How to get the most out of my degree plan?

//How to get the most out of my degree plan?

How to get the most out of my degree plan?

Optimizing a Petroleum engineering degree

Written and Edited by Sriniketh Sukumar

We’re all engineers in the making, and engineers like to optimize resources. An engineering degree plan comes with certain subtleties and nuances that are often overlooked. So, let’s discuss how we can optimize the resources provided to us in college to optimize our degree plan to better suit our needs. With registration time coming up in the next few weeks, this is the perfect time to talk about this! Some of the stuff discussed here is well known, and some, not as much. So this one’s for all the freshmen/sophomores in the audience.


Good question. I rather like this word because in this context it means several things. If we optimize our degree plan, we can:

  • Graduate early
  • Take extra courses of our interest and still remain on schedule
  • Make minoring/double majoring easier
  • Make extra time for research and other non-scholastic activities
  • Overall, gain more satisfaction from our time in college

So, without further ado, let’s optimize!

Critical points

Every STEM degree consists of a critical path. This would be the sequence of courses that take the longest amount of time to complete, and would hence determine how early we can graduate. So, in order to graduate earlier, we first have to identify the critical pathway for our degree plan, and then find ways to shift these courses back a semester.

For a petroleum engineering degree, there are two sequences that concurrently make up the critical pathway.

Note: Semesters are labeled 1 through 8, where 1 represents fall semester of freshman year and 8 represents spring of senior year.

From the above flowchart we can infer that the sequence of communication courses forms the skeleton of our degree plan. It begins right at the very first semester and carries forward all the way until the very last one. To make matters worse, some of these courses are only offered in certain semesters. For example, both the student paper contests are only offered in spring.

So, what could we do to optimize this?

Communications sequence

Since ENGL 104 is planned for the very first semester, the only way to shift that back would be to claim AP/IB credit for it like I did. If that’s possible, then congratulations, you’ve potentially saved one semester already.

Next, plan to take the communications elective in 1 or 2 or at least the summer after freshman year. The degree plan recommends this course to be done in 3, because not all majors accept all communications elective courses, so it is advised to be admitted into a major before completing this requirement. We recommend ENGL 210 as the preferred Communication elective, because this course is accepted as a communications elective across all majors, so even if you’re not sure you want to major in petroleum engineering, this would be a safe choice.

With these two measures in place, you can begin your sophomore year with PETE 335, and follow the sequence from there. One further bit of good news is that PETE 435 and PETE 437 can quite possibly be taken concurrently. Of course, that means you can potentially save an entire year from your degree! However, this is assuming you’ve met all other requirements…

Technical sequence

This sequence is probably more difficult to optimize because of the courses having multiple prerequisites. We begin with MATH 152, which according to the degree plan is to be taken in 2. However, this course can be completed in high school, assuming you did well on the AP exam. If you can’t or don’t want to claim credit for this course, try to take it as soon as possible, since all other courses depend on this critical starting point. For an extra challenge, consider MATH 172 instead? This course is the same content as MATH 152, but is designed to be more demanding.

Registering for MATH 152 also allows you to concurrently register for the notorious PHYS 208. Too many students like to take this course online or at a community college over the summer instead of at A&M. We recommend this practice, not because of the perceived difficulty of the content of the course, but because it would enable (in most cases) students to complete GEOL 104 in 2 instead of 3. Some students may even have AP credit for PHYS 208, which works out just as well.

The next step would be to progress to MATH 251. Some students enter college with so much credit that they can afford to take this in 1 instead of 3, which would result in a first semester of taking GEOL 104 (which, by the way has no prerequisites), MATH 251 and possibly PHYS 208 among others. On a side note, MATH 308 and MATH 251 can be taken concurrently, just make sure you register for MATH 251 first, and then enter MATH 308 into the system.

Once these prerequisites are met, we can take PETE 311 in the subsequent semester and PETE 310 in the semester after that. In many ways, PETE 310 is the most critical course, because it has so many prerequisites behind it and so many courses lined up in front of it. Indeed, it would be right to say that when you take PETE 310 will determine when you can graduate, because all the courses in 6 depend on it. After 6, the plan is more or less a ladder, and not much could be done to cut down time after 5.

On Electives

Having discussed the critical path, let’s now turn our attention to elective (University core curriculum) subjects. The university and state of Texas mandates these requirements so as to ensure students obtain a broad and well-rounded education. Engineering majors require the following:

First, the two international and cultural diversity (ICD) requirements could be met by choosing a creative arts and Social and behavioral Sciences electives that count for dual credits. The list of these courses can easily be found at

ENGR/PHIL 482 Ethics and Engineering is to be taken in 8, but it has no prerequisites, except for being classified as a junior or senior, so  over the summer or online once you become a junior.

Finally, some of the citizenship requirement courses (i.e. HIST 105,106, POLS 206,207) are more time consuming and difficult than they ought to be, and show too much variance with professor, so you could save time taken in these courses by instead taking over a summer or a winter break, or go a step further and meet these requirements by taking a CLEP or departmental credit exam. This is an opportunity provided by the university where you just take the final exams for these courses, and if a certain grade is achieved, the credit is transferred, without any affect on your GPA. These courses are not too difficult to study for, and the minimum grades are reasonable enough. In addition, pursuing this option probably costs less $$ than taking it at a community college. In fact, even the social and behavioral sciences elective can be completed this way. Follow this link for more information:


The measures outlined in this article only outline a small portion of the degree plan. There are of course, many more requirements to be met. You should always choose a schedule that you are comfortable with handling, but at the same time be aware of where you are in the sequence of courses. Being planned and prepared is its own reward. One note on overloading courses though: Some students like a challenge, and indeed, stepping out of one’s comfort zone is one of the many things college is about, but we advise you to know your limits, and warn against overloading beyond your capability, in an attempt to get ahead.

Disclaimer: The content in this article does not constitute formal academic advice and should not be treated as such. Always check with your academic advisor(s) before registering for courses.

The Degree Plan


Leave A Comment

Welcome Ags!

Welcome to the 2020-2021 academic year. Have a blast!