Luckily for most of us, a convenience store with a gas pump is never far from reach, thanks in part to the thousands of petroleum engineers working behind the scenes and around the clock to supply gasoline at levels that meet the demand for it.
What kind of degree in petroleum engineering should you get?
Undergraduate programs and doctoral degrees generally lack significant differentiation, with most schools offering only one program at these levels.
Petroleum engineering degrees at the master's degree level, however, can be master of science or master of engineering degrees. While broadly similar, these programs will serve students with different professional needs.
A master of science in petroleum engineering will focus on performing research. Students' coursework helps to improve their familiarity with either petroleum engineering theory or research methods they can use to improve the quality and efficiency of their research.
A master of engineering in petroleum engineering, meanwhile, builds skills for engineering practice. These programs often involve an engineering project, enabling students to demonstrate the skills they have learned over the course of the program. Some such programs allow students great flexibility in the courses they take, allowing them to improve their familiarity with petroleum as a business or other disciplines that will improve their career prospects.
What can you do with a degree in petroleum engineering?
Petroleum engineers have many different titles depending on which aspects of the extraction process they specialize in. Common specializations include completions, drilling, and production.
- Completions Engineer – Completions engineers look at how wells should be built to extract as much oil as possible. They use tubing, hydraulic fracturing, pressure control, and other techniques to optimize extraction.
- Drilling Engineer – Drilling engineers find reliable, cost-efficient ways to drill down to reach oil. They must also account for safety and environmental impact.
- Production Engineer – Production engineers oversee the work done at completed oil wells. They monitor current extraction rates, and recommend changes or maintenance if a well fails to produce as much as expected.
How much can you make with a degree in petroleum engineering?
Petroleum engineer salaries came in at more than $100,000 per year in 2018, translating to an average hourly pay of just under $50, according to Payscale.com. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows even higher salaries, close to $140,000, for a median pay of about $65 per hour.
Growth prospects in petroleum engineering also look positive for the foreseeable future. The field should add about 5,000 jobs over its 2016 numbers by 2026, showing growth that significantly outstrips the national average. Changes in oil prices, however, could significantly alter this figure.
What are the best petroleum engineering degrees?
The rankings below highlight some of the best programs we've found in petroleum engineering. Each program offers high academic quality and return on investment, and students report high satisfaction. These programs typically have solid ratios of students to faculty, and graduates report incomes that justify the cost of the program.
Several sources provided the information used in these rankings. Some data comes from a poll by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. This polling information has been combined with data from publicly-available sources, such as U.S. News and World Report, the National Center for Education Statistics, and PayScale.com.
See our rankings methodology page.
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
CC Score: 100.00
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology offers numerous bachelor of science degrees in science and technical fields in addition to masters and doctoral level programs. While it is a smaller institution—approximately 2,000 students—it is consistently ranked among the best engineering schools in the country.
The school’s undergraduate petroleum engineering requires 38 hours of petroleum engineering courses distributed across the areas of drilling, production, and reservoir. The curriculum is heavily dependent on the related disciplines of math, chemistry, physics, and geology. Some highlight classes include:
- Well Design
- Reservoir Engineering
- Production Engineering Lab
- Well Completions
The program at NMT also recognizes the importance of research in addition to applied skills, and it has been recognized for its excellence in research. NMT graduates have gone on to work for numerous leading companies in the industry, such as Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Apache, Devon, BP Alaska, Halliburton, Tengasco, PathFinder, Energen, and Baker Hughes.
Colorado School of Mines
CC Score: 99.32
The Colorado School of Mines is a public university located in Golden, Colorado. The school’s speciality is in engineering and the applied sciences. It regularly appears not only on rankings devoted to the engineering fields but is also recognized for its excellence among national colleges and universities. Colorado School of Mines has enjoyed expansion in recent years, with the completion of a new student center, computer center, and even a supercomputer.
Mines Petroleum Engineering graduates enjoy an excellent reputation and are consistently placed in positions of influence throughout the industry, both in the field and in the office. Mines students also have opportunities for summer employment, travel, and opportunities overseas. Members of the department—both professors and students—are involved in some of the following organizations:
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- American Association of Drilling Engineers
- American Rock Mechanics Association
While the Petroleum Engineering program focuses specifically on the needs of the petroleum industry, it also recognizes that the energy industry in general is in the middle of seismic shifts, so students are also prepared to tackle the challenges of alternative energy sources as well as working in adjacent industries, such as environmental law, medicine, and business.
