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Why get an SE license?

Why get an SE license?

Why get an SE license?

I'm trying to decide if an SE license will be of enough benefit to me at this point in my career and I have a couple of questions.  I am a licensed PE in Colorado (I provide structural engineering services) and at this time I am not limitted, legally, to the type, size, or use of building that I can design in Colorado.  Has anyone summarized the states' requirements/limitations for comparison concerning PE, SE (and an architect for that matter), legal limitations?  As a civil in California one can design up to 30 stories in most areas but not hospitals.  In Utah you need to be a structural for anything over 2 stories commercial.  That is quite a difference.  It would be helpful to compare the states at once.  Thanks   

RE: Why get an SE license?

Don't just think about "now".  The future is that states are all moving towards the SE and without it, someday, you will probably have to get it.


RE: Why get an SE license?

Since I can't test in Colorado to become a Structural Engineer, what would be the best route? ie quickest and least complicated.  It seems like getting licensed in Cali would be ideal, but I think I need to work under a Cali SE for a few years.  Should I wait till Colorado "grandfathers" me in (if they do it that way) and then try to get reciprocity?  How have other states dealt with PE's who practice SE when the state adopts the SE designation?   

RE: Why get an SE license?

vato...you probably can test for the SE in Colorado.  Most states offer it, even if the state does not yet require the SE.  I am in a state that does not currently require the SE...in fact we are a non-specific discipline state.  I practice primarily in structural engineering, but deal with other civil related disciplines as well (Pavement analysis and design, some geotechnical, some general civil).

Many states, when changing to SE requirements, will either give a grace period for compliance, grandfathering, or some combination of these.

What JAE said is correct...we are moving that way.  JAE is an SE and a PE, so he's been both routes.  I do not have an SE, but am considering it, just for the reasons JAE mentioned and to further my practice in other states that already require it.  Believe me...I dont' relish the thought of another exam series...but you do what you need to do!  Sure would be embarassing to fail it after over 30 years of extremely varied practice!!

RE: Why get an SE license?

In my state currently, they have a "title" SE act where you have to pass the SE-1 and SE-2 to call yourself an SE.

But the NCEES is moving towards a combined SE exam (SE-1 and SE-2 together - 16 hours for one test) and this means that the only other 8 hour exam you could eventually take would be the general Civil PE exam.

What might happen is that many states someday might look at the Civil PE and say that it isn't applicable to structural engineering.  So you would be stuck taking the new 16 hour SE exam anyway.

We have some folks here that have taken the SE-1 but not the SE-2.  In some cases, they might have to re-take the whole 16 hour SE exam to get an SE credential.


RE: Why get an SE license?

IMHO, any time you have a test available, take it as soon as possible.  If you need it later the pressure will be much higher.  
I worked at a firm where the SE was a requirement for promotion.  A lot of good engineers took the test and couldn't pass it.  While pressure wasn't the main reason, I'm positive it contributed.

RE: Why get an SE license?

I haven't figured out how Colorado is handling this yet, but I am going to take the test, here, if possible.  I appreciate everyones encouragement.  It sounds like I may be limitted in what I am licensed to do in the future, I hope that is not the case.   

RE: Why get an SE license?

Here in Oregon we need to take the SE II and SE III to get an SE stamp.  Apparently the SE I doesn't matter.  

The SE III test is an Oregon and Washington only test, not national.

Pass rate in Oregon was 0% for the SE III for the past several years, but a couple of people passed it this year.  One in my office !!!  

An SE license is needed to design occupancy catagory 4 structures in Oregon and Washington.  

Too bad there's not a consistent requirement between states.  I bet that makes it really hard to get reciprocity.

RE: Why get an SE license?

Reciprocity?  I'm not even close. For my license as a PE, I took what was, I believe, StructI, instead of the civil test.  My work experience was under an SE, licensed in California.  All I do is structural.  Seems like I should be able to take the StructII without going through any internship under another SE, but I'm not sure yet.  I still haven't gotten any direction from Colorado yet.  Given all of this, what about architects still licensed to size beams?.....  

RE: Why get an SE license?


