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What Can You Do With a Chemistry Degree?

What Can You Do With a Chemistry Degree?

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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

Chemical Technicians

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.

Forensic Science Technicians

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.

Agricultural/Food Scientists

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.

Environmental Scientists

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.

Chemists and Materials Scientists

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.

Biomedical Engineers

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.

Chemical Engineers

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.

Natural Sciences Managers

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

Postsecondary Chemistry Teacher

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.

Medical Scientists

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.

Biochemists and Biophysicists

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.

Physicians

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.

Certified Professional Chemist

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.

Certified Chemical Engineer

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