Chemistry Degree

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What is Chemistry?

Along with physics and biology, the field of chemistry is known as one of the three foundational sciences often called the ‘central science’ as it provides a link between other natural sciences.  Chemistry is defined as the study of matter which includes its structure, composition, properties, along with understanding how and why substances interact with energy or other matter.  The study of chemistry can help us explain natural and man-made chemical phenomena and the key to understanding the world around us.

Top Chemistry Degrees

Whether you are considering a chemistry degree online or in a classroom, it is important to understand the degree options available.  Many accredited colleges and universities offer a wide range of degrees online for a number of reasons.  The benefits of earning an online degree include: cost savings, flexibility, access, pace, accreditation, and quality.  Online programs closely mirror classroom-based degree programs and will often be extended to students as a hybrid program allowing for distance learning and lab time or classroom time to marry academic work with vital hands-on learning.  Online chemistry degrees or on-site chemistry degrees can be found in a course catalog in three different forms:

Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry

The online bachelor’s degree in chemistry can be found in a school’s course catalog in a number of forms including as a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BS), or a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry (B.Chem).  Bachelor programs are 4-year programs providing students with an array of general education courses such as communication, English, and philosophy along with core science classes.  The core program for chemists will often include such classes as: introduction to chemistry, organic chemistry, introduction to physics, linear algebra, differential equations, statistics and probability, analytical chemistry, biomass conversion, materials chemistry, polymer chemistry, colloid science, organic synthesis, inorganic chemistry, drug design, computational chemistry, and a host of fascinating electives in the field of chemistry.  Students graduating with a bachelor’s degree can launch a career in a variety of industries depending on area of specialization and market demands.

Master’s Degree in Chemistry

The master’s degree program in chemistry is conferred as a Master of Science (MS) and is a two to three-year program after all lower level academic requirements are met.  The master’s degree track will combine classroom learning with labs, research, and hands-on projects to provide students with a number of learning modalities.  Students in a MS program may study a variety of disciplines in chemistry or elect to specialize in sub-fields such as organic, inorganic, materials, analytical, computational, experimental, or polymer chemistry.

Doctorate Degree in Chemistry

The doctorate degree in chemistry is conferred as a PhD in Chemistry or as a Doctor of Philosophy depending on the school and its curricular design.  The PhD track in chemistry is a four to six year terminal degree program that includes a board approved dissertation designed to substantially contribute to your field of study as a chemist.  Doctoral students will find themselves teaching at the college level, performing research for public or private companies, or entering the workforce in a variety of capacities in an organization.

Education and Schools in Chemistry

An education in chemistry prepares individuals with the skills and knowledge necessary to identify and utilize chemical processes in a variety of contexts, including experimentation, manufacturing and pharmacology. Students will study a variety of subdivisions in chemistry as well as some other sciences, in order to better understand and build upon the field of chemistry. Students will become familiar with timings, mixtures, temperature and other factors that may affect a chemical process, and learn the methods by which to control them.

Students may pursue associate, bachelor, master and doctoral degrees as a chemist, with associate level educations limiting individuals to assistant positions in laboratory settings. A bachelor's degree will allow for entry level positions as chemists, and graduate degrees will allow greater freedom to pursue work while specializing in one of the many areas of chemistry.

Courses in a chemistry curriculum may include:

Top Specializations in Chemistry

There are five primary branches of chemistry that include biochemistry, organic, inorganic, analytical, and physical.  Within each branches of chemistry, there are a number of subdisciplines which leads to unique jobs and careers for chemists.  Below you will find a cross-section of various areas of specialty in chemistry to help you better understand the breadth and depth of the field of chemistry.  Top specializations for chemists include:

Analytical-Chemistry: Classification of chemistry emphasizing the methods and instrumentation used to assess and identify matter.

Organic-Chemistry:  The study of the physical and chemical properties, reactions, and structure of organic materials and organic compounds.

Inorganic-Chemistry: A division of chemistry concerned with the behavior and synthesis of organogold and inorganic materials.

Medicinal-Chemistry: The arena of medicinal chemistry is a sub-field of chemistry providing insight into the testing, design, and creation of drugs for treating various diseases.

