A warning to petroleum engineering students

by Grace

In the wake of a one-year jump of 55% in the number of U.S. petroleum engineering freshman students, it was reported that Texas A&M sent a letter to incoming students advising them to be realistic about future job growth.

Dear Admitted Aggie PETE Applicant,

The Harold Vance Department of Petroleum Engineering, Texas A&M University, is pleased that you applied and were admitted to our top ranked petroleum engineering program. If you pursue a degree in petroleum engineering, our program is committed to providing the highest quality education available.

Recent data suggests that some concern about the sustainability of the entry level job market during a time of explosive growth in the number of students studying petroleum engineering in U.S. universities may be prudent.

Our advice is that you become aware of graduation projections and petroleum industry employment outlook for people with petroleum engineering degrees. For example, between fall 2011 and fall 2012, the number of freshmen in petroleum engineering programs in the U.S. increased from 1,388 to 2,153, a 55% jump in one year. Based on the many inquiries and applications TAMU is receiving for the petroleum engineering major, the number of U.S. students in petroleum engineering will probably continue a strong upward trend, as long as the employment market remains stable. These days, a very large number of people are already studying in petroleum engineering programs (see attachment, showing data made available through the Society of Petroleum Engineers, SPE), at a time when: the number of recent graduates, who began their studies several years ago, is already at about historical highs and growing rapidly (see attachment); our program’s board of industry advisors are recommending that we “do not grow” our undergraduate program at this time; and oil and natural gas price projections and expectations of U.S. governmental policy influences are viewed as not particularly encouraging by the U.S. petroleum industry.

We are not trying to discourage you from a career that we think is among the most fascinating, dynamic, challenging careers that exist. However, we also want you to know that the Aggie PETE program is doing the right thing by providing you with information that could end up being important to your future.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2010 annual median pay for a petroleum engineer was $114,080, while the number of jobs in the ten-year period ending 2020 is expected to grow 17%.

Rig count numbers track oil well activity and serve as an indication of petroleum industry jobs.


I graduated with a degree in geology in 1977, which turned out to be accidentally fortuitous timing.  And it’s no surprise that I left the business around 1986, as did many geologists, petroleum engineers, and other industry workers.

Related:  Don’t pick a college major based on today’s hot jobs (Cost of College)

13 Responses to “A warning to petroleum engineering students”

  1. Students are very given to following fads in majors. Computer science has had roller coaster enrollments for decades—far more extreme than the job market for programmers, which is already rather variable.


  2. “Graduates with strong quantitative skills always do better in the job market, and I don’t see that changing …”

    I can see that.

    That’s interesting that most engineers you worked with had graduate degrees. I sense that is not the case with other engineers like petroleum or civil. Anecdotal, I hear about engineers going for MBAs as a way to move up in a company.


  3. It would be good for students to know which careers are more volatile than others. Oil has been boom or bust for decades. Architecture is dependent on building booms, so I imagine that’s up there on the list.

    Wait, which career path is NOT volatile? Accounting?


  4. I really appreciate their honesty for writing this letter.

    Bonnie said:

    “I met many kids whose dads had been laid off in various Boeing downturns.”

    That was before my time, but I remember hearing that “Will the last person to leave Seattle please turn off the lights,” was a joke of the day.


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  6. I respect the director of TAMU PE so ***damn much for this!

    [Comment was edited to meet blog language guidelines]


  7. Hi Grace,

    Great article. The chart definitely gives an indication of the reality of petroleum engineering and the oil rigging industry. There could be all sorts of obstacles such as political reasons that can keep the industry from really going back to those late 70′s, early 80′s boom days.

    It is true that many engineers do get an MBA to broaden their skill scope. As you mentioned, graduates with strong quantitative skills do perform better in the job market. Coupled with more of a business mindset developed through an MBA, the candidate becomes highly sought after. One of the biggest hiring job markets for engineers with MBAs is consulting, which can make a very lucrative salary with expertise on both the business and science/math background.

    Keep up the great work!


  8. Greetings Grace- First of all, thanks for publishing this report. TAMU is showing transperancy by informing students ahead of time, no wonder they are a great school with even better ethics. It’s a wake up call for everyone who is pursuing this major. Despite the concern, I am still a firm believer in the growth of this industry in other parts of the world if not in United States. As someone mentioned earlier in the comments, a petroleum engineer will have to broaden their skills (a white collar approach) in order to land a good paying job. There are no guarantees about the future… students with the right attitude will find a way forward in this field for sure.. Great read… Keep it up!


  9. am a petroleum engineer student.i want to school or study at a university in us.god please hear my cry


  10. There are many factors that influence career success, including those touched on above such as market demand and education. Individual factors such as drive, work ethic, and attitude probably play a larger role than these, in my opinion. Specific company circumstances such as culture, politics, and relative success in attainment of early career mentorship can also propel one upward or stall/derail success. In any case, one should expect there to be ups and downs and unexpected changes along the way. I advised my son to pursue petroleum engineer based on my own highly successful career in the industry, and my observation of the diverse opportunity set that spans the huge spectrum of E&P, the industry that has fueled the world economy since the industrial revolution and will certainly not be displaced for many more generations. The bottom line, however, is that compensation can never outweigh passion for the work in assuring career satisfaction.


  11. Jude, we have enough students, and enough engineers already. Why don’t you help grow the economy in your country?



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