The independent, trusted guide to online education for over 24 years!

How to Become an Engineer: Education, Licensing & Salary

Learn how to become an engineer

Engineering could be one of the most interesting, diverse, and engaging careers you’ll ever find. They shape and reshape the world, improving our lives in ways we probably don’t even realize. From the roads we drive on to the computers in our cars; from massive hospitals to the tiny medical devices found inside, the work of engineers is everywhere.

This is a wonderful career choice for anyone who enjoys building, creating, and designing, so if you would like to build the future and create something that could last for centuries, getting an engineering degree may be the perfect choice.

What Does an Engineer Do?

There are numerous careers that include the term “engineer,” and many of them are vastly different than others. So what do they have in common? They all design, build, and maintain something. Whether that is a single bridge, an entire city, or software that exists only in a virtual setting, they are responsible for designing and creating something.

When most people think of engineering, they likely think of building something physical and large, and this description is certainly accurate. Some professionals in this career are responsible for building skyscrapers, roads, bridges, and massive infrastructure. This description, while accurate, does not apply to all.

Other professionals, while creating physical objects, focus on smaller things. Some are responsible for the design and creation of small parts that are used in computers or technology, while others may create components for cars, trucks, and airplanes. This career is involved in many different areas of the economy.

Some engineers don’t even work with physical objects. A software engineer, for example, uses code and computer programming to create new applications and software designs. A systems engineer creates, as the name suggests, creates operational systems for businesses and logistics. Neither of these specialties create something you can hold in your hand.

This list from the the Bureau of will give you a good idea of specialties within this career path:

  • Aerospace
  • Agricultural
  • Biomedical
  • Chemical
  • Civil
  • Computer hardware
  • Electronics
  • Environmental
  • Industrial
  • Safety
  • Marine
  • Mechanical
  • Nuclear
  • Petroleum
  • Software

This is hardly a comprehensive list, but it shows just how diverse the career of engineering can be.

Is Engineering Fun?

Pay and job stability is important, but many people want a job that enjoyable. One that is fun. What counts as “fun,” however, can change drastically depending on who you ask.

There are certainly parts of the career that many people will find enjoyable. Creating a new car part, designing effective software design, or building a new prosthetic leg could certainly be fun for many people.

Should I Become an Engineer?

Choosing a career can be complicated, but there are a few things indicators that it might be the right choice. If you like solving problems, and you enjoy thinking of new ways to achieve a desired result, this could be right for you.

How is this seen in everyday life? Perhaps, as a child, you enjoyed building with block, perhaps you enjoy puzzles or model building. Perhaps you like organizing events and social interactions, a trait that is useful for systems engineers. Maybe you don’t just enjoy computer games, but you like to build your own worlds and characters within those games. In that case, a software or even a hardware engineer could be a good career.

There are, however, some signs this career is not for you. You don’t have to have an absolute love affair with math and numbers to be a good engineer, but you do, at the very least, need a general appreciation and aptitude for math. If you can’t stand mathematics, geometry, and algebra, you likely won’t thrive in an engineering career. In fact, becoming an engineer could be extremely difficult for students who don’t like math.

To be successful in this career, it helps to have a true appreciation for building things. If you’ve never gained a satisfaction from creating something that has a real use, a utility, then perhaps this is not right the right career choice. There are many signs this path may not for you, but, because there are so many different types of engineering, almost anyone can find something of interest in this career.

6 Steps to Become an Engineer

While the process is different for each type, these are basic steps to become an engineer:

  1. Decide what type of engineering career would be best for you
  2. Complete a bachelor's degree, which is the minimum education requirements
  3. Take and pass the NCEES FE exam
  4. Earn on-the-job training required to fulfill licensing requirements
  5. Pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) examination
  6. Complete a master's degree to enhance your skills (optional)

How Long Does it Take to Become an Engineer?

You’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree, which takes roughly four years of study. However, a master’s degree is recommended, adding two years of additional studies to your education.

However, most begin their careers with a bachelor’s then add on more education while on the job. This is one of the top benefits for this career path. The initial education is relatively short, and, as we’ll show below, after only four years of study you can move into some of the most lucrative jobs in the country.

Engineer Education Requirements

It all starts with the right education, which can usually be completed in our years or less. For most jobs in the this field, a bachelor’s degree is the minimum level of required education. This means four years of college courses, which will include a variety of core classes as well as classes that are specific to your degree.

While most engineering jobs are attainable with a bachelor’s degree, you may want to pursue a master’s in your desired field. This can help you achieve a few different results. For one, your job opportunities will be larger, as having a master’s degree could open new positions, including many government jobs in civil and structural engineering. Also, there is an increased chance for higher pay, as people with master’s degrees generally make more money than people with bachelor’s, associate’s, or no college education.

Some students complete a bachelor’s in engineering then go on to earn a master’s, once they’ve chose their area of specialty. Some know exactly what type of engineering they plan to work in and can chose a specialized degrees early on in their education in a more specialized field.

No matter which path you chose, cost and convenience are paramount. Online engineering degrees allow you to access your education from the top schools in the country without leaving home or your current occupation. When comparing degrees, make sure to consult our cost rankings to find an amazing degree for a bargain!

Most Affordable Online BS Engineering


Most Affordable Online Master's Engineering

ABET Accreditation: Is it Necessary?

The ABET stands for the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. The board is comprised of 35 member societies in the applied science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology fields. The ABET is responsible for accrediting individual degree programs. This is a second layer of accreditation, for the specific engineering degree program, called programmatic accreditation. Learn the different between programmatic and institutional accreditation.

ABET accredited programs are not necessarily better than non-ABET programs. However, an ABET degree is required to become a licensed Professional Engineer in some states, but not all. View the requirements in your state here.

