Petroleum Geoscience (MSc and PGDip)


Gain a valued MSc in Petroleum Geoscience by distance learning

Finding new reserves and recovering existing reserves is becoming increasingly important. As a Petroleum Geoscientist, you’ll work with geological and geophysical data and be able to apply it in a variety of ways.

This University of London course:

  • is ideal for hydrocarbon industry professionals who wish to develop their knowledge and skills alongside their work;
  • has an international reputation for excellence in the petroleum industry;
  • provides training in the skills needed to address a range of exploration and production challenges;
  • produces successful industry professionals who go on to work in oil companies, geoscience IT, consultancy, and academia.

Programme details

The MSc is developed by Royal Holloway at one of the UK’s leading centres for Earth Science research. Boasting excellent global links and industry-funded petroleum geology research, the centre offers an up-to-date and commercially relevant Master’s course that has been running on-campus since 1985.

Programme You study Study period Cost (2017-2018)
MSc 6 modules + project 2-5 years £14,655
Postgraduate Diploma 6 modules 2-5 years £12,042
Individual modules taken on a stand-alone basis Ideal for you to update your professional knowledge and enhance your career. £2,148

How you study / Programme features

The skills you gain from this course range from predicting the distribution of hydrocarbons in a frontier sedimentary basin to quantifying the complex structural, stratigraphic and sedimentological architecture of individual reservoirs.

As a distance-learning student, you receive:

Comprehensive learning materials

Your materials are provided via a dedicated Virtual Learning Environment. These include:

  • Videos and audio-visual presentations;
  • Fully illustrated manuals;
  • Self-assessment quizzes and exercises;
  • Computer-based practicals including examples of subsurface data.

Outstanding tutorial support

Royal Holloway staff provide tutorial support for each module, as well as guidance for your assignments and your independent research project. You can discuss course material and exercises with these online tutors.

Networking opportunities

A virtual student café allows you to interact and network with other students from across the globe.

UK field trip and study experience

You'll be invited to attend a two-week field trip and study session in the UK as part of the final module. (See video above.)


The course is designed to allow you to fit your studies around your work and family commitments. You have the option to exit with a Postgraduate Diploma award if you decide not to undertake the project.

Your time commitment

Each module runs with tutor support for three months of the academic year. It remains available during the rest of the year for preview and revision.

If you take two taught modules per academic year you should expect to study for about 20 hours per week between October and March. See the 'Study Materials' tab for more detail.

Summary of key dates

Petroleum Geoscience
Application deadline 15 September
Registration deadline 1 October
Course starts October
Examinations take place Early June



Structure and Syllabus

MSc: 6 compulsory core modules plus the independent research project
PG Dip: 6 compulsory core modules

Six core modules

Tectonics and lithosphere dynamics

The module comprises three parts. The first introduces students to modern plate tectonic theory and our understanding of plate tectonic processes based on earthquake data, tomography, gravity and magnetics. The second part of the module applies that to different tectonic settings and examines how our understanding of the mechanical properties of plates can be applied to understanding deformation, subsidence and heat flow. The third part examines different terranes through the interpretation of remote sensed imagery and includes training in the use of GIS systems as a tool for such interpretation, as well as the broader use of GIS systems in compiling geological databases.

Geophysical analysis

This module comprises three parts. The first covers the principles of seismic wave theory, the various steps involved in the processing of seismic data and the limitations of the technique in terms of imaging the subsurface. The second is an introduction to seismic interpretation and covers the basics of horizon and fault correlation, tying seismic data to well data, 2D and 3D interpretation methodologies. The third part focuses on horizon processing, attribute analysis and amplitude analysis, including an introduction to AVO. The second and third parts of the module both involve considerable workstation based practical exercises.

Structural analysis

The module comprises three parts. The first two parts look at large scale structures found in sedimentary basins where students are introduced to the types of structures found in different structural settings through a combination of learning materials and the interpretation of seismic data and remotely sensed imagery. The third part involves an introduction to the theory of section balancing and structural restoration techniques and their practical application using a combination of paper based and workstation based exercises.

Sedimentology and stratigraphy

The module comprises three parts. The first examines clastic sedimentary systems in terms of processes and different depositional environments. The second examines carbonate sedimentary systems and the application of sequence stratigraphy to the understanding of carbonate platforms and ramps. The third introduces the principles of stratigraphy and develops a thorough understanding of sequence stratigraphic concepts in clastic systems.

Reservoir geoscience

The module has three parts. The first two are primarily concerned with the qualitative and quantitative interpretation of data obtained from commonly used well logging techniques (gamma ray, calliper, SP, sonic, density, neutron, resistivity, dip meter and image logs tools) and their use to determine the lithological and petrophysical characteristics of hydrocarbon reservoirs. The third involves the study of rock physics and rock mechanics, the former to integrate well log data with seismic data to study the geophysical characterisation of reservoirs using AVO and seismic inversion techniques, as well as the modelling of potential AVO responses.

