Professional licensure, like most things in life, comes with aspects that are good, bad and ugly. Fortunately, when weighing the relative costs and benefits of initial licensure, the benefits largely win out.
Unfortunately, it can get complicated when professional licenses are obtained and must subsequently be maintained in multiple states. So, to aid others on a similar path, the following sections provide a candid discussion of my experience with multistate licensure as a professional engineer.
Getting your professional engineering license is oftentimes a critical step in your personal growth and career development as an engineer. It demonstrates the minimum level of proficiency required in many jurisdictions to be in responsible charge of engineering work. And, as summarized in the previously published Member Voice article “Benefits of a Professional Engineering License,” initial licensure offers several benefits, including added credibility, career growth and advancement, additional authority, new career opportunities and eligibility for new roles, increased earning potential and improved job security. These benefits remain the same for multistate licensure; however, there are diminishing returns on the additional licenses.
There are two main downsides to multistate licensure: (1) cost, and (2) paperwork.
Regarding cost, with each additional license comes additional fees. Application fees, verification fees, examination fees, renewal fees and others may be necessary in order to obtain and maintain a Professional Engineering license. Similarly, with each new license, additional paperwork is required. Sometimes a lot; sometimes a little.
The burden of paperwork can be greatly reduced, however, through the use of the NCEES Records Program. The NCEES Records program was developed to assist in expediting the paperwork involved in pursuing engineering licenses in multiple states, and it has made great steps in accelerating the process of license application by comity in many states (and internationally, too). While it does introduce another fee, I have found it to be a worthwhile investment and have personally used my NCEES Record to provide information to state licensing boards, including college transcripts, exam results (F.E., P.E., S.E.), employment verification and professional reference information. However, as no system is perfect, some or all of the NCEES Records may not be accepted in certain locations. So check the board application and website before transmitting.
The ugly, for me, has also come in two forms: (1) onerous additional state-specific requirements for licensure, and (2) new and complex rules and regulations.
Examples of some of the more tedious state-specific requirements are the two-hour surveying exam and a two-hour seismic exam for P.E. licensure in California, and the cold weather engineering course required for licensure in Alaska. These extra requirements are not typical and can be identified in advance through careful review of the state application or by reaching out to someone in your professional network who is already licensed to ask about their experience with the application.
While these requirements are often necessary to address location-specific competency, they can really slow down (or halt) the process of licensure by comity, but they’re a necessary part of the process. In addition, with each additional license comes a new set of governing rules and regulations. Between the use of legalese and the lack of uniformity in presentation and location of standards and regulations between states, it can be quite daunting to consider. I don’t believe anyone can keep these requirements straight for one state, let alone multiples. Therefore, my personal recommendation is to bookmark each state’s webpage containing the rules and regulations for engineers for future reference when questions arise. While this is an imperfect solution, taking care to do the proper research and review of applicable state-specific rules and regulations (while also keeping your fundamental engineering ethical obligations in mind, e.g., ASCE’s Code of Ethics) has served me well so far.
The need for multistate licensure often arises with career growth, where the scope of responsible charge extends to encompass a wider variety of projects in a broader range of locations. When this happens, it’s important to understand the responsibilities and requirements involved in applying, obtaining and maintaining engineering licenses in multiple states.
While the preceding discussion does not cover all of the possible good, bad and ugly aspects of multistate licensure, it does highlight some of the more relevant ones that I’ve experienced. I hope it provides some clarity on the process. Knowing that there is much more nuance and detail to this topic, I’d love to hear from others on their experience with multistate license. Please take a moment to share your thoughts in the comments below.
Cliff A. Jones, S.E., P.E., PSP, M.ASCE, is a civil/structural engineer located in Austin, Texas, who has expertise in protective design, physical security, force protection and structural forensics.