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PE vs MS vs PhD?

  1. Mar 23, 2012 #1
    In the US, there is an FE, and a PE (fundamentals, and principles/practice of engineering)
    Where do those fall on the continuum of ongoing education relative to a masters or PhD program?
    Should I look at the PE before or after a masters program? What did you do? Why?

  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 23, 2012 #2


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    The FE exam should be taken as soon after the BS as possible, while the undergraduate material is as fresh as possible in mind. Some states allow it to be taken during the senior year, others require a certain amount of experience before it can be taken.

    The PE exam should also be taken as soon as it is allowed, again while school is as fresh in mind as possible. For exactly the same reasons as above.
  4. Mar 23, 2012 #3


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    I'd agree with OldEngr regarding when best to take the FE and PE but I think your question regards how they relate to higher degrees, specifically the MS and PhD. In short, they don't.

    The FE (used to be EIT - engineer in training) is just a stepping stone to getting a PE (professional engineer) license. But you don't need a PE for the vast majority of engineering work. The PE is only for specific duties such as signing documents requiring a PE license, usually documents that are required by local government offices. If you work for a company designing products for example, you typically don't need a PE license. If you are selling 'engineering' services to the public however, it is likely you will need one. The vast majority of engineers I know work for a company, don't sell their services outside that company and therefore don't need and don't have a PE license. However, those companies will also typically have a handful of engineers with a PE license that can sign off on documentation especially with local government agencies such as permits that towns, cities and counties require.

    An MS or PhD is simply a higher level of education. You don't need a PE license to get your MS or PhD and similarly, if you have an MS or PhD, you are not automatically granted a PE so you don't have the legal rights that a PE has. With an MS or PhD, you will still need to obtain a PE if you are going to do work in the public domain but just like a BS in engineering, you don't necessarily need one. If you are a student working towards an MS or PhD, you generally won't be able to obtain a PE license since a PE license requires that you first obtain an FE and then have a certain number of years experience working in an engineering position along side a PE before you are allowed to take the exam. Also, each state has their own requirements and a PE in one state does not allow you to act as a PE in another state.
  5. Mar 23, 2012 #4
    A PE license is real important in civil engineering but a lot less so with other disciplines. Still it is never a bad thing to get the license, it can only help.

    The american society of civil engineers (ASCE) has been pushing to make it a requirement to have a masters degree to take the PE exam starting in 2015, but ASCE has no authority, they are trying to influence the state licensing boards who set the requirements. Part of their argument is that there is a lot more required liberal arts electives in todays undergraduate degrees than in the past and thus students arent taking as many engineering classes as they used to and a BS+MS today is nearly equivalent to a BS from 30 years ago.

    As it stands, there is a lot of material on the PE exam that isnt covered in undergrad programs and would need to be learned on the job and taking more grad school courses would certainly help.

    The second part of their reasoning for it is they dont feel engineers are getting the level of respect (and pay) in society that they deserve relative to doctors and lawyers and they believe requiring a graduate degree would help.
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