What’s your reason?
After 5 years of enduring Chemical Engineering and years of work, you would think I have had enough. But that scenario, from years ago, fuels my passion to pursue this US Professional Engineer license. It happened when I was assigned to Yokohama by my Philippine company on a 6-month stint as a Process Engineer. We had a meeting with the Client then, I cannot remember much of the details now, and after that everyone was handing out business cards. A Client asked for mine. I couldn’t hand him any because business cards were not a standard issue. It was given only to a chosen few in our company.
Since then, I wondered how I can be seen as an equal – in skill, not in height 😝 . Apart from that experience, I really find the skill levels of the US PE I met inspiring and would like to improve until I reach their level too.
When I was assigned again in Yokohama, I caught myself transfixed in a poster. This poster encouraged everyone in the company to take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam and the Professional Engineering (PE) exam. Since nobody from my company in the Philippines ever took this exam and I knew of no one else who took this path, I decided to research about it on my own.
What is the FE Exam?
Passing the FE exam is a prerequisite to taking the PE exam. There are exemptions, which is state-dependent, but I don’t want to wait until I qualify so I opted to take the FE exam. A video below (credits to NCEES) from Youtube will explain all about FE (far better than I will).
The FE Exam costs almost half of my, then, salary. Given how much I earn and the fact that I have to support my brother to go to university, I didn’t have that much. Lucky for me, I was able to ask my colleague to lend me her credit card. We bought this exam in NCEES for USD 225. After downloading the FE Reference, I started to study for an hour after work and more hours during the weekends.
Is FE more difficult than the Philippine ChE License Exam?
For all Filipino engineers out there, who are wondering about the exam’s degree of difficulty, I still find our licensure exam far more hellish. If you studied hard for the Philippine ChE License Exam, the FE exam will seem like a breeze. The only difference is that, for FE, you have to study more about P&ID development; safety, health, and environment; and process control. I encountered these topics at work so my background sort of helped me. Otherwise, I would have to spend more time in reviewing these topics.
What’s the FE exam coverage?
These were the exam specifications when I took my exam (this is updated every now and then so please check with NCEES):
The approximate number of questions per knowledge subject will tell you which you will have the spend more time on. Apart from that, I had to assess my weaknesses and strengths. I had one year to prepare for the exam so I didn’t really push myself to study much until three months before the exam.
Where do I take the FE exam?
Unfortunately for us, Filipinos, the exam is only available in selected testing centers and the nearest testing center is located in Guam. That means that, apart from studying to pass, we need to pass the ordeal of getting a US visa. You could read more about getting the US visa here. The application would cost another USD 160 (Why US?! We never charge you as much! Isn’t it ironic that 3rd world countries have to pay to get in yet 1st world countries enter Philippines for free?).
All you have to do is register for a non-immigrant visa, fill up the DS-160, get the proper ID photo, visit the embassy for the interview, and cross your fingers that they would grant you your visa. Otherwise, you will have to re-schedule your exam and re-apply for the US Visa. Lucky for me, I got a single entry B1/B2 visa. Luckier for my friend who took the exam after me, he got a 10 year multiple entry visa.
How’s the FE exam-day experience?
The Youtube playlist below will tell you more about the exam experience.
What I missed out from the video is they would take a photo of me with terrible lighting. I can never show my Pass certificate without feeling ugly. The testing center in Guam accommodates other exams (english speaking/GRE/medicine) so without the issued ear plugs, it would have been totally distracting. Moreover, the center was really cold. I had to pee in the middle of the second section of the exam and, since I already took the scheduled break, this additional break is counted under my exam time. Hence, I had to move fast. It was frustrating that I cannot enter the exam room again without going through another round of handprinting and body examination when I had to move fast.
Moreover, the solutions pad is huge but the pen is the size of a fine sharpee. My handwriting is humongous so a single problem would accommodate a page or two that I had to ask for solutions pad over and over again. At some point, the lady was probably busy she didn’t notice me until 30 seconds or so. As a tip, ask for a solutions pad before running out of it.
What were your FE study references?
Since the FE Reference handbook is shown side by side with the questions, it is imperative that you familiarize yourself with the handbook. For some of the knowledge subjects listed in the FE Exam Specification, I found that the FE Reference handbook is adequate and there was no need for me to study using other references. Other than that, I just used the books we used in college. I noticed that Americans construct problem sets in a different tone/writing style compared to their Philippine counterparts so I worked through 1001 Solved Engineering Fundamentals Problems for common engineering subjects, and Chemical Engineering: FE Exam Preparation 3rd Edition by Dilip Das (Author), Rajaram Prabhudesai (Author) for Chemical Engineering subjects.
What happened to your FE Exam?
Fortunately for me, I only had to take the exam once – because I told myself I cannot fail this expensive endevour. LOL. No, you may not see my result notice. That picture is not something I’ll share unless absolutely necessary.
Here’s a snapshot sans my photo:
What about the PE Exam?
I took the FE exam under the Board of California. To apply for the EIT certification in California, I had to go through the trouble of getting FBI-worthy fingerprints, pay a set amount, and get my ITIN. I found out later that I cannot get my certificate because I am not qualified for a US ITIN. Nor do I have a US SSN.
After a year of almost giving up, I finally tried searching for other states where I can register. My friend and I found that Texas will accept my EIT certificate application with only my passport number (or so we think). Non-accredited and foreign degrees will also have to comply with Texas’s documentation requirements. Since I belong under that classification, I will have to comply with these requirements first.
Acquiring the Texas PE license would mean that I should complete 8 years of experience. I only have 6 years. The good news is that Texas decoupled the PE exam and experience requirement, which means that I can take the exam ahead of time before applying for the license. The prerequisite is that I need to obtain EIT status.
If I accomplish something meaningful, I’ll update this post. 😜
Hi guys! As you may know, I have moved to Japan to pursue my MS degree and might take me a while to pursue the PE. 😉
I wrote this article to look for like-minded individuals who can share their tips with the Filipino community and for that here’s our forum: https://theharmlessdragon.com/forums/forum/pe-and-fe-exam-q-and-a/. See you there!
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