California Professional Engineering License

California is an important state for licensure as a Civil PE for two reasons, it requires the least amount of work experience and is the most difficult test to pass nationally.

California requires only 2 years of work experience for those with a BS degree from an ABET accredited program, and 1 year for those with a Masters degree from an ABET accredited program.  This is the first state for which most engineers will satisfy the requirements to sit for the Professional Engineering exam and become fully licensed.  That being said, this is one of the most difficult states to get licensed in.  In addition to the national 8 hour Professional Engineering exam provided by NCEES, prospective civil engineers have to take 2 additional tests: the California specific Civil Engineering Surveying exam, and the California specific Civil Seismic Principles exam (each of which are 2.5 hours in length).

I highly recommend getting licensed in California as soon as you meet the requirements.  If you get licensed in this state, you can obtain your Civil PE in every other state by comity (once you’ve achieved the necessary work experience in the state for which you’re seeking licensure).

Requirements for Licensure

Licensure as a Professional Engineer in the state of California is a three step process.  The first step is to pass the fundamentals of engineering exam.  The second step is to obtain 6 years of qualifying experience (this experience does not have to come after taking the FE exam). Finally, the prospective engineer must take and pass the Professional Engineering exam along with the California specific Civil Engineering Surveying exam, and the Civil Seismic Principles exam.  Qualifying experience is given as follows:

  1. Undergraduate Education
    • Four years’ credit for graduation with an engineering degree from a Board approved engineering curriculum (ABET accredited in the US or CEAB accredited in Canada).
    • Two years credit for graduation with a bachelor’s level engineering technology degree, or one year credit for graduation with an associate level engineering technology degree, from a technology curriculum which has been accredited by the Technology Accreditation Commission (TAC) of ABET.
    • Two years credit for graduation with an engineering degree from any school whose engineering curriculum is not Board approved (including all foreign schools).
  2. Post-Graduate Education
    • The Board may give a maximum of one year credit as qualifying experience for satisfactorily completed graduate work in an ABET-approved engineering curriculum. No credit will be given for foreign graduate work or graduate work done in any non-ABET approved curriculum. Completed post-graduate work is work for which a degree has been received.
    • Applicants who possess a board-approved postgraduate degree in engineering will receive 5 years of experience credit toward the 6-year experience requirement regardless of the undergraduate degree. A board-approved postgraduate degree is one where either the undergraduate or postgraduate engineering curriculum is accredited by ABET.
  3. Engineering Teaching
    • a maximum of one year credit as qualifying experience is given for engineering teaching in a college curriculum, provided that an applicant is claiming no more than four years credit for education.
  4. Work Experience
    • Qualifying work experience under the direct supervision of a licensed professional engineer

For more detailed information on qualifying work experience refer to

Application Process

The application process involves 3 steps:

  1. Submit the Califonia PE application to the board with the appropriate fee.
  2. Once the application is accepted, register for the national 8 hour PE exam through NCEES and pay the appropriate fee. Instructions will be provided once the initial application to the board is accepted.
  3. Register for the state specific Civil Engineering Surveying, and Civil Seismic Principles exams through Prometric. Instructions will be provided once the initial application to the board is accepted.

The application is the most time consuming, and it’s important to keep filing dates in mind when applying.  Explicitly follow these steps to ensure your application to the board is complete and processed in a timely manner.

  1. Select 4 references and contact them immediately to verify they’re comfortable serving as your reference. If you’re going to be working primarily in California, these references must be licensed in California. If you’re going to be working primarily in another state, these references must be from that state.
  2. Complete the 2 page Civil PE application.
  3. Review the Professional Engineer Engagement Record and Reference Form Instructions, complete part A of the Engagement Record and Reference Form for EACH of your references.
  4. Mail the Engagement Record and Reference Form, with Part A completed, to each of your references.  Include a self addressed stamped envelope, a copy of the information collection disclosure, and instructions to have the reference stamp and sign over the envelope seal once the reference form is complete (reference forms will not be accepted without this stamp and signature).  The references must return these completed and sealed forms to you for inclusion in the application.
  5. Order certified sealed college transcripts for inclusion with your application.
  6. If you’re applying by comity, or took the Fundamentals of Engineering exam in a different state, submit the verification of registration form to the jurisdictions for which you’re already licensed. If the jurisdiction will only submit the verification form directly to the California Board, make sure to include that in writing with your application.
  7. Complete the take home exam and include it with your application.
  8. Submit the application, along with the 4 sealed engagement record and reference forms, the sealed transcripts, the completed take home examination, 2 self-addressed, stamped post cards the board will use for notification of application status, and the verification of registrations (if required) to the board with a check made payable to the “Department of Consumer Affairs” for 425.00.  This fee includes a 125.00 non-refundable application fee, a 150.00 seismic exam fee, and a 150.00 surveying exam fee.  If your application is denied, the seismic and surveying exam fees will be returned to you.  The board provides a full fee breakdown.
Now you get to wait until the application is processed by the state of California.  For questions concerning your application, contact the evaluator assigned to you on the California board contact information page. Once accepted, follow the provided instructions to register for the PE exam administered by NCEES and the Califonia seismic and surveying exams administered by Prometric.  The fees required to register for the PE exam through NCEES are  265.00, and for the seismic and surveying exams through Prometric are 117.60.

Your total fee for applying for your California Civil PE license amounts to $807.60.  If that’s not motivation to study hard, ensuring you pass on the first try, I don’t know what is!

Exam Exemptions

No exemptions are listed in the state of California.

License by Comity

If the applicant has passed the PE exam, and is a licensed professional engineer in another state, he or she may apply for a California professional engineering license by comity, following the same process outlined in the Application Process.  Be aware that you’ll have to still take the California specific seismic and surveying exams!

Professional Engineering Exam Details

The Professional Engineering exam is typically the last step in become a fully licensed professional engineer.  Refer to the NCEES exam schedule for upcoming exam dates. This exam is targeted for an engineer with 4 or more years of engineering experience after college graduation.  During exam registration each examinee must choose from one of the following modules for the afternoon portion of the exam:

The exam is an 8 hour breadth and depth multiple choice exam.  The 4 hour morning session is a 40 question breadth exam equally covering each of the above listed modules.  The 4 hour afternoon session is a 40 question depth exam covering only the module selected during registration.  This exam is open book, and the examinee is allowed to bring any reference to the exam provided it is bound, and stays bound throughout the test. Loose papers bound by a 3 ring binder, or other device, are acceptable.

Refer to the calculator policy for a list of approved calculators for this exam.

California Specific Examinations

The California specific Seismic Principles Examination is a 2.5 hour multiple choice exam testing the examinees knowledge of the seismic provisions of the California Building Code.  Refer to the board for a reference list for this exam. A strong understanding of the seismic design requirements of the CBC (which references the IBC), and  ASCE7 are necessary to pass this exam. The board provides a test plan that you can use for review.

The California specific Civil Engineering Surveying Examination is a 2.5 hour multiple choice exam testing the examinees knowledge of basic surveying principles.  Refer to the board for a reference list for this exam, and a test plan that you can use for review.

Continuing Education Requirements

Continuing education is not required for professional engineers licensed in California.

License Renewal

The license renewal period is 2 years in the state of California.  A notice will be sent to your address approximately 60 days prior to the expiration date.  The fee to renew is 115.00.  This fee increases to 172.50 for those who fail to renew within 60 days after the expiration date. Refer to the board for detailed renewal information.