Guide to getting a bachelor in chemical engineering
Chemical engineering is a rewarding and versatile career path focused on the design of equipment used in chemical plants and chemical manufacturing processes. Earning your bachelor in chemical engineering allows you to pursue careers in cutting-edge and innovative fields like nuclear, biomedical, petroleum, or nanosystems engineering.
Explore our rankings of the top chemical engineering schools.
What can you do with a bachelor’s in chemical engineering?
Earning a bachelor’s in chemical engineering doesn’t mean you are automatically locked into a chemical engineering career path. There are a number of adjacent careers within which chemical engineers can assist work, project, contract, research, and development efforts.
With a bachelor in chemical engineering, you may work in industries such as:
- chemical engineering
- petroleum engineering
- nuclear engineering
- nanosystems engineering
- biomedical engineering
- agricultural engineering
- fire-prevention and protection engineering
- energy engineering (excluding solar and wind)
- mining and geological engineering
Depending on the career path you wish to pursue post graduation, there’s no shortage of opportunities and possible career paths for chemical engineering graduates. Additionally, certain colleges and universities have chemical engineering programs that allow students to pursue a concentration in a related field or subfield.
Should you get a bachelor’s in chemical engineering?
Depending on your personality, curiosity, and willingness to solve complex problems, pursuing a chemical engineering degree may be the perfect fit.
Another important consideration is the economic payback. The below is a short-term comparison between the entire bachelor’s degree market and the chemical engineering bachelor’s degree. It is a snapshot of earnings 3 years after graduation.
Bachelor of chemical engineering
The above table provides a snapshot of earnings 3 years after graduation. We compare the earnings of all bachelor degree recipients to those who graduated from this specific program.
Compared to graduates with an average bachelor’s degree, chemical engineering graduates earn almost 25% more than their peers 3 years after graduation. Chemical engineers typically earn $67,036 annually after 2 years of working in the field compared to just $53,471 for the average bachelor’s degree holder.
The below is a longer-term estimate of degree performance. It is based on census survey data detailing people’s major, age, and salary.
Looking at long-term earning potential by age, chemical engineering degrees perform well both in the short and long term.
There is also a noticeable positive divergence in degree performance that begins at approximately age 44 for chemical engineers. This can be attributed to having enough experience in the field to begin moving into senior engineering positions or potentially transitioning into management or leadership roles.
» Read: How to choose a college major
How to pick a bachelor in chemical engineering
Picking a college or university for obtaining your bachelor’s in chemical engineering can be a challenging decision. Below are some important points to consider.
The primary filter for your choice of school should be attending a program that has been accredited by the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET accreditation is the gold standard for engineering and technology degrees. It currently accredits 4,361 programs at 850 colleges and universities, spanning 41 different countries.
A degree from an ABET-accredited chemical engineering program lets future employers know that the program you completed meets industry standards and produces graduates who are ready to enter technical fields and lead the way in innovation.
While your primary bachelor’s degree may be in chemical engineering, there are a number of concentrations you can choose from.
Concentrations commonly chosen in conjunction with a bachelor of chemical engineering include:
- Nuclear engineering
Nuclear engineers focus on the engineering applications of breaking down and combining atomic nuclei and using principles of nuclear physics to study and implement various sub-atomic processes.
- Nanomaterials engineering
Working with nanomaterials on microscale levels is the bread and butter of the nanomaterials engineer. They work on designing nanomaterials, increasing their strength, measuring their chemical reactivity, and studying their conductivity and other physical properties.
- Biochemical engineering
Biochemical engineers use organic or natural biological materials, such as cells, organisms, or specific molecules, to develop and study a variety of processes and products.
- Energy and environmental
Energy and environmental engineers are concerned with developing more efficient energy sources as well as protecting humans from adverse environmental effects.
- Petroleum and gas exploration
Petroleum and gas exploration engineers work with hydrocarbons such as natural gas and crude oil, aiming to discover and extract deposits under the earth’s surface.
The best bachelor programs in chemical engineering
Find below our ratings of the comparative earnings, costs, and payback rates of different bachelor in chemical engineering programs.
How much does a bachelor in chemical engineering cost?
A bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering varies in cost depending on whether it’s obtained at a public or private engineering school.
See above how cost and earnings vary depending on the type of institution. Payback refers to how many years it takes students to cover the median costs while earning the median salary. Payback is calculated by subtracting the median earnings of a high school graduate from the median earnings related to this degree.
Financial aid and scholarships for chemical engineering majors
Due to the high cost of obtaining a bachelor’s in chemical engineering, students often apply for scholarships and financial aid.
As a first step, chemical engineering students are encouraged to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Consider meeting with your school’s financial aid advisor to learn about any other programs or scholarships available to you.
In addition to the FAFSA application, scholarships are another great way to receive additional financial aid to help pay for your chemical engineering education. Applying to a wide range of scholarships increases your chances of funding your education without reliance on student loans.
What to expect from a chemical engineering program
Once you’ve chosen an ABET-accredited college or university where you’d like to pursue your bachelor in chemical engineering, you can begin to dive into the details of coursework.
