Exploring a Petroleum Engineering Degree and Career
Finding the best petroleum engineering schools is a great start to a very lucrative career. If there is one commodity that is always increasing in use, it is energy. It comes as no surprise that careers related to the creation, storage and transmission of energy are always in demand by employers. The need for balancing a steady and affordable energy supply that is environmentally friendly will keep petroleum engineers in great demand for many years to come. Petroleum engineering is currently one of the most sought after professions, and this is why a degree from a top school or college can lead to a very successful career.
- 1 Exploring a Petroleum Engineering Degree and Career
- 2 2016 List of Top Petroleum Engineering Schools in the USA
- 3 More Tables and Analysis of PE Schools
- 4 Online Petroleum Engineering Degree – Should You Consider Them?
- 5 What is Petroleum Engineering?
- 6 What Do Petroleum Engineers Do?
- 7 How to Become a Petroleum Engineer?
- 8 Finding Petroleum Engineering Internships
- 9 Salary and Future of Petroleum Engineers
- 10 But Oil and Gas Will be Less Important in the Future, Right?
2016 List of Top Petroleum Engineering Schools in the USA
A top college for petroleum engineering should offer a few basic benefits such as 100% placement. However, merely getting placed is not enough. We have developed a ranking of the best petroleum engineering colleges based on various factors weighted according to its level of importance.
The most important factor in our ranking is the total number of petroleum engineering degrees that were awarded at the university in the last academic year. The logic for this is that a school that awards more degrees has a much more developed program.
Other ranking factors include the school’s overall graduation rate, retention rate, percent of undergraduate applicants admitted, student to faculty ratio, default rates, and total cost. For full definitions of the ranking factors, please click here.
Keeping all these parameters in mind, the following is our list of the top petroleum engineering schools in the United States:
Enter your zip code into the widget on the right and you’ll get fast, free information tailored to your specific needs.
More Tables and Analysis of PE Schools
- The Best Value Petroleum Engineering Schools
- Various Top 10 rankings (easiest school to get in to, biggest PE departments, best graduation rates, best student to faculty ratio, cheapest schools, most expensive schools).
- List of every school offering a Petroleum Engineering program
Online Petroleum Engineering Degree – Should You Consider Them?
There are a limited number of online universities offering petroleum engineering programs. This makes sense since it is quite a specialized career. So what do you do if you want to pursue a degree but do not want to relocate to where the school is? Fortunately, there are a select number of programs that offer online petroleum engineering degrees. Here are a few reasons why you might consider doing an online program versus studying on campus:
- You would like to continue working your full-time job while completing the degree online
- You are not able to relocate for a number of reasons including family and work
- You are not interested in living in the area of your school
Sometimes also called distance learning, getting a petroleum engineering degree online makes a lot of sense for many working professionals. Obtaining a degree could mean a huge difference in your salary, and can lead to starting salaries of potentially $130,000 or more a year. As an online student, you will still enjoy many of the benefits that are offered to regular students. This includes job placements, industry-specific software training, and more. Lectures will be recorded so you can easily access it when you’re available, as long as you meet your deadlines.
For those interested in a receiving a Bachelor of Science in Petroleum Engineering, the University of North Dakota’s College of Engineering & Mines offers an excellent online program. It is accredited and will take 6+ years to complete depending on your ability to take courses every semester.
Students interested in a Master of Engineering in Petroleum should check out Texas A&M’s distance learning program. Their petroleum engineering program is 100% online and is identical to the degree you would have received if you studied on their campus.
Below is petroleum engineering information for those that may not be as familiar with the field. This includes information on what petroleum engineers do, internships, salary, and the future of this lucrative field.
What is Petroleum Engineering?
The field of petroleum engineering is all about the exploration and production of various petroleum based hydrocarbons such as natural gas, crude oil and other important sources of energy. You can get more details on what exactly it is that petroleum engineering is, as well as our take on how difficult it is as a career.
Petroleum engineering, as an academic discipline, started in 1914 at the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers (AIME) and the first degree was awarded by the University of Pittsburgh in 1915. Since then, the profession has seen a recent surge in demand thanks to growing energy demands.
For students aspiring to become petroleum engineers, it is important to possess a mix of various skills that include mathematics, chemistry, geology, physics and several others. Petroleum engineering may also overlap with several other disciplines of engineering including chemical engineering, civil engineering, and mechanical engineering.
Students participating in these programs will be trained to perform a number of activities which begin with the evaluation of potential gas and oil reservoirs. They will be trained in overseeing drilling activities as well as the selection and implementation of recovery schemes. Again, petroleum engineering may include civil engineering facets in the designing of treatment and surface collection facilities.
