Among the physical sciences, chemistry is one of the most in-demand in terms of employability in both the public and private sectors. As such, graduates of chemistry degree programs often have a multitude of options that lead to fruitful and successful careers. In fact, the average wage of those in the workforce is about $110,000 per annum, with a potential salary increase of 0.751% (Queen’s University, n.d.).
Students in chemistry programs have the opportunity to hone a multitude of skills, such as analytical and critical thinking, laboratory skills, research skills, and communication skills as early as the first two years of general education coursework. Chemistry also allows students to choose their specializations from theoretical chemistry to applied chemistry. This article will serve as a guide in taking your first steps towards a career in chemistry.
Chemistry definition describes it as a field of science concerned with the composition, structure, and characteristics of matter. It is primarily concerned with atomic and molecular structure and their transformation, such as in the case of chemical reactions. It is sometimes referred to as the central science.
Students receive a degree in chemistry through didactical work and laboratory courses on the theoretical and practical elements of the field. Chemistry provides an opportunity for fascinating disciplines to study and work in, such as environmental science and chemical engineering.
Some of the chemistry degree skills that most programs cover are:
Additionally, coursework is mainly composed of subjects within the following subdisciplines:
In most programs, students have the option to undertake specialized courses such as:
A degree in chemistry provides a wide variety of careers in business, industry, and teaching. Although the majority of the vacancies for graduates in chemistry are available in the medical, food, and chemical engineering sectors, there are also career paths in education, manufacturing, and even information technology.
The industry is also one of the leading sectors in diversity, especially when it comes to jobs, innovation, and collaboration. According to the study Jobs, Collaborations, and Women Leaders of the Global Chemistry Enterprise: An Overview, the global chemistry enterprise is a significant contributor to employment and gross domestic products in different countries (Cheng et al., 2015).
The researchers indicated that the key to the success of the global chemistry enterprise is the people involved within industrial and government laboratories. An important aspect of the industry is the diversity of those involved in it. “Over the past forty years, the number of women in the chemistry enterprise has steadily increased; currently, almost one-third of the chemistry workforce are women,” the study noted.
It underlines the importance and the effects of working together, especially in the international arena. “More than 35% of scientific articles today are the results of international collaborations among researchers from different countries,” the research highlights.
And there has been active participation among various organizations to facilitate better collaboration among chemistry professionals. “A number of other organizations and businesses have been working to develop collaborative programs and activities in order to facilitate innovation and to further the organization’s strategic goals.”
Bachelor’s programs often follow the current average trend of chemistry degree tuition fees, which is around $28,000 for most four-year institutions. This does not include other expenses, such as laboratory fees, books, accommodation, and more. As such, many students are under some form of financial aid or scholarship. Fortunately, chemistry majors can expect meaningful careers after graduation.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data indicates several chemical occupations, including forensic scientists, physicians, and environmental scientists, will enjoy a rise in employment from 2019 to 2029. The possibilities depend on industry and education level.
Chemistry students in associate programs are prepared for positions as research technicians and laboratory assistants. Additionally, undergraduate studies lead to more advanced jobs, such as chemists, engineers, and head technologists. An advanced chemistry degree leads to employment as a consultant, college instructor, and more.
A study path in chemistry opens students to a wide range of opportunities and specializations that lead to advanced academic programs, such as pharmaceuticals, chemical engineering, and even medicine. These will then lead to careers in both the public and private sectors, from academic research institutes to multinational oil companies.
Most programs in physical sciences provide technical and soft skills, which allow graduates to thrive in many chemistry degree jobs. Laboratory experience, research skills, and critical thinking are highly sought after in most, if not all, organizations.
Aside from being chemists, those who pursue advanced degrees or possess years of experience in their fields can look into specialized roles, such as engineers, consultants, and even positions in public offices. Lucrative opportunities are also available in sectors like oil and petroleum, pharmaceuticals, and medicine.
Science-based research firms desire chemistry graduates. Depending on their specializations, they can find a profession in a pharmaceutical or metallurgical organization. Many conduct scientific research and analysis for commercial laboratories.
Source: American Chemical Society, 2015
An undergraduate degree in chemistry also provides students with scientific knowledge to become a patent attorney, particularly in the field of intellectual property law. Many graduates of chemistry choose to continue teaching in school or universities, while some are studying for MSc or Ph.D.
According to the ACS report Supply and Demand of Chemists in the United States, chemistry graduates have been continuously in demand for the past decade or so. An increasing number of students recognize the value of a career in chemistry as “data sources indicate significant increases in bachelor’s degrees in chemistry beginning in 2005” (Hoerter et al., 2015).
“The ACS-CPT data, comprised of self-reported data from over 600 institutions, indicates the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded rose from around 10,000 in 2000 up to almost 16,000 in 2011, a 60% increase.” the report added. Similarly, data sources also noted the same upward trend in the number of chemistry graduates.
And, the researchers highlighted that multiple opportunities are available to graduates. Trends indicate that “‘Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing’ and ‘Scientific Research and Development Services have been the top two employers since 2002.”
Interestingly, “it appears that there is a trend away from large industrial employment of chemists and towards a services-based model.” The report also showed that chemistry professionals are no longer tied to large corporations, especially when they want to hold higher positions and explore better opportunities.
“There is a shift away from very large companies (>10,000 employees) to medium (500 to 9,999) or small (<500) companies.” The researchers highlight the benefit of this trend, mainly “as graduates join companies that are smaller, they also are landing in positions that are more diverse than in the past.”
Chemists work in research and development laboratories to medical production in a range of places. For example, graduates of chemistry degree programs are paid to create new materials by manufacturers, conduct pharmacology testing by pharmaceutical organizations, and monitor environmental conditions by government agencies.