Most chemical engineering programs require you to complete a set of fundamental engineering courses, followed by major-specific courses such as chemical engineering thermodynamics, heat and mass transfer, laboratories and field sessions, organic chemistry, and physical chemistry.
What are the admission requirements for a bachelor in chemical engineering?
Depending on the college, there may be certain ACT scores, GPA requirements, and SAT scores that are required for admission, along with high school STEM prerequisites.
How long does it take to get a degree in chemical engineering?
Most chemical engineering students complete their bachelor’s degree program within 4 years.
Chemical engineering internships are often completed during the junior and senior years of college. By interning at local engineering firms during the summer, students can gain professional experience and industry contacts that can help them find employment post-graduation.
Fundamentals of engineering (FE) exam
When you are close to graduating, it is highly recommended that you begin to prepare and study for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. Chemical engineering students aren’t restricted to only taking the FE Chemical exam. It is best to choose the FE exam that you are most comfortable with and confident in passing.
The FE exam consists of 110 questions and typically takes 6 hours to complete. Additionally, there is an exam fee that must be paid to the NCEES licensing board to sign up for the exam.
FE Chemical exam pass rates hover around 73%, which is one of the highest pass rates, tied only with the FE Electrical and Computer Science exam.
While passing your FE is not a requirement to get a job as a chemical engineer, it can improve your career opportunities down the road. After working in an engineering field for 4 years, the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam can be taken, which leads to full licensure as a professional engineer.
What type of courses are there in a bachelor of chemical engineering?
Coursework in a chemical engineering degree program consists of core courses that all engineers take as well as additional discipline and concentration-specific courses.
Courses specific to chemical engineering completed by undergraduate students include:
This course introduces quantitative tools for the analysis of chemical engineering problems. Topics covered include: sequential modular and equation-based simulation of steady-state chemical processes; multivariate root-finding algorithms; material and energy balances on transient processes and their solution; microscopic material and energy balances; and solutions to steady-state boundary value problems in heat conduction.
This course introduces fluid statics and dynamics. Other topics covered are: dimensional analysis; design of flow systems; introduction to heat transfer; and conduction, convection, and radiation.
This course cover a variety of topics in reaction engineering, including: the relationships between transport, thermodynamics, and chemical reactions in open and closed systems; chemical kinetics; and chemical reaction design.
This course introduces essential concepts in nanotechnology and its applications. An examination of the social and ethical implications of implementing nanotechnology in everyday life is also undertaken.
This course delves into the basics of physical metallurgy as applied in engineering metals and their alloys. The characteristics and structure of metals are also covered, along with alloys, thermal processing, and corrosion.
What types of chemical engineering bachelor’s degrees are there?
The type of degree title you receive for completing your chemical engineering degree depends on your school. The engineering degree titles most commonly awarded include:
- Bachelor of Engineering (BEng or B.E.)
- Bachelor of Science (B.Sc. or B.S.)
- Bachelor of Science Engineering (B.Sc.Eng.)
- Bachelor of Engineering Science (B.Eng.Sc.)
- Bachelor of Technology (BTech)
- Bachelor of Applied Science (B.A.Sc.)
Most of these titles are interchangeable with one another as long as they were earned at an accredited institution.
What careers can I have with a bachelor in chemical engineering?
Chemical engineering jobs aimed specifically for recent graduates are often advertised with the word ‘graduate’ before the job title – for example, ‘graduate chemical engineer’. Chemical engineering career paths also often follow a progression of levels, starting with level 1 and continuing up to levels 5 or 6, and up to level 10 for software engineers.
A master’s degree in chemical engineering can lead to senior roles and competitive advantage on the job market. Some employers may also count a master’s as several years of work experience.
Frequently asked questions
Is chemical engineering a difficult major?
Like most engineering degrees, chemical engineering is considered a difficult major. This is due to the amount of physics, math, and advanced chemistry courses required to obtain a degree.
Do I need PE licensure to be a chemical engineer?
No, you do not need a Professional Engineer (PE) license to become a chemical engineer. A bachelor’s degree is often enough to get an entry-level position in the field. Obtaining your PE license may help you stand out from the competition and be more competitive in the job market.
Do I need a license to teach engineering?
Certain states require a PE license to teach upper-level engineering courses, but it is not required nationally. Colleges and universities typically require candidates to complete a graduate degree program before taking on an instructor position.
Can chemical engineers work as mechanical engineers?
Yes, a chemical engineer can generally work as a mechanical engineer as long as they possess the required design skills. Employers can be flexible with the engineers they choose to hire no matter what their underlying degree may be. What is most important is that the engineer has demonstrated skill and the ability to learn quickly.
The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing professional licensure for engineers and surveyors. They administer both the FE and PE examinations for engineers.
Obtaining a PE license is an excellent way to stand out in your field and open up a wide range of additional employment opportunities. The NCEES provides information about the PE exam, which can be taken after working in your engineering discipline for 4 years and previously passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam.
AIChE is the world’s largest professional organization for chemical engineers. With members in over 110 countries and professional relationships with many engineering centers and communities, AIChE is a vast resource for networking, career advancement, education, and more.