Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming an ASQ Certified Quality Engineer (CQE)

Step 1a: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Quality Engineering or a Related Discipline (Four Years).

While not necessarily a field in which you need a bachelor’s degree to begin work, prospective CQEs might find that employers favor those who possess a BS in a STEM discipline. Courses of study and programs in engineering, biology, mathematics, technical communications, pharmacy, and medicine are just a few examples of degrees that are highly sought after by employers.

Bowling Green State University

Bowling Green State University offers a fully online degree-completion bachelor’s program quality systems. Students for this ABET-accredited must have an associate’s degree (not necessarily in a STEM field), previous industry experience, or quality certifications. The program’s seven-week, online courses teach students how to leverage technology to improve an organization and its products and services. Graduates will be prepared for high-demand, high-paying roles in the quality profession, such as quality managers or quality engineers.

The curriculum includes courses such as quality management system audits; six sigma overview; core tools of quality systems; quality management systems planning; leadership for lean manufacturing and service operations; quantitative tools for quality and continuous improvement; and a senior capstone in quality systems.

Upon successful completion, graduates will be ready to take up positions such as quality technicians, quality engineers, Kaizen Champions, quality managers, Lean Enterprise Leaders, and Continuous Improvement Leaders among others.

  • Location: Bowling Green, OH
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); ABET
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years

Prospective CQEs can apply for ASQ credentialing with only four years of industry experience if they have a BS degree (as opposed to eight years of experience).

Step 1b: Earn a Master’s Degree in Quality Engineering (Optional, Two Years).

A master’s degree can enhance a person’s skills in QE and reduce the number of years of experience required for certification. In fact, it cuts the original requirement of eight years of experience down to three years.

Master’s programs in quality engineering dig deeper into the complexities of the industry’s role as the last group of eyes to test a product or result.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University offers an online MS program in quality, reliability, and statistical engineering that is 30 credits. ASU requires that half of all coursework be in engineering or interdisciplinary subjects, including completing three credits of work in applied engineering mathematics and three credits in management or business. The program culminates with a specialized capstone project.

The curriculum includes coursework in design engineering experiments; advanced quality control; reliability engineering; regression analysis; advanced simulating stochastic systems; quality management; applied stochastic operations research models; and applied deterministic operations research models. Additionally, students will also have the opportunity to pair their degree with ASU’s Lean Six Sigma Black Belt graduate certificate, with the benefit of not needing to earn additional credit hours.

Applicants to the program must have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in math, engineering, science, or a related field from a regionally accredited institution, a minimum grade point average of 3.0 in the last 60 hours of the bachelor’s degree, and submit an application, official transcripts, and proof of English proficiency.

At the end of the program, graduates can pursue opportunities such as validation engineers, robotics technicians, industrial engineering technologists, and computer systems architects.

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months

Southern Illinois University–Carbondale

Southern Illinois University’s College of Engineering at Carbondale offers an entirely online MS degree in quality engineering and management. This program aims to develop engineering and management professionals who can optimize resources, improve product quality, and increase productivity.

The curriculum of this 30-credit program includes courses such as Six Sigma black belt; quality assurance; lean manufacturing; service quality; reliability analysis; energy management systems; human safety and risk management; and project leadership, among others.

Applicants to this program must first be accepted by the graduate school which requires a bachelor’s degree with a major in a technical area and a minimum grade point average of 3.0 or higher. Graduates from this program are employed in various service, healthcare, and manufacturing positions.

  • Location: Carbondale, IL
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months

Tarleton State University

Tarleton State University’s online MS in quality and engineering management program emphasizes leadership ability providing students with a pathway for expanding their knowledge, gaining marketable skills, and advancing into manufacturing management and administrative positions. This program can be completed entirely online with full-time and part-time options available.

The program involves two concentration areas: project management and operations. Comprising 30 credits, the program includes courses such as engineering economics and decision analysis; statistics for engineering management; advanced concepts in six sigma; financial risk for engineering project management; quality management; and advanced concepts in project management.

The program opens up several opportunities for graduates. They can take up roles such as purchasing managers, project managers, manufacturing engineers, global quality directors, production supervisors, operations managers, and supply chain managers.

  • Location: Stephenville, TX
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 18 months or more

Step 1c: Earn a Doctorate in Quality Engineering (Optional, Three to Five Years).

As with a master’s in quality engineering, apart from the obvious benefit of being an expert in the subject, a doctorate can lower one’s practical work experience required for certification by five years. Three years of practical, professional work experience are still required, even after obtaining the highest degree offered.

Temple University

Temple University’s School of Pharmacy offers a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences with a concentration in regulatory affairs and quality assurance (RAQA). Applying research methods to current regulatory issues, this program enables students to pursue a dissertation that helps define and resolve quality or regulatory problems with scientific methodology and data research.

The regulatory affairs and quality assurance concentration is designed for those with at least fifteen years of relevant work experience in pharmaceutical and related sciences, including supervisory responsibilities.

Beyond the baccalaureate degree, this program requires 40 credits. 30 credits must be from graduate-level coursework completed while earning a science, pharmaceutical, engineering, medical, or related degree. The remaining ten credits include a three-credit graduate-level course in data science, data analytics, or healthcare analytics, one credit for a seminar in pharm science, four credits for pre-dissertation research, and two credits for dissertation research.