Petroleum systems

The module comprises four week-long courses. The first week introduces the concept of petroleum systems, and places particular emphasis on understanding source rocks and hydrocarbon generation in the context of basin evolution. The second week moves to the analysis of individual prospects, looking at seals, trap formation, play analysis, prospect risking and economic analysis. The final two weeks give students (working in teams) the opportunity to apply these concepts to case studies based on industry data – first of all in a series of shorter practical exercises looking at petroleum systems in a number of different tectonic settings and finally through a more in-depth analysis of individual data sets.

The Petroleum Systems module includes fieldwork. This involves 14 days of face-to-face fieldwork incorporating group work and academic lectures. The fieldtrip usually takes place in April or May. 

Independent research project (MSc only)

Independent research project

The module is research-based, but involves individual reviews of project proposals with supervisors, regular review consultations with supervisors, progress reports to supervisors,and individual supervision as required. Students are required to produce a report of 10,000-15,000 words. To do the project an applicant must be employed in the industry, or be able to demonstrate adequate support from a company for access to material and facilities for the project work.

Petroleum systems includes fieldwork.

Study materials

How you study

Comprehensive learning materials are delivered via a dedicated web portal. These include video clips, animations, audiovisual presentations, fully illustrated manuals, self-assessment quizzes, exercises and computer-based practicals.

When you register we will also provide:

  • a core textbook for certain modules
  • a Student Handbook which includes practical advice on how to study, how to access and use the online learning facility, and how to progress through the degree
  • login details for the student portal where you will be able to access the virtual learning environment
  • email account, student registration card and other resources.

Virtual Learning Environment

You will be given access to the Virtual Learning Environment when you register. The VLE allows you to:

  • access your course materials
  • take part in discussions with your tutor and other students as shown in the course schedule [PDF 1pg 139KB]
  • receive notices, seminar dates, project support and other programme-related information
  • ask questions regarding the administration of the programme
  • seek help for technical problems that you encounter.

Time commitment

It is difficult to be precise about how many hours you will need to spend studying to complete the course because individuals differ in their speed of learning and in the expertise that they already have. However a reasonable expectation for study and exam preparation would be around 200 hours for each module.

If you aim to complete the MSc or PG Diploma and take two taught modules per academic year you should expect to spend around 20 hours per week from October to March studying module material and completing coursework, and then a similar amount of time up until early June preparing for exams.

If you aim to complete the MSc in two or three years [PDF 1pg 145KB], the time required per week will be substantially higher. If you want to take more than three years to complete the course you should still aim to spend 20 hours a week when a module is running, but obviously you may have periods during the academic year when you are not studying any modules.



The fees below refer to the 2017-2018 academic year only and are effective from 1 March 2017. Fees are subject to annual review. 

Registration fee£ 1,692
Fee per module (except the Project)£ 1,725
Project fee (MSc only)£ 2,613
Total Postgraduate Diploma£ 12,042
Total MSc*£ 14,655
Total per Individual module (taken on a stand-alone basis)£ 2,148
ConvertGBP x 1

Disclaimer: the currency conversion tool is provided to you for convenience only and does not constitute an endorsement or approval by the University of London; the exchange rates are provided dynamically via a third-party source, consequently, the University of London International Programmes is not responsible for their accuracy.

*please also note the other costs for module PGM651 Petroleum Systems.

When to pay

Fees may be paid in one of two ways:

  • Either pay the total fee on registration by making a single payment, this covers the registration fee and all module fees.
  • Or if you prefer to spread out your payments, pay the registration fee plus the fee for each module you want to take in the first year, and then in following years pay the fee for each new module you take.

How to pay

All University fees must be paid in pounds sterling (GBP). The University accepts:

  • Western Union - Quick Pay
  • Credit/debit card (Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, Electron, JCB)
  • Sterling banker's draft/cheque
  • International money/postal order

Further details are given in payment methods.

Other costs

In addition to the fees payable to the University, you should also budget for:

  • the fee charged by your local examination centre to cover its costs; this fee will vary.
  • the costs associated with module PGM651 Petroleum Systems; there is a compulsory residential school session at Royal Holloway and a field trip in southern England. The full cost of the field trip will be approximately £1,200 including transport in the field, accommodation each night, and breakfast each morning. This estimate does not include the cost of travelling to the UK from overseas should you need to, or the cost of arranging a visa should you require one.


If you are a UK or EU national and you have lived in England for three years, you could be eligible to apply for a Postgraduate Loan.


Fees are subject to annual revision and typically may be increased by up to 5% per annum. For a full list fees that may be applicable, please see the fee schedule.



Each module, with the exception of the Project, will be assessed by one two-hour unseen written paper (80%) and one or more individual assignments (20%). The Project will be assessed by means of a project report (100%).

