A Definitive Guide to Chemistry Degrees and Their Advantages

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 30, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Earning your chemistry degree can help you gain a career in chemistry, such as a lab technician or lead. There are different chemistry degrees for you to consider, and obtaining one of them can give you a variety of benefits. Knowing what the degrees are can help you plan for your success as you pursue a career in chemistry. In this article, we discuss different chemistry degrees, courses chemistry majors may take, advantages of earning a chemistry degree and solutions to challenges you may have as you pursue these degrees.

Related: FAQ: What Can I Do With a Chemistry Degree?

Types of chemistry degrees

There are five major types of chemistry degree programs that provide different degrees and take varying amounts of time to achieve:

1. Associate degree

An associate degree is typically a two-year program that allows students to learn the basics of chemistry and fulfill general education requirements in English, history and other courses required by larger universities. Community colleges and other two-year institutions offer these degrees to students who intend to transfer into a four-year program at a university, allowing them to attend classes for less money. Some students choose to earn an associate degree in chemistry to support other degrees such as education, business or engineering degrees, giving them more direct and complete knowledge than some of their peers in those industries.

Related: Is an Associate Degree Worth It?

2. Bachelor of Arts degree

A Bachelor of Arts degree is typically a four-year program that allows students to learn the basics of chemistry and fulfill their general education requirements in subjects such as math, languages and history. While some curricula of a Bachelor of Arts degree are the same as a Bachelor of Science, many Bachelor of Arts programs are more flexible. Students who pursue a Bachelor of Arts in chemistry are often looking for roles in education, social work or other non-laboratory and non-medical field. These degrees often confer general knowledge about chemistry, its methods and how to apply it to other fields.

3. Bachelor of Science degree

A Bachelor of Science degree is typically a four-year degree program that allows students to learn the basics of chemistry, its research methods and mathematics to support it. It also allows students to fulfill their general education requirements such as history, writing and foreign languages. Students who pursue a Bachelor of Science in chemistry are often looking to continue their education with a graduate program, work in research laboratories or become part of the medical field. These degrees often confer general and specific knowledge about chemistry, its methods and how to use it to solve challenges in real-world industries.

Related: How To Decide Between a Second Bachelor's Degree or Master's Degree

4. Master's degree

A master's degree is typically a five-to-six-year program, including a four-year bachelor's degree program that allows students to increase the depth of their knowledge in chemistry and apply it to real-world challenges. Students who pursue a master's degree in chemistry are often looking to enter a doctoral degree program, enter the medical field or start their post-college careers at a higher salary than their peers without a master's degree. Many master's degree programs include elements of fieldwork to gain experience in jobs related to chemistry, which can be a valuable resume builder and help students achieve employment in high-paying jobs.

Related: FAQ: Can You Go From an Associate Degree to a Master's Degree?

5. Doctoral degree

A doctoral degree is typically a four-to-six-year education experience after completing a bachelor's degree. This degree is terminal, meaning that it is the maximum level of education that you can achieve in chemistry. Students who pursue a doctoral degree are often pursuing roles as lead researchers, college and university professors or running their own chemistry laboratories. Doctoral programs often include a mixture of fieldwork and research work to educate students in them. Doctoral students complete a thesis that often contributes new ideas to the field or elaborates on ideas previously expressed by professional applied and research leaders in chemistry.

Courses in a chemistry degree

Below are descriptions of typical courses that students pursuing a chemistry degree may take:

Thermodynamics

Students who take courses in thermodynamics learn how heat and other forms of energy relate to one another. For chemistry degrees, this is often how chemical energy changes or transfers from one material to another as chemical reactions occur. Thermodynamics courses may also include studying underlying mathematical principles that explain how and why energy moves or changes, and learning how to use a variety of tools to measure the amount, direction and way that energy changes. Chemistry degree students in a thermodynamics course may interact with students in other degrees such as engineering, physics, mathematics and computer science.

Polymer and materials chemistry

Students pursuing chemistry degrees may take a polymer and materials chemistry course which teaches them about polymer synthesis, structure, morphology and how to measure properties of polymers such as molecular weight determination, the flow and deformation of matter and viscosity. Students may also learn about applications of polymers such as plastics, fibers and other materials and the mathematical principles behind why polymers behave how they do. Chemistry students in a polymer and materials chemistry course may interact with professionals in the polymer industry, engineering and physics students and other chemistry students following their course of study.

