Wouldn’t it be nice if you could graduate with a four-year degree and start earning $100,000 or more at your very first job? Well, you can! That is, if you have a passion for petroleum engineering.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay for petroleum engineers is $129,990 per year. In industries such as Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services, Management of Companies and Enterprises, and Other Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services, average salaries are between $165,270 and $247,880 annually. Earnings could be higher than average depending on where you live too.

At present, Texas, Colorado, Alaska, Washington, and Wyoming are the top paying states for petroleum engineers, with average earnings of $164,340, $156,500, $146,650, $141,500, and $140,490, respectively. Head to specific metro areas such as Houston-The-Woodlands-Sugarland, TX or Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO and average earnings are even higher. Average salaries in these metro areas are $173,290, and $170,170, respectively.

Make no mistake—MBAs do earn some of the highest starting salaries in the professional world. This is especially true of those graduating from top ranked institutions such as Harvard Business School, Cornell (SC Johnson), Columbia Business School, NYU (Stern), and others. By some estimates, the average starting salaries for these lucky MBAs are between $110,000 and $130,000 per year (or more). MBA graduates from other schools are typically offered $75,000 to $90,000 to start.

Though salaries for MBAs overall are much higher than the nation’s median household income of $56,516, keep in mind that these top salaries are the result of an additional one to two years (or more) of study. Those few extra years can be expensive. Graduates entering the petroleum engineering industry will do so with just four years of study, which means much less debt. They will also enter the industry at a younger age, making lifetime earnings higher. And as their career progresses, petroleum engineers can expect their salaries to continue to rise. Mid-career median pay is $172,000. The BLS reports that earnings can reach $185,050 or more.

The job outlook for PE’s is impressive as well. Employment in this field is expected to increase by 10 percent for the 2014-2024 decade. This is faster than average for all occupations. Top executives, on the other hand, can expect a six percent increase over the same decade, which is as fast as average for all occupations. Median pay for professionals in this field is $102,690 per year.

So what do petroleum engineers have to do to earn these top salaries? Per the BLS, PE’s are responsible for designing and developing methods for extracting oil and gas from deposits below the Earth’s surface. They also find new ways to extract oil and gas from older wells. Duties include:

  • Designing equipment to extract oil and gas in the most profitable way
  • Developing ways to inject water, chemicals, gases, or steam into an oil reserve to force out more oil
  • Developing plans to drill in oil and gas fields, and then to recover the oil and gas
  • Evaluating the production of wells through testing and surveys
  • Using computer-controlled drilling or fracturing to connect a larger area of an oil and gas deposit to a single well
  • Making sure that oil field equipment is installed, operated, and maintained properly

Petroleum engineers can enhance their earnings and career prospects by specializing in a specific area. Some of the different types of PE’s include completions engineers, drilling engineers, production engineers, and reservoir engineers.

As mentioned, to become a petroleum engineer, you must have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, preferably in petroleum engineering. However, according the BLS, “a bachelor’s degree in mechanical or chemical engineering may also meet employer requirements. Employers also value work experience, so college cooperative-education programs, in which students earn academic credit and job experience, are valuable as well.”

ABET accredits programs in petroleum engineering, so during your search, look for programs that carry the seal. Some popular options include:

  • Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania
  • Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas
  • University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, North Dakota
  • University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Lafayette, Louisiana
  • West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia
  • University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming
  • The University of Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
  • University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas
  • Missouri University of Science and Technology, Rolla, Missouri
  • University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma
  • Montana Tech of the University of Montana, Butte, Montana
  • University of Texas of the Permian Basin, Odessa, Texas
  • New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro, New Mexico

To find more ABET accredited programs, visit the ABET Accreditation website.


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"Petroleum Engineers: Occupational Outlook Handbook." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17 Dec. 2015. Web. 23 Mar. 2017.

Proctor, Bernadette D., Jessica L. Semega, and Melissa A. Kollar. "Income and Poverty in the United States: 2015." United States Census Bureau. U.S. Department of Commerce, 13 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Mar. 2017.

Schmitt, Jeff. "How Much Is Your MBA Worth? Tracking Pay By School & Function." Poets&Quants. Poets&Quants, Inc., 18 Apr. 2016. Web. 23 Mar. 2017.

"Top Executives." U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17 Dec. 2015. Web. 23 Mar. 2017.