So You Want To Be A Civil Engineer?

Tassels were turned, caps were thrown, and hundreds of pictures were taken by proud family and friends the past few weekends. Whether you walked across the stage or are preparing to next year, we know that graduation season is full of celebration and questions. With this in mind, we’ve created a brief checklist to make sure you can prepare for long-term success as a civil engineer.

Spoiler alert – Becoming a Professional Engineer (PE) is critical if you want to pursue a career in consulting engineering. Only a PE may create, sign, seal, and submit engineering plans and drawings, and PEs also regularly bill at higher rates than unlicensed engineers. And of course having your PE license provides a greater level of job security should you ever need to find a new position or move jobs. So what does it take to obtain this highly respected registration?

Step One: Take the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam

Passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam is the first step towards gaining your PE license. Administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), the best time to take the FE is during your senior year before the fundamentals get lost in the excitement of graduation and your job search. Not only is it important to take the FE exam while fundamentals are fresh in your mind, but it’s easier to go ahead and get this tough exam out the way while you’re still in school mode. Make sure you check out the NCEES website and take one of the trial examinations available and download a copy of the “Fundamentals of Engineering Supplied-Reference Handbook” that will be supplied at the exam. This handbook will give you a good idea of the kind of material you can expect during the exam.

Step Two: Become an Engineer Intern

Once you have passed the FE you will be classified as an “engineer intern” or “engineer-in-training.” As an engineer intern (EI), you will then eligible to gain experience working under a PE. EIs must work under a PE for four years before they can receive a PE license of their own. In most cases, your school can help you find an engineering role in your area but don’t be afraid to follow up with any of the firms you may have interned with, or do some research into other local firms that interest you. North Carolina used to require that you work under a PE for four years before taking the PE exam, however, you can now take the PE exam anytime after taking the FE exam and graduating! 

Step Three:  Become a Registered Professional Engineer

The North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors (NCBELS) certifies engineers in North Carolina. Just like the FE exam, there are myriad resources available to help you prepare for the PE exam. The Institute for Transportation Research and Education (ITRE) has a PE Civil Engineering review course and there are manuals available through Kaplan. Additionally, you are wise to take advantage of the experience that your mentors can provide, as well as seek out and join with peer groups who are also planning to take the test soon. Once you have both four years of experience and you've passed the PE exam, you will officially be a Professional Engineer! 

Step Four: Transitioning from EI to PE and Growing Your Career

In case you were still on the fence about the value of becoming a PE, there is an understanding within most engineering firms that those who start out as an EI will have the opportunity to transition into a PE role within the same firm. Consulting engineering firms want to partner with you through those four years as an intern so that you will stay on and add value to their team of available engineers.  That doesn’t mean your career will stagnate from here though! Growing your career as a Professional Engineer can lead to opportunities as a Project or Practice Manager, Department Head, and even the Vice President or President of a firm. So how do you develop this promising career?

The best way to grow your career as a Professional Engineer is to start by expanding your technical knowledge. For example, the logic behind why a 6-inch waterline is a requirement when attached to a fire hydrant, how total dynamic head factors into pump selections, or what causes Trihalomethanes to form in water lines... Broadening your technical knowledge is essential before you take the next step in asking for more responsibility. And as those responsibilities increase, you will start developing important relationships with your clients/owners. These relationships are critical for demonstrating your ability to maintain positive client interactions while balancing workloads and even developing new business. These are the types of value-adds that can lead to a management role within your organization. Lastly, take the time to get involved with professional societies like the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) or the Professional Engineers of North Carolina (PENC). These groups are a great way to network, stay on top of current trends, earn your required Professional Development Hours (PDHs), and of course give back to the proud community that is Registered Professional Engineers for the next generation.