How to Major in Chemistry
Chemistry is the study of the fundamental materials and processes that make up the universe and everything within it, living and nonliving. In other words: chemistry is a big deal, and majoring in chemistry opens you to a world of fascinating study, as well as plenty of job opportunities.
Chemistry majors can go into fields such as engineering, medical science, pharmacology, environmental science, food science, and forensics, just to name a few. If you’re looking for a fascinating and rewarding career, majoring in chemistry might be the path for you.
If you’re ready to earn your degree at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, get started with a look at the Most Influential Schools in Chemistry.
Or read on to find out what you can expect as a Chemistry Major.
5 Reasons to Major in Chemistry
1.Chemistry majors are in high demand.
Chemistry is a popular major because it is applicable to so many fields and career paths. If you’re looking for a well-paying and secure job, chemistry is a great place to focus.
2.Chemistry majors learn about the building blocks of the universe.
Chemists study the elements that make up all substances in the universe, whether looking at humans, animals, synthetic materials, Earth, and even other planets. This knowledge, combined with a “deep dive” curricular approach, provides chemistry majors with strong analytical skills and a great understanding of how our world is put together.
3.Chemistry majors have an opportunity to cause positive change.
Chemistry majors can work in a wide range of specialized fields, many of which are focused on finding solutions to problems that in turn make life on Earth better for all of us. Chemists can pioneer efficient and inexpensive ways to produce life-saving medications, develop alternative textiles that reduce our negative environmental impact and make housing more available and affordable, or analyze and improve the nutritional content of processed foods. Though often working “behind the scenes,” chemistry professionals have a great effect on how we live.
4.Chemistry majors get to study interesting subjects for their whole careers.
Chemistry professionals get to work with advanced technology in laboratories to examine microscopic processes. They get to travel the globe in search of solutions to momentous problems. They get to discover, learn, and experiment as a regular part of the job. If you’re looking for a job where you are constantly challenged and growing, chemistry is a great major to pursue.
5.Chemistry majors are influential.
Chemistry is foundational to everything. Because of this, chemists are constantly making progress that advances how we understand the world, how we live and interact with this world, and how we treat threats like disease and climate change. Today, top influencers in chemistry are breaking new ground in biochemistry, nanotechnology, molecular chemistry, and much more.
Find out who the Most Influential People are in Chemistry today!
What Kinds of Chemistry Degrees Are There?
Chemistry degrees can be earned at all levels. The right level for you depends on your career goals. Most jobs, for example, will require applicants to hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree, though some high-level jobs (such as postsecondary teacher or biochemist) require a doctoral degree on top of years of field experience for qualification. On the other hand, plenty of well-paying and stable jobs require only an associate degree for entry. Also, it’s important to consider your concentration, as chemistry is a big field with many areas of specialization. While associate degrees are almost always general, bachelor’s degrees and beyond usually require students to specialize, which ultimately determines your career prospects.
- Associate in Chemistry (AA or AS): Typically taking two years to complete and requiring 60 credits, associate degrees in chemistry provide students with a foundational knowledge of the field through general coursework. Students complete courses such as principles of chemistry, and usually gain some lab experience. Degree holders emerge prepared for jobs as chemical technicians, aiding chemists and chemical engineers in lab work.
- Bachelor of Chemistry (BA or BS): A bachelor’s degree in chemistry usually takes four years to complete and requires 120 credits, although some schools offer accelerated programs. Students build foundational knowledge in general chemistry, and advanced knowledge in specialized areas like biochemistry, physical chemistry, or chemical engineering. These programs often include lab coursework, an internship, and a research project. A bachelor’s degree is the basic requirement for most chemistry jobs, such as chemist, materials scientist, environmental scientist, chemical engineer, or food scientist.
- Master of Chemistry (MA or MS): A master’s degree in chemistry takes two or three years to complete and 30-45 credits, depending on the program and specialization. In a master’s program, you will dig deep into advanced topics in the field, and work within a specialization, such as neurochemistry, biochemistry, organic chemistry, or pharmaceutical chemistry. Some programs allow for multiple specializations, and most require some kind of lab or professional experience, as well as a research project or thesis. With a master’s degree in chemistry, you qualify for advanced and high-paying roles in careers such as chemical engineer, biochemist, food scientist, agricultural scientist, and materials scientist.
- PhD in Chemistry: A PhD in chemistry is the highest level degree you can earn in the field. This terminal degree will typically take three to five years to complete, and requires a combination of advanced coursework, a research project and dissertation, comprehensive exams, and lab or instructional work. At this level, you will already be well into your specialization area. Therefore, you may need to determine where to earn your doctoral degree based on how each school ranks for your specialization. Your PhD will qualify you for an array of high-level professions, including biochemist, director of research, or postsecondary teacher.
*Note: Many, but not all, degree programs offer the choice between Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees. Likewise, many, but not all, advanced degree programs offer a choice between Master of Arts, and Master of Science degrees. In most cases, the primary difference is the diversity of course offerings. “Science” degree courses will focus almost entirely on the Major discipline, with a deep dive into a specific concentration, including laboratory, clinical or practicum experience. An “Arts” degree will provide a more well-rounded curriculum which includes both core/concentration courses and a selection of humanities and electives. The type of degree you choose will depend both on your school’s offerings and your career/educational goals. Moreover, there are sometimes numerous variations in the way that colleges name and categorize majors. The degree types identified here above are some of the common naming variations, but may not be all-encompassing.
Thinking of a graduate degree in chemistry? Check out What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Chemistry? for more information on obtaining a graduate degree in this field.
What Are Some Popular Chemistry Concentrations?
Your “concentration” refers to a specific area of focus within your major. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides a complete listing of college degree programs and concentrations (Classification for Instructional Programs), as sourced from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). According to IPEDS, the following are among the most popular chemistry concentrations:
- Analytical Chemistry
- Human Nutrition
- Animal Nutrition
- Chemical Engineering
- Environmental Chemistry
- Organic Chemistry
- Forensic Chemistry
What Courses Will I Take as a Chemistry Major?
Your concentration will determine many of the courses you’ll take as a chemistry major. Likewise, you will be required to take a number of requisite courses on foundational topics such as biochemistry and physical chemistry. However, you will also have the freedom to select an array of courses that align with your area of specialization.
Common Chemistry courses include:
- General Chemistry
- Organic Chemistry
- Inorganic Chemistry
- Experimental Chemistry
- Physical Chemistry
What Can I Do With a Major in Chemistry?
Chemistry majors are employed in a huge range of industries and areas, including private sector corporations, research labs, universities, and the federal government. Whether you’re creating and perfecting a new material, developing medications, researching the chemicals in a local water supply, or investigating the biochemical processes that make life possible, your chemistry major gives you plenty of options to choose from. Your chemistry major can lead to a wide range of career opportunities, including these top jobs:
- Chemical Engineers
- Biochemists and Biophysicists
- Chemists and Materials Scientists
- Environmental Scientists and Specialists
- Agricultural and Food Scientists
Curious how far you could go with a Major in Chemistry? Start with a look at the top influencers in the field today!
Thinking of a graduate degree in chemistry? Check out What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Chemistry? for more information on obtaining a graduate degree in this field.***
Now that you know how to major in Chemistry, check out The Most Influential Schools in Chemistry and get started on your path to a chemistry degree.