Never Too Late to Earn the PE

An article in the April issue of PE magazine told the story of NSPE member Mark Johnson, P.E., who proved that there’s not one standard path to earning the PE license. Johnson first took the FE exam in 1987, five years after he graduated, and last December, at age 50, he passed the PE exam.

After the article was published, PE magazine received the following letter:

Dear Editor,

I just wanted to let you know what a good job I think you did on the Mark Johnson article about how some people just don't get around to being licensed until later in life. I too took the "nontraditional" licensing path and wanted to relate my story to reinforce that it is never too late to advance within your profession.

I originally graduated with an MS in geology from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1981 after doing thesis research in ground water transport and contamination. After working in the petroleum industry for 2 years, and for a state regulatory agency for 6, I decided to enter the consulting business about the time that underground storage tank remediation became big business in the late 1980's. Up until that time I had no thoughts of ever being licensed as a P.E. and was content with my profession as a ground water geologist. However, when I began working for my current firm, who are consulting engineers and where I have now been for nearly 22 years, I began to see that many of my advancement opportunities would eventually be limited.

I first applied for approval to take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam through the "non-ABET accredited institution" provisions under Illinois' licensing regulations. Although I was approved, I took the FE twice and did not pass. However, in 1998 I learned of a distance learning program being offered by my alma mater, SIU-C for a Master of Science degree in Civil Engineering. Although not an ABET-accredited curriculum, I thought it would "as good as" being licensed and would at least give me an educational background on par with my peers. For three years while working full time as an engineering project manager I was also enrolled as a full-time graduate student. I eventually graduated in May 2001 at the age of 45 with my second MS from SIU-C. Newly armed with fresh educational experience, I once again applied again to take the FE under the "non-ABET accredited program" provisions of Illinois' licensing regulations feeling that I now possessed the necessary technical background to be successful.

Just in case I was feeling overly confident, the State Of Illinois decided to put one more hurdle in my path, if for no other reason, than to simply test my resolve. I was informed that I needed four more hours of higher level math before I would be approved to sit for the FE. This class proved more difficult to find than my MS classes, because a class like this is usually offered only during the day when I would normally be at work. As fortune would have it, my local community college decided to offer a night class in differential equations during the summer session. In the summer of 2003, I attended class two hours a night, four nights a week, which thankfully only lasted for 8 weeks. My 25th wedding anniversary was spent studying for a DE test that would be the next night. After passing the class I was told I would be allowed to sit for the FE exam in the spring of 2004. This time I took full advantage of on-line study resources and was more disciplined in my study habits after being relatively fresh off of my most recent college classes. I was informed that I passed the FE in June, 2004. I gave myself a one month break and started studying for the PE which I took in October 2004. I learned that I had finally passed my PE in December 2004 at the age of 48. I estimate that I spent in the neighborhood of 600 - 700 hours preparing just for the FE and PE exams in 2004, which does not include hundreds more hours of study earlier in the decade while in graduate school. Perseverance and organization were key to passing these milestone in middle age at a time when I was older than even many of the proctors of the exams.

I am deeply indebted to the engineering faculty at SIU-C, and in particular to Dr. John Nicklow for making these additional opportunities available to me and my fellow "non-traditional" classmates. I am now an associate and group manager and supervise 13 professional and technical staff including several PE's. I am obviously an advocate for professional licensing and continuing education and believe I can serve as an example to my co-workers that one is never too old to accomplish life's goals, both professional and personal. Thank you to NSPE for all your services and for the support you provide to your members.

Allen O. Oertel, P.G.,P.E.
Springfield, Illinois


Published April 25, 2011 by NSPE

Filed under: PE license,


Great story Allen and thanks for sharing. I am in the process of preparing for the FE myself after nearly ten years of being out of school When I graduated with a civil engineering degree, I never intended on getting my PE. Now after struggling for six years just to pay my bills, I realized I should have pursued my engineering career and my PE. I have been looking for inspiration and thanks to your story, I now have a little more confidence. Congratulations on your perseverance and success.

Friday, May 27, 2011 7:32 PM by Rob

The question sholdun't be how smart you have to be to become an aerospace engineer, or any type of engineer for that matter.  The question should be how hard do you have to work.  Obtaining a degree in engineering takes a lot of work and commitment, being smart helps but an average student can do well in engineering if they put forth the effort.  I have seen many intelligent students do poorly in engineering simply because they didn't put forth the effort needed to do well.  If you work hard and are committed you will be fine, and the great part is there are always professors and other students there to help you.As for a good school in Illinois for engineering, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a top notch engineering school.  They have a top 10 Aerospace engineering program in the nation.Engineering is not just for smart people, its for people who enjoy the field and aren't afraid of hard work.References : M.S. Mechanical EngineeringB.S. Mechanical Engineering

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 2:28 PM by Weverton

I just had to chime in on this. I am 52 now, and have always wanted to get a PE just to satisfy my own need to "do something". I have tried to get started a few times in my life, but never really understood the process, and gave up. I never took the FE for some reason, but I plan to apply for a waiver since I have plenty of experience, and meet the other requirements. NCEES has been really helpful with answering my questions. Wish me luck, I'll be testing in April '13, when I'll be 53.

