Priya Desai 6 min read 12th Grade, Academic Tips and Info

Should You Major in Chemistry?

Chemistry is the study of atoms and matter; it involves the characteristics, structure, and makeup of different substances. Chemists research and experiment with elements and compounds to learn more about what the different reactions produce. The subject is an interdisciplinary science and can encompass fields as broad as medicine, engineering, research, and quality control. 

 

In this post, we’ll go over everything you need to know about studying chemistry, including coursework, best colleges for this degree, and potential career paths.

 

Overview of the Chemistry Major

 

Introductory chemistry classes can be quite large, as the courses can also be prerequisites for anyone who is pre-medicine or pre-health. Some may also be “weeder” classes intended to “weed out” unprepared premeds, so expect these to be challenging. As you progress through to more advanced courses, the classroom size should decrease substantially. Of course, this depends heavily on the total number of undergraduates enrolled at the university in question. 

 

Chemistry majors usually attend lectures to learn most of their material, and larger schools may have discussions led by a TA, where students can learn in a more intimate environment. Chemistry coursework also involves a lot of labwork, where students can perform experiments and work with chemicals hands-on. Due to the recent pandemic, a lot of these courses have become virtual, with labs being completely computerized.

 

Course requirements for chemistry majors are usually STEM-heavy, with more well-rounded schedules at liberal arts schools. Underclassmen will take classes in subjects like introductory chemistry, math, and physics. At the upper division level, students can explore the subfields of chemistry more deeply, with advanced coursework in biochemistry, organic chemistry, chemical kinetics, and quantum chemistry.

 

Chemistry majors usually receive weekly problem sets for homework based on the relevant lecture content. Expect a lot of math-heavy equations, drawing diagrams of molecules, and stoichiometry. For labs, students complete pre- and post-laboratory assignments that help them better understand the course content. 

 

Exams consist mainly of free-response questions. These free response questions contain multiple parts that build off of one another. For lower division courses, there might be multiple choice questions for vocabulary terms and definitions. For lab courses, exams can vary from asking conceptual questions about theories or specific experimental techniques. 

 

Chemistry majors experience a mix of individualistic and collaborative work. Exams are usually completed individually, and problem sets are solitary assignments, although students can ask each other for help or go to office hours for assistance. Labwork is usually completed in groups, and students work together to complete experiments.

 

Chemistry is a great major choice if you’re interested in science and have a strong background in mathematics. You will be doing a lot of intricate equations, so you will need to be good at being meticulous. You will also be working with harsh and potentially dangerous chemicals, so you’ll need to be cautious. Students who wouldn’t do well in this major are ones that want a literature- and writing-heavy curriculum, with less emphasis on math. 

 

Chemistry majors can find employment right out of college within various positions. However, many choose to go to medical school. Chemistry majors can also go on to graduate school. There are also chemistry applications in law school, such as in the area of patent law. 

 

What Can You Do With A Chemistry Degree?

 

1. Chemist

Median Salary: $40K-85K

Projected Growth: 5%

 

Chemists work on projects in various fields of research, helping to discover more about different properties of substances. Chemists can help create new cleaning agents, drugs, and other materials. This role requires individuals with a thorough understanding of chemicals and how to safely use them, as well as a high attention to detail. This wouldn’t be a good role for someone who does not want to work with potentially hazardous chemicals or who doesn’t enjoy the research process.

 

2. Pharmacist

Median Salary: $76K-123K

Projected Growth: -3% (decline)

 

Pharmacists are “dispensing chemists” and give prescription medications to patients. Chemistry majors need to go to pharmacy school after their undergraduate career, meaning the process can take up to eight years; however, a lot of schools have dual-degree programs that shorten this process significantly. This job is a good fit for those who are interested in the healthcare field and want client-facing work. However, it does demand additional years of schooling, so it’s not for those who want to become employed straight out of undergrad. Learn more about this profession in our post on how to become a pharmacist.

 

3. Chemical Sales Representative

Median Salary: $36K-64K

Projected Growth: 2%

 

Chemical sales representatives work for companies that create pharmaceutical drugs. They travel to different customers, such as doctors, and promote their product by discussing the merits and side effects of the drug in question. These individuals must be knowledgeable of the scientific aspects of the drugs in question as well as able to convince buyers to prescribe them. This role is fitting for those who thrive in the intersection of business and science. It may be difficult for people who do not want a client-facing job or want a more science-based role.

