PayScale.com  periodically updates their list of Best Undergrad College Degrees by Salary  and earlier this year the list was led by Aerospace Engineering – rocket scientists. It’s not surprising to see that much of the top ten is unchanged, it’s still filled with engineers of all varieties, from Chemical to Electrical to Nuclear, but this was the first time I’ve seen Petroleum Engineering on the list.
My lovely wife graduated with a Chemical Engineering degree several years ago and many of her friends went to work for large energy companies working with petroleum. I don’t know how Petroleum Engineering differs from Chemical Engineering, other than being a specialization, but it’s been a poorly kept secret in the Chemical Engineering world that the best salaries are in working with oil.
Does this mean you should rush out to get a petroleum engineering degree? PayScale.com looks at median starting pay as well as “mid-career” median pay, so it’s a little more balanced, but a lot can change in four years. Petroleum engineering may be hot now but unless you love it, it may not be what you expect in four years. Or ten. I went to school for computer science in 1998 because it was the hot thing, fast forward three years and you hit the point people remember as the dot com bust (March 2001). So here I was, graduating early into a busted market and everyone in lockdown mode. It’s since recovered but it still hasn’t reached the excesses I was hoping to enjoy back in the day!
That being said, I’m now of the mind that if you work hard and do what you enjoy, you will succeed. You may not uncork untold fortunes but at the very least you’ll enjoy the ride. If that happens to be Petroleum Engineering, then PayScale.com thinks you’ll be pulling in over $150k a year by mid-career.