I am licensed in CO and as far as reciprosity is concerned you would be eligible in most states. The exceptions I am aware of are WA,OR,CA,IL, and NE. I am sure there are a few others though. I do agree with the other posters as it will be better to get under your belt as once you achieve the SE status, if the rules change as they undoubtedly will, it will be difficult to take away. I am certain you can sit for the SE II in CO. Even if you register for the exam in another state you can have it proctored in the state you live. (you need to do this early though as it it an NCEES option, for an additional fee which is far les than traveling and they need to arrange to have your "seat" there)

As far as Architects are concerned, they should not be in the business of designing beams. Although structural classes are part of the college curriculum, legally I do not believe they can design any structural elements. In some states however there are small structure limitations that allow design without a PE. TN is such a state (at least at one time) which someone could design wood structures less than 3500 or 5000 sf and less than two stories (again I am testing my memory though and of couse laws change regularly) In FL you cannot even design an awning without a PE's seal.


I am looking for some info on the SE III, but I have been struggling to get anywhere with WA, other than it is 8 hrs and given once a year. Do you know where I can get some information regarding the test format and study materials? Any insight would be appreciated. My goal is to get licensure in OR, and I currently have taken the SE I and SE II.

Thanks in advanse.

RE: Why get an SE license?


There is not a wealth of information about the SE III.  SEAW has a study course on it which you can order on video.  The content is good, but the video quality is marginal at best.

Fall 2011 is the last date the SE III will be offered.  April 2011 will be the first NCEES SE test which will replace the SE II/SE III combination. WA & CA have agreed to SE comity with this test, OR should do the same.  Personally, I'm waiting until the April 2011 test.

RE: Why get an SE license?

Thanks Gumpmaster,

As it turns out I will need to take the Civil Exam to get registered in OR with a PE license before I can get registered as an SE, which means I would not take the WA SE II till the fall of 2010, so more than likely I will be taking the combo exam in 2011.

Thanks again,

RE: Why get an SE license?

Listen to Jed.  Aside from more pressure, one gets out of the design mode and starts to forget things also.  Finally, these kinds of things are usually like ratchets that only turn one way--harder.  Kinda like taxes.  LOL, I wonder if folks of the same personality type are handling both taxes and licensure.

RE: Why get an SE license?

Plus SE's get all the supermodels.

RE: Why get an SE license?

Ahh, the supermodels.  Seriously though, chicks dig nerds now.  Anyway, I am still in the fog on which way to go after everyones responses, thanks though.  I suppose the ncees rought is the best way to go.  Anyone out there tested for an architectural license?  To my continued bewilderment, it may be something that would help me obtain some design jobs and arch design is fun, especially when you know how to build it.

RE: Why get an SE license?

I don't know what forum to post this under, and since my question is related to this topic, I figure here is a good enough place to start!

I am a structural engineer in Illinois.  I have no interest in the rest of the civil world, so the first license I obtained was the Illinois SE by taking the NCEES SE I and SE II exams.  I do not have an Illinois PE license and do not intend to get one.

I have now obtained my license in Massachusetts by comity.  Massachusetts states that I am now a "Registered Professional (Structural) Engineer."  

1. May I sign my name with "PE, SE" initials behind it, or do I still only use the SE initials?

2. Does the order matter (PE or SE first)?

RE: Why get an SE license?

I am both a PE and SE in Washington, but use only the SE when stamping structural plans.  If it is civil work, I use CE.  My CE was obtained prior to obtaining the SE in Washington, but I think the options have changed in the last 30 years since I passed the tests.

In Colorado, the licensing is as a Professional Engineer only, regardless of whether it is CE or SE.  So. in Colorado, I use PE on all documents.


Mike McCann
MMC Engineering
Motto:  KISS
Motivation:  Don't ask

RE: Why get an SE license?

So Mike, do you have a standard email signature that includes PE or SE, or does it look like you eng-tips signature without the PE or SE designation?

RE: Why get an SE license?

My signature for business related reports and letters uses SE, but my emails usually have none as it is a mix of personal and business useage.

Mike McCann
MMC Engineering
Motto:  KISS
Motivation:  Don't ask

RE: Why get an SE license?

Thanks.  I appreciate your input.  I really enjoy having this resource to find out what other people in the industry are doing.

If you were writing an article for some publication, would you include both PE and SE in your title?