CC Score: 99.21
Stanford University in Stanford, California, needs little introduction. Consistently recognized as one of the world’s foremost institutions of higher education in virtually any field of study, it also boasts a leading engineering program. Stanford raises a revenue in excess of $1 billion annually. Stanford retains a strong entrepreneurial spirit and continues to encourage new business ventures and leadership at the highest levels of achievement.
Stanford’s petroleum engineering program grows out of its Bachelor of Science degree, which is designed to prepare students for a broad array of careers in the energy industry. It includes petroleum engineering training but is not limited to it; consistent with its entrepreneurial roots, Stanford places a heavy emphasis on training for the future of the energy industry, which is not limited to petroleum. Highlight courses include:
- Well Log Analysis
- Partial Differential Equations in Engineering
- Enhanced Oil Recovery
Students are also encouraged to think about larger, structural challenges facing the industry. To this end, they are required to complete a senior capstone project, which is intended to identify and propose technical solutions to a major energy-related problem. Graduates of Stanford’s program enjoy some of the best placement records of any program in the country.
Texas A&M University
CC Score: 98.14
Texas A&M University, originally Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College, is a public university in College Station, Texas, and the flagship school of the Texas A&M University System. In addition to being the fourth-largest university in the United States, it is also the largest university in the state of Texas. Texas A&M is no stranger to higher education rankings, and its engineering program in particular is internationally recognized for excellence.
The petroleum engineering program graduates as many as two hundred students annually through the dedicated Harold Vance Department of Petroleum Engineering. Students pursue a Bachelor of Science in Petroleum Engineering and are trained in the traditional areas of engineering such as:
- Transportation Methods
Many students from this program continue their education in graduate programs, while others are placed in positions throughout the energy industry. The curriculum at A&M is based on the basics of petroleum engineering, but it also ensures that its students acquire practical experience as well in order to acquire an understanding of the needs and challenges of the industry.
South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
CC Score: 98.06
The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology is located in Rapid City, South Dakota, and offers degrees exclusively in the engineering and science fields. It was established in 1885 as the Dakota School of Mines, and its first degree was awarded in 1887. It is a smaller school with approximately 2,500 students. In 1943, it received its current name, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.
The petroleum engineering program at SDSMT is offered through the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering, where both science and engineering expertise are combined to offer students a comprehensive education in the energy industry. The department serves both graduate and undergraduates and offers two undergraduate degrees—the B.S. in Geology and the B.S. in Geological Engineering. Coursework includes:
- Petroleum Drilling and Production Engineering
- Chemical Engineering Fluid Mechanics
- Thermo Fluid Dynamics
- Upstream Oil and Gas Processing
The Department of Geology and Geological Engineering also offers minors in geology, geospatial technology, and petroleum systems. The minor in petroleum systems will be of particular interest to students interested in working in petroleum engineering. It requires eighteen credit hours of courses in the field.
University of Texas at Austin
CC Score: 97.97
The University of Texas at Austin is the flagship school of the University of Texas System. With over 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students and over 24,000 faculty and staff, it is one of the largest and most well-respected universities in the country. Its annual research budget exceeds $550 million, and its campus is home to numerous institutes, centers, libraries, and museums.
Prospective petroleum engineers will study in UT’s Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, which is staffed by leading theorists and practitioners in the field and offers both undergraduate and graduate training. Students will major in either Petroleum Engineering or Geosystems Engineering and Hydrogeology. A sampling of some coursework includes:
- Engineering, Energy, and the Environment
- Engineering Communications
- Drilling and Well Completions
This program is known for its competitiveness. It only admits approximately 100 students annually, which represents less than 10 percent of its applicant pool. The departments also boasts a state-of-the-art learning center that provides students with cutting-edge tools for the energy industry.
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
CC Score: 97.80
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, located in Lafayette, Louisiana, is the largest school in the University of Louisiana system and the second largest university in the state of Louisiana. It offers bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees in both arts and sciences, and is well known for its programs in computer science, engineering, and architecture.