Those new in the field of chemistry with less than a year of experience are expected to earn about $71,000 annually. Salaries dramatically increase as the chemist earns more experience and training. Those with more than 10 years of experience can expect an average of $113,000 annual salary.
Chemistry degree types vary in coverage and duration. University-based chemical programs range from one to the highest degree in chemistry that you can earn. Depending on the degree in chemistry you pick, it may take from one to four years to acquire a diploma.
Average time to complete: Two years
An associate program covers the basics of biology, physics, and chemistry. It also includes general education courses in English, social sciences, and the humanities, supported by additional mathematics lessons. These programs can lead to positions, such as agricultural laboratory assistants, research associates, and conservation technicians.
An associate degree in chemistry can also complement other STEM or business degrees, which prepare students to take up jobs in specialty enterprises.
Entry-level jobs: Research assistant, laboratory assistant, teacher’s assistant
Average time to complete: Four years
Students study the fundamentals of the field’s five subgroups across four years of laboratory and lecture courses: analytical, physical, organic, inorganic, and biochemistry. Introductory and advanced natural sciences and mathematics courses are also included in bachelor’s degrees in chemistry.
For instance, in environmental sciences and ecology, chemistry lessons highlight substances and processes linked to water, air, and land. On the other hand, biochemistry training is focused on the chemical base of living systems.
A chemistry bachelor’s degree might lead to careers as laboratory specialists, researchers, or science teachers. Students with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry can also pursue advanced studies.
Entry-level jobs: Chemist, researcher, laboratory specialist, chemistry teacher
Average time to complete: One to three years
Chemistry master’s degrees differ depending on the school and specialty. It takes around two years on average to complete. Most schools allow students to specialize in areas, such as environmental chemistry, material science, or forensic chemistry.
Graduate programs help students develop advanced research and laboratory abilities. Students obtain a deeper understanding of theoretical and practical elements of chemistry, which they will apply to a thesis or final project. A master’s degree in chemistry can lead to roles such as head researcher, senior industrial chemist, or community college lecturer.
Entry-level jobs: College instructor, head researcher, industry specialist, industrial chemist
Average time to complete: At least four years
It might take three to 10 years to complete a Ph.D. in chemistry. Post-graduate programs in chemistry expand on current knowledge and abilities while students specialize in a particular field of study. Students complete credits and requirements through lectures, seminars, and laboratory courses to prepare for a comprehensive test during the first stage of a chemistry doctoral program. Following a satisfactory proof of skill in the field, students complete a thorough research project and write a thesis or dissertation.
Entry-level jobs: College professor, laboratory manager, environmental specialist, materials scientist
While not all institutions need prior chemistry study, the great majority consider it essential chemistry degree prerequisites. As most colleges presume prior knowledge of chemistry, university-level courses may not cover some of the chemistry fundamentals taught in school.
Proof of Graduation and Personal Statement
Application to a chemistry degree program requires that you have finished high school or proof of finishing a GED program. Most institutions will require you to submit a personal statement detailing your intent and reason for taking on a study program in chemistry. It can also be used to showcase your current coursework and achievements.
If you are planning a career in chemistry, your first steps start after primary school. You should be taking STEM classes, especially chemistry. Some of the desired courses may also include:
SAT or ACT score
Typically, higher education institutions do not require specific SAT or ACT scores, but you will be competing against other students, so better scores will increase your chances of getting into your desired program. On average, applicants have between 28 to 34 in ACT scores (Sawyer, 2021) and 1300 to 1500 for SAT (Moody, 2020). You will need higher scores if you are applying to a competitive university or a scholarship.
Analytical and Critical Thinking Skills
Students should have a strong scientific and mathematical background. When performing experiments, you will be expected to employ and remember a number of formulas. Your critical thinking and analytical abilities will allow you to examine the information and develop conclusions. Additionally, you will also be asked to present your results and analyze or evaluate insights.
A key part of chemistry degree programs is laboratory work. While not explicitly required by most colleges or universities, it is best if you have at least some experience in a laboratory, including relevant methods and best practices.
You will be conducting a lot of research and presenting its results in papers. As such, you should have a good handle of the English language and the appropriate academic writing style.
Chemistry degree programs will depend heavily on the institutions. Aside from the curriculum and coursework, look for the college or universities’ infrastructure and facilities. Since laboratory work is an important part of chemistry, the higher education institution of your choice should be able to provide adequate laboratories and relevant equipment.
Chemistry is a large field, which means you have the opportunity to specialize even at the undergraduate level. You can opt to concentrate on physical chemistry, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, and/or biochemistry. You can also take industry-specific programs, such as environmental chemistry, forensic chemistry, polymer chemistry, and more.
Students seeking a chemistry degree should first evaluate the accreditation status of possible colleges and programs. Colleges and universities with programs in chemistry must be regionally accredited to guarantee they meet the field’s educational requirements.
The American Chemical Society (ACS) may also provide programmatic accreditation to chemistry schools or programs within universities. Chemistry programs certified by the ACS indicate adherence to and support for the organization’s academic criteria for chemistry education. It supports effective training, innovation, and diversity in chemistry education in order to improve the profession as a whole.
Financial aids are available for students who are in need of support. Be sure to ask your institution of choice for available programs. Similarly, merit-based scholarships are available to chemistry majors offered by the following organizations:
A chemistry degree is one of the most versatile fields of study, especially in hard sciences. Students in the program have the opportunity to specialize in specific areas of chemistry once they are in the final two years. Graduates also have the option to choose various career tracks in the academe, public service, and private sector.
Those with advanced degrees can even pursue highly specialized positions, from petroleum experts to doctors. Skills and experience in chemistry are highly transferable to different industries, which makes the field a worthwhile study path.