Best Schools for Petroleum Engineering

Workers in an Oilfield, teamwork
branex / Getty Images

Petroleum engineering is one of the most lucrative fields for a college graduate with a bachelor's degree. Starting salaries at many top companies tend to be in the six figures, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for the field as a whole is $137,720 a year. Keep in mind that not all petroleum engineers majored in petroleum engineering—one can also enter the profession through mechanical, civil, and chemical engineering.

The field isn't for everyone. Because of its focus on extracting oil and gas from the earth, petroleum engineers often need to travel to and work at well sites. It is also a field with an uncertain long-term future as the world gradually moves away from carbon-based energy sources in favor of renewable energy. Nevertheless, the world's dependence on oil and gas isn't ending any time soon, and the job outlook in the profession is positive for the next decade.

Petroleum engineering is a specialized field of study, and only 30 schools in the United States offer the major. An additional 45 schools offer two- or four-year programs in related fields such mining technology, petroleum technology, and petrology. The 10 schools below tend to top the national rankings for their robust academics, excellent research opportunities, and strong job placement records.

Colorado School of Mines

Colorado School of Mines
Colorado School of Mines. Alan Levine / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Petroleum Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 110/1,108
Full-Time Faculty (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 16/424
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; Colorado School of Mines Website

Located in Golden, Colorado, the Colorado School of Mines graduates over 100 petroleum engineers annually, and they tend to earn some of the highest salaries in the profession. The program has strong outcomes with high job placement rates and starting salaries, and the Mines Petroleum Engineering Department draws students from around the world. The program offers degrees at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels.

The curriculum at Mines covers drilling, production, and reservoir engineering. Mines takes pride in the depth and breadth of its program, as students take courses in math, physics, computer science, chemistry, and general engineering. They also take courses in the humanities, public speaking, social responsibility, and environmental issues. In addition, students have plenty of research opportunities, and the school has built collaborations with the industry through numerous groups including the Fracturing, Acidizing, Stimulation Technology Consortium and the Physics of Organics, Carbonates, Clays, Sands and Shales Consortium.

Marietta College

Marietta College
Marietta College.

Snoopywv / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Petroleum Engineering at Marietta College (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 73/197
Full-Time Faculty (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 16/113
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; Marietta College Website

A small liberal arts college in Ohio may seem like a strange place to find one of the nation's top petroleum engineering programs, but it is the reality at Marietta College. The college offers over 50 majors across the arts, humanities, social sciences, and sciences, but petroleum engineering is by far the most popular program with over 1/3 of students choosing the major. As a liberal arts college, Marietta is teaching-centered and can offer undergraduates much more personal attention from the faculty than many larger research universities.

Housed in the Edwy Rolfe Brown Building, the Petroleum and Geology Departments at Marietta offer students ready access to a core and drilling laboratory, a natural gas laboratory, smart classrooms, and rooms for seniors working on their capstone research projects.

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

Headquarters for the Very Large Array are on the New Mexico Tech campus
Headquarters for the Very Large Array are on the New Mexico Tech campus. Asagan / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Petroleum Engineering at New Mexico Tech (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 27/281
Full-Time Faculty (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 7/135
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; New Mexico Tech Website

The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, much more commonly known simply as New Mexico Tech, sits on a rural 320-acre campus in Socorro, New Mexico. Payscale.com ranked the college #5 for its return on investment, an accomplishment grounded largely in the high salaries earned by the school's engineering graduates.

The institute takes advantage of its location, and much of the program's research focuses on oil and gas fields in New Mexico such as the San Juan Basin. All students in the Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering major complete two semesters of Senior Design. In this class, they work in teams on real-world projects that are often sponsored by some of New Mexico's small oil producers. You can learn about the program's research opportunities through their video tour.

Penn State

Old Main in Penn State
aimintang / Getty Images
Petroleum Engineering at Penn State (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 64/10,893
Full-Time Faculty (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 43/3,815
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; Penn State Website

Located in rural University Park, Pennsylvania, Penn State is a large comprehensive research university with strengths in a wide range of academic disciplines. The university graduates close to 2,000 engineers annually, and while petroleum and natural gas engineering makes up just a small percentage of that number, the program is highly regarded both in the U.S. and internationally. The program is housed within the Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering along with four other programs: Energy Business and Finance, Energy Engineering, Environmental Systems Engineering, and Mining Engineering.

Petroleum and natural gas engineering majors all take a sequence of courses on reservoir engineering, and another on drilling and production. Students also take a course focused on the economics of engineering design and the implications of an engineer's decision making. Student research opportunities are bolstered by several research centers, labs, and institutes at Penn State, including the Institute for Natural Gas Research, Institutes of Energy and the Environment, and the Center for Geomechanics, Geofluids, and Geohazards.

Texas A&M University

Texas A&M Academic Building at the heart of the main campus in College Station
Texas A&M Academic Building at the heart of the main campus in College Station.

Denise Mattox / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Petroleum Engineering at Texas A&M (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 167/12,914
Full-Time Faculty (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 41/3,585
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; Texas A&M Website

Texas A&M University in College Station is home to nearly 70,000 students and a wealth of strong STEM programs. Petroleum engineering majors all take classes related to gas drilling, production, and transportation, but the university also requires all majors to gain internship experience in the energy industry. The department is home to over 20 research laboratories including the Chevron Petrophysical Imaging Laboratory, Dual Gradient Drilling Lab, Hydraulic Fracture Conductivity Laboratory, and Source Rock Petrophysics Laboratory. The program's faculty members are also involved with a range of research centers and institutes.

