Chemistry Major Jobs: What Can You Do With a Chemistry Degree?

Find out what chemistry degree jobs are out there and how you can apply your skills from undergraduate studies to the professional world.

Chemistry Major Jobs: What Can You Do With a Chemistry Degree?

Plenty of college students have a particular talent for chemistry and an inclination to major in chemistry. But too often, these college students feel discouraged about majoring in chemistry because they are unsure of how a chemistry degree can help their career prospects — unless it’s a part of a pre-med educational and eventual career path. However, students who want to major in chemistry shouldn’t feel discouraged because there are tons of applications of a chemistry degree to the real world, including the job market. 

Read on to find out what you can do with a chemistry degree and why it’s a solid major to pursue.

Why Major in Chemistry?

Chemistry is a field of science that has wide application and influences of scientific fields, such as biology, engineering, psychology, geology, and physics, just to name a few. Students who earn a chemistry degree can gain access to employment opportunities across a wide range of industries, more than students themselves may realize. Chemistry comes with transferable knowledge and skill sets that can prove to be assets to gaining employment and to employers who want job candidates with a science background that can apply their skills to a broader range of tasks and projects.

How to Major in Chemistry: Typical Requirements for a Chemistry Degree

In order to pursue a major in chemistry, students need to be enthusiastic about discovering new ideas and take part in lots of research and problem-solving. Another key part of majoring in chemistry is that students need to be proficient working both independently and within a group, especially when it comes to lab work and team-based projects. Needless to say, students pursuing a chemistry degree need to have a natural attention to detail and interest in how things work and why.

Typical course requirements for obtaining a chemistry degree include, but are not limited to:

  • General Chemistry I: This kind of course usually covers the basic concepts and principles of chemistry, such as elements on the periodic table; atoms and their sub-components; understanding of chemical reactions through atomic and molecular structure; how chemistry applies to closely related scientific fields; all the way down to the lattice structure of different crystals. 

  • General Chemistry II: This type of chemistry course usually delves into topics that build off those established in Gen Chem I, including the principles of chemical reactivity; important theories of energy in chemistry, especially thermodynamics; acid-base chemistry, phase changes and states of equilibrium in the chemical sense; electrochemical processes and rates of reaction, such as the role of catalysts in chemical reactions.  

  • Organic Chemistry: This is often the bane of existence for many a pre-med major. Organic chemistry can be difficult for many who want to pursue a chemistry degree, organic chemistry takes general chemistry up a notch, by studying in detail the properties and reactions of organic compounds — compounds that contain carbon-carbon covalent bonds, as humans and other life on earth are carbon-based lifeforms. This is the field of chemistry that researches higher-level concepts such as the role of functional groups in molecules and reactions, hydrocarbon chains, aliphatic compounds, aromatic compounds, and much more.

  • Inorganic Chemistry: This subfield of chemistry deals with the nature, composition, reactions, and behavior of inorganic compounds — compounds that are not carbon-based compounds, the latter of which lay in the realm of organic chemistry. Thus, inorganic chemistry has a big focus on inorganic compounds that play major roles in electrochemistry, like salts, which can dissociate into component parts that are electrically charged; such as magnesium chloride, which is composed of the positive ions Mg2+ and negative ions Cl-. Inorganic chemistry has huge applications in industrial chemistry and, therefore, is quite useful for professions in chemical industries, like materials science.

  • Physics and Physical Chemistry: You might think physics is all about gravity, forces, and friction, but physics is essential to studying and majoring in chemistry. Chemical processes are impacted by the principles of physics and the physical chemistry of molecules, such as quantum mechanics, atomic structure, statistical mechanics, the wave properties of matter (sometimes called wave-particle duality), chemical kinematics, and transition state theory.

  • Mathematics: Most course requirements for a chemistry degree include a couple to several classes in mathematical fields, such as calculus, analytic geometry, and multivariate calculus. So, though you may love watching chemicals mixing and reacting, if you want to major in chemistry, you’re going to have to possess some math skills or work on them.

  • Chemistry Labs: Almost always a requirement for a chemistry degree, students need to enroll and pass classes that include laboratory work in chemistry. Typically, there are chemistry lab courses for each respective level of chemistry course you take, whether it’s Gen Chem I or the more advanced organic chemistry classes.

Other potential requirements for majoring in chemistry depend on the college or university you attend. But they can include courses in biochemistry, independent research, directed research, biophysics, medicinal chemistry, among others. Generally, college students progress through these chemistry courses from the more basic chemistry classes in the first half of college and then complete the more complex courses in their second half.

Skills and Applications of a Chemistry Degree

Early in their college experience, chemistry majors acquire most of their knowledge and skills through academic preparation, such as lectures and reading, as opposed to application. But, thanks to the inclusion of chemistry lab requirements, undergraduate students of chemistry do get direct access to the applications of chemistry in the real world. Undergraduate students also study calculus-based principles in physics, such as energy and thermodynamics, which are key to understanding chemistry and also have wider applications that can help you immensely when searching to land employment in the job market.

Not surprisingly, acquiring a chemistry degree on the master's or doctoral level, provides students with an even more rigorous curriculum in chemistry, its applications, and hands-on research. Hence, graduate-level study in chemistry prepares students to obtain industry-specific certification and licensure exams, which naturally have huge positive implications for employment in the professional world.