Furthermore, not all engineering jobs require you to be licensed. Consider the type of jobs you’d like to work towards after graduation, and check to see if they require an ABET degree or a Professional Engineer license.

If you know you will need an ABET accredited engineering education, view our list of the best ABET accredited online schools.

Curriculum Spotlight

Civil Engineer Curriculum

Civil engineers play an important role in how cities, counties, states, and the nation as a whole function. They are the creative minds that use science and mathematics to build the infrastructure we use every day. This can include roads, public buildings, airports, and hospitals. In many ways, this field is considered the foundation for all other branches of engineering. Classes may include:

  • Calculus
  • Chemistry
  • Intro to engineering
  • Statistics
  • Engineering design
  • Structural analysis
  • Steel design
  • Geotechnical engineering
  • Soil mechanics

Electrical Engineer Curriculum

How many items in your home use electricity? These machines, tools, and devices require careful skills. From massive buildings to an electric can opener, these professionals help make our world safer and more convenient. Classes may include:

  • Circuit analysis
  • Digital electronics
  • Control systems
  • Electrical design
  • Signals and systems
  • Digital circuits
  • Electromagnetics

Software Engineer Curriculum

Software engineers plan, design, and create the next generation of computer programs. They may come up with ideas or goal on their own, or take guidance on what to accomplish, then set out to meet these goals. While many engineering degrees are administered through a college or university’s engineering department, many software engineering degrees come through the computer science program. Classes usually include:

  • Intro to computer science
  • Computer networking
  • Algorithms
  • Digital systems design
  • Software modeling
  • Data structures
  • Front-end programming
  • Back-end programming
  • Systems administration
  • Human-computer interaction

Fundamentals of Engineering Exam

When you are close to finishing your bachelor’s degree, you will be eligible to register and sit for the FE exam. Taking and passing this exam is required to become a licensed professional so you can begin work as an intern or another position.

The exam is administered on a computer in various sites around the United States. The FE exam includes 110 questions. Test takers have 6 hours to complete the exam, which includes a 25 minute break. A $175 exam fee is due to the board with your application. Some licensing boards may require you to file a separate application and pay an application fee as part of the approval process to qualify you for a seat for an NCEES exam. Some licensing boards have additional requirements.

The NCEES produces a FE Reference Handbook. This may be used during the exam as a reference material. Additionally, the NCEES offers practice exams that contain questions used on past exams.

Depending on your speciality, there are different exams. The following are offered yearly:

  • FE Chemical
  • FE Civil
  • FE Electrical and Computer
  • FE Environmental
  • FE Industrial and Systems
  • FE Mechanical
  • FE Other Disciplines

Exam results are typically available 7-10 days after sitting for the test. Pass rates in 2021 varied by exam:

  • FE Chemical 74%
  • FE Civil 70%
  • FE Electrical and Computer 72%
  • FE Environmental 79%
  • FE Industrial and Systems 67%
  • FE Mechanical 75%
  • FE Other Disciplines 63%


Engineering is a far-ranging discipline with varying requirements; but most will need to become licensed. Most specialities require four years of on-the-job training for full licensure.

For example, a civil engineer typically needs a Professional Engineering (PE) License to work in higher levels of the profession, including leadership roles or an an independent contractor. This licensing is usually required if you are going to oversee others. To earn the PE license, you’ll need four years of on the job training, a bachelor’s degree, and to pass the 8 hour PE exam.

There are some other situations where certification will be required. Nuclear engineers may need to obtain licensing to work as a senior reactor operator, for example. This certification is overseen by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Some marine engineers will also need licensure from the U.S. Coast Guard, while industrial engineers can acquire certification from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. As you can see, a lot depends on your specific career path.

Career Outlook

Not only is the pay strong, but when you work in this career you can expect a stable job with opportunities in almost any area. No matter where you live, there will be excellent options to earn a living.

Some specialties are found in all areas. No matter where you live, there is likely a need for civil, electrical, or agricultural engineering positions. But other professions are more regional. Petroleum and marine engineering jobs, for example, are likely found in specific regions.

How Much Do Engineers Make?

Engineers are in high demand. As such, they stand to earn some of the highest salaries in the market. Once again, a lot will depend on the type of engineering you pursue, but it’s reasonable to expect a large salary if you meet the basic qualifications.

When selecting a major, you probably want to know which types will pay the most. Here are the median salaries for the most common specialties:

  • Aerospace: $118,610
  • Agricultural: $84,410
  • Biomedical: $92,620
  • Chemical: $108,540
  • Civil: $88,570
  • Computer hardware: $119,560
  • Electronics: $103,390
  • Environmental: $92,120
  • Industrial: $88,950
  • Safety: $94,240
  • Marine: $95,440
  • Mechanical: $90,160
  • Nuclear: $116,140
  • Petroleum: $137,330

As you can see from the numbers above, salaries can be massive. The lowest, among 14 different jobs, was over $84,000, which is significantly higher than the median salary for all careers, which sits at $41,950. So the lowest-paying job on our list earns a median salary that is almost twice as much as all other professions.

Currently, petroleum engineers have the highest pay. While salary is far from the only thing you should be looking for when researching a career, the pay is one of the advantages you’ll enjoy in this career.

What Can You Do With an Engineering Degree Besides Engineering?

There is a lot that can be done. You could become an entrepreneur, using your skills and talents to build your own tech business, or you could go into management. These are excellent options to use your skills outside of a classic position.

Start Your Degree Today!

If you have the inclination for this career field, all you need is to attend the right education and some time. Whether you need a bachelor’s degree to get started or are ready to advance your career with a master’s degree, an online engineering degree is a great option.

View Degrees

Related Resources