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How to Become a Petroleum Engineer: Steps to Take from High School

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What’s Covered:


If you’re planning to become a petroleum engineer, it’s crucial to learn the steps you can take now to succeed in your future career.


Petroleum engineers have an important job—to extract oil, gas, and mineral deposits from below the earth’s surface. However, the road to becoming a petroleum engineer requires plenty of schooling, licensing exams, and technical experience.


In this post, we’ll explain the job description of a petroleum engineer, how much a petroleum engineer makes, and the broader career path to becoming a petroleum engineer—from high school to post-graduate!


What Does a Petroleum Engineer Do?


Petroleum engineers develop effective equipment and strategies to extract gas, oil, and mineral deposits from within the earth. They work in conjunction with geoscientists to determine the best drilling methods to recover oil or gas reservoirs within rock formations. They are also responsible for analyzing and testing the wells’ effectiveness and developing the most cost-effective ways to extract gas.


Petroleum engineers typically work in an office or at a drilling site. Since many large oil companies operate around the world, petroleum engineers are often required to travel for work—sometimes even out of their country of origin.


There are four types of petroleum engineers, including:

  • Completions engineers—Discover strategies for gas to flow up from the ground through pipes
  • Drilling engineers—Determine the best ways to drill gas or oil wells
  • Production engineers—Monitor oil and gas production after drilling is complete
  • Reservoir engineers—Predict how much oil and gas can come from underground deposits using research and data


Typically, petroleum engineers are analytical, creative, great at math, and excellent at problem-solving. If you feel like you have this skillset, petroleum engineering may be an ideal career path for you!


How Much Do Petroleum Engineers Make?


Petroleum engineering is one of the highest-paying engineering degrees. According to PayScale, the average salary of an electrical engineer is $101,086 per year.


Petroleum engineers just starting their careers may make closer to $62,000 per year. In contrast, petroleum engineers who have earned higher education degrees, completed all their licensing, and have years of work experience in the field make as much as $174,000 per year.


How to Become a Petroleum Engineer: Steps to Take from High School


High School


Take Science and Math Classes


Since petroleum engineers are required to excel at math whilst having a strong understanding of scientific principles, students in high school should focus on advanced-level STEM classes.  For instance, consider signing up for the following advanced classes or AP courses in high school to set yourself up for success:


  • Algebra
  • Trigonometry
  • Calculus
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics


Complete a STEM Internship


Colleges and universities value students who prioritize enriching extracurricular activities in high school. So instead of waiting until college to complete an internship, consider applying for STEM internships while you’re still in high school!  Not only will it look great on your college applications, but you’ll gain valuable experience in your future industry.




Earn a Bachelor’s Degree


Before you begin your career as a petroleum engineer, you’ll first need to graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Petroleum Engineering from a college, university, or institution that has earned its accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). You can also major in Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, or Civil Engineering to work as a petroleum engineer.


To find the place to pursue your engineering degree, search from this list of the best engineering colleges. You can also calculate the odds of getting into your dream school by using CollegeVine’s chancing engine! We use your background, test scores, extracurricular activities, and other factors to help you determine which school is the best fit for you.


To complete your degree, you’ll be required to complete labs, classes, and field studies regarding the following topics:


  • Engineering principles
  • Geology
  • Thermodynamics


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Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.


After College


Take the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam


Once you’ve graduated with your bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to complete the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam to earn your license. You can apply to take the FE exam as soon as you graduate from college. It’s best to take the test right after you graduate when the retention rate for all your college-level coursework is the highest.


The FE exam is a 6-hour test with 110 multiple choice questions that cover numerous engineering topics. To take the FE test, you’ll need to prove that you’ve graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering from a college, university, or organization accredited by the ABET.


Once you’ve passed the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam, you will become an engineer-in-training (EIT) or engineer intern (EI). You can now begin working as a petroleum engineer!


Start Working in an Entry-Level Position


Before you can earn your subsequent license to become a professional engineer, you’ll need to spend four years working under the supervision of a licensed engineer. As you gain more experience, you’ll be able to earn more independence to solve problems and make decisions.


You can ask your college or university to help you find an entry-level job. You can also look for a job online on the National Society of Professional Engineers website.


Further Your Education


While you’re working in an entry-level position, you may consider returning to school to earn your Master’s Degree in Petroleum Engineering or another related field. Although a graduate degree is not required to work as a petroleum engineer, it will increase your earning potential and attract future employers.


Many universities offer a fast-track program to graduate with your bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the same time, or you can work on your master’s degree while working in the field after graduating with your bachelor’s degree.


Take the Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam


Once you’ve worked under the guidance of a professional engineer for four years, you can take the Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam (PE) to become a professional engineer.


The Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam is a discipline-specific test for every type of engineer. The PE Petroleum exam is the variation designed explicitly for petroleum engineers. It includes 85 multiple choice questions and alternative item types. The test takes nine and a half hours to complete and includes a short testing tutorial and a 50-minute break.


Some topics covered on the PE Petroleum Exam include:


  • Drilling
  • Production and completion
  • Facilities
  • Reservoirs
  • Project management


Once you’ve passed the PE exam, you can apply to become a professional engineer. You will need to renew your license every so often, but the length of time you’re required to do so may vary depending on your state of residence.


Earn Certification from the Society of Petroleum Engineers


Petroleum engineers can apply to earn their certification from the Society of Petroleum Engineers, which will increase your potential salary, job prospects, and leadership opportunities in the petroleum engineering field.


To qualify, you must have a Bachelor’s Degree in Petroleum Engineering or a related industry, at least four years of relevant experience working as an engineer, and a membership with the Society of Petroleum Engineers. In addition, after passing your certification exam, you must participate in 16 hours of professional development each year to maintain your certification.


Final Thoughts


Petroleum engineering can be a challenging field to enter, but it’s an immensely rewarding career path. Of course, with the advancement of sustainability protocols, many countries are weaning away from utilizing fossil fuels. However, the function of petroleum engineers has not dampened, and future projections suggest that new sustainability measures could require additional manpower to implement in this field.


Nevertheless, it is essential to plan ahead if you’re considering a career in petroleum engineering. With all of the required accreditation and certifications, you should aim to plan ahead, even from high school!


Short Bio
Brittany Sawyer is a graduate of Grand Canyon University, where she majored in Marketing and minored in Professional Writing. She works as a freelance copywriter and lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with her husband and her golden retriever, Sedona. When Brittany isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, trying new coffee shops, and traveling.