What Undergrad Degrees Are Best to Get If I Plan to Get an Advanced Degree in Petroleum Engineering?

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If you want to earn a master’s in petroleum engineering, one of the highest-paying master’s degrees, you need to plan ahead. Students need a strong background in math, science and the foundations of engineering to succeed in this program of study. As an undergraduate student, you should choose an engineering discipline as your major. Since you already know that petroleum engineering interests you, consider majoring in this interdisciplinary area of engineering as an undergraduate. You can also earn a bachelor’s degree in one of the disciplines from which petroleum engineering draws, including mechanical, civil and chemical engineering, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

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Petroleum Engineering

Worldwide, there are 43 ABET-accredited bachelor’s degree programs in petroleum engineering. The United States is home to 30 of these programs. For a bachelor’s degree program in petroleum engineering to attain ABET accreditation, it must include studies in the design of well systems and drilling procedures, methods of evaluating underground geological formations and reservoir engineering principles and their applications. They should learn to develop designs for systems used in the handling of fluids.

Students of petroleum engineering should develop the math skills to calculate fluid mechanics, thermodynamics and materials strength. It’s also important for engineers, particularly those working in the sometimes financially risky field of petroleum engineering, to be able to understand project economics, resource valuation and risk and uncertainty in decision-making.

Whatever engineering major you choose as an undergraduate, look for accreditation by ABET (the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). Accreditation is a typical licensure requirement for Professional Engineers.

Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineering has one of the largest and broadest scopes of all engineering disciplines. As the branch of engineering concerned with moving components and systems of motion, mechanical engineering has applications in the creation of all kinds of machinery, including robots, medical devices and machines used in manufacturing. Mechanical engineering is also concerned with the machines, equipment and systems used in drilling, oil and gas extraction and reservoir management, according to The Houston Chronicle. A mechanical engineering degree puts you in a good position to design and maintain the equipment used in petroleum engineering as well as designing mechanical methods of pollution control.

ABET-accredited programs in mechanical engineering include coursework in mechanical and thermal systems, with in-depth study in at least one of these types of systems. Mechanical engineering students learn to design, model, analyze and bring to fruition physical systems, processes and components. Besides the core engineering coursework, students pursuing a mechanical engineering degree will take classes in machine theory, mechanical engineering design, computer-aided design for mechanical engineering, heat and mass transfer. Laboratory work is a big part of engineering and may include an emphasis on instrumentation and data acquisition, fluid mechanics, materials and engineering design.

Mechanical engineering students who are interested in working in the oil and gas industry should consider taking a few courses specific to petroleum engineering if their school offers those classes, according to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Civil Engineering

Civil engineering is the discipline of engineering that focuses on infrastructure and the built environment. Just a few examples of what civil engineers design are bridges, buildings, road systems, airports and water supply systems. In the oil and gas industry, civil engineers apply their knowledge of structural engineering methods to major projects like the design of offshore oil rigs and the development of water resource management systems.

Civil engineering programs accredited by ABET include opportunities for students to analyze, conduct experiments in and develop solutions for multiple technical areas in the field. The technical areas in civil engineering include architectural engineering, construction engineering, environmental and water resources engineering, structural engineering, engineering mechanics, geotechnical engineering, transportation engineering, utility engineering and coasts, oceans and ports engineering. Several of these technical areas relate to the field of petroleum engineering, including structural engineering, geotechnical engineering and utility engineering.

If you choose to major in civil engineering, you should also learn about the licensure process. Although a Professional Engineer license isn’t required for many roles in petroleum engineering, it is necessary for many civil engineering positions.

Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineers focus on designing engineering solutions pertaining to chemical processes or the development of chemical compounds. In the oil and gas industry, chemical engineering is an important part of both upstream and downstream operations, according to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Chemical engineers working in this industry may oversee the design, use and maintenance of a facility’s pumps, tanks and pipelines or in the operations used in oil refineries.

ABET-accredited programs in chemical engineering focus on the use of the principles of chemistry, physics and mathematics in designing chemical processes. The coursework in a chemical engineering bachelor’s degree program is likely to include the principles of chemical processes, fluid mechanics for chemical engineering, thermodynamics for chemical engineering, chemical reaction engineering, heat transfer processes, separation transfer processes, chemical engineering modeling and the materials used in chemical engineering.

The connection between chemical engineering and petroleum engineering is so strong that some engineering schools combine these two fields into a single department or degree program.

Additional Resources

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