Understanding the Distinction: Engineer vs. Professional Engineer

What's the difference between an Engineer and a Professional Engineer?

February 19, 2024

In honor of Engineers Week, we wanted to look deeper into the world of engineering to discuss the terminology behind the titles. In the realm of engineering, the terms “engineer” and “professional engineer” are often used, but they signify distinct roles and levels of expertise. Here’s a brief breakdown of the key differences between the two.


An engineer is a broad term encompassing individuals who have completed a bachelor’s degree in engineering or a related field. Engineers apply scientific and mathematical principles to design, develop, and analyze various systems, structures, or processes. They may work in diverse industries such as civil, electrical, mechanical, or aerospace engineering.

Professional Engineer (PE)

A Professional Engineer is an engineer who has met additional requirements and has obtained a state-issued PE license. This license signifies a higher level of expertise, ethical standards, and a commitment to public safety. To become a PE, an engineer typically needs to have a certain amount of professional experience, pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, and then gain more work experience before taking the Professional Engineering (PE) exam in their specific discipline. Once licensed, a PE has the authority to stamp and approve engineering plans, making them legally responsible for the safety and accuracy of their work.

Key Differences

  1. Education and Experience: While both engineers and professional engineers have completed a bachelor’s degree, PEs have gained additional experience and often pursued advanced degrees.
  2. Licensing: The primary distinction lies in licensing. Only those who have passed the PE exam and met specific experience requirements can legally practice as Professional Engineers.
  3. Responsibility: Professional Engineers take on a higher level of responsibility, as they are held to ethical and safety standards to protect the public. They have the authority to approve and stamp engineering plans.

In summary, all Professional Engineers are engineers, but not all engineers are Professional Engineers. The PE designation reflects a commitment to excellence, ethical standards, and the ability to take on a broader scope of responsibilities within the field of engineering.

Founded in 2003 and re-branded in 2018, HTW is an Arkansas-based firm specializing in architecture, engineering, planning, and interiors. Since its formation, HTW has become one of Arkansas most innovative and fastest-growing architecture and engineering design firms, providing services to clients across the United States.