How to Become an Engineer

Education, Licensing and Other Qualifications

Engineers use their knowledge of scientific and mathematical principles to solve technical problems. They work in a variety of disciplines including civil, environmental, chemical, mechanical, electrical and petroleum engineering. Do you want to know how to become an engineer? Learn about educational requirements and how to get into a college engineering program. See what you will have to do after you graduate and find out what employers are looking for when they are hiring for entry-level jobs. 

Do You Have What It Takes?

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To work in most branches of engineering you need good math and science skills. Make sure to take and do well in as many high school classes in these subjects as possible. Chemistry, physics, biology, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, pre-calculus and calculus should certainly be part of your curriculum. They will form a good foundation for the advanced courses you will take in college.

In addition to having a strong background in science and math, certain soft skills will allow you to be successful in this occupation. For example, you need to be a good problem solver. It means you must be able to identify problems and come up with possible solutions to them. Excellent critical thinking skills will allow you to evaluate each solution to determine which one has the best chance of working. You must also be able to work on a team, solving problems alongside colleagues. You should be a good listener and speaker as well.

Required Education

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If you want to become an engineer, you must earn a bachelor's degree from an engineering program, majoring in the branch in which you want to work. When it comes to deciding where to study, you may select either an accredited or an unaccredited program, but it is usually in your best interests to opt for an accredited one. Having that designation means the program meets certain standards. You will probably need a degree from an accredited program to become licensed and, also, many employers prefer to hire graduates of those programs. ABET accredits engineering education programs in the United States. Different agencies have this responsibility in other countries., a website that provides information about engineering education and careers, has a searchable database of accredited programs around the world.

College coursework varies depending on the engineering branch you choose. In addition to your engineering classes, you should expect to take advanced science and math courses. You will have to fulfill the general education or core curriculum requirements of your college by taking English, humanities and social sciences classes.

Here is a sample of courses that are listed among the requirements of various engineering programs:

  • Engineering Materials
  • Analytical Geometry and Calculus
  • Logical Design and Digital Circuits
  • Mechanical Engineering Laboratory
  • Engineering Mathematics
  • Decision Analysis
  • Probability and Risk Analysis for Engineers
  • General Chemistry
  • General Physics
  • English Composition
  • American History
  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Introduction to Sociology

Getting Into an Engineering Program

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Admission requirements and procedures vary by college. It is important that you check with the institutions to which you want to apply to learn about their policies. Usually, you will have to complete a general application and take the required standardized admissions tests like the SAT or ACT. Applicants to engineering programs sometimes have to apply directly to those programs or even to a specific discipline and often have to meet additional qualifications. For example, they may need to have earned certain scores on the math section of the ACT or SAT, taken SAT subject tests in math and science and completed specific high school classes.

Students who want to transfer into engineering programs from other colleges or even from within the same school will have additional hoops to jump through. Those requirements also differ by school. Therefore it is imperative that you investigate thoroughly before you begin the process.

What You Must Do After You Graduate

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Engineers who offer their services directly to the public need a license to do so. Once licensed, they are called Professional Engineers (PEs). In the US, individual states and the District of Columbia issue these licenses. You can learn the specific licensing requirements in the state in which you want to work by using the Licensed Occupations Tool from CareerOneStop but generally all require that one has graduated from an accredited program, has four years of work experience and has passed exams that are administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. If you move to another state or want to practice in multiple states, you must apply for a license in each one. Fortunately, since the exam is national, you won't have to take it again!

Typical Steps to Licensure for Graduates of Accredited Engineering Programs in the US

  • Step 1: Take the FE (Fundamentals of Engineering) Exam, an eight-hour test, after graduation from an accredited engineering program.
  • Step 2: If you pass the exam, work as an engineer-in-training or engineer intern to get four years of work experience, as required for full licensure.
  • Step 3: Take the PE (Professional Engineer) Exam in your discipline. It is an eight-hour exam.

Getting Your First Job

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Learn what qualities employers of engineers are seeking. Here are specifications excerpted from job announcements found in various sources:

  • "Strong organizational and time management skills."
  • "The ability to work independently as well as part of a team."
  • "Proactively investigates, identifies, and implements best-in-class Quality Engineering practices."
  • "Work with supervisors to improve direct labor efficiency."