What Can You Do With a Chemistry Degree?
| Doug Wintemute
Are you ready to discover your college program?
A chemistry degree can open up rewarding professional pathways in the life, physical, and social sciences.
The chemistry field challenges professionals to develop improvements to medicines, manufacturing processes, and health and safety measures. Students interested in problem-solving, chemical properties, and critical analysis will find exciting and rewarding professions in chemistry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an annual median salary of $77,630 for chemists in 2019.
COVID-19 hurt many careers in chemistry, but the pandemic also demonstrated the importance of the field, particularly for those working in pharmaceuticals, healthcare, and medical research industries.
This guide explores what a chemistry degree can offer students, including information on potential careers in chemistry and required education for employment.
Careers in Chemistry
Chemistry graduates can pursue careers in varied industries. Their advanced and specialized skills apply to engineering, technology, healthcare, and pharmaceutical professions, along with careers in the energy and environmental sectors.
Chemistry professionals can make research discoveries or solve chemical-based problems, or they can work in chemical manufacturing. By choosing a chemistry specialization or taking an interdisciplinary approach, learners can stretch their career options even further. The table below showcases several careers available to chemists after graduation.
Associate or Bachelor's Degree Required
|Median Salary: $49,260||Projected Job Growth: 3%|
Chemical technicians assist chemists with lab experiments. They typically work in testing facilities and pharmaceutical organizations. These professionals need strong STEM knowledge and experience working with laboratory techniques and instruments.
|Median Salary: $59,150||Projected Job Growth: 14%|
Forensic science technicians collect and analyze evidence. They typically work for the government, applying their skills in laboratories, though they may also do field work. Some professionals specialize in areas like toxicology or DNA.
|Median Salary: $65,160||Projected Job Growth: 6%|
Agricultural and food scientists seek out methods to improve food supply and products. They may work with animals, plants, or soil to enhance food production or quality. Some find employment in food processing or packaging facilities.
|Median Salary: $71,360||Projected Job Growth: 8%|
Environmental scientists seek solutions to pollution, climate change, and health and safety concerns. They study air, soil, and water quality to identify trends and offer policy recommendations.
|Median Salary: $78,790||Projected Job Growth: 5%|
Chemists and materials scientists study the physical and chemical properties of various substances. They can work in manufacturing, research and development, and medicine. Some specialize in areas like sustainability, forensics, or analysis.
|Median Salary: $91,410||Projected Job Growth: 5%|
Biomedical engineers research and develop new equipment, materials, and devices for medical applications. They design improvements for drug therapies and use research to explore chemical effects on living things.
|Median Salary: $108,770||Projected Job Growth: 4%|
Chemical engineers use their chemistry knowledge to develop or evaluate health and safety protocols, government regulations, and manufacturing processes. They often work in life sciences research and development, petroleum manufacturing, and wholesale trade industries.
|Median Salary: $129,100||Projected Job Growth: 5%|
Natural sciences managers typically oversee research and scientist teams within the life sciences and manufacturing industries. They may handle team and administrative management functions, review research and lab work, or develop and lead projects.
Master's or Doctoral Degree Required
|Median Salary: $79,550||Projected Job Growth: 9%|
Postsecondary chemistry teachers educate college-level chemistry students and maintain laboratory equipment. They also conduct research projects and lab work, and often publish their findings.
|Median Salary: $88,790||Projected Job Growth: 6%|
Medical scientists improve health outcomes by investigating diseases, analyzing drug efficacy, and developing medical devices. These professionals work in research and development, education, hospitals, and manufacturing.
|Median Salary: $94,490||Projected Job Growth: 4%|
Biochemists study living organisms and processes and use their findings to improve medical, agricultural, and environmental outcomes. They explore chemical properties and principles at work in humans, animals, and medical treatments.
|Median Salary: $203,450||Projected Job Growth: 4%|
Physicians treat patients with illnesses, injuries, and various health concerns. These professionals usually specialize in one of many disciplines, such as surgery, pediatrics, or family care. Physicians can earn undergraduate degrees in chemistry, but they also must attend medical school.
What Kinds of Chemistry Degrees Are There?
Chemistry degrees come in many forms, each with a unique set of courses, concentrations, and career pathways. Prospective students should consider their educational interests and career goals when choosing their degrees. Readers can find information on the major degree levels below.
Associate Degree in Chemistry
An associate degree in chemistry covers chemistry, laboratory, and research fundamentals. Most programs include topics in organic chemistry, chemical engineering, and applied research.
These programs typically span 60 credits and two years, though some institutions may offer accelerated or part-time schedules. In addition to preparing graduates for bachelor's degrees in various disciplines, associate degrees can lead to entry-level careers in chemistry.
Associate-level graduates can find work as chemical technicians, food science technicians, and environmental science technicians.
Bachelor of Chemistry Degree
A bachelor's degree in chemistry provides the foundational and advanced training necessary for many careers in chemistry. In addition to mathematics and the sciences, bachelor's-level enrollees study chemistry subdisciplines, such as biochemistry, physical and inorganic chemistry, and pharmacology. These programs often emphasize practical training to prepare learners for research, development, and laboratory work.
Most bachelor's degrees require 120 credits and take four years to complete. Specialization options in disciplines like materials, pharmaceutical, and analytical chemistry can lead students to pursue corresponding career pathways.