For example see the Structural magazine article on the Burj Dubai (Dec 2009) written by William F. Baker, P.E., S.E., James J. Pawlikowski, S.E., LEED AP.

I doubt that UAE uses PE, SE, or LEED AP designation for their engineers...

RE: Why get an SE license?

Yes, I would use CE and SE in my signature - those from my home state of licensure from where I wrote the publication.

Mike McCann
MMC Engineering
Motto:  KISS
Motivation:  Don't ask

RE: Why get an SE license?

I spoke to an NCEES examiner last month about the new SE exam.  While it has not been adopted by jurisdictions yet, the idea is that the new 16 hour SE will replace the SE I, SE II, and the state SE III exams now in use.

Taking the SE II now, and not taking an appropriate SE III exam before they are discontinued in 2011 or 2012 may result in a need to take all 16 hours of the new exam to license in SE states.

This is obviously subject to change.

It is my understanding that Texas may adopt an SE rule, but will allow currently licensed engineers practicing in structural disciplines to continue.

RE: Why get an SE license?

TXStructural - I believe your understanding is correct.

I recently contacted the Chairman of the Texas Board of Professional Engineers Structural Engineering Task Force (Bob Navarro) regarding the article he wrote linked from the SEAoT website:


Specifically, I asked him if current practicing structural engineers holding Texas PEs (such as myself) will simply be able to submit an affidavit to bypass the need to take the new 16hr exam to obtain a Texas SE license.  He said that's the idea.  (as the article states).   

So, that is very good news.

RE: Why get an SE license?

That sixteen hour structural exam is a monster.  I took it back when we had plug-in calculators.  In those days, the batteries just didn't last long.  They strung extension cables throughout the exam room for everyone to plug into.  By the afternoon session of the first day, murmers of, "Oh sh*t!" and similar could be heard throughout the room.  The exam procters never plugged the extension cords in.

RE: Why get an SE license?

In order to receive comity in Cali for a PE, it looks like I'm going for the Cali Civil license.  (Still waiting to see if the client that wants it, wants it bad enough)
4 hours of surveying
and 4 hours seismic apps
You can still do a lot of structural as a civil in Cali, from my understanding.
I'm still not clear if I can take the SEII out there after this.  Hopefully things will get clearer all the way around by the time I'm ready.  I think a nasty 16hr exam might be good for me.   

RE: Why get an SE license?

Maybe I missed it, but for the states that do not currently distinguish between civil P.E. and S.E., when they do ultimately adopt the S.E. as a requirement for structural engineering, how will they generally handle existing structural engineers practicing under a civil P.E.?  Have any states commented on this?

Will they have to take the 16-hour S.E. exam, or will they be grandfathered in on a case-by-case basis?

RE: Why get an SE license?

There is no answer.  Each state will be different. Most likely, most will try to be sure those currently practicing in the state will be grandfathered.  There will probably be no comity without the new exam.  This is the case for Texas.

Note that the new 16 hr exam is not the same as the current or past exams.

RE: Why get an SE license?

I wonder if the new exam will be as difficult as the SE III on the West Coast?  The SE III has very very low pass rates.

I am taking the new 16 hour exam next spring.

RE: Why get an SE license?

NCEES would like to think so.  NCEES is trying to become the sole-source provider of these exams, in an effort to cut out the state exams.  From the perspective of a licensee, having a common exam for all states sounds great.  However, in designing minimum competency exams for legal licensing, is the best way to decide about content to start with "make a list of everything a structural engineer might need to know" rather than "what are the things every structural engineer must know"?  We are dangerously close to, analogously, requiring 18 year old drivers to be able to drive in NASCAR traffic before getting a license.

Current pass rates for SEII exams are on the order of 25%, among those who choose to take that exam.  Beginning next year, every prospective SE will be required to take an exam designed to cover more material in greater depth, so I expect passing rates in the 10-30% range.  Many others will opt for Civil/Structural, and I expect many states will allow some structural work to be done under this license, but the only path from PE C/S to SE is to take 16 more hours of exam at significant, additional expense.

I object to creating a barrier to entry into any profession which in unnecessarily burdensome and has been not demonstrated to be needed.  There has not been a rash of PE-engineered structural failures.  No one has suggested that those of us currently practicing (at least not most of us) are not competent to do structural design.

