Petroleum engineers develop and apply the technologies needed to extract hydrocarbons — i.e., oil and gas — from natural geological deposits. The discipline is comprehensive in its approach, marrying science and applied mathematics with political economy and law. Petroleum engineering, or ‘PE,’ programs should be accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET. The entry-level degree for petroleum engineers is the bachelor’s.
Petroleum engineering is a hot career choice that pays very well even for fresh college graduates. Students who attend the best petroleum engineering schools have priority access to the highest-paying jobs in the industry. Here’s a list of the top schools whose fortunate students get recruited to fill the coveted ranks of the oil and gas majors each year.
1. University of Texas at Austin
Besides being an elite research university, UT Austin benefits from its prime location in Texas, a land of dense oil reserves. Top oil and gas firms like Shell and ExxonMobil regularly recruit from UT Austin. The central Texas school offers highly-rated undergraduate and graduate programs via the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering, part of the world-class Cockrell School of Engineering.
UT’s PE major is very strong in research. Its prolific Center for Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering is the research arm of the Department. The Center recently received a multimillion-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to conduct research on methane hydrates.
2. Texas A&M University
Like UT Austin, Texas A&M is ideally located in a highly productive state for energy extraction. Its site in urban College Station is further complemented by a branch campus in the Middle Eastern nation of Qatar. A&M’s Harold Vance Department of Petroleum Engineering offers both undergraduate and graduate programs in PE. The undergraduate program is rated number one according to U.S. News & World Report, followed closely by the baccalaureate program at UT Austin. There is a convenient all-online version of the PE graduate degree. Several A&M scholarships are eligible for non-resident tuition waivers, enabling out-of-state students to pay in-state tuition.
3. Colorado School of Mines
Located in the city of Golden on the beautiful Front Range of the Colorado Rockies, the Colorado School of Mines is a top choice because of its high-quality technical training and energy research accommodations, including Marquez Hall which houses state-of-the-art technologies for experimental petrochemical research. Research interests of the faculty span a wide variety of topics, from cryogenics in laser drilling and hydraulic fracturing to field automation and domestic and international hydrocarbon law.
There is significant interdisciplinary collaboration between PE and geology, geophysics, and other engineering disciplines at the School of Mines. Both undergraduate and graduate majors in Petroleum Engineering are available.
4. Stanford University
Stanford’s Department of Energy Resources Engineering (ERE) is renowned for its academic excellence, stellar faculty, and extensive research resources. The large private university is found in the South Bay region, also known as ‘Silicon Valley.’ California is home to extensive hydrocarbon extraction infrastructure and a plethora of associated jobs; Silicon Valley is an epicenter of technological innovation. Stanford has very high tuition requirements for undergraduates, at more than $40,000 a year. The ERE Department offers master’s and doctoral degrees in Petroleum Engineering to grad students, while undergraduates can get a bachelor’s in Energy Resources Engineering.
5. New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, formerly known as the New Mexico School of Mines, is located in the small rural town of Socorro, New Mexico, about an hour’s drive from Albuquerque. New Mexico Tech offers a research-intensive curriculum. There is a special emphasis on oil and gas fields in New Mexico, such as the tight gas formations in the San Juan Basin. Students at this public school benefit from the on-campus Petroleum Recovery Research Center, which focuses on four areas of study:
- Petrophysics and Surface Chemistry
- Gas Flooding Processes and Flow Heterogeneities
- Reservoir Sweep Improvement
- Reservoir Evaluation/Advanced Computational Technologies
A Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Master of Science (M.S.), and Ph.D. are available for PE majors at New Mexico Tech.
6. University of Southern California
The University of Southern California (USC) has a sunny, urban location in Los Angeles, California. It is a large private school with a substantial endowment, selective admissions, and the smallest student-faculty ratio of any of the top schools. The Viterbi School of Engineering hosts the PE major, which is one of the oldest of its kind in the U.S. By industry request, USC now has a unique related major on offer in Smart Oilfield Technologies (SOT), taught in the new, Chevron-sponsored Center for Interactive Smart Oilfield Technologies. The most expensive school on this list, USC tuition totals nearly $44,000 a year — although it does lead in grant-based financial aid.
7. University of Oklahoma
The University of Oklahoma (UO) is home to the Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering. Its base in suburban Norman, Oklahoma is apt in a state with a significant historical stake in the oil and gas industry. Norman, about a half-hour drive from Oklahoma City, is the third most populous municipality in the state. UO offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in Petroleum Engineering, including a B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. A dual B.S./MBA is also available. In-state students fare better here in terms of financial aid. According to Peterson’s, the Mewbourne School, a relatively small program totaling less than 100 students, has an acceptance rate of 9 percent.
8. Texas Tech University
A public university in the city of Lubbock, Texas Tech houses the Bob L. Herd Department of Petroleum Engineering. Located in the heart of oil country, Lubbock is a four-and-a-half-hour drive from the sweeping Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. An all-new facility for Petroleum Engineering majors has recently been constructed: the Terry Fuller Petroleum Engineering Research Building.
Industry ties run deep at Texas Tech. The Herd Department recently received a multimillion-dollar software gift from Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company. About 1 in 4 applicants are accepted to the PE program each year; admissions standards are rising.
9. University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Lafayette, Louisiana is home to more than 1,300 oil and gas companies, a large number of which recruit directly from the Department of Petroleum Engineering at the University of Louisiana–Lafayette (ULL). At this Southern public university, a B.S. in Petroleum Engineering and M.S. in Engineering with a PE “Option” are available. Competitive research grants, foreign exchanges, and apprenticeships are offered via the Department’s US-Brazil Consortia Program. The graduate program is small, with less than 20 students. ULL has notably affordable tuition at $4,000 a year for in-state and $13,000 for out-of-state students.
10. University of Alaska
For engineers dreaming of working in Alaska, the University of Alaska at Fairbanks (UAF) is an obvious and strategic choice as the only PE undergraduate and graduate program in the state. Within UAF’s College of Engineering and Mines, the Department of Petroleum Engineering emphasizes problems of Arctic drilling and other cold climes. It hosts the well-equipped Petroleum Development Laboratory for research in areas like coal-seam methane development and gas-to-liquid transportation via the Trans Alaska Pipeline System. The College recently received $300,000 from ConocoPhillips to support petroleum engineering research at the University.