Professional roles for bachelor's-level workers in chemistry include materials engineer, clinical laboratory technician, and environmental scientist.
Master's Degree in Chemistry
A master's degree in chemistry delves into more advanced chemistry concepts and practical applications. The training emphasizes mathematics, life sciences, laboratory instrumentation, and research and development. Typically, master's degrees require 30-45 credits, take two years to complete, and require a bachelor's degree to apply.
While many master's-level students pursue doctoral degrees after graduation, their research and practical skills also equip them for advanced careers in chemistry, like chemist or materials scientist and biomedical engineer. Most learners specialize their studies by concentrating in areas like environmental chemistry, catalytic processes, or molecular spectroscopy.
Doctoral Degree in Chemistry
A doctoral degree in chemistry equips graduates to tackle complex laboratory problems. Students acquire research, development, and leadership skills while advancing scholarship in their chosen subfield. Many Ph.D. students take on professional research or teaching positions during their studies.
In general, doctoral programs take 4-7 years to complete. Learners choose specializations like theoretical chemistry, chemical synthesis, or chemical physics. The degree qualifies graduates for most advanced careers in chemistry, including as postsecondary chemistry teachers, medical scientists, and biochemists.
What Can You Do With a Degree in Chemical Engineering?
A degree in chemical engineering can lead to many of the same opportunities as those presented by a chemistry degree, but differences in training may result in divergent professional pathways. Chemistry tends to focus on the research and analysis of chemical properties and principles, whereas chemical engineering focuses on the applications of those findings.
Chemical engineering degrees have the same timelines as chemistry degrees: two years for an associate, four years for a bachelor's, two years for a master's, and 4-7 years for a doctoral degree. Graduates can find employment as chemical engineers and health and safety engineers.
Accreditation for Chemistry Programs
Before settling on a degree, prospective students should check the accreditation status of the school or program. Degree-conferring institutions should hold regional accreditation. Attending a school that is not regionally accredited can affect financial aid and employment opportunities.
In the chemistry field, programmatic accreditation is not mandatory, but it can assure students that their program meets industry standards. The American Chemical Society, for example, recognizes and approves only those programs that provide the most rigorous and preparatory training for chemists.
Certification and Licensure
After completing a chemistry degree, graduates can pursue industry certifications. These optional credentials demonstrate professional excellence and experience, bolstering resumes and improving professional opportunities. There are two main certifications for chemists.
The certified professional chemist (CPC) credential recognizes professionals with bachelor's degrees in chemistry who have at least 300 certification units accrued over three years. It is designed for chemists working primarily in laboratory settings.
Applicants can earn these certification units through continuing education, by contributing to publications, and for participating in professional activities. The CPC credential lasts for three years, and certified professionals can renew the credential by continuing to satisfy certification unit requirements over that time period.
The certified chemical engineer (CChE) credential recognizes professionals with a bachelor's-level education in chemical engineering and a minimum of 300 certification units over three years. It is designed primarily for chemical engineers.
Candidates can acquire certification units via continuing education, publications, and professional activities. The CChE credential lasts three years. Renewal requires completing 300 certification units within this period.
Chemistry Professional Organizations
ACS was founded in 1876 and now represents over 150,000 members. This organization provides members with access to scientific publications, professional development opportunities, and an extensive professional network. ACS also advocates for the greater inclusion of science in public policy, education, and environmental decisions.
Founded in 2014, AACT represents chemistry educators in K-12 classrooms. The association improves access to professional and classroom resources, offers networking opportunities for members, and provides professional development opportunities. Members can also access industry news and publications.
The ASBMB, founded in 1906, promotes the biochemistry industry and its professionals through publications, events, and advocacy. The organization fights for scientific education at all levels and diversity in the field. Members can access education and career opportunities.
AACC represents clinical laboratory science professionals, advocating for growth in analytics in laboratories and laboratory medicine. They also offer access to a large collaborative network, along with publications, education, and industry events.
With more than 60,000 members, AIChE is the largest network of chemical engineering professionals. The organization connects members with industry events, professional development resources, and collaboration opportunities. Members also receive access to training resources and industry publications.
This committee aims to improve the participation and retention of women in ACS and chemistry-related careers. The organization advocates for inclusivity and diversity while providing career and leadership opportunities for its most promising members. Members can access industry news, join a local chapter, or attend various programs and events.
NOBCChE promotes diversity in the sciences by advocating for more supportive programs and improved academic and professional opportunities for Black chemistry students. This organization runs science-related programs at the grassroots level, mentor programs for high school students, and professional development programs for college and university students.
Frequently Asked Questions
With a chemistry degree, graduates can pursue careers in the life sciences, like biology and biochemistry. While most careers in chemistry require a bachelor's degree at minimum, associate degree-holders can still pursue entry-level positions, like lab technician.
The highest-paying chemistry degree jobs typically require doctorates. Biochemists and biophysicists, for instance, earn a median annual salary of $94,490. The top 10% in the field earned a median salary of more than $182,870 as of 2019.
BLS projections indicate a 5% employment growth rate from 2019-2029 for life sciences professions and chemists and materials scientists — on par with the national average. The medicine, pharmaceutical, and nanotechnology industries generate significant demand for these workers.
Chemistry graduates face a competitive job market, but candidates with advanced training and strong laboratory experience should still be able to find relevant work.
Header Image Credit: Maskot | Getty Images
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