With advances in technology, petroleum engineers also need to develop an understanding of how to use advanced computer systems for simulation and analysis of reservoir behavior as well as automation or drilling operations and oil field production activities. It comes as no surprise that petroleum companies own a large number of the super computers all across the world.
What Do Petroleum Engineers Do?
As discussed above, petroleum engineers carry out a myriad of tasks including testing, designing and implementing methods for the extraction of petroleum products from the surface of the earth as well as the ocean floor. To begin with, petroleum engineers need to locate a suitable dig site. This is followed by the setting up of the required machinery. Engineers must overlook the extraction process which includes the removal as well as processing of petroleum. Petroleum engineers must have the expertise and ability to work closely with geologists and other professionals to extract and refine petroleum products in a safe and efficient manner.
Petroleum engineers may be required to develop equipment, machines and tools putting their mechanical engineering skills to test. Similarly, they must also know how to design and operate various computer software that actually runs these machines. Again, petroleum engineers may also be required to manually operate a lot of the machinery at the drilling site. The managerial skills of many petroleum engineers may also be put to test as one may be required to oversee individuals or teams at the job site and streamline the workflow.
Another facet of petroleum engineering is the financial analysis of each project. Petroleum engineers must gauge the financial viability of each extraction project and determine if the entire process is worth it. Organization and analysis of data is extremely important for engineers to carry out perfectly.
Apart from sitting and making financial observations, petroleum engineers are also required to travel quite a bit and perform field work. Since many of these dig sites are located in different parts of a country, petroleum engineers must be prepared to be uprooted from their base quite regularly and travel from one site to another. The most unique thing about petroleum engineering is that job requirements for petroleum engineers often vary from one organization to the other. Petroleum engineers must hence remain versatile and prepared to take on different roles when performing their duties. Many companies may also require petroleum engineers to be qualified in several other areas of specialty such as geology, mathematics, physics, computer programming, etc. This is a major reason why a degree in petroleum engineering from a top school or college can become so lucrative.
How to Become a Petroleum Engineer?
Petroleum engineering is one of the highest paying jobs in engineering and really any field, and this comes as no surprise. Apart from designing equipment and developing methods for extraction of oil, these engineers must also work with a whole lot of other professionals to make sure that they have the best possible methods of extraction in place. To begin with, anyone looking to become a petroleum engineer needs to procure a degree in petroleum engineering from a reputable school or college. However, procurement of diverse qualifications in the same field will increase your chances of getting employed with a rather attractive pay package.
A bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering is the most basic requirement for this type of work. Many institutions offer accredited programs in petroleum engineering for students looking to specialize in the field. Many of these institutes also offer full-time five year courses in petroleum engineering which can be followed up by a master’s degree. The syllabus of these courses usually includes advanced mathematics studies with trigonometry, algebra, calculus, computer aided design, biology, chemistry and lots more. There are certainly advantages to obtaining your masters in petroleum engineering, and having a stronger quantitative skill set is definitely one of them. Again, on-field work is another important part of these courses, including internships. Be sure to check the school’s department website for any petroleum engineering scholarships that may be available.
Apart from being qualified with a degree, there is no doubt that anyone looking to become a successful petroleum engineer should have the natural skills, passion and curiosity. For example, anyone with a natural flair for mathematics, analytical skills, equipment design and problem solving will make a good petroleum engineer. Since petroleum engineers are faced with constantly evolving challenges each day, creativity is another important personal attribute one must possess. Similarly, one must be a good team player and must possess impeccable communication skills to be able to work in large groups.
While credentials are not mandatory, association or certification from any recognized organization always helps your cause. Getting hold of accreditation or certification is sure to make it much easier for you to spot jobs of your choice and also get paid much higher. Getting these licenses will of course require you to pass some exams and obtain the minimum required experience.
Finding Petroleum Engineering Internships
For any student looking to make it big as a petroleum engineer, work experience is just as important as academic preparedness. There is no better way to get on-the-job training than taking up petroleum engineering internships with well known companies. Doing so will give you the required experience and expertise to lay the foundation for a successful career as a petroleum engineer.
Aside from attending a top petroleum engineering college, the following are some of the most well-known companies offering internships:
- Shell is one of the leading petroleum companies in the US so the strict GPA requirements come as no surprise. In fact, you need a minimum GPA of 3.2 to be even considered for the internship. The one unique thing about Shell is that they offer students the chance to secure an Associate degree in the form of a special internship known as the Operations Technical Internship.
- ExxonMobil, another giant of a petroleum company in the US also demands high minimum GPA scores starting from 3.3. Since it is the largest production and exploration petroleum company in the world, these high requirements are expected. These high scores do not guarantee a place as an intern though. Each one of these internships involves a lot of competition.