The Department of Petroleum Engineering provides training through both research and applied expertise. Students acquire experience in oil drilling, natural gas extraction, well design, risk evaluation, and geology. A sampling of a few stand-out upper-level courses include:
- Transport Phenomenon
- Reservoir Fluid Flow
- Natural Gas Engineering
The department has experienced significant growth and increased notoriety in recent years, and its student chapter of the Society of Petroleum Engineers has been named both the best in the world and in North America. Graduates of the department currently enjoy a placement rate of 100 percent.
Montana Tech / University of Montana
CC Score: 97.45
Montana Tech, originally established as the Montana School of Mines in 1900 with a federal grant of 100,000 acres of land, is located in Butte, Montana. It started with twenty-one students and two degrees—mining engineering and electrical engineering—and now enrolls approximately three thousand students and offers 73 different undergraduate degrees, 18 minors, and numerous other certification and pre-professional programs.
Montana Tech’s campus features five state-of-the-art laboratories, and it offers students hands-on experience at site locations across the state. Its Bachelor of Science in Petroleum Engineering offers three different concentrations. These include:
- Reservoir Engineering
- Drilling Engineering
- Production Engineering
Montana Tech’s program in petroleum engineering prepares students to either pursue further graduate study or secure employment upon graduation. Either way, Tech has an excellent placement rate for its graduates. Students will receive training in exploration, resource recovery, environmental issues, and industry economics and trends.
University of Pittsburgh
CC Score: 97.39
The University of Pittsburgh is a state university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, although it has been a private institution for the majority of its existence. It enrolls nearly 30,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in 17 different schools at its urban campus and also operates four undergraduate locations in Bradford, Greensburg, Johnstown, and Titusville, all in western Pennsylvania. It is frequently recognized for its research and health sciences programs, as well as its affordability.
Pitt’s petroleum engineering program has much to be proud of. Established over a century ago in 1910, its Chemical and Petroleum Engineering department was the very first department of petroleum engineering anywhere in the world. The department currently boasts over 40 faculty members, and it operates numerous labs, learning centers, and programs for its students. You’ll take classes like:
- Reactive Process Engineering
- Transport Phenomena
- Dynamics and Modeling
The number and quality of resources available to Pitt students rival those found at any other program in the country. Its strengths in research provide students with a comprehensive background in the science of petroleum engineering, and its graduates are employed throughout the industry in both applied and research capacities.
Pennsylvania State University
CC Score: 97.37
Pennsylvania State University is consistently recognized as one of the premier public state universities in the country in any number of areas, both online and residential. It offers bachelors, masters, doctoral, and professional degrees, and it also offers a well-developed continuing education program for adults and working professionals. It enrolls nearly 100,000 students in its undergraduate and graduate programs across its several campuses.
The Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering major is pursued through the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, and students are trained in extraction methods, transportation, environmental impact, exploration, production methods, drilling, and reservoir engineering. Key classes include:
- Ordinary and Partial Differential Equations
- Physical Geography
- Oil Well Drilling
- Applied Reservoir Engineering
Penn State’s program in petroleum and natural gas engineering prepares students for any number of career and education paths upon graduation. Alumni can be found in both the public and private sectors, research and field occupations, graduate programs, and in nearly every field of specialization in the industry.
Texas Tech University
CC Score: 97.28
Texas Tech, located in Lubbock, Texas, is a public research university and the flagship school of the Texas Tech University system, which operates four institutions across the state. It was founded in 1923 as Texas Technological College and is now has one of the largest enrollments in the state and serves students through an extensive research agenda, 13 colleges, 60 centers and institutes, and undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs. Its Lubbock campus is home to an undergraduate campus, a law school, and a medical school, and it is renowned for its research programs in health sciences, computer sciences, and engineering.
The petroleum engineering program at Texas Tech is housed at the Bob L. Herd Department of Petroleum Engineering, which offers bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees in petroleum engineering. It offers training in the foundational disciplines of mathematics, science, geology, physics, and chemistry. Students will also take industry specific training in the following:
- Well Development
- Well Drilling
- Production Engineering
- Transportation of Natural Resources
The department enjoys a number of influential partnerships, which have resulted in recent million- and multi-million dollar grants from individuals and corporations such as the Occidental Petroleum Corporation, Chevron, and the Apache Corporation.