 

4. Doctor

Median Salary: $71K-241K

Projected Growth: 4%

 

For those who want to go to medical school, chemistry provides a strong undergraduate foundation in terms of education and rigor. Doctors can perform general practice or specialize in a particular subfield. Being a doctor is a good idea for those who want to go into healthcare and work with patients directly. It may not be the best choice for those unwilling to make the commitment to medical school. To learn more about being a pre-med, see our post on how to get into medical school.

 

5. Chemical Technician

Median Salary: $41K-68K

Projected Growth: 3%

 

Chemical technicians work in manufacturing plants, aiding in the processing of products and dealing with the relevant equipment. They might also be involved in research at these facilities, and test new products to see how they react to different chemicals. This is a prime occupation for those looking for hands-on chemistry work. However, it can be dangerous, and if this type of work worries you, you should avoid this career. 

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Best Colleges for Chemistry Majors

 

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology | MIT 

Location: Cambridge, MA

Acceptance Rate: 6.7%

Undergrad Enrollment: 4,530

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1520-1580 SAT, 35-36 ACT

 

MIT is a renowned STEM-focused institution in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The school emphasizes innovation and problem-solving as two of its main focuses for students.

 

Incoming first-year chemistry majors at MIT have the chance to participate in a Discover Chemistry program, where they can learn more about the major resources and research opportunities. And there are plenty – in addition to the typical courses, the school has unique elective labs like Kinetics of Enzyme Inhibition and Quantum Dots. The school also has a ChemFlex Option, which allows students to craft their own education based on their interests.

 

Learn more about MIT and what it takes to get accepted.

 

2. Caltech 

Location: Pasadena, CA

Acceptance Rate: 6.4%

Undergrad Enrollment: 938

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1530-1570 SAT, 35-36 ACT

 

Caltech is known for having highly ranked engineering programs, but it is also a strong institution in the sciences. Caltech oversees NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, so if science in space interests you, you should definitely look into their program.

 

Caltech’s undergraduate chemistry program spans a variety of topics and encourages students to participate in research throughout the year. The school emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach, with collaborations encompassing energy, environment, molecular medicine, and nanomaterials. After undergrad, Caltech expects students to pursue careers in teaching and research at the university or government level, or in leadership positions in the manufacturing and chemical industries.

 

Learn more about Caltech and what it takes to get accepted.

 

3. Princeton 

Location: Princeton, NJ

Acceptance Rate: 5.5%

Undergrad Enrollment: 5,422

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1450-1600 SAT, 32-36 ACT

 

This year, Princeton University was the most highly-ranked university in the United States. The school is known for its highly ranked academics and vivacious sports culture. 

 

Princeton’s chemistry department refers to the subject as the “central discipline” and the interdisciplinary research spans chemical physics to nanotechnology. For those interested in research, the school has a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows program, where undergraduates can participate in unique laboratory experiences for nine weeks. 

 

Learn more about Princeton and what it takes to get accepted.

 

4. Harvard 

Location: Cambridge, MA

Acceptance Rate: 4.5%

Undergrad Enrollment: 6,788

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1460-1580 SAT, 33-35 ACT

 

Harvard has a reputation for being a prestigious learning institution, not only in the country, but in the world. The school offers undergraduates access to top-tier academics and cutting-edge research, and boasts distinguished faculty and top-rated scientific facilities.

 

Harvard’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology offers three concentrations for undergraduates: Chemistry, Chemistry & Physics, and Chemical and Physical Biology. The school also offers a joining AB/AM degree in Chemistry for students interested in pursuing a master’s degree at the same time as their bachelor’s. The school strongly encourages all students to take part in an “authentic research experience” by the time they graduate.

 

Learn more about Harvard and what it takes to get accepted.

 

5. University of Chicago

Location: Chicago, IL

Acceptance Rate: 6.2%

Total Undergrad Enrollment: 6,552

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1500-1560 SAT, 33-35 ACT

 

The University of Chicago is known as an academic powerhouse, boasting 92 Nobel Prize winners, with 15 Nobel laureates in Chemistry. Chicago is home to the largest science center in the Western Hemisphere, the Museum of Science and Industry.

 

UChicago offers both a BA and BS degree in chemistry with a focus on inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry. The school emphasizes a research-based approach for its chemistry majors, with opportunities spanning from chemistry to physics, biochemistry, and molecular engineering. UChicago also has ample paid research positions over the summer, for chemistry majors who want to continue their education during that time. 

 

Learn more about UChicago and what it takes to get accepted.

 

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Priya Desai
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Priya has been working at CollegeVine for two years in various capacities, including mentoring students, editing hundreds of essays, and creating blog content. She has also interned in healthcare consulting. She is extremely grateful for all the help she received as an applicant and wants to pay it forward by demystifying the admissions process for others.