April Maguire 3 min read Career Advice, Career Path Breakdowns

How to Become a Chemical Engineer: Steps to Take from High School

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Between SATs and grades and applying to colleges, high school students today have plenty of reasons to be stressed. Another one of their worries might be choosing a career that will bring them joy that also provides for their financial needs. 

 

While you don’t have to know exactly what your future holds as a high schooler, there big benefits to exploring the possibilities prior to college. Some careers may require certain courses, exams, certification, or even extra schoolingknowing what your career goals are can help you reach them in the most efficient way.

 

Wondering if a career as a chemical engineer is in your future? Keep reading to discover how to become a chemical engineer in the coming years.

 

What Does a Chemical Engineer Do?

 

Using their knowledge of math and science, individuals in this field develop new techniques for working with chemicals to achieve desired results. From designing faster computer chips to developing methods to clean bodies of water, the goals of chemical engineering are varied and virtually endless. Moreover, these professionals work in a wide array of businesses and industries, including manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, food processing, and healthcare.

 

Here are some of the main tasks that chemical engineers undertake:

 

  • Designing chemical equipment and processes
  • Improving industry operations
  • Managing and operating plants
  • Conducting and applying research
  • Managing and monitoring environmental factors

 

The salary for chemical engineers varies based on where you work and how much experience you have. However, the mean salary for this field is $104,910 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 

Steps to Become a Chemical Engineer 

 

If you’re happiest in your high school science classes, you might be thinking about a career as a chemical engineer. Below are tips on how to become a chemical engineer with actionable steps for high school and college students:

 

High School

 

As a high schooler, you can start laying the groundwork for a future as a chemical engineer. Begin your journey by signing up for an array of math classes, including algebra, trigonometry, and calculus. After all, chemical engineers rely on their impressive math skills for designing, analyzing, and troubleshooting projects. Additionally, you should study science subjects like chemistry and physics. 

 

In terms of extracurriculars, aspiring chemical engineers can demonstrate their passion by joining science and math-related clubs and organizations. Additionally, you can volunteer with a local conservation nonprofit, or enroll in a summer program focused on science and sustainability. 

 

Aspiring chemical engineers can also get a head start on their education by applying to summer programs. Top schools like Penn State offer engineering summer camps designed to give students a leg up on the competition. Moreover, summer is a great time to intern at a chemical engineering firm in your area, and shadow or conduct informational interviews with engineers.

 

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College

 

Unlike many careers, chemical engineering comes with a specific major. So, students don’t have to guess about what course of study will best prepare them to land a job. As a chemical engineering major, you can expect to study math, kinetics, biology, chemistry, and physics. Along with lectures and seminars, students learn through laboratory work and field placements. 

 

Additionally, many undergrads opt to intern during their junior or senior year. Along with providing students with on-the-job instruction, an internship can lead to valuable contacts in the field. The company in question may even end up offering you an entry-level position upon graduation.

 

If you want to get a jumpstart on the competition, consider pursuing your master’s degree. While not required for most positions, advanced degrees can lead to better positions and higher salaries. Along with expanding on the material included in a bachelor’s program, master’s programs tend to include a research component. You may even want to consider a five-year program, in which students work toward a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree at the same time.

 

Exams and Licenses

 

As a chemical engineer, you can find work at a wide array of companies. However, the most prestigious firms tend to be more competitive. If you want to land the best positions, consider taking the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination upon graduation. This test licenses you to work as an engineer in the U.S. Once you’ve worked in the field for at least four years, you can opt to take the Professional Engineering (PE) exam. This license proves an engineer’s ability to adhere to a higher level of standards.

 

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April Maguire
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.