I suspect that NCEES saw revenue and decided to fix a problem which does not exist.  Why get $200 in revenue when you can get $1000 (or whatever the new test will bring.)  I also think that the licensing board representatives to NCEES have decided that uniformity across the states is more important than fairness to those purchasing engineering services.

My predictions:
Fewer pass the exam
Fewer engineers will practice in structural
Prices for services will rise.
People will look for ways around buying "over-priced" services
There will be more failures of un-engineered structures, not fewer.

RE: Why get an SE license?

I am not against the idea, (currenly a licenced PE in CA, OR, and WA).  For these states an SE is required for a lot of things I do, so I would be taking the SE2 and SE3 anyway.  For my own selfish reasons, I am happy to take the combined exam and have it be good everywhere in the future.

I just wonder how what the reaction will be when folks realize the new SE1 and SE2 are not the same as the old exams, since they will obviously need to incorporate the SE3 stuff in order for CA, OR, and WA to go along.

Peronally, I like your 18 year old Nascar driver analogy.  I think that if a person wants to do SE level work (if the SE is required, like essential or hazardous facilities) there ought to be some barrier to entry like the SE exam.  If a guy is qualified, they should be able to pass the exam.  

RE: Why get an SE license?

I think the point is that for many structures, the SE3 is not required to safely design the structure.  Just like most drivers don't need to be able to drive in NASCAR to be able to drive on the highway.

In CA and other western states they allow for this by permitting PEs to design some structures.  But in Illinois, an SE is required to design any structures - even the proverbial brick sh*thouse.  If the new 16 hour exam is intended to have the same level of difficulty (read pass rate) as the SE3 exam, it will make things unnecessarily burdensome for your typical structural engineer to be licensed in Illinois.

Let's hope that the intention is to make it much more similar to the SE1 + SE2 combo that is currently required in Illinois and in other states than to make it similar to the SE3...  

RE: Why get an SE license?

NCEES intends the new exam to cover all material now found in SE I & SE II & the state exams (SE 3).  The current SE I and SE II exams were never intended to be used separately.  NCEES made it clear that they were only to be used in conjunction with each other.  Some states thought better of that, since passing the SE I was roughly equal to passing the other PE exams, and it created an adequate barrier to exclude the unqualified candidates.  The new exam was intentionally designed to prevent this possibility.  I agree, if the measure of competency is an exam, the test needs to assess for the minimum knowledge required.

If the current test were a bad test, then we should see fault in the work of PE's which passed the SE I exam.  I propose that we do not see that trend.

In part, it is the way by which this is being done which irritates me.  I am concerned for my profession, since I have seen this happen time and time again in various professions.  The bar is raised for new entrants until it really is meaningless for all but the guys who view themselves as the elite practitioners.  It is unnecessarily exclusionary.  NCEES does not seem to have listened to the PE/SE community in this process.  AASHTO does the same thing - they work in a vacuum, as representatives of their respective state agencies, without industry and the public having real participation.  NCEES (and AASHTO) have what amounts to absolute control over their respective standards.  If the federal government or a state agency were to pass a rule specifying such a change in policy, it would be subject to public comment.  By working through NCEES, we have state agencies making new rules which are not subject to legislative review or public scrutiny.

As the only public with a sophisticated knowledge on this subject, we need to pressure our state boards to evaluate the needs of our own state, and bring reason to this process.

Raising a bar is nice for an individual desiring to get better or learn more, but it is not the right thing to do as a matter of public policy.  States should be licensing for minimum competency required for the profession.  

As an aside, states do not create levels of competency among doctors in order to restrict practice (although I might argue that they should.)

RE: Why get an SE license?

Comprehensivists!  I think that's what Bucky considered himself, among other things.  It sure looks like we are becoming specialists, which is not desirable in my opinion.  Are we going to retest architects so they are still allowed to stamp structural drawings?  I hope so.

RE: Why get an SE license?

"Comprehensivists!  ...  Are we going to retest architects so they are still allowed to stamp structural drawings?  I hope so."

Right there with you on that.

There is nothing wrong with specialization, as long as it is either required to properly do the work, or it is at the option of the buyer of the services.

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