Organic chemistry

An organic chemistry course is a study of all compounds that contain carbon. Introductory courses to organic chemistry typically include a study in organic reactions, including acid-base, substitution, elimination and carbonyl addition reactions and how they sustain organic life. Students may also learn the basic notation principles to denote how chemical bonds such as dot structures and how to apply mathematical principles from other fields of chemistry to organic chemistry. Chemistry students in these courses may interact with their peers pursuing the same degree, physics students, biology students and professionals in the organic chemistry field, such as pharmacists and doctors.

Environmental chemistry

Environmental chemistry courses teach students about how natural and man-made chemicals interact with the environment such as plants, water, soils and sediments. These courses are an interdisciplinary field within chemistry that combines elements of organic, analytical and biochemistry to promote safe chemical experimentation and ways to preserve the environment. Chemistry students in these courses may interact with students from other branches of the chemistry field and students in field like environmental science, biology, physics, engineering and writing, which can be valuable resources to learn more about the interactions between chemistry and other fields, leading to a deeper knowledge about chemistry.

Analytical chemistry

Analytical chemistry courses teach students about designing experiments and using equipment to form and test hypotheses about chemistry. They can include topics such as sampling, standardization, calibration of various laboratory equipment, optimization, statistics and how to validate experimental results. These courses are often a mixture of theoretical knowledge and practical experimentation, which can help chemistry students develop necessary practical skills with chemistry equipment and processes. Students in analytical chemistry courses may interact with their peers in other branches of chemistry, professionals in a variety of chemistry careers and mathematics students who have laboratory research backgrounds.

Biochemistry

Biochemistry courses teach students about biological chemical processes that take place in cells and complex organisms. Topics introduced in biochemistry classes may include biological modeling, understanding molecules within organisms, metabolism, structural biology and enzymology. Students in these courses may also study topics such as genetics, microbiology and mathematics to support the understanding of biological processes. Chemistry students in these courses may interact with professionals such as medical doctors, research scientists and biologists and students pursuing majors such as biology, mathematics, environmental science, chemistry, neuroscience and computer science.

Inorganic chemistry

Inorganic chemistry courses teach students about how materials such as metals interact with each other outside of organisms. This can include topics such as metallic and crystalline structures, bonding and reactivity of metals and transition metals, how metals and non-metal such as gases interact with each other and mathematic principles to support the leading theories in these topics. Chemistry students in these classes may interact with professionals such as laboratory and research chemists, engineers, computer scientists and physicists. They may also interact with students pursuing degrees in physics, computer science, engineering, mathematics and chemistry.

Spectroscopy and crystallography

Spectroscopy and crystallography are two distinct branches of chemistry and courses in these subjects teach students about how light and crystalline solids affect chemical reactions. Topics within these courses may include properties of light and crystals, measuring the effects of light and crystal on reactions and developing hypotheses based on your knowledge of these materials. Students in these courses may interact with professionals in careers such as astronomy, laboratory chemistry and research science. They may also interact with students pursuing degrees in physics, engineering and computer science.

Advantages of a chemistry degree

Chemistry degrees can provide graduates with many career choices in business, education and industry. Having a background in chemistry can provide careers such as:

  • Chemical engineer

  • Medical scientist

  • Laboratory technician

  • Academia

  • Food science

Typically, the more advanced your degree in chemistry is, the more career options you may have. For example, an associate degree in chemistry may provide you with opportunities as an assistant or technician in a laboratory, while a bachelor's degree may provide opportunities such as a chemist, full-time engineer or laboratory lead. A master's degree may give you opportunities as a business consultant or university professor.

Challenges and solutions of a chemistry degree

There are a couple of potential challenges to gaining a chemistry degree:

Time commitment

Earning a chemistry degree can take as long as 10 years and may cost a lot of money to achieve. Knowing the level of education you desire to pursue careers you want can help you keep both challenges lower. You can also take time in between each degree if you're pursuing multiple to gain valuable work experience and connections throughout the chemistry field.

Mathematics

Pursuing chemistry degrees often requires you to take a lot of mathematics courses, which can be challenging for some people. One way you can minimize the challenge of math courses is to communicate with your professors during their office hours and via email when you need more help with the subject. You can also attend a university tutoring center or ask mathematics majors and other professors to help when you need to understand a concept better.

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