What Does P.E. Really Stand For?

My business card reads: Jessica Revell, PE and I'm pretty darn proud of that. To those in the know, it's shorthand for my educational and professional background, a designator of hard work, experience, and (hopefully) competency. But unlike medical and legal career paths, where myriad television shows have built public understanding of all that the MD or JD post-nominal entails, the Professional Engineer designation remains mysterious to the laity.

So, let's demystify!

There are several pathways to the PE depending on the requirements of your state, but here's a visual tour of the most commonly traveled route:


The PE is offered in many disciplines. Mine is in Civil Engineering, with a Structural Engineering emphasis. This is not to be confused with Structural Engineer (SE) licensure, which requires a separate 16-hour exam.

What does licensure mean for my daily existence?

  • I can legally call myself an Engineer (capital "E")
  • Within the realm of engineering practice, I am charged with protecting the "Safety, Health, and Welfare" of the public
  • I have a fancy stamp
  • I may use said fancy stamp to seal civil engineering plans (within my area of competency)
  • Most importantly, it makes continuing in my chosen career path possible. It's a rare employer indeed that will continue to promote a civil engineer without a PE license.


ABET Accredited

ABET is the Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology - a not-for-profit non-governmental agency. For a civil engineering program to be ABET accredited, the curriculum must include:

  • Mathematics up through differential equations
  • Physics, chemistry, and one additional area of basic science
  • Four technical areas within Civil Engineering (usually chosen from structural, geotechnical, transportation, environmental, and hydraulics engineering)
  • Civil engineering experiments
  • Design of a system, component, or process
  • "Soft" skills (management, public policy, etc.)
  • An understanding of professional licensure

FE Exam (Civil Engineering)

The fundamentals of engineering exam is an 8-hour exam designed to test your knowledge of...engineering fundamentals (and whether you have the mental stamina to answer questions for eight hours). Topics include: statics, dynamics, thermodynamics, mechanics, statistics, economics, mathematics, etc.

PE Exam (Civil Engineering)

The Principles and Practice of engineering exam is an 8-hour exam designed to test your knowledge of...civil engineering fundamentals (and whether you have the mental stamina to answer a question every six minutes for eight hours). Topics include: Structural, Transportation, Water Resources, Environmental, Geotechnical, and Construction Engineering. There is a 4-hour general portion covering all the aforementioned topics, followed by much nomming of energy bars, and then a 4-hour portion concerning the specific topic of your choice (e.g. structural). In some states, most notably California, additional exams in seismic and surveying principles are required. Most states also require a take-home ethics exam.

Continuing Education

While eight states have no continuing education requirement, most states require engineers to obtain 30 hours of continuing education every two years. This may be in the form of "professional development hours" (PDH) or "continuing education units" (CEU). The terms are used somewhat interchangably, but technically, one PDH represents 50 minutes of technical instruction, and 10 PDHs equal 1 CEU. Both PDHs and CEUs can be acquired by attending technical conferences, webinars, vendor presentations, or formal education courses. Compliance is self-reported but most states conduct audits, so save those certificates of completion folks!