Petroleum Engineering

Petroleum engineers design and oversee the development of oil and gas reservoirs for energy extraction and production. They are experts in the 'upstream' processes of hydrocarbon exploration and production, from the design of facilities and technologies, to crude oil and gas removal and assessments of environmental impact, safety, and reservoir performance.

Petroleum Engineering (PE) degree programs focus on the design of well systems and drilling processes, along with the basics of oilfield economics and resource valuation. There are rewards in income and authority for those who pursue an advanced doctoral degree, yet there are abundant opportunities for undergraduate degree-holders, especially graduates of the best petroleum engineering schools.

Petroleum engineers may work in the field or in an office; domestically or overseas; and in industrial production, services, consulting, or digital engineering. They may be independent contractors or employees at oil and gas companies. College graduates who develop a comprehensive knowledge base and skill set should have no trouble finding employment as long as they graduate from programs accredited by the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET).

Degrees in Petroleum Engineering

Bachelor Degrees

Students need at least a bachelor's degree in Petroleum Engineering or a related discipline to break into the industry. Undergraduate education affords access to entry-level positions such as a reservoir analyst or engineering technologist. After gaining several years of experience in the field, a variety of drilling, production, reservoir, and completion engineering positions open up to bachelor degree-holders. Most petroleum engineers earn an undergraduate degree and go no further.

Some students will need to demonstrate their readiness in calculus before entering an undergraduate petroleum engineering degree program. In the top petroleum engineering schools, students must apply for admission to the upper-division section of the curriculum after completing their basic lower-level prerequisites.

An accredited PE curriculum covers at least a year of basic coursework in the biological, chemical and physical sciences, a year-and-a-half of engineering-specific science and design, and general education. A bachelor's program in Petroleum Engineering usually offers the following basic courses:

  • Chemistry
  • Engineering Mechanics
  • Geoscience
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering
  • Technical Writing or English Composition

Upper-division coursework in Petroleum Engineering includes, for example:

  • Differential Calculus
  • Computer-Aided Design (CAD)
  • Engineering Thermodynamics

What kinds of jobs are available to holders of a Bachelor degree in Petroleum Engineering?

  • Drilling Engineer
  • Production Engineer
  • Asset Integrity Analyst

Master Degrees

After completing an undergraduate course of study, students may earn a Master of Science (M.S.) in Petroleum Engineering or a Master of Engineering (M.Eng.). The main difference between an M.S. and M.Eng. is the latter's emphasis on multidisciplinary, practice-oriented studies, while the former emphasizes deeper specialization through research in a particular area of petroleum engineering.

There are PE programs that combine two master degrees into one, such as with business or geology. There are also programs that merge bachelor with master programs into a single “coterminal” 5-year course of study. While the conventional 6-year bachelor-to-master route takes longer, it often includes valuable exposure to hands-on industry work.

At the master's level, students learn advanced petroengineering skills, deepening their knowledge of not only technical subjects, but oilfield economics. They explore industry topics in depth through faculty-approved research projects. Some of the core courses for a typical PE master's degree are:

  • Calculus II & III
  • Differential Equations
  • Chemistry II
  • Physics II
  • Fluid Mechanics
  • Advanced Thermodynamics
  • Materials Mechanics

What kinds of jobs are available to master degree-holders?

  • Senior Consultant in Petroleum Refining
  • Petroleum Chemicals Lab Manager
  • Digital Petroleum Engineer

Doctoral Work

What can you do with a Ph.D. in Petroleum Engineering? Petroleum engineers with advanced doctoral degrees are eligible for top managerial and technical positions, and jobs with the most competitive consulting firms. They are also qualified to conduct independent research and work in academia.

Large oil and gas companies commonly hire the most qualified applicants—those with Ph.D.s—for positions involving significant decision-making authority. Job postings for companies like ConocoPhillips and BP often make doctorates a minimum educational requirement.

Doctoral students must demonstrate a high level of competency in independent research, and be able to translate that research into a written and orally-defensible dissertation. In most cases, students will need to demonstrate their competency for independent research through an exam or faculty review prior to program entry.

Research opportunities for a Ph.D. candidate in Petroleum Engineering might include:

  • Petrophysics
  • Enhanced Oil Recovery
  • Reservoir Modeling & Simulation

High-level jobs that often require a Ph.D. include:

  • Petrophysicist
  • Professor in Petroleum Engineering
  • Rock Mechanics Engineer

We found 22 schools offering petroleum engineering degree programs in the U.S.

>> See all 22 Petroleum Engineering Colleges in the U.S.

Petroleum Engineering Schools By Total Enrollment

The University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX  |  Total Enrollment: 49996

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Master's, Doctor's, First-professional degree
Texas A & M University
College Station, TX  |  Total Enrollment: 44026

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Master's, Doctor's, First-professional degree
Pennsylvania State University - Main Campus
University Park, PA  |  Total Enrollment: 40571

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's, Two but less than 4 years, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Doctor's
University of Houston
Houston, TX  |  Total Enrollment: 32123

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Master's, Doctor's, First-professional degree
Louisiana State University and Agricultural & Mechanical College
Baton Rouge, LA  |  Total Enrollment: 31527

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA  |  Total Enrollment: 29194

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree, First-professional certificate
University of Kansas Main Campus
Lawrence, KS  |  Total Enrollment: 25920

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
Texas Tech University
Lubbock, TX  |  Total Enrollment: 24558

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Master's, Doctor's, First-professional degree
University of Oklahoma Norman Campus
Norman, OK  |  Total Enrollment: 24205

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
West Virginia University
Morgantown, WV  |  Total Enrollment: 21987

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Master's, Doctor's, First-professional degree

Browse All 22 Colleges With Petroleum Engineering Programs