Physical-Chemistry: Various atomic, subatomic, particulate, and macroscopic phenomena in chemical systems and physical concepts.

Biological-Chemistry:  Also known as biochemistry, biological chemistry is a field analyzing chemical reactions relating to and within living systems.

Nanotechnology: The study of nanotechnology or nanotech is the study of matter on a molecular and atomic scale.

Polymer-Chemistry: Also known as macromolecular chemistry, polymer chemistry emphasizes the study of synthetic polymers, plastics, and elastomers.

Food-Chemistry: Food science or food chemistry works to understand the quality, safety, taste, and storage of food including the three components of food which are proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids.

Nuclear-Chemistry:  A division of chemistry focused on nuclear processes, radioactivity, and various nuclear processes.

Agricultural-Chemistry: Agrochemistry or agricultural chemistry works to understand and optimize the chemical reactions associated with the processes, protection, and production of farm animals and crops.

Electrochemistry:  As a discipline of chemistry, electrochemistry analyze the chemical reactions between an electrode and ionic conductor.

Phytochemistry:  The branch of chemistry known as phytochemistry is the study of chemicals derived from plants known as phytochemicals.

Colloid Science: As a branch of chemistry, colloid science is the study of heterogenous particles between a solution and a state of suspension.

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Employment Opportunities for Chemists

Individuals interested in finding employment in the field as a chemist will find that work opportunities will be minimal and competitive, due to a restructuring of research projects in the pharmaceutical industry. As such projects begin to partner with research universities and institutions, the demand for professional chemists is expected to decrease, though some jobs will be available through retirement, managerial positions, and government employment. Students may seek employment in a variety of locations, though most positions will be through research institutions, private manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, government facilities and test laboratories.

Chemists who pursue graduate level degrees or higher will have more employment opportunities, particularly if their area of specialization is in demand. Specialization allow scientists to focus on a particular area of interest, and to obtain a greater understanding of the processes belonging to that sub-field.

Popular Careers in Chemistry

The average wage for a chemist is nearly $69,000 per year, though individuals with graduate or doctoral educations, or those who have experience in the industry will earn more than others. Chemists may work in potentially dangerous environments, and those that do may also receive salaries in the higher end of the spectrum due to risk.

Given sheer number of areas of specializations, it should come as no surprise the myriad career options available to trained, motivated chemists.  After earning a degree from an accredited college or university, a chemist can find themselves working for a cosmetics conglomerate working to make a newer, safer eye liner or working with specialized physicians in a hospital setting to understand and improve the effects of radiation treatments for cancer patients.  The career options and number of industries that benefit from specialized chemists are seemingly boundless.  The top careers for chemists include the following fields of study:

Agronomy Public Policy
Forensic Science Petroleum and Natural Gas
Materials Science Military Systems
Textiles Healthcare
Chemical Engineering Technical Writing
Medicine Environmental Law
Surface Chemistry Agrochemistry
Environmental Chemistry Oceanography
Crop Science Pharmaceutical Sales
Polymers and Plastics Geochemistry
Cosmetics / Perfume Industry Biochemistry
Metallurgy Chemist
Research and Development Government Policy
Biotechnology Chemical Technology
Software Design Ethnobotany


How Much Do Chemistry Majors Get Paid?

The amount of compensation you can expect as a chemist will depend on a variety of factors that include your experience, degree type, organization type, geography, hours worked, area of specialization, demand, and contributions to the field.  As a means to provide you with an overview of the industry, the list below represents the median annual income of a cross-section of careers associated with chemistry as reported by the BLS:

  • Chemical Technicians: $45,840
  • Food Science Technicians: $37,550
  • Nuclear Technicians: $79,140
  • Clinical Lab Techs: $50,930
  • Biological Technicians: $42,520
  • Chemical Engineers: $98,340
  • Material Scientists and Chemists: $75,420
  • Environmental Scientists: $44,190
  • Forensic Science Technicians: $56,750

Individuals interested in chemistry may also be interested in physics, biology and environmental science.  Additional resources such as the American Chemical Society (ACS) and the International Council of Chemical Association (ICCA) may be sources of information and professional growth in the field.   Networking and continuing education opportunities also may be found with top-tier associations to help advance your career in the field.

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Career Summary: Chemistry Major




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