seismic and surveying). I think you will probably need to spend significant time studying up for the exams, but I think it is definitely doable.

It seems you are in Massachusetts? If so, you may want to check whether they still require engineers to submit a pound of calculations with their P.E. application…

Back 40 years ago when I took what was then the EIT exam, I was in my senior year and about to graduate. I thought it was pretty simple. Just take all the books and references you think you might possibly need. Of course, decades out of school it might be harder but if you are adept in math and can look up the proper equations quickly enough, it should be no problem.

The PE exam isn’t that hard, either. You can choose which problems to solve and you should be able to find enough that are doable.

I’m an EE with a PE license. I worked for a power systems consultant out of college and it was important for that job. Then I worked as the only EE at a civil/structural firm and it was useful there, too. Now I work at a metal casting plant and I don’t think it’s all that useful here. But I’ll keep renewing my license in case it becomes useful again in the future. I can see why most electrical engineers aren’t licensed.

As to the OP, it’s all about studying. Harder for you, because it’s been decades since college and its relentless study+exam cycle, but with time and effort, it should come back to you enough to pass the tests. The FE exam gives you one study book you’re allowed to bring to the test. The PE exam is harder because you have to choose the reference books you think you will need. Some guys brought in dollies with crates of books, but I did okay with just a couple.

As to the “working under the supervision of a PE” requirement, I’m not sure how that works in Massachusetts. To be honest, I’m not sure how that works here. I always had another PE to work with.

I know of two EEs with PEs. One runs a commercial electrical contracting company - he spent a few years in the field to qualify for the PE before he returned to work at his father’s company (which he now runs). The second was a guy we hired for a while on contract to do some digital (RTL) design. I have no idea why or how he had his PE. He kept up the license so that he would be able to sign off on renovations to his house.

I think my school stopped requiring the EIT test sometime in the 70s. In any case, I’m sure it couldn’t have been any harder or stressful than DQEs.

I remember people heading off to the EIT test with milk crates filled with textbooks…

Not anymore. Now you can only use the official FE Reference Handbook. And you can’t even bring your own paper copy; you can only use the PDF version supplied along with the computer-based exam.

I was an EE major and took the EIT as part of graduation requirements. It was pretty simple since questions were either something I’d seen before and were a simple calculation, or they were totally out of subject and I could take a probabilistic guess at.

When studying for the PE, however, I ran into a bit of a wall since my EE electives and labs were all focused on digital signals, logic, DSP topics, and the exam had weird arcane voodoo like power systems, transmission lines, motors, etc ;). I realized that I’d have to put in a hell of a lot of independent study to delve the electives that I hadn’t taken, and never finished my PE when other life got in the way :slight_smile:

I’ll also second the observation that in aerospace (where I am) there are very few PEs. The only ones getting them are a few folks that love to collect letters after their names, otherwise my company, and the industry in general, doesn’t care about it.

An update on the FE exam…

I sat for the exam last week. Finished the test with seven minutes remaining - I am always the first person done with tests. I felt like I understood about 40% of the questions. Walking out of the test center, I was mentally preparing to file the paperwork to test again in three months. It wasn’t the worst test I’ve ever taken, but it certainly took a solid second place (for the record, I passed that worst test years ago).

The results were sent today, and by the grace of whatever deity was watching, I somehow passed. Thank you to those who said it was an achievable goal. You were right, with some decent studying it all worked out. It turns out the best study help was a YouTube channel on calculus and differential equations called Professor Leonard. Brought back the lost math and learned (for the moment, at least) the balance of what I needed.

Now to collect a pound of paper for the PE application…

And a bag lunch. IIRC, it’s like 8 hours long.


Now hit your boss up for a raise (good luck with that!)