University of Tulsa
CC Score: 97.20
The University of Tulsa, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a private university that has historically been affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. It offers programs across the liberal arts curriculum and is well known for its natural science programs, research efforts, and training in the energy industry. Tulsa is home to the National Energy Policy Institute and the National Energy-Environment Law and Policy Institute. Admission to Tulsa is highly competitive, and it has an impressive undergraduate research program. It offers degrees through six colleges and departments and a graduate school.
Students enrolled in the BS in Petroleum Engineering program can expect to receive both practical and classroom training in the primary petroleum engineering areas of drilling, production, and reservoir science. The department shares the university’s aggressive research agenda, and it enjoys support from some of the top energy companies in the world. Highlight courses include:
- Rock and Fluids
- Petroleum Economics
- Sedimentary Rocks and Processes
- Well Completion
Training in petroleum engineering is offered through the McDougall School of Petroleum Engineering. With over 500 students enrolled in the department, McDougall is the largest department at Tulsa. Like many other departments on our list, McDougall prepares students for either immediate entrance into the workforce or pursuit of further studies at the graduate level.
University of Alaska Fairbanks
CC Score: 97.16
The University of Alaska Fairbanks, the flagship school of the University of Alaska system, is a public research university that is currently approaching its centennial after its founding in 1917. Its roots in the geological sciences run deep—it was originally founded as the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines. Its name was changed to the University of Alaska in 1925. It operates seven other campuses in the region as well as an online learning program. It continues to excel in the sciences, particularly in agriculture, forestry, geophysics, computer science, biology and marine sciences, and engineering.
These strengths of course lend themselves well to the petroleum engineering program, which is the only one of its kind in the state. The university’s location lends itself to specialized areas of the industry, such as arctic oil and gas exploration and development. It also offers a graduate program in addition to its undergraduate program. Classes include:
- Well Logging
- Reservoir Rock and Fluid Properties
- Sedimentology and Structural Geology
- Drilling Fluids
Students are exposed to chemistry, geology, physics, and traditional principles of engineering science as well as new frontiers and challenges facing the industry. Like so many schools on our list, graduates of Fairbanks benefit from the highest placement rates in the country as well as relationships with all the major energy firms.
University of Oklahoma
CC Score: 97.11
The University of Oklahoma, located in Norman, Oklahoma, consistently receives attention as one of the nation’s premier large public research universities. It offers over 150 bachelors programs, 160 masters programs, and over 70 doctoral programs in both arts and sciences. It currently enrolls over 30,000 students and employs almost 3,000 faculty members. It has been recognized for its excellence in research, technological advancement, and contributions to the arts.
Oklahoma’s petroleum engineering program is also a popular and well-respected area of study. Undergraduate students pursue their program through the Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering and receive a well-rounded education through exposure to the liberal arts in addition to math, science, and engineering coursework. Students have the option to specialize in one of three major areas:
- Drilling Engineering
- Production Engineering
- Reservoir Engineering
Students are also trained in real-world problem solving and leadership skills. The University of Oklahoma also offers masters degrees in petroleum engineering, natural gas engineering, and geological engineering. Even more, undergraduates can enroll in accelerated dual degrees such as a BS in Petroleum Engineering/MBA program.
University of Houston
CC Score: 96.94
The University of Houston in Houston, Texas, is the flagship campus of the University of Houston system. It has grown to become the third largest university in the state of Texas, and it currently enrolls well over 40,000 students on its nearly 700-acre campus. It offers nearly 300 degree programs and awards over 9,000 degrees annually, including doctoral and professional programs, and boasts over 40 research centers and institutes on campus that contribute to its reputation or excellence in research.
Houston’s Bachelor of Science in Petroleum Engineering is a relatively new program, having started in 2009. Its Cullen College of Engineering offers both a major and a minor in petroleum engineering as well as masters and doctoral degrees in the field. Students are trained in drilling, petrophysics, production, reservoir engineering, geoscience, and economics. The program also specializes in the following areas:
- Reservoir Engineering
- Production Engineering
- Chemical Engineering
The program is competitive, and students admitted to the program take 52 of their 129 hours in petroleum engineering. The school’s location in Houston, one of the major international centers for energy firms, affords students proximity to leaders in the industry.
Missouri University of Science and Technology
CC Score: 96.91
Originally the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy and a member of the University of Missouri system, the Missouri University of Science and Technology is located in Rolla, Missouri and enrolls approximately 9,000 students. While is does offer majors in the humanities, business, and social sciences, the majority of students attend in pursuit of training in engineering, science, and math.
