Chemists provide the knowledge needed to create many of the products we use each day. The results of their efforts are seen in the medicines that treat diseases, in the fabrics we use in clothing and furniture and in the synthetic materials that make up many of the objects used in daily life. Students skilled in math, curious about the physical world and good at analysis and problem-solving may enjoy a major in chemistry.
Chemistry majors study the composition, make-up and properties of matter. By learning how one form of matter may react with other molecules to change into a new material, chemists can utilize these chemical reactions to produce the products used in today’s technological world.
Initially, chemistry majors begin by taking a core curriculum in the four general areas of chemistry: inorganic, organic, physical and analytical chemistry. These chemistry courses are supplemented by advanced studies in mathematics, biology, computer science and physics.
After a grounding in these general subjects, chemistry students are encouraged to specialize in one of the four traditional subgroups of chemistry. Organic chemists study carbon-based compounds—the chemistry of living things, while inorganic chemists study all other elements. Physical chemists specialize in the structure and properties of matter, while analytical chemists consider the identification of the individual components of complex mixtures.
A major in chemistry requires a great many hours in the laboratory and a large number of required classes. This leaves the chemistry major little time for elective classes. Choosing to combine another major with chemistry will probably add one or more years to your bachelor’s degree.
Although some colleges award B.A.s in chemistry and others offer a B.S., there is little real difference between the degrees. Programs accredited by the American Chemical Society (ACS) are required to offer specific courses regardless of degree, thus assuring that graduates are eligible for ACS certification.
Job opportunities for chemistry majors are expected to be most plentiful at pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Although entry level employment is available for those with a B.S./B.A., further study leading to an M.S. or Ph.D. in one of the branches of chemistry will yield more responsible as well as more interesting positions.
Chemistry majors often go on to scientific careers, taking such positions (after advanced study) as research chemists, pharmacists and physicians. Many others are employed by drug or oil companies, become high school chemistry teachers or work as laboratory technicians.
Crime lab analysts often have degrees in forensic chemistry. A bachelor’s in chemistry also provides an appropriate background for those seeking careers as environmental consultants.
Students thinking about a major in chemistry might also want to look at related majors such as chemical engineering, materials engineering, biochemistry, molecular biology, forensic science and environmental science. In selecting your college for one of these majors, consider the breadth and depth of courses offered in your chosen field and the research opportunities available for undergraduate students. Be sure to check to see if the program is ACS certified. You can learn more at the website of the American Chemical Society at www.acs.org and by reading about careers in chemistry in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook at www.bls.gov.
Career Paths for Chemistry Majors:
Only about 25% of all chemistry majors go on to employment as chemists. Trained to solve problems creatively, perform complex analyses and use research results in decision making, chemistry majors acquire numerous skills valued in a variety of careers.
- Biomedical engineer
- Chemical engineer
- Chemical sales rep
- College Professor
- Food scientist or technician
- Forensic scientist or technician
- Government policy-maker
- Hazardous waste manager
- Laboratory technician
- Materials scientist
- Medical scientist
- Patent attorney
- Perfume chemist
- Physician’s assistant
- Primary or secondary teacher
- Registered nurse
- Science writer