What Is a Chemistry Degree?


Updated January 3, 2024

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Degrees in Chemistry

Chemistry majors earn a strong grounding in lab work, an understanding of higher math, and a rigorous interdisciplinary science education.

Chemistry explores the composition, structures, and properties of elements and compounds. Chemists look at types of matter and their interactions to understand existing substances, develop new ones, and identify useful chemical processes.

A chemistry degree trains students in the theoretical and practical aspects of the discipline through didactic and laboratory coursework in natural science and mathematics. With branches of study like environmental science and chemical engineering, chemistry offers opportunities to study and work in a variety of interesting fields.

Accreditation for Chemistry Programs

When looking for a chemistry degree, students should first consider the accreditation status of potential institutions and programs. For chemistry, colleges and universities need to hold regional accreditation to ensure they meed educational standards for the field.

Chemistry schools or programs within institutions may also have programmatic accreditation through the American Chemical Society. Chemistry programs accredited by ACS demonstrate adherence to and support of the group's academic standards for chemistry education. ACS accreditation promotes effective training, innovation, and diversity in chemistry education to enhance the profession as a whole.

What Kinds of Chemistry Degrees Are There?

Associate Degree in Chemistry

An associate degree in chemistry typically lasts two years. The curriculum includes coursework in the fundamentals of biology, physics, and chemistry. Additional classes in mathematics accompany general education courses in English, social science, and the humanities.

Associate degrees in chemistry are a starting point for students who intend to transfer to a bachelor's degree in the discipline. Associate degree graduates can also enter the workforce as research associates, agricultural laboratory assistants, and conservation technicians.

An associate degree in chemistry can also supplement a degree in education or business, preparing individuals to pursue roles in specialized businesses.

Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry

Bachelor's degrees in chemistry include introductory and advanced coursework in natural science and mathematics. Through four years of laboratory and lecture courses, students explore basics of the five subsets of the field: organic, analytical, physical, inorganic, and biochemistry.

For example, chemistry classes in environmental science and ecology emphasize substances and processes related to water, air, and land, while coursework in biochemistry focuses on the chemical basis of biological systems.

A bachelor's degree in chemistry can lead to careers like laboratory specialist, researcher, or science teacher. With a bachelor's degree in chemistry, students can also continue on to a graduate program.

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What Is the Difference Between a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Chemistry?

Many colleges and universities offer both a BA and a BS degree in chemistry. Each typically includes four years of coursework.

A BA in chemistry integrates basic coursework in chemistry, biology, and physics with foundational mathematics. The curriculum is often more flexible than comparable BS degrees — ideal for students who do not intend to pursue graduate study, medical school, or work in a laboratory.

A BS in chemistry has a stronger emphasis on mathematics and research skills, often meaning more rigorous science coursework. Students planning to attend medical school often earn a BS in chemistry. With a BS in chemistry, graduates can work as chemists in industrial settings, as environmental scientists, and as employees in pharmaceutical or manufacturing laboratories.

Master's Degree in Chemistry

Master's degrees in chemistry vary by institution and specialization. A general chemistry master's degree includes roughly two years of coursework. Most programs offer concentrations, such as environmental chemistry, forensic chemistry, or material science.

A master's degree in chemistry builds advanced research skills and laboratory competencies. Students gain advanced knowledge of the theoretical and practical aspects of chemistry, often applying what they learn to a thesis or final project. A master's degree in chemistry can lead to positions like head researcher, senior production chemist, or instructor at a community college.

Doctoral Degree in Chemistry

Earning a doctorate in chemistry can take 3-10 years. Doctoral programs in chemistry build on existing knowledge and skills, and students typically focus on a niche research area. Potential areas of study include atmospheric chemistry, educational chemistry, or inorganic chemistry.

During the first part of a chemistry doctoral program, students complete lecture, seminar, and laboratory coursework to prepare for a comprehensive examination. After successful demonstration of expertise in the discipline, learners complete an in-depth research project and produce a dissertation or thesis.

Graduates with a doctorate in chemistry can become postsecondary chemistry instructors, materials scientists, laboratory managers, and environmental scientists and specialists.

What Is the Difference Between a Degree in Chemistry and a Degree in Chemical Engineering?

Both chemistry and chemical engineering degrees explore chemical materials and processes through coursework in natural science and mathematics. Chemical engineering degrees place an additional emphasis on application and design, while chemistry degrees focus more on theory.