- BP is another big name amongst the leading petroleum companies in the US. The company is known to hire interns well before they enter their final year of college. BP is known to hire interns in a wide variety of areas such as reservoir, process, and well engineering.
- If you are unable to break into the big names such as Shell, ExxonMobil, BP, and Chevron, you can also give a company such as Marathon Oil a shot. The company has been around for over a century and runs international operations for the exploration and production of natural gas, crude oil, etc.
- Southwestern Energy Company brings forth a whole new range of opportunities with increased focus on unconventional natural gas and oil sources. Since the company is relatively new, the internship programs offered here are rather promising.
Apart from this, there are also several foreign companies such as Husky Energy, Encana and Canadian Natural from Canada and Statoil from Norway. Students looking to have a taste of the adventure and travel involved in this profession can certainly benefit from an international internship.
Salary and Future of Petroleum Engineers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of jobs for petroleum engineers is expected to grow by as much as 10% by 2024. At the same time, the crash in oil prices in 2014 led to a dramatic drop in young people entering the industry. This means that aspiring petroleum engineers beginning their academic training at present can expect a surge of jobs by the time they are done with their education. One further reason for this expected increase in demand for petroleum engineers is that a number of petroleum engineers will be retiring during that period. Again, as drilling operations get increasingly complex, the demand for skilled petroleum engineers also goes up exponentially.
You can be rest assured of the fact that technical expectations from petroleum engineers are only going to increase in the future. Companies will expect petroleum engineers to take on more challenging roles. On the other hand, this also means petroleum engineering salaries will rise. Considering the fact that petroleum engineering is already one of the best paying jobs out there, the future for petroleum engineers looks lucrative to say the least. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, petroleum engineers already have a whopping average salary closing in on the $140,000 per year mark. These salaries already range between $69,850 and $187,000 per year.
That being said, one cannot stress enough on the multidisciplinary requirements and expectations that come with the job for petroleum engineers. Petroleum engineers must provide their expertise in various areas including production technology, production geology, reservoir engineering, field development economics, product and drilling operations, petrophysics, etc. As petroleum engineers progress further in their careers, they must find ways to expand their area of expertise as well as work areas. For example, engineers will have to learn the skill of liaising with other engineers and geoscientists, working with production managers to predict production potential and interpreting various results.
Petroleum engineers cannot be left out of any part of exploration and production. From picking the right prospective sites to ensuring that all the drilling equipment is dismantled and stored in the correct fashion, petroleum engineers play a vital role at every stage. This translates to a lot of travel, long stays at inhospitable conditions away from home and working conditions that present many uncertainties and risks.
There is no doubt about the fact that petroleum engineering jobs pay a lot and make for excellent career prospects. However, the challenges that come with the job more than justify the high pay and prestige. Apart from possessing the necessary professional skills, petroleum engineers must be highly patient and self-confident to take on these highly challenging jobs and working environments. It is a difficult field, but by getting into one of the top petroleum engineering schools in the list above, graduates will increase their chances of landing one of the most lucrative jobs in engineering.
But Oil and Gas Will be Less Important in the Future, Right?
In a word, no. Of course there is tremendous growth in renewable energy sources, and nuclear is set for a boom (mostly in China). But according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the world’s energy consumption will soar from 549 quadrillion Btu in 2012 to 629 quadrillion Btu in 2020 and then to 815 quadrillion Btu in 2040. That’s very nearly a 50% increase from current levels. Renewables and nuclear aren’t going to be enough.
The same report states that fossil fuels will continue to supply more than three-fourths of the world’s energy use in 2040.
That’s just one estimate, though? Nope. PwC (the planet’s biggest consulting company) have their own study, and its estimates are remarkably similar.
Fossil fuels will still dominate energy demand in 2040 with a 75% share (compared to about 80% in 2013).
What about electric cars? The wildly popular Tesla Model 3 had up to 300,000 pre-orders – and the company will do well to meet that demand. Meanwhile, there are 1.2 billion cars in total worldwide, expected to rise to 2 billion by 2035.
Spoiler alert – there will still be gas stations in the future!
The PwC report finishes by saying:
For all the uncertainty that may cloud the sector’s future, one thing is certain. Time and again the oil and gas sector has demonstrated resilience and innovation to adapt to a dramatically changing world. Whatever the future may hold, the oil and gas sector will continue to play a vital role in meeting our changing energy needs.
That resilience is made possible because the industry attracts some of the brightest, most flexible engineering minds. Put aside any worries you have about the future of this great industry – enter your zip code into the widget in the right and take the first steps towards getting your degree. The future needs you!
Here’s the catch-22 of petroleum engineering education: The best time to start a degree may be at the bottom of an oil price cycle, when students’ first instinct might be to run the other way.
Houston Chronicle, July 2016