Tips for Fresh Graduates: What to Do after Getting a Petroleum Engineering Degree

Petroleum engineers tend to be the highest paid engineers. Here's what you can do to prepare for a successful and lucrative career upon graduation.
Nader Mowlaee

Earning your degree in petroleum engineering is an accomplishment that offers lucrative opportunities. Out of all the different types of engineering jobs, petroleum engineering jobs outpace the rest as the best-paid engineering role.

According to the United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Statistics (BLS), the median annual petroleum engineering salary in May 2018 was $137,170. Data from PayScale also reveals that an entry-level petroleum engineering salary averages $85,472 per year, as of 2019.

But even with a petroleum engineering degree from an ABET-accredited school, it's essential to have a plan to get competitive petroleum engineering jobs. The good news is there are several routes you can take to accomplish this with the help of valuable engineering career advice. Here's what you can do after getting your petroleum engineering degree to start working in the professional job market.


Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam

After earning your petroleum engineering degree, it's critical to take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam if you plan to become a Professional Engineer (PE). That's because a passing score from the FE exam is a requirement to progress to taking the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam.

You'll also need to work for at least four years, whether that means gaining work experience via petroleum engineering internships or a co-op program. But passing the FE exam is the only way you can expect to sit for the PE exam.

It's ideal for taking the FE exam during the senior year of your petroleum engineering degree program when the information is fresh in your mind. However, the FE exam is also designed for recent graduates.

As of 2019, the pass rate for first-time FE examinees who took the exam within 12 months of graduating from a petroleum engineering degree program was 67 percent.

Get in a co-op program

Getting access to high-paying petroleum engineering jobs is also possible when you enroll in co-operative education programs or co-op programs. Even if you just graduated with your petroleum engineering degree, you can join a co-operative education program.

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Your co-op program also gives you access to leaders in the field who can provide you with valuable engineering career advice that can help you progress in your career as a petroleum engineer. Start by reaching out to your school to get access to co-op programs.

Go where there's demand

Because petroleum engineers often work in the oil and gas extraction sector, the price of oil impacts the demand for petroleum engineers.

According to the BLS, the demand for petroleum engineers is expected to grow at a slower pace than average with a three-percent job outlook between 2018 and 2028. That means getting your first professional engineering role as a petroleum engineer will likely be more competitive. So, it's essential to be strategic about your application process and consider applying for a job as a petroleum engineer where there's demand.

The BLS notes projects that large gas companies will continue to need petroleum engineers for supporting activities in mining since its both economical and convenient for these companies to contract these roles. In addition to thinking about which type of company to work for, consider the location.

According to the BLS, the top states that employ petroleum engineers are California, Colorado, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. So, it's worth searching for employment in these states. But it's also essential to look beyond borders and traditional roles.

Research from the Journal of Petroleum Technology indicates demand for petroleum engineers will increase in developing countries in Asia into the year 2040 due to an increasing need to support energy consumption from rising living standards.

Use your network

The great part about attending college to become a petroleum engineer is that you have the opportunity to access a vast network. Use this network to get your foot in the door for your first petroleum engineering job.

This is how one Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) member and field engineer who graduated with a petroleum engineering from Montana Tech in 2015, got another entry-level petroleum engineering role.

The Montana Tech graduate earned an entry-level petroleum engineering position after interning for an oil and gas company for two summers. However, the company let the young petroleum engineer go due to declines in oil prices that impacted petroleum engineering jobs across the industry. But by reaching out to work and school contacts after being laid off, the petroleum engineer was able to transition into another petroleum engineering role as a field engineer.

Also, consider connecting with a mentor to help guide you throughout your career. Mentors can offer valuable engineering career advice and help you with getting your first petroleum engineering role. They can even put in a good word for you at companies they may work for or have as clients for their own companies.

Your network can also extend to a professional network, such as the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE). Attend career events held by professional networks and your school, including alumni events. These events can serve as a way for you to meet with hiring managers or connect with career counselors who can refer you or set you up with a job.

Apply for internships

Petroleum engineering internships can provide a gateway for entry-level roles for petroleum engineers to help kickstart their careers, and often offer some of the highest-paid internships in the United States.

If you're still enrolled in school, reach out to your career services center to help you find petroleum engineering internships for credit. This helps you earn credit while gaining real-world experience. You can still complete petroleum engineering internships as a fresh graduate, too.

But also consider the industry you work in when applying for internships. The industry you work in may impact your petroleum engineering salary in your first professional engineering role.


The BLS reports that some of the highest-paying industries for petroleum engineers in May 2018 included management of companies and enterprises ($172,570), oil and gas extraction ($141,170), petroleum and coal products manufacturing ($127,280), engineering services ($126,910) and support activities for mining ($113,350). So, it's vital to understand the earning potential that your industry offers.

Final Thoughts

From petroleum engineering internships to co-operative programs, there are several ways you can get your first petroleum engineering role. But it's important to have a strategy. Use tips from mentors who provide engineering career advice and put them into action.

Leverage your network and think outside the box instead of limiting yourself to one specific role or industry. By using these tips, you can outshine competing job applicants and land your first petroleum engineering job with confidence.

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