Monday, September 17, 2012 12:27 PM by Dan Meeks

How did it do Dan ? did you get your PE ? ... I am 42 and planning to take my FE and PE... but I think I am too old and rusty so my chances to do good are kind of low. tnx

Saturday, March 14, 2015 9:16 PM by John

I passed the PE exam in chemical engineering in 2005 at 46. I had taken the FE exam as an undergraduate, and fortunately for me, the state where I am registered recognizes the test indefinitely. I could have qualified to not retake the FE exam under the "20 years of experience" waiver.
I took the PE exam in 1989 and 1990, failing by a couple of points each time. For me, the change from eight "essay questions"  where you could get partial credit to multiple choice problems was somewhat helpful, though it does allow the examiners to test a wider range of subjects. 
If you haven't taken it yet, the usual test-taking strategies apply: scan the test and answer the questions that you know first.

Friday, November 06, 2015 12:41 PM by Joanne Fendell

It is good to know that I am not the only person looking for a PE licence with 50 or more. I am a mexican geologist with 30 years of experience in hydrogeology, have a Master and PhD degree in Hydrogeology (obtained in Mexico). I am working as a full time proffesor in the University of San Luis Potosi, mexico. Because of family issues (my 3 kids were born in the US) I would like to live for 3 or 4 years in the US, to give my kids the opportunity to know the language and US culture. I would like to work in a company dealing with geology and Hydrogeology, and making some enquiries I found out that having a PE would make me easier to find a position (of course visa restrictions should be considered). Can anyone give some suggestions on the best way to start with the process?. I gave a look to the internet information, however still have many questions, thank you very much in advance

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 5:10 PM by Antonio Cardona

I am sitting for the P.E. exam for my first time at age 48. I passed the F.E. last year (2012) after failing it 20 years ago. I currently teach Intro to Engineering at a Massachusetts university and have my P.G. license and an M.S.C.E earned in 1998. For the past 15 years I worked exclusively in biotech and pharmaceutical sales and marketing. Teaching drew me back into engineering, first as an adjunct in 2009, now as a full time faculty. I expect to consult P/T while teaching F/T after passing the P.E. exam. Best of success to you all.

Friday, March 22, 2013 6:29 PM by Doug


I am Snehal Chudasama working with JACOBS ENGINEERING INDIA PVT LTD. I have 6 years of maintenance(4 years) and Design(2 years) experience.I have gone through the website of and was searching for getting PE license after I complete 7 years of experience, but I came to know that there is no provision for our branch(Instrumentation & Control). Does this mean that we won’t be able to get PE in India ever? Or some plans are going on for providing license to our branch as well?

Thanking you. Kindly reply.

Friday, August 23, 2013 4:39 AM by Snehal Chudasama

I cannot say how many people I have met and have worked with over the years that call themselves "engineers" and/or have been hired by companies as (and have been titled as) "engineers" without having an engineering degree--let alone a P.E.
I will never get over the fact that I worked so hard to earn an ABET accredited mechanical engineering degree, only to hear so many non-degreed engineering co-workers complain that they don't have the same priveledges as some other workers because of a " lousy piece of paper". One guy I worked with in the Space Industry was titled "Level 6 engineer", and could not do basic math. One day, I was talking with him at his desk. I happened to glance down at a paper on his desk, and saw the Pythagorean theorem/equation: a^2 + b^2 = c^2, written down, but his hypotenuse for the right triangle was labeled as the "a" leg instead of "c". When I mentioned to him that it was incorrect, he said, "No, I can call any leg of the triangle a, b, or c". I explained why his thinking was in error. For this particular problem, his mistake would (most likely) have caused a disaster--Thank God someone was there to catch it. I recall another so called "6th level engineer" working with me at the same place. When I mentioned to him that he had "million" instead of "billion" on one of his drawings, he replied, "how much more is a billion than a million?" I thought he was joking at first, but he was dead serious, and he wasn't the type of guy that joked around like that. As I paused and stared at him, he must have become very embarrassed because he turned as red as an apple. He then said, "If it's just a little more, then I don't think we need to change it". Both of these guys were working there for over 30 years but neither one had a college degree. They both started out as drafters and " worked their way up". Both of them were getting paid much more than me too. If a doctor who treated you, told you that he started out as a candy striper or an orderly, but "worked his way up", would that be okay with you? Just remember, if a doctor makes mistake he can cause the death of a person. If someone acting as an engineer makes a mistake, he can literally cause the death of thousands of people. Yet, a doctor needs to be licensed, and an engineer is not even required to have a degree. I believe all engineers should be degreed and licensed. Why hasn't a law been passed for this?

Saturday, October 22, 2016 4:17 AM by Thoroughly Disgusted

I passed my PE back in 2009 at the tender age of 51.  My excuse was I had spent the first 15 years of my career in the UK and was a Chartered Engineer over there.  I managed to get the FE waiver in WA - so avoided swotting for that.  Probably spent most of my free time for 3 months revising for the PE.  My career has taken off since I passed.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016 8:35 PM by Gordon Crawford

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