Texas A&M students can also gain experience through the university's campus in Doha, Qatar. The Qatar faculty has ten members in petroleum engineering, and exchange programs are offered in the summer and fall semesters.

Texas Tech

Texas Tech University
Texas Tech University. Kimberly Vardeman / Flickr
Petroleum Engineering at Texas Tech (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 76/6,440
Full-Time Faculty (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 14/1,783
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; Texas Tech Website

Located in Lubbock, Texas Tech is a large public university with strong engineering programs. While mechanical and civil engineering are the most popular, the highly regarded petroleum engineering program graduates about 75 students per year. The program takes advantage of its Texas location, for over two-thirds of the state's petroleum resources are within 175 miles of campus. Despite the size of Texas Tech, the Department of Petroleum Engineering restricts enrollment and maintains an impressive 5:1 student/faculty ratio.

Texas Tech takes pride in its Roughneck Boot Camp in which students gain hands-on experience working with industry equipment and networking with experts in the field. The university is also home to the Oilfield Technology Center. The center has three test wells and gives students the opportunity to work with the equipment used in petroleum drilling, extraction, processing, and treating. Other facilities include the Visualization Lab, Mud Lab, and Core Lab. Average starting salary for Texas Tech graduates in 2019 was $106,000.

University of Alaska Fairbanks

University of Alaska Fairbanks
University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Enrico Blasutto / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Petroleum Engineering at the University of Alaska (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 17/602
Full-Time Faculty (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 9/902
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; UAF Website

The College of Engineering and Mines at the University of Alaska Fairbanks is home to one of the nation's best petroleum engineering programs, offering B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees. At the undergraduate level, students take courses in all of the primary areas of the field, from drilling engineering to reservoir completion. The UAF curriculum often focuses on some of the specific challenges encountered in Alaskan oil fields, such as frozen reservoirs.

UAF's Petroleum Development Laboratory (PDL) has a state-of-the-art facility to provide students with hands-on experiences to supplement their engineering coursework. Faculty members are actively involved in research projects in several areas including reservoir characterization, modeling, and simulation; rock and fluid properties; drilling and completions; enhanced oil production methods; and origin of overpressure and pore pressure prediction.

University of Oklahoma

Bizzell Library at the University of Oklahoma
Bizzell Library at the University of Oklahoma. tylerphotos / Flickr
Petroleum Engineering at the University of Oklahoma (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 113/4,605
Full-Time Faculty (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 22/1,613
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; University of Oklahoma Website

The University of Oklahoma's Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering (MPGE) gives undergraduate majors strong grounding in three specializations: drilling engineering, production engineering, and reservoir engineering. Students are educated to have the skills needed to meet the world's energy needs while balancing sustainability, efficiency, and affordability.

All MPGE students are required to complete one internship that involves at least eight weeks of full-time employment. These work experiences can be with OU faculty or external industries. The program takes pride in the diversity of its student body, with fifty nations represented, and it works hard to remain responsive to the needs of the evolving energy industry.

University of Texas—Austin

University of Texas at Austin
University of Texas at Austin. Amy Jacobson
Petroleum Engineering at UT Austin (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 93/10,098
Full-Time Faculty (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 25/2,906
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; UT Austin Website

UT Austin is one of the top public universities in the country, and it is one of several Texas universities with a strong petroleum engineering program. In fact, U.S. News and World Report has ranked both the undergraduate and graduate programs #1 in the country. UT Austin students have two degree options: a B.S. in petroleum engineering or a B.S. in geosystems engineering and hydrology. Student life is active, with eight student organizations related to petroleum and geosystems. Undergraduates do well upon completion of the program: 89% of B.S. graduates have job offers or grad school acceptances upon graduation. Average starting salaries are over $87,500.

Like all schools on this list, UT Austin's program wants its students to graduate with meaningful hands-on experiences. The university's Center for Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering is the heart of faculty and student research in areas including formation evaluation, geologic carbon storage, enhanced oil recovery, and natural gas engineering.

University of Tulsa

University of Tulsa
University of Tulsa. Frank Boston (bostonsphotos) / Flickr
Petroleum Engineering at the University of Tulsa (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 72/759
Full-Time Faculty (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 14/358
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; University of Tulsa Website

Petroleum engineering is the most popular major at the University of Tulsa, and nearly 10% of students pursue this field of study. The program is housed in Stephenson Hall with mechanical engineering, and students have access to state-of-the-art computer facilities to support their studies. The university is also home to a drilling laboratory on North Campus, a full-scale cutting transport facility, a 2,000-foot well, and a multiphase flow loop for research projects. A dozen research consortia and joint industry projects operate from TU's North Campus. TU students can conduct research alongside graduate students and faculty members in all three primary areas of petroleum engineering: reservoir, drilling, and production.

University of Wyoming

Old Main at the University of Wyoming
Old Main at the University of Wyoming.

Thecoldmidwest / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Petroleum Engineering at the University of Wyoming (2019)
Degrees Conferred (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 98/2,228
Full-Time Faculty (Petroleum Engineering/College Total) 15/1,002
Source: National Center for Education Statistics; University of Wyoming Website

Located in Laramie, the University of Wyoming is the state's only four-year research institution. It is also home to a highly regarded petroleum engineering program that is the fourth most popular major after nursing, psychology, and elementary education.

The university's High Bay Research Facility offers 90,000 square feet of laboratory and meeting spaces designed to facilitate research focused on unconventional oil and gas reservoirs. Wyoming's natural resources are a significant contributor to the state's economy, and Department of Petroleum Engineering research projects often focus on local projects that have direct implications for the state. The university claims that its Center of Innovation for Flow through Porous Media is "the most advanced oil and gas research facility in the world."