So, a few years ago, you decided you wanted to go to engineering school. You did your research and found that your college was in fact accredited, so the degree means something. You put in your four or five years (or more). Now you’re about to get your degree, get into the real world, and go make some money. You might be celebrating your graduation, but you probably need to do more than just that.
You ought to think about taking the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, also called the Engineer in Training (EIT) exam. You owe it to yourself, after spending all that time in engineering school, to get this certification.
Many universities throughout the U.S. have electives or pass/fail classes for the FE exam review, and many still make it a requirement for all students to take the exam. The certification is clearly considered to be an important one—but many engineers do not take it, thinking they’ll never need it.
Why Should I Take the FE Exam?
The FE exam is actually harder than the Professional Engineer (PE) exam, simply because it is much more broad. It’s best to take it as close to graduation as you can, with all that schooling still fresh in your mind. Even if you have no plans to practice engineering while working for yourself, it’s a good idea to take the FE exam—if you happen to change your mind later in life and want to start your own business, the FE is probably a good bit of insurance.
I was lucky that the professors at my alma mater, Washington State University, nestled in the rolling wheat fields of eastern Washington, told us all to take the EIT exam our last semester in college. Over the past 36 years since I graduated, however, I am often amazed that so many people I’ve talked with (recent graduates as well as those who graduated many years ago) claim that they did not need to take that exam because they saw no need to proceed to the next step—getting those two little initials behind your name, PE, professional engineer.
For me, getting a PE was my default goal after graduation. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was a pretty poor student and I simply felt I had to show people I was a real engineer, but that’s discussion for later. It came down to the basic fact that, throughout the United States, every state’s Board of Engineers legally requires those who practice engineering to have a PE.
That fact was quickly brought to my attention in 1999 when I applied to take the PE exam in the state of Alabama. The email address on my application said firstname.lastname@example.org; I immediately received a phone call from the state licensing board politely telling me (not asking!) to take down my website, www.bsc-engineering.com, until such time that I could pass the exam—because the name of the website implied that I was practicing engineering without a license.
The International Society of Automation (ISA) has spent many volunteer hours developing the control system engineering PE exam review course. I think it’s high time to offer a course for the FE exam review, simply because there are many young—and older—engineers who need to take the FE exam as a prerequisite to take the PE exam.
Volunteers and Potential Students
I’m looking for a dozen ISA volunteers who can each create and present a single two-hour online webinar covering one of the 12 subject areas on the FE exam. Actually, I’ll only need 11 volunteers, since I will be presenting one webinar myself. How about it—do I have about a dozen people who want to give back something to their profession?
As for those of you thinking about getting your FE, go to your state licensing board and find out when the exam is given. Then plan on contacting me to register for this three-month, 12-week online course. I will accept as many registrants as a web meeting application like Zoom or Microsoft Teams can handle. We can work together effectively in a large study group online where we can have interactive Q&A, share screens, and work on solutions to sample exam questions, so you can get that FE exam passed and then take your PE exam. Set that as your goal for the next year and go for it!
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About the Author
Brad S. Carlberg, PE, CSE, is a professional control systems engineer with more than 30 years of experience in process control engineering, focusing on distributed control systems, PLCs, and human-machine interfaces. A long-time ISA member, Brad is the vice president of ISA's Industries & Sciences Department; an affiliate of the Pulp & Paper Industry Division; and a former executive board member, Geographic Assemblies chairman, District 9 vice president, member of the Conference & Exhibit Oversight Committee, and CSE PE Review course instructor. He is also a member of the ISA18, ISA99, and ISA101 Standards Committees. Brad can be reached at email@example.com.