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Accreditation: Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 to 60 months

Step 2: Gain the Required Work Experience for CQE Certification (Three to Eight Years).

All candidates must have eight years of on-the-job experience in the industry of quality assurance, quality engineering, or quality management. One to five of these years can be waived with the completion of a qualifying bachelor’s or graduate degree, respectively.

In other words, all candidates must possess at least three years of decision-making experience and a total of eight years of experience in the industries mentioned above, or a combination of some amount of experience and post-secondary education. Specifically:

  • Earning a diploma from a technical school can reduce the eight-year experience requirement by one year, meaning that you’ll need seven years of additional job experience.
  • Having an associate’s degree reduces it by two years, and having a BS reduces it by half, for a total of four years.
  • Because the ASQ also requires that anyone applying to take the CQE exam has three years of decision-making experience in management, earning either a master’s degree or a PhD in quality engineering reduces the required years of experience by five years, for a total of three years.

Step 3: Apply for the CQE Exam (Less Than One Year).

The cost of the CQE exam is $533. Register for free with the American Society for Quality to get the ball rolling and save $100 on the exam cost. Prospective CQEs can become a member of the ASQ for an annual fee of $169. Doing so will give candidates full access to all ASQ resources, support, and industry news and updates.

This list of exam dates in 2023 and beyond can give aspiring CQEs an idea of how often exams occur. The CQE exam application and the ASQ “Certified Body of Knowledge” are both useful for the credentialing process.

Step 4: Prepare for the CQE Certification Exam (Less Than One Year)

The certification exam for certified quality engineers measures an applicant’s grasp of the ASQ’s Certified Body of Knowledge, which focuses on the topics of:

  • Management
  • Leadership
  • Quality control
  • Quality systems
  • Quality engineering
  • Product design
  • Product control
  • Process design
  • Process control
  • Theories of continuous improvement
  • Quantitative methods
  • Quantitative tools
  • Theories and techniques of risk management

Please note that the ASQ also offers CQE exam preparation. (Please refer to the end of this article for other exam prep resources.)

Step 5: Take the CQE Certification Exam (Timeline Varies).

Prospective CQEs can apply for the exam online or can download and mail their application to the ASQ. After applying, once the application has been processed and approved, soon-to-be CQEs will be informed of the examination location. Refer to the list of exam dates above for more information.

There are 175 multiple-choice questions on the test which must be completed within 330 minutes. The ASQ emails results within six to seven business days. To pass the test and become certified, it is required that applicants score a minimum of 550 points out of 750 total possible points.

The minimum expectations of a certified quality engineer, as listed by the ASQ, include a thorough understanding of the principles, systems, methods, tools, and standards of quality engineering, in addition to possessing a fundamental understanding of quality philosophies, organizational and team dynamics, customer expectations and satisfaction, supplier relations and performance, leadership, training, interpersonal relationships, improvement systems, and professional ethics.

CQEs also must demonstrate a working knowledge of reliability, maintainability, and risk management, including key terms and definitions, modeling, systems design, assessment tools, and reporting.

Additionally, the exam will test whether or not applicants have a fundamental understanding of a quality system and its development, how to accomplish documentation and implementation of domestic and international standards, and have a basic working knowledge of auditing (e.g., tracking, analyzing, reporting and problem-solving).

Ultimately, the ASQ wants to ensure that CQEs can observe, obtain, and analyze data using quantitative methods across a spectrum of highly-variable business settings to keep the process of analysis and improvement in motion.

Step 6: Renew CQE Certification (Every Three Years).

A certified quality engineer credential from the ASQ must be renewed every three years. This is so that practical and professional knowledge is always at the same level.

There are two ways to accomplish this. Option A involves simply retaking the exam in its entirety, which means studying the most recent edition of all relevant reference materials and handbooks. The end of this article lists some helpful resources for those hoping to study for the CQE exam. Option B for recertification involves acquiring recertification units by completing reskilling activities like professional development courses, specialty seminars, or extended and approved fieldwork.

Where Do Certified Quality Engineers Work?

Some major industries that employ CQEs include manufacturing, aviation, space, defense, pharmaceutical manufacturers, oil, automotive, biomedical devices, natural gas, chemical energy, industrial equipment, engineering firms, construction companies, and tools.

Some of the skills essential to the certified quality engineering profession include those involving problem-solving, the ability to analyze data, exceptional organizational skills, leadership abilities, and interpersonal skills. Extended experience with theories of quality control, quality assurance, and laboratory regulations will help prospective CQEs get a leg up.

Overall, a thorough knowledge of quality improvement techniques and tools, quality principles and standards, and a keen perception of quality system development are a few of the other critical skills necessary for such positions in the fields of manufacturing, medicine, automotive, and many others.

How Much Do Quality Engineers Make?

Certified quality engineers often work in a managerial capacity, supervising other certified quality assurance professionals, and organizing the finer details of complex projects. According to PayScale (2024), ASQ-certified quality assurance engineers earned an average annual income of $92,000.