Petroleum Engineers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

In high school, you can prepare for college engineering programs by taking courses in mathematics (ideally calculus), physics, chemistry, geology, and computer science, preferably honors or advanced placement classes. Economics, history, and English are also highly recommended because these subjects will improve your communication and management skills. Mechanical drawing and foreign languages are also helpful.

Postsecondary Training

A bachelor's degree in engineering is the minimum requirement. In college, you can follow either a specific petroleum engineering curriculum or a program in a closely related field, such as geophysics or mining engineering. In the United States, there are approximately 30 universities and colleges that offer programs that concentrate on petroleum engineering, many of which are located in California and Texas. ABET sets minimum education standards for educational programs in petroleum engineering. Graduation from an ABET-accredited school is a requirement for becoming licensed in many states, so it is important to select an accredited school. Visit ABET’s Web site, https://www.abet.org, for a list of accredited schools.

The first two years working toward the bachelor of science degree involve the study of many of the same subjects taken in high school, only at an advanced level, as well as basic engineering courses. In the junior and senior years, students take more specialized courses: geology, formation evaluation, properties of reservoir rocks and fluids, well drilling, petroleum production, and reservoir analysis.

Because the technology changes so rapidly, many petroleum engineers continue their education to receive a master's degree and then a doctorate. Petroleum engineers who have earned advanced degrees command higher salaries and often are eligible for better advancement opportunities. Those who work in research and teaching positions are usually required to have these higher credentials.

Students considering an engineering career in the petroleum industry should be aware that the industry uses all kinds of engineers. People with chemical, electrical, geoscience, mechanical, environmental, and other engineering degrees are also employed in this field.


The American Association of Petroleum Geologists offers a variety of courses that are “designed to equip earth scientists with knowledge to enable them to take the lead in integrated energy projects and programs.” Those who complete the courses earn a certificate.

Other Education or Training

Several associations offer continuing education opportunities. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists offers field and online courses and seminars. The American Petroleum Institute offers continuing education opportunities at its annual conference and other events. The Society of Petroleum Engineers provides on-site and online courses and seminars on technical topics. The American Society for Engineering Education offers continuing education opportunities for engineers via its annual conference and other events. The National Society of Professional Engineers provides webinars for student members of the society. The Society of Women Engineers offers conference sessions, webinars, and other education resources on topics such as leadership, career development, and special issues for women in engineering. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The Society of Petroleum Engineers offers voluntary certification to petroleum engineers who meet education and experience requirements and pass an examination. Contact the society for more information. 

Many jobs, especially public projects, require that the engineer be licensed as a professional engineer. To be licensed, candidates must have a degree from an engineering program accredited by ABET. Additional requirements for obtaining the license vary from state to state, but all applicants must take an exam and have several years of related experience on the job or in teaching.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Students thinking about this career should enjoy science and math and excel academically. Employers from the major oil companies often require a high G.P.A just to apply for a job. A summer internship or co-op would demonstrate your commitment and passion for the field.

You also need to be a creative problem-solver who likes to come up with new ways to get things done and try them out. You need to be curious, wanting to know why and how things are done. You also need to be a logical thinker with a capacity for detail. Other important traits include the ability to work both independently and as a member of a team and a willingness to continue to learn throughout your career.

Work in this profession may involve traveling, often to undesirable remote locations. Being able to communicate effectively with the petroleum technicians is also a must.