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Becoming a Structural Engineer

California grants the authority to use the title “Structural Engineer” to licensed civil engineers who successfully complete an examination process. The Structural Engineer application is required with evidence of experience and references. The Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists (BPELSG) is the official source for licensure in California.

This information is a summary of some of the important requirements relating to certification to use the title “Structural Engineer.” It is not intended to apply to every situation. You are responsible for complying with the current complete requirements in the Professional Engineers Act and the Board Rules and Regulations.


Each applicant for authority to use the title “Structural Engineer” must:

  • Hold a valid and current license as a civil engineer in California.
  • Provide evidence showing three years of qualifying, full-time experience “in responsible charge” of structural engineering work. The three years must have been gained after the date of the examination which was passed to obtain initial licensure as a civil engineer. Work experience that was used to qualify for licensing as a civil engineer in California may not be used to qualify for licensing as a structural engineer.
  • Pass the required SE examination. Qualifying SE exams are as follows: the 16-hour Western States Structural Exam, the 16-hour California Structural exam, the NCEES Structural II exam and the 8-hour California SE exam or the 8-hour Washington SE III exam, or after April 2011, the 16-hour NCEES Structural Engineering exam. For additional information on the required examination(s) refer to the Frequently Asked Questions regarding the Structural Engineer Examination.
  • Pay the required fee.

Neither U.S. citizenship nor California residence is required. However, disclosure of your social security number or individual taxpayer identification number is mandatory. U.S. citizens who do not have a social security number may contact their local United States Social Security Office at 1-800-722-1213 or http://www.ssa.gov/online/forms.html. Non-U.S. citizens without a social security number may request an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from the Department of Treasury (Internal Revenue Service) at (215) 516-4846 or http://www.irs.gov.




Qualifying experience is counted three years from the date of the examination which was passed to obtain initial licensure as a civil engineer. You may count experience up to the date you file your application, however, if you file within 30 days before the final filing date, you may count experience up to the filing final date.

Experience requirements for structural engineering gained out of state – Applicants that have been licensed and practicing in another state may apply prior to 3-years after obtaining their license as a civil engineer in California under certain circumstances. The Board will consider an application submitted sooner than three years after licensure as a Civil Engineer in California by a person who meets any of the following requirements:

  • Has practiced under the exemption for officers and employees of the government of the United States of America; or:
  • Has actually practiced in responsible charge in another state (licensure in another state does not allow for responsible charge experience in California); or:
  • Has practiced in responsible charge in another country.

The Board will accept an applicant under any one of the above conditions provided that the conditions occurred prior to the time that the applicant arrived in California, provided that the applicant has six years of qualifying experience that can be counted toward the application for licensure as a Civil Engineer and at least three additional years of experience in structural engineering work in excess of those six years required for the civil engineering license, and further provided that an applicant who wishes to be considered under any of these provisions so indicates to the Board at the time of filing of his or her application, and files the application at least six months prior to the announced final filing date for the examination for which the applicant is applying.




This consists of professional level employment “in responsible charge” of major projects. It does not include overtime, trainee, or orientation programs, any work done before initial license as a civil engineer, or work done on exempt structures as defined in Section 6737.1 of the Business and Professions Code.

Qualifying experience shall include structural design experience in all areas as follows:

  1. Use of three of the four common construction materials – Steel, Concrete, Wood and Masonry
  2. Determination of lateral forces – seismic or wind
  3. Selection of framing systems
  4. Selection of foundation systems
  5. Application of code requirements
  6. Multi-story buildings or equivalent multi-level structures

Checking of structural engineering plans and calculations is also considered qualifying experience provided that the work is performed under the immediate supervision of, and certified to, by licensed structural engineer.

For work experience to be accepted as satisfactory each engagement must be separate and distinct – dual credit will not be allowed for overlapping engagements.

Definition of “responsible charge” – The term “responsible charge” means the process of exercising control and direction of professional engineering work, and making engineering decisions which can only be made by a professional engineer. Responsible charge directly relates to the span or degree of control over projects that a professional engineer is required to maintain.

The span of control necessary to be “in responsible charge” is such that the engineer:

  1. Personally makes engineering decisions concerning a project, including consideration of alternatives, or reviews and approves proposed decisions prior to their implementation, whenever such decisions affect the health, safety, or welfare of the public; and
  2. Judges the qualifications of technical specialists and the validity and applicability of their recommendations before such recommendations are incorporated into the work.

When making critical engineering decisions, the engineer must be physically present or be available by telephone or other communication devices within a reasonable period of time. The engineer must be a licensed civil engineer in the state where the work experience took place in order for that engagement to qualify as “responsible charge.”




It has come to the Board’s attention that applicants for authority to use the title “Structural Engineer” in California may have trouble obtaining appropriate references to meet the Board’s requirements. It is the Board’s desire to assist such applicants by providing information on how to obtain references from qualified persons who are licensed as a California licensed Structural Engineer or licensed in a state with which California has or had a comity agreement regarding structural licensing. Structural engineers licensed in a state that is currently licensing new structural engineers by administration of the 16-hour NCEES Lateral/Vertical SE exam are acceptable references for structural licensing in California.

It is also the Board’s desire to make it clear that an applicant for the structural engineer license need not have worked for any of the structural engineers who are providing the references.

In order to assist applicants in securing the required references, here are some suggestions, which are offered for consideration. Specifically, the following cases represent situations which may have yielded contacts with appropriately licensed structural engineers who could be used as possible references:

  • A structural engineer associated with or employed by a client firm for which the applicant’s firm has performed structural engineering work.
  • A structural engineer associated with or employed by another engineering firm with which the applicant’s firm has engaged in a joint venture on a structural engineering project.
  • A structural engineer associated with or employed by a building department to which the applicant has submitted plans and/or calculations for a plan check review.
  • One or more California licensed structural engineers who are willing to review an adequate sample of the applicant’s work in order to evaluate his/her qualifying experience. (Our website contains a “License Lookup” feature that can list the structural engineers that live in your area).
  • The Structural Engineers Association of California (SEAOC) has agreed to provide a panel of licensed structural engineers, at no cost to the applicant, to examine samples of the applicant’s work, to conduct an in-depth review and discussion with the applicant concerning those work samples, and based on that review and discussion, to serve as references on behalf of the applicant. SEAOC establishes a review panel from a limited pool of practicing engineers who volunteer as their schedules allow. As such, this review may be a lengthy process. SEAOC strongly urges applicants to request a review at least three months prior to submitting their application to the Board. The applicant must contact SEAOC directly at the address, phone number, or email below.