Energy is a driving force in the industrialized world, impacting the prosperity of entire economies and fueling transportation, lighting, heating, manufacturing, and product development. Petroleum engineers play a vital role in tapping the world's remaining sources of oil and natural gas. With the help of innovative exploration and processing technologies, petroleum engineers are extending available resources to meet increasing energy demands.
A master's degree in petroleum engineering propels you into expert and supervisory roles. Lead petroleum development efforts as a production, exploration, or R&D engineer. Or support the industry as an environmental consultant or engineering instructor. You can earn a master's degree online in as little as two years, expanding your professional competency from anywhere in the world.
WorldWideLearn.com takes you through the steps of earning a MS or professional graduate degree in petroleum engineering. Plan your graduate education and open a world of possibilities in energy exploration and development.
Guide to Master's Degrees in Petroleum Engineering
Petroleum engineering applies knowledge of earth sciences to the practical cause of developing energy resources. Tapping oil and gas reserves across the globe, petroleum engineers produce the energy that fuels commerce and public utilities. Transportation, manufacturing, home heating systems and appliances, construction, and civic infrastructure all rely on oil or gas power. Petroleum also plays a major role in products such as pharmaceuticals, plastics, textiles, and cosmetics.
The petroleum engineering curriculum focuses on chemistry, geology, physics, and materials science principles relevant to petroleum research. These fundamentals enable engineers to tackle problems such as identifying natural petroleum reservoirs, extracting oil and gas, processing and refining the raw materials, and producing market-ready petroleum products.
Professional and Academic Master's Degrees
Graduate petroleum engineering programs have diversified to meet the needs of engineers at different stages of their careers.
Master of Science
The MS in petroleum engineering serves the broadest spectrum of career goals, making it a good choice for continuing undergraduates, entry-level engineers, and career changers new to the petroleum specialty. Aspiring academics will also want to choose the MS degree, which serves as a stepping stone to the PhD in petroleum engineering. The Master of Science curriculum emphasizes advanced coursework and independent research under the supervision of a faculty mentor.
Master of Engineering
The MEng is a practice-oriented graduate degree tailored to the student's specific career needs. The custom curriculum is designed for mid-career engineers who want to deepen their expertise in a specific area. Interdisciplinary programs are common; in fact, some MEng programs in petroleum engineering offer joint degrees with the business school (Meng-MBA) or related departments such as geoscience. Since MEng degrees are designed for working professionals, it's often possible to earn a master's degree online.
Both academic and professional master's degrees in petroleum engineering offer the opportunity to specialize in a specific engineering design problem or industry function. MS students specialize through research, while MEng typically take elective courses and/or complete an internship project in their area of interest.
Petroleum engineering specializations include:
- Reservoir Fluid Dynamics
- Reservoir Geology
- Reservoir Analysis
- Formation Evaluation
- Well Drilling
- Petroleum Production
- Petroleum and Natural Gas Extraction
- Secondary and Tertiary Oil Recovery
- Environmental and Safety Issues
Research projects and industry internships allow you to focus your studies even further. Today's petroleum engineering R&D labs are tackling problems such as fluid dynamics in pipes, remediation of pipeline contamination, fracture-matrix interaction, perforations and completions design, compositional coalbed methane modeling, diffusion and multi-phase flow in porous media, reservoir simulation and virtual intelligence, and more.
Petroleum Engineering Career Tracks
A master's degree in petroleum engineering prepares you for lead design, expert consulting, and management roles in industry. Specific job titles available to you at the graduate level include:
- Production Engineer: Develop the processes and equipment petroleum companies use in oil and gas production.
- Drilling Engineer: Work alongside geologists and contractors to direct or develop oil and gas drilling operations.
- Reservoir Engineer: Optimize recovery processes for energy resources by determining the location and number of wells. Simulate and analyze reservoir performance using computer models.
- Environmental or Safety Engineer: Ensure the safety of drilling or extraction operations, with respect to workers, the environment, and local communities.
