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Chemistry Major Overview

From researching new cancer-treatment medications to developing better waste disposal methods, it’s all possible with a degree in chemistry. Chemistry is used to make valuable contributions to a variety of fields, including healthcare, manufacturing, and the environment. If you’re considering a chemistry major, here’s everything you need to know. 

What is a chemistry major?

Chemistry is the study of matter and how it behaves, down to the atomic level. Students in this field explore the five subsets of chemistry: organic, analytical, physical, inorganic, and biochemistry. They examine the structures of substances, how they interact with each other, and how to develop new ones. Throughout their studies, chemistry majors develop skills in problem solving, data analysis, precise measurement, written communication, and more. Most importantly, they learn how chemistry affects daily life.

Related: STEM major overview

Coursework to expect

Students take a mix of lecture and laboratory coursework to study both the theoretical and practical aspects of chemistry. Starting out, students typically take an introductory course that covers key topics such as periodic trends, chemical equilibrium, and thermodynamics. At some schools, students can choose between a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry. BA programs provide a foundational education in chemistry, leaving more room for students to take elective courses in other areas. BS programs require more rigorous science coursework and place a larger emphasis on math and research skills. 

Below are some potential courses you may encounter as a chemistry major:

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Instrumental Analysis
  • General Physics 
  • Advanced Chemistry Lab
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Calculus 

Also read: Top college majors for the future

Opportunities after graduation 

A bachelor’s degree in chemistry is a great foundation for a variety of careers and graduate programs. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry can typically gain entry-level jobs as lab technicians, chemists, environmental scientists, and high school science teachers. While some graduates immediately enter the workforce, others pursue advanced degrees to gain access to more job opportunities. 

Jobs you can get with a chemistry degree

From healthcare to forensics to the environment, the job opportunities for chemistry majors are vast. Below are some popular professions, along with median annual salaries according to the 2020 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some only require a bachelor’s degree, while others require more advanced studies. 

1. Forensic science technician 

Forensic science technicians work in laboratories and on crime scenes, collecting and analyzing evidence. At crime scenes, they take photographs, make sketches, record observations, and catalog evidence. In laboratories, they perform scientific analysis to explore links between suspects and criminal activity. 

2020 Median Pay: $60,590 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 14% (Much faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. Environmental scientist

Environmental scientists analyze environmental problems and develop solutions to them. They may clean up polluted areas, advise policymakers, or assess potential threats to the environment. Areas of specialization include climate change, public health, pollution, and waste management. 

2020 Median Pay: $73,230 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 8% (Much faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

3. Clinical laboratory technician

Also known as medical lab scientists, these professionals collect and analyze samples of tissues, fluids, and other bodily substances. Nearly half of lab techs work in hospitals, while others work in laboratories, physicians’ offices, colleges, and outpatient care centers. 

2020 Median Pay: $54,180 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 7% (Faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

4. Physicians and surgeons

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses. They often specialize in areas such as cardiology, dermatology, family medicine, neurology, pediatrics, and more. While a medical degree is required to become a doctor, a bachelor’s in chemistry is a great start. 

2020 Median Pay: $208,000 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 4% (As fast as average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

5. Chemist 

Chemists research and develop new products such as biodegradable plastics, environmentally friendly fertilizers, and improved drugs. They study substances at the atomic and molecular level, using their findings to develop and test products. Chemists typically work in testing laboratories. 

2020 Median Pay: $80,680 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 5% (Faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

6. Natural sciences manager 

Natural sciences managers supervise the work of scientists, including physicists, chemists, and biologists. They direct research activities and coordinate product development projects. They’re employed in a variety of fields, including research and development, manufacturing, government, and consulting. 

2020 Median Pay: $137,940 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 5% (Faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Don’t miss: What are the fastest growing careers?

Advanced degrees you can pursue with a chemistry degree

After obtaining their bachelor’s degree, many graduates go on to pursue masters and doctorate degrees. While postgraduate study is not required, it opens doors to careers in medicine, management, research and more. Below are some popular graduate degree options: 

  • Master of Science in Chemistry
  • Doctor of Medicine (MD)
  • Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO)
  • Master of Science in Chemical Engineering
  • Master of Science in Biochemistry

Related: Grad school financing options

How do I know if this major is right for me? 

If you’re considering a major in chemistry, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Do you enjoy lab work and scientific experimentation? 
  • Are you interested in the atomic and molecular level of our world? 
  • Are you curious about how everyday products such as plastic and fabric are created?
  • Do you value research and problem solving? 

If you answered yes to most of these questions, then a chemistry major could be right for you!

Also see: How to pick a major