Examinations by written paper usually take place in June each year. We have exam centres in over 180 countries worldwide, so you can sit your examinations wherever is most convenient (please see our Assessment and examinations section for further details).


Academic Requirements

Summary of the entrance requirements:

  • An undergraduate degree (e.g. bachelor) which is considered at least comparable to a UK second class honours degree, in a physical science subject related to geoscience. The degree must be awarded from an institution acceptable to the University. An upper second class degree equivalent is beneficial but not essential if you have work experience in the oil and gas industry.
  • Work experience in the oil and gas industry, preferably carrying out evaluation of conventional and/or unconventional petroleum systems, but any technical oil and gas related work will be considered. Sufficient relevant work experience may be considered to replace the requirement for a second class honours degree qualification in geoscience; cases are considered on an individual basis
  • Applicants for the MSc must demonstrate that they have access to interpretation software, data and local expert supervision before they can register for and complete the research project module PGM051 necessary to complete the MSc. Usually this means applicants should be currently in employment with an oil and gas company, but exceptions can be made for students who can arrange data, software and supervision by other means.
  • You do not need to be currently in employment within the oil and gas industry to complete the six taught modules. Successful completion of these modules is sufficient to qualify for a PG Diploma.

English language

You will meet the English language requirement if you have passed, within the past three years
  • (IELTS) International English Language Testing System when an overall score of at least 6.5 is achieved with a minimum of 6.0 in each sub-test
  • (TOEFL) iBT Test of English as a Foreign Language overall score of 92 or above with at least 22 in both Reading and Writing Skills sub-tests and at least 20 in both Speaking and Listening sub-tests.

IT requirements

To study this programme you need a device with access to the internet to use the University of London International Programmes website and the Student Portal. These are where your programme’s study resources are located. Through the Student Portal you can register as a student, enter exams and use your programme’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). The VLE provides you with electronic learning materials, access to the University of London Online Library, networking opportunities, and other resources.

The minimum computing requirement is an internet-connected device with the following:

  • A 7” screen or larger.
  • An html5 compliant browser (e.g. recent versions of Chrome or Firefox but not Internet Explorer).
  • A pdf reader.
  • A word processor capable of generating pdf documents.

For the independent research project (necessary to complete the MSc), different computing specifications may be required. In such cases, the specific requirements will be discussed with the project supervisor at the project design stage. Applicants for the MSc must demonstrate that they have access to interpretation software, data and local expert supervision before they can register for and complete the independent research project module. Usually this means applicants should be currently in employment with an oil and gas company, but exceptions can be made for students who can arrange data, software and supervision by other means.

Fieldtrip requirements

The module Petroleum Systems PGM651 includes fieldwork in the UK which usually takes place for 14 consecutive days in April or May. Student must have suitable field equipment for the trip, including walking boots, warm clothes and a waterproof jacket. Students who require a visa to visit the UK should check the application process with their local British embassy. Royal Holloway can supply an invitation letter to registered students to support an application but cannot guarantee that a visa will be issued.

Academic leaders

Royal Holloway - Department of Earth Sciences

A message from the Programme Director: Professor David Waltham

Programme Director: Dr David WalthamWelcome to the Petroleum Geoscience programme!

As a student of the MSc or PGDip you’ll be studying one of the most important sectors in the world. The hydrocarbon industry caters for needs as diverse as domestic energy, transportation and plastics manufacturing.

Our flexible MSc in Petroleum Geoscience provides you with the ideal training for a career in the hydrocarbon industry and related sectors.

The Petroleum Geoscience MSc has run since 1985 at Royal Holloway’s world-renowned Department of Earth Sciences and since 2009 through distance and flexible learning which allows you study in your own time at your own pace.

We’ve established excellent industry links, and have helped hundreds of graduates to progress into rewarding careers. Study Petroleum Geoscience with Royal Holloway and you’ll graduate with excellent employment prospects in a well-paid sector with job opportunities across the globe.

Our teaching on Petroleum Geoscience is informed by leading research and links to the international oil industry, meaning that you’ll benefit from the most relevant, up-to-date learning. You’ll become a part of a vibrant international graduate community, and make use of our extensive resources as you work towards a rewarding future career.

Apply online

Read blog posts from a Petroleum Geoscience student.

Alumni Inspiration: Victor Adeleke, MSc Petroleum Geoscience, Nigeria

Victor Adeleke studied for his MSc Petroleum Geoscience via distance learning in Nigeria. He speaks about how the Masters will help in his career as a geoscientist.

Alumni Inspiration: Irewole John Ayodele, MSc Petroleum Geoscience, Nigeria

Irewole John Ayodele is a Senior Geologist at an oil company in Nigeria. He speaks about his study experience, including a field trip in the UK, and how his degree has helped him in his job.