- Groundwater Hydrologist: Specialize in the responsible custodianship of groundwater, ensuring that petroleum extraction and processing byproducts do not pollute local soil and water resources.
- Petroleum Engineering Manager: Oversee a team of engineers, in the context of research and development, production, planning, or safety assurance.
- Environmental or Petroleum Production Consultant: Offer your expert services as a consultant to companies engaged in petroleum exploration, production, and environmental protection or remediation.
- Public Regulatory Official: Work with the government to enforce regulations related to petroleum exploration, extraction and processing.
In addition to these industry careers, your master's degree can set you up for an academic career in university-level teaching and research. To pursue this career path, continue on to a PhD in petroleum engineering, where you'll expand your research and develop undergraduate teaching skills.
Career Outlook for Petroleum Engineers
Heavy dependence on oil is driving strong career prospects for petroleum engineers. Petroleum companies are counting on their engineers to optimize production and discover new sources of raw energy.
Plan for a Master's Degree in Petroleum Engineering
Graduate petroleum engineering programs function as catalysts for your career goals. Unlike undergraduate degrees, which feature a broad and standardized curriculum, graduate degrees can be tailored to your specific needs. Set yourself up to achieve your career potential by researching your program options and submitting a competitive application.
Step One: Find the Right Graduate Petroleum Engineering Program
A phased approach to the research process will help you zero in on the petroleum engineering programs that suit you best.
1. List Accredited Programs
Begin by surveying your options. In addition to campus and online master's degrees in petroleum engineering, you'll find relevant programs in related departments. Geoscience, applied geophysics, energy resources engineering, and chemical engineering all serve as aliases or close cousins to petroleum engineering.
As you explore your options, pay attention to the accreditation status of prospective schools. Accreditation by an independent agency speaks to the quality of your education, impacting the value of your degree as an employment credential and your eligibility for financial aid. The U.S. Department of Education website posts a searchable database of approved accreditation agencies.
WorldWideLearn.com offers a starting point for your research, with links to campus and online master's degrees in petroleum engineering. Search the Degrees by Subject section for links to accredited graduate programs.
The Society of Petroleum Engineers features a list of Petroleum Engineering and Technology Schools compiled by the SPE Education and Accreditation Committee each year. Institutions on this list feature both undergraduate and graduate courses of study.
ABET (formerlyThe Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) is the primary national authority for engineering accreditation. Search ABET's database of accredited engineering programs by discipline ("Petroleum") and location.
2. Choose Program Format: Campus or Online Master's Degree?
Today's digital learning technology makes it possible to earn a master's degree online--even in an applied field like engineering. Online programs incorporate internships or temporary campus residencies to supplement virtual courses.
Focus your program search by deciding which program format suits you best:
Online master's degrees in petroleum engineering are designed for working adults juggling career and other obligations alongside their education. Professionals often appreciate the broad networking opportunities with experienced peers from around the world. Online grad schools also encourage career-focused projects, degree customization, and internships.
Campus programs offer unparalleled access to campus research labs, faculty mentors, academic networking, and teaching assistantships. These resources appeal to entry-level engineers and continuing undergraduates. The campus degree is also a good choice for students who learn best through face-to-face interaction and hands-on lab work.
WorldWideLearn.com's Online Degree Programs and Campus Education sections explore the benefits of each format and help you identify relevant programs. You can also search Degrees by Location for campus graduate programs in your area.
3. Explore Academic Programs
Deepen your understanding of the differences among programs by comparing available academic resources. Features to consider include:
- Specializations and Current Research
- Lab Facilities
- Faculty Expertise
- Degree Format
- Industry Relationships
- Student Support Services
Key elements include faculty experts and courses in your field of interest. The relative priority of other features depend on the type of master's degree you pursue and your career objectives.
WorldWideLearn.com features an interactive search tool to initiate your academic program research. Fill out an online form indicating your criteria, and the system matches you with appropriate graduate programs. You can also arrange to speak directly with school representatives who can answer your questions about the program.
