How to Become a Petroleum Engineer

If it wasn’t for petroleum engineers, there wouldn’t be oil. It’s as simple as that. Petroleum Engineers not find where the oil is, they devise methods for extracting it as well. Best of all, petroleum engineers command huge salaries and because less than a thousand of them graduate from college everywhere and enter the workforce, they are in extremely high demand. How to become an engineer? Here’s what you’ll need to do.


Start from the beginning

Unlike working the trades where you can get your start in the field, becoming a petroleum engineer requires extensive schooling and a college degree. But don’t wait until you’ve started college to begin your path to becoming a petroleum engineer.

Getting a leg up on the competition means getting a head start while you are still in high school. High school curricula rich in math and the sciences will help get you to where you’re going. In fact, the SPE (Society of Petroleum Engineers), the preeminent society for petroleum engineers, recommends at least two years of algebra plus courses in calculus, geometry, and trigonometry.

The SPE also recommends honing your communication skills by paying special attention to English courses and even a foreign language. Remember, being a petroleum engineer isn’t just about science and math, it’s about how you interact with others in the industry as well.

College and your BS

If you really want to be a petroleum engineer, college is not an option, it’s a must. You will have to get your Bachelor of Science degree in petroleum engineering at a 4-year university. Program requirements include: basic sciences such as chemistry, calculus, differential equations and physics.

Petroleum engineering works closely with geology, so you will also need to be schooled in the sciences of rock properties as well as natural gas and computer applications. While the requirements state you need at least your BS, if you really want to secure your role in the workforce it is highly advised that you continue your studies.

Petroleum Reservoir Engineering Practice

Getting your Master’s

Getting your Master’s Degree doesn’t have to take as long as you think. In fact, some engineering schools even offer a combined program for your BS and Master’s. Instead of six years, it only takes five. If you’d like to go the more traditional route and the full two-year Master’s program, be advised that it will incorporate work experience into the program. As well, having your Master’s means that you may qualify for jobs in the teaching and research areas.

Getting licensed

Licenses are given out at the state level and requirements vary by state. If you are working for a company where you are under the direct supervision of a licensed petroleum engineer, you may not have to have a license yourself. If it’s self-employment you’re looking for, then you will need to be licensed.

In most cases, to acquire your license it will mean that you receive a bachelor's degree in engineering from a school accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. You must also have passed the preliminary Fundamentals of Engineering exam and have four years of qualified work under your belt. To complete the licensing process, you have to pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam.

Getting your certification

While getting your certification is not mandatory, it is beneficial. Certification requirements are very similar to licensing. You must however become a member of the SPE and take 16 hours of professional education every year.

Jobs outlook

We saved the best part for last. The average salary for a petroleum engineer is $138,000 per year. And that’s just the average. Experience petroleum engineers make well above $250,000 a year with great benefits, bonuses, and oftentimes profit sharing.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that jobs for petroleum engineers will grow by 17 percent in the next ten years, well above the national average. Because there are limited schools for petroleum engineers (less than a thousand are graduated every year), the job market is definitely in the engineer’s favor.

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