A chemistry degree often leads to laboratory work. Chemists perform research, working with various substances to study their interactions. Chemical engineers, meanwhile, take materials and chemicals and apply them to commercial products, industrial equipment, or agricultural processes. Chemical engineers can work as mining engineers, materials engineers, and energy managers.

Most schools offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering, while associate degree programs in the discipline are rare. A chemical engineering bachelor's degree includes roughly four years of coursework, while a master's degree spans about two years. A doctorate in chemical engineering can last up to 10 years.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Chemistry?

A college degree in chemistry opens up numerous career paths in business, industry, and education. Most roles for chemistry graduates are found in the medical science, food science, and chemical engineering industries, but there are also positions in education, manufacturing, and information technology.

An associate degree in chemistry prepares students for roles as research technicians and laboratory assistants, while a bachelor's degree leads to more advanced roles such as chemist, engineer, and chief technician. Graduate degrees in chemistry lead to roles like consultant or college or university instructor.

Medical Science

Chemists often have lucrative careers in medical science. These include clinical scientists, biochemists, and research chemists, who can all work at at pharmaceutical companies, healthcare facilities, or government agencies.

A bachelor's degree in chemistry prepares students for entry-level roles in these fields, although a master's degree builds advanced research and laboratory competencies for higher-level chemistry professions. Associate degree holders can become laboratory technicians, clinical research assistants, and pharmacy assistants.

Food Science

Chemistry graduates can pursue food science jobs in agriculture, soil science, or manufacturing. A food scientist with a degree in chemistry may also work in a laboratory at a food or beverage manufacturing company.

Bachelor's degrees in chemistry can also lead to food science jobs like food safety analyst, food technologist, or research and development scientist. Master's degrees in chemistry lead to senior positions in these settings, with additional opportunities to work in food policy, quality assurance, and product development.

Chemical Engineering

Careers in chemical engineering include process engineer, chemical engineer, and biomedical engineer. While a chemical engineering degree is the best choice for students pursuing these careers, a general chemistry degree can also lead to these roles.

With a degree in chemistry, individuals learn how to assess chemical substances and their interactions, then apply that information to designs for equipment and machines — which is the fundamental skill needed in chemical engineering roles. Chemical engineering jobs can also include food and drug manufacturing, fuel production, and materials science.

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Chemistry Degree?

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that many chemistry careers will see job growth between 2022-2032, including forensic science technicians, medical scientists, and environmental scientists. Earning potential varies by industry and level of education.

Students with an associate degree can find entry-level roles, while a bachelor's degree can lead to positions such as environmental scientist, biomedical engineer, and forensic science technician. Graduate degrees in chemistry can similarly lead to lucrative positions in medical and laboratory roles.

Chemistry Career Outlooks
Career Median Annual Salary Projected Job Growth (2022-2032) Degree Required
Forensic Science Technicians $63,740 13% Bachelor's
Environmental Scientists $76,4800 6% Bachelor's
Chemists and Materials Scientists $81,810 6% Bachelor's
Medical Scientists $99,930 10% Doctoral
Biomedical Engineers $99,550 5% Bachelor's
Biochemists and Biophysicists $103,810 7% Doctoral
Chemical Engineers $106,260 8% Bachelor's
Physicians and Surgeons $229,300 3% Doctoral
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Chemistry a Good Degree?

A degree in chemistry is a good option for students who are interested in studying matter, mechanisms, and transformations. A chemistry degree provides foundational understanding of natural science and mathematics, knowledge applicable to careers across economic sectors, including medical and research careers.

Is a Chemistry Degree Hard?

Earning a chemistry degree is challenging but rewarding. Students need to be interested in the sciences and mathematics and have good problem-solving skills to succeed in a chemistry program.

What Are the Benefits of a Chemistry Degree?

Coursework in a chemistry degree opens up careers across the sciences, in business, and throughout the manufacturing industry. Chemistry is an interdisciplinary field that incorporates theoretical and practical information, establishing foundational knowledge for continued study, especially for students interested in pursuing medical school.

How Many Years Does a Chemistry Degree Take?

An associate degree in chemistry takes roughly two years, bachelor's degrees in chemistry include four years of coursework, and most master's degrees last two years. Doctoral programs in chemistry can take as many as 10 years, depending on area of focus and program format.

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