Petroleum engineering students obviously benefit from this long tradition of excellence in engineering and proximity to a major center of geological activity. In addition to the traditional areas of drilling, production, and reservoir science, students are also trained in reserves estimation, predicting future production levels, and evaluating petroleum formations. Students have access to advanced tools for the following classes:
- Well Operation and Simulation
- Reservoir Engineering
- Recovery Methods
The Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy has always been ahead of its time. Founded in 1870, it was located near one of the country’s leading areas for the production of lead and zinc. As such, it became the first school of technology west of the Mississippi and began with a mandate to provide training in agriculture and engineering.
Texas A&M University Kingsville
CC Score: 96.89
Texas A&M Kingsville became a member of the Texas A&M University system in 1989 after first being founded as a teacher’s college in 1917 and then undergoing a transition to an “arts and industries” college in 1929. It is a public research university and offers degrees in agriculture, engineering, and the sciences in addition to select programs in the humanities. It features state-of-the-art facilities including an active farm for its agricultural students.
Kingsville students interested in a career in petroleum engineering will study in the Wayne H. King Department of Chemical and Natural Gas Engineering and focus their work in either the Natural Gas or Chemical Engineering programs, both of which share a number of similar skills and principles with the petroleum engineering industry. Classes might look like this:
- Geology of Petroleum
- Reservoir Fluids
- Transport Processes in Petroleum Production
- Well Testing
The department prides itself on producing students who are multi-talented and capable of creative work in these related industries. Students have access to chemical laboratories and drilling facilities alike and progress through a broad-based curriculum that will prepare them for a number of career options.
University of Wyoming
CC Score: 96.52
The University of Wyoming is a public land-grant university located in Laramie. It was founded in 1886 and is known, among other things, for its extensive “outreach” programs that make university-level education available to adults, nontraditional students, and the general public. The Outreach School offers more than 40 degrees and programs online and through satellite campuses throughout the state.
Students pursue a Bachelor of Science in Petroleum Engineering at the University of Wyoming. Graduates of the program enjoy excellent success and placement rates in multiple engineering specialties. The curriculum in this program progresses from general science and math preparation in the first and second years to more technical upper-level courses such as:
- Fluid Dynamics
- Heat and Mass Transfer
- Petroleum Engineering Computing
Once students successfully complete an Introduction to Petroleum Engineering course, they may proceed to 3000- and 4000-level courses. These courses include training in thermodynamics, drilling engineering, reservoir engineering, well operations, economics, geology, and engineering design.
Louisiana State University
CC Score: 96.50
The Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, most commonly known simply as Louisiana State University or LSU, is a public institution located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was founded in 1853 and enjoys a storied history in the state. The Baton Rouge campus is the flagship school of the Louisiana State University system and enrolls over 30,000 students in both undergraduate and graduate programs, which also makes it the largest university in the state.
Petroleum engineering students at LSU can look forward to studying in a department dedicated to the discipline, the Craft & Hawkins Department of Petroleum Engineering. While the majority of graduates work in the petroleum industry, the wide-ranging curriculum also prepares students to work in related industries as well, such as the following:
- Geothermal Energy
The curriculum at Louisiana State University excels at blending together the essential mix of classes. Students receive comprehensive training in not only drilling, production, and reservoir engineering but also petrophysics, well logging, hydrocarbons, geology, physics, chemistry, economics, and mathematics.
University of Texas of the Permian Basin
CC Score: 96.36
The University of Texas of the Permian Basin, located in Odessa, Texas, was founded in 1973 and is the newest member of the University of Texas system. It recently reached a record enrollment in excess of 6,000 students and continues to experience rapid growth. UTPB is also enjoying considerable facilities expansion as well, most notably a new 70,000 square foot Science and Technology Complex, which is where its science, computer, and information systems programs are located.
UTPB’s location in the Permian Basin places it in close proximity to recently discovered oil reservoirs, and its petroleum engineering program has risen to meet the needs associated with this discovery. The program offers intentionally broad training in the industry and prepares students for expertise in areas such as:
- Resource Development
Students acquire hands-on experience in drilling, well engineering, equipment operation, reserve estimation, and property management. UTPB graduates have been placed in careers in both public and private sectors across the industry.