Why Take the Nuclear PE Exam?

By Alexandra Burja, P.E. (Nuclear)

The Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam may last for eight hours, but factoring in the time it takes to study, prepare, and apply for the exam, the level of effort grows substantially. Given that, why did I choose to take the nuclear PE exam?

To build technical credibility – As a young woman in a highly technical field, I haven’t always been taken seriously due to others’ implicit biases. Having a Professional Engineer (P.E.) license shows that I know more and have been exposed to a greater technical rigor than people might otherwise assume. (Adding the letters “P.E.” after my name seems to add a bit more weight to my email correspondence!)

To set myself apart from others in the field – It goes without saying that the more qualification a person has, the better his or her chances are for career opportunities. Employers value employees who have the motivation to take and pass the exam—and they may reward them with a pay raise or a promotion.

To show that I am committed to a high standard of engineering – Even before becoming a P.E., I held myself to high standards in my work. Having a P.E. license shows the world just how committed I am and will serve as a positive reminder of my professional and ethical obligations throughout my career.

To give me career flexibility – It is always good to keep one’s options open. Although P.E. licensure is not required for my current position, some years down the road I may decide that I want to pursue an opportunity for which P.E. licensure is highly desired or necessary.

To prove to myself I could do it – I vowed to myself that I would take the PE exam when I found out that I passed the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. I’d gotten that far—why not keep going? Besides, I love a challenge and I wasn’t about to turn one down from my younger self.

In short, pursuing a P.E. license was very much worth the effort for me. Because it can only help your career, I encourage you to take the steps to become a P.E., too. Although requirements vary by state, here is the general process:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree (or higher) from an ABET-accredited institution.
  • Take and pass the FE exam. The FE exam is computer-based and offered year-round.
  • Gain engineering experience. Most states require four years of experience, and many will credit graduate degrees toward part of that experience. Some states require you to register as an engineer in training and/or to work under a licensed P.E.—make sure you check your state’s requirements.
  • Apply for the PE exam. This application is evidence to your respective state’s licensing board that you have completed the above requirements and also requires you to obtain references, some of which may need to be licensed P.E.s.
  • Prepare for and take the PE exam. The nuclear PE exam is computer-based and is offered each October. The American Nuclear Society (ANS) offers workshops and a study guide for exam takers. Sign up for the ANS workshop in Philadelphia.
  1. Get more information about the PE exam.
  2. Find your state board – each state board has its own licensure application forms and deadlines.
  3. The nuclear PE exam is computer-based and administered one day per year (October 19, 2018) at NCEES-approved Pearson VUE test centers.
  4. For more information on the format of the exam and the topics covered, download the exam specifications for the 2018 nuclear PE exam (PDF).
  5. The American Nuclear Society offers a Study Guide for the Professional Engineering Examination In Nuclear Engineering to help you prepare for the exam and content.
  6. Special accommodations are available for examinees who meet certain eligibility criteria and sufficiently document their request.
  7. Pass rates for test takers.
  8. Learn more at the NCEES YouTube channel.

Alex Burja

ANS member Alexandra (Alex) Burja is a Reactor Systems Engineer at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission whose primary interests include neutronics, thermal hydraulics, and transient and accident analyses of nuclear reactors. Alex earned her nuclear P.E. license in October 2017.


Feel free to leave a constructive remark or question for the author in the comment section below.

8 thoughts on “Why Take the Nuclear PE Exam?

  1. rmichal

    @John Houck The current ANS Study Guide (2012) is now under revision and is expected to be available for purchase in June this year.

    Longer term—toward 2021 after a new exam specification has been released by NCEES—an all-new Study Guide will be published by ANS. This all-new Study Guide will align more closely with the new Nuclear Reference Handbook, which was prepared by ANS and is now available from NCEES for nuclear PE test takers. Incorporated in the all-new Study Guide will be a the new nuclear PE exam specification, which will become effective after the administration of the October 2020 nuclear PE exam.

  2. Craig Barbehenn

    Congratulations – all good reasons to take the exam.
    Two other reasons that were applicable for me:
    1. Having been out of school for 10 years, studying for the exam made me smarter.
    2. Taking and passing the exam made the question “Should I take the PE exam?” no longer relevant.

  3. JAMES K. WARKENTIN, P.E.

    Your experience sure reminds me of mine. I had two degrees in physics (B.S. and M.S.), but years ago when I went to work at a nuclear power plant, I felt somewhat ostracized because I was not truly an “engineer”. So I studied, took and passed the FE exam. Then, after some time, I took the P. E. exam. I failed it the first time, but I knew I was close. I went back to studying, took it again (in nuclear), and passed. Then, I was respected as a registered professional engineer.

  4. W.G. "Ward" Brunkow

    This young lady is certainly on the right track, I tell melenials frequently that certifications/registrations are as important as the degree or graduate degree. What a nice job of informing ANS members of the process for PE. Thanks Alexandra.

  5. John Houck

    OK, just looked at Ref 3, which states that the exam has not changed since 2012, so, please ignore my last comment.

  6. John Houck

    Congrats Alex, thanks for the nudge. Do you know if there is a planned update to the ANS Study Guide (2012)?

  7. Robert Margolis

    We need more nuclear PE licensees. It will bring greater credibility to the nuclear profession and demonstrate commitment to betterment of the public good through the use of nuclear technologies.

  8. Sue Long

    Excellent!! Informative for others who wish to pursue. Congratulations on your success!

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