School websites offer the most complete source of information on program resources. Find information on courses, master's degree types and requirements, current research, and faculty expertise. Link to faculty and course webpages, publications, research lab sites, and admissions materials.
Informational interviews give you a candid perspective on the graduate student experience. Meet with faculty, alumni, and current graduate students to discuss academic research opportunities, support services, the learning environment, and the value of the degree as a professional credential.
4. Evaluate Program Quality
Finally, assess program quality, taking into account indices such as selectivity and placement as well as more qualitative factors.
- Reputation. Rankings like U.S. News & World Report's Best Engineering Graduate Schools help you gauge a program's reputation. Also ask an undergraduate advisor or a thought leader in your field for a recommendation.
- Selectivity. Admissions departments report acceptance rates and academic record averages for admitted students. Compare these figures with your own GPA and test scores to assess your chances of admission.
- Placement. Ask career support services or the department for placement information, including placement rate, employers, starting salaries, etc.
- Student demographics. Diverse work experiences and cultures can enhance your learning experience--and networking opportunities.
Aim for a final list of five or six graduate programs that offer the best value for your unique student profile--the right balance between resources, quality, and selectivity.
Step Two: Apply to Graduate Petroleum Engineering Programs
Most graduate engineering programs abide by the following standard admissions prerequisites and application protocol:
1. Complete Prerequisites
Eligibility for graduate study generally requires:
- A bachelor's degree in petroleum, geotechnical, or chemical engineering.
- Prerequisite courses in science, math, or engineering, if your degree is in another field.
- Standardized tests: GRE and TOEFL (for non-native speakers of English).
- Work experience (required by some professional master's degrees).
WorldWideLearn.com's Education Resources Guide helps you meet work your way through your prerequisites by connecting you with test preparation resources, online courses, and other resources.
2. Prepare Application Materials
Most schools provide a link to the application online. In addition to completing a personal information form, gather the following materials:
- Academic transcripts
- Letters of recommendation
- Test scores
- Personal statement of interests
Since some of these documents rely on outside sources, it's important to start your application well in advance of the deadline.
3. Finance Your Master's Degree in Petroleum Engineering
Financial aid is a standard feature of the graduate student experience--even for returning students. Many returning students benefit from the opportunity to earn a master's degree online, keeping their main source of income while they learn. Investigate the following sources of school funding:
- University financial aid includes scholarships and grants, as well as teaching and research assistantships. Meet with a university advisor and submit a financial aid application with your admissions materials.
- Employer continuing education incentives may include tuition grants and loan forgiveness programs.
- Professional associations and private foundations feature fellowships and scholarships to support graduate study.
- Federal government programs offer a range of merit- and need-based programs: Pell grant, Stafford grant, and more. Fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to apply.
As a last resort, secure a low-interest student bank loan to cover tuition costs. For more guidance on financial aid, visit the WorldWideLearn.com resource page on graduate education funding.
Whether you earn a master's degree online or on campus, the petroleum engineering program opens doors to a world of opportunities. The knowledge you gain is just the beginning: you'll also build relationships and share ideas with peers, mentors, and thought leaders in your field. This support network will position you to transform your expert knowledge into solutions for smart energy resource management in the 21st century.
- Accredited Engineering Programs, ABET (formerly Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology).
- American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).
- Best Engineering Graduate Schools, U.S. News & World Report (2010).
- Careers in Petroleum Engineering, Society for Petroleum Engineers.
- Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, U.S. Department of Education.
- "Engineers," Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.
- Graduate Degree Programs, Texas A & M Petroleum Engineering.
- Graduate Program in Energy and Mineral Engineering, Penn State University.
- M.Eng. in Petroleum Engineering: Distance Education, Texas A & M Petroleum Engineering.
- Petroleum Engineering & Technology Schools, Society of Petroleum Engineers.
- Programs in Engineering, The Sloan Consortium.