Choosing a career is a major decision, and so is choosing a degree path to prepare for it. If your chosen occupation is as a petroleum engineer, you can rest assured that you have selected a rewarding career. Petroleum engineer is the number-one ranked engineering job in terms of salary, with a median annual salary of $172,000 for experienced professionals. This profession also serves an important role allowing our society to function. Petroleum engineers invent new ways of reaching natural oil and gas and innovate alternative ways to mine these resources from existing wells. Becoming a petroleum engineer is a worthy goal, but the path to this career starts with a formal education.
The first step to a career in petroleum engineering is to earn a college degree. A bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering specifically is the preferred choice, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, but students may earn a degree in chemical or mechanical engineering if their selected college doesn’t offer the specialized program. ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, currently accredits just 17 undergraduate programs in petroleum engineering, though it accredits far more programs in chemical and mechanical engineering.
To earn ABET accreditation, the degree program must cover a wide range of coursework in lectures and laboratory research. A solid background in mathematics is very important in petroleum engineering, so students must take courses that expose them to statistics and differential equations. They must understand thermodynamics and fluid mechanics as well as the strength of the materials they will work with in their careers. Through their academic preparation, students will develop the engineering and geoscientific knowledge to plan and analyze well systems and procedures and handle fluids.
Training, Licensure and Beyond
To become a full-fledged petroleum engineer, candidates must attain a license as a professional engineer. A college degree from an accredited program is the first requirement to obtaining a license, but graduates must then take a test called the Fundamentals of Engineering examination. A passing score will qualify test-takers to be considered engineers-in-training, at which point they can begin gaining the necessary professional experience – often four years of relevant work – to apply for a license. Finally, aspiring petroleum engineers must pass the Professional Engineering or Principles and Practices of Engineering exam to earn their licenses. Even licensed engineers often continue their education, for instance by earning certification from the Society of Petroleum Engineers or earning an advanced degree that would qualify them for upper level research and development opportunities.
With a minimum of four years of study, four years of professional experience and two exams to be completed, the path to officially becoming a petroleum engineer is long. However, for those who truly aspire to be petroleum engineers, the importance of the career in modern society and the financial rewards of earning such a lucrative salary far outweigh the time and work it takes to prepare for the career.