If you ever catch an old rerun of The Muppet Show and find yourself inexplicably drawn to Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, you may have chemistry in your blood. This is also true if you excelled in the physical sciences and math in high school and are unusually fascinated with what makes up matter, how different matter interacts, and how these interactions can be applied to create new substances and solve practical problems. If this is the case, a chemistry major may be in the cards for you. There are plenty of reasons why that could be a smart move.
What’s the course of study for a chemistry major?
Besides the general-education courses most colleges mandate students take for their undergrad degree, chemistry major students are introduced to a variety of chemistry subcategories, including organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, physical chemistry, analytical chemistry, and biochemistry. Physics, math, and statistics classes also often figure heavily into the undergrad equation.
So where can a major in chemistry lead you?
Grad school offers further opportunities to delve deeper.
With a BS in chemistry, you can go directly for an advanced degree, such as an MS or Ph.D. in your chemistry specialty. Plus, if you’re contemplating eventually heading to med school or dental school, you’ll need a natural sciences bachelor’s degree to apply—and chemistry usually fits the bill. Even if you branch off into other higher-education areas that aren’t directly tied to chemistry, such as law school, the detail-oriented nature of the work you needed to complete to achieve your chemistry degree will serve as a solid stepping stone to the rigorous coursework still ahead.
The formula for finding a job in many different areas is expedited with a chem degree.
Heading directly into a chemical industries career—getting involved with manufacturers of products such as perfumes or plastics, for instance, or becoming a pharmacist—is naturally an option. But there are job opportunities you may not have even contemplated, including:
- Niches such nursing, veterinary care, or optometry—seemingly unrelated medical careers for which a chemistry major can serve as the foundation.
- Chemistry education, either as a high school or college instructor or in a research capacity.
- Health care careers are also a viable option for chemistry majors. You can help advance public health by working in a lab to examine and analyze bodily fluids to help diagnose and treat diseases, for instance.
- Government work, such as working as an environmental chemist for the EPA, a biochemical chemist for the FDA, or an industrial chemist for the Department of Energy. You don’t necessarily need to break out the beakers, either: You can serve as a science writer, patent researcher, or lawyer for various other government agencies and organizations.
- Big business is always on the hunt for chemistry majors for consulting, technical sales and marketing, and PR outreach to explain the science behind products and services.
- Tech: Your organizational skills and overall science knowledge as a chemistry major can lead you to a career as a technical writer, in which you’d be responsible for explaining and simplifying complex ideas in manuals, brochures, research proposals, and other collateral. Or if you’ve got a knack for computers, you could jump into software design, creating models or simulations to help expedite chemistry research.
Science candidates are in demand overall—and certain chemistry-themed jobs can offer a comfortable paycheck.
You likely decided to try your hand at a STEM career in the hopes of one day nabbing a decent job, and the stats look good: The job growth rate for those in the social, life, and physical sciences (chemistry is part of the latter) overall is set to jump 10 percent from 2016 to 2016—a faster-than-average rate compared with all occupations. And certain roles within the general chemistry field are currently enjoying equally strong employment rates, with salaries to match: Biochemists, for example, earned a median annual wage of $82,000 and change as of May 2016.
You can help make an impact on your fellow citizens and the planet.
Bringing your skills as a chemistry major to the nonprofit or public sector can advance public policy. For instance, if you’re interested in the environment, you can choose to venture into a field that focuses on the chemistry underlying the Earth’s environment, such as chemical diagnostics or agricultural research. Or put your communications and social activism skills into play by serving as a PR rep or business consultant for a company or nonprofit trying to effect change. What you bring to the table as a chemistry major can impact future regulations for the benefit of the US, and even the world.