Chemistry Major Jobs: Chemistry Career Breakdown

So, if you’re big on chemistry and want to pursue a chemistry degree as an undergraduate, rest assured that there are plenty of job opportunities even for those with just a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. There are countless chemistry major jobs out there for you to pursue. And, while you work in a chemical field as a job, there’s a good chance your employer may even pay for you to attain a master’s degree or doctoral degree in chemistry, if you only have a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. Thus, getting a chemistry degree as an undergraduate can certainly pay dividends in the post-college world. 

Here's a look at some popular chemistry major jobs that you can check out that typically require an entry-level education of a bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH):

Chemists and Materials Scientists

These kinds of chemists work with substances on the atomic and molecular levels, analyzing them in the manner in which they interact with other substances. Many job positions for chemists and materials scientists require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. A master’s degree or doctoral degree in chemistry can be a boost here, but mainly for research careers, so a bachelor’s chemistry degree can be sufficient for this career.

Chemical Technicians

Chemical technicians perform chemical and physical lab tests in assistance with scientists to analyze the properties of materials, typically for research and development of new products or processes, environmental standards, as well as quality control. The typical entry-level education for becoming a chemical technician is an associate’s degree, so a bachelor’s chemistry degree could be a boost here. 

Chemistry Teachers, College-Level

The career path of becoming a college chemistry teacher is a solid one, especially if its projected continued growth over the next decade. Not only do you get to convey your favorite subject to a new class of up-and-coming adults, but you can also take part in research and lab work both within the university and in connection with private companies who have an interest in your work. When it comes to what you can do with a chemistry degree, this is a great career path; the main drawback is that to become a college-level chemistry teacher, you’ll usually have to have a doctoral degree or at minimum a master’s chemistry degree.

Agricultural and Food Scientists

While many colleges, especially land-grant colleges, offer specific agricultural science degrees, you don’t need to have such a specific degree to enter this field, and a related field of study, such as a chemistry degree is typically sufficient. The minimum entry-level education for getting a job in this field is a bachelor’s degree, though like other professional scientific employment, more advanced degrees are encouraged or sometimes required. Either way, agricultural and food scientists do some very interesting work, such as conducting research and experiments on ways to improve the productivity and sustainability of crops and farm animals; create new food products; come up with new and improved ways to process, package, and deliver foods; and, of course, present research findings to others in the scientific community, including food producers.

Forensic Science Technicians

If you’re a CSI fan, then you may know what forensic scientists do. Forensic science technicians work in labs and, more excitingly, on crime scenes. They analyze crime scenes to identify which evidence should be collected and the way it should be collected; they record observations and findings of the crime scene, such as its location and the position of evidence. In the lab, forensic science technicians really get to do some cool stuff, such as performing chemical, biological, and microscopic examinations of evidence collected from crime scenes; utilize the results of DNA and other scientific analyses to investigate potential connections between suspects and criminal activity; as well as work with other experts in equally interesting fields, like toxicology, to find solutions to forensic science problems. Typically, the entry-level education for a forensic science technician is a bachelor’s degree.

Chemical Engineers

The typical entry-level education for chemical engineer jobs, according to the BLS, is a bachelor’s degree, ideally in chemical engineering or chemistry. Chemical engineers can make some serious money and do a lot of cool work on their jobs. Chemical engineers often perform research to develop new and better manufacturing processes; they develop controlled chemical processes for separating components of liquids and gasses or for generating electrical currents; they design and plan out the arrangement of equipment as well as troubleshoot problems involved with manufacturing processes; and much more. If you’re looking for high-paying chemistry major jobs, pursuing the path of a chemical engineer is not a bad move.

Biochemists and Biophysicists

The bad news with this occupation is that a doctoral degree is usually required to work in independent R&D positions. The good news is that bachelor’s chemistry degree holders are often qualified for entry-level positions in biochemistry and biophysics. And these entry-level workers with only a bachelor’s chemistry degree often are given the opportunity and support to pursue more advanced degrees, such as doctoral ones, to then attain even higher positions at companies involved in biochemistry and biophysics. 

These are merely a small selection of the kinds of chemistry major jobs you can find out there. What’s more, these chemistry degree jobs are careers specifically geared for chemistry majors. There are a lot of jobs where your talents and skills from majoring in chemistry can be transferable to positions that may not seem directly related to chemistry. The career horizons for chemistry majors are a bright one, both for careers in chemistry and for careers adjacent to chemistry and its requisite skills.

Highest Paying Industries for Chemistry Degree Jobs

If you’re wondering, what can you do with a chemistry degree, one answer is that you can make quite a good deal of money. A broad range of industries have chemistry major jobs and many of these industries pay comparatively well. Below is a breakdown of some of the highest paying industries for jobs for chemists, according to the BLS’s Occupational Employment Statistics (OES):

Highest-Paying Industry

Hourly Average Wage

Annual Average Wage

Oil and Gas Extraction

$ 75.07

$ 156,150

Computer and Peripheral Equipment Manufacturing

$ 59.86

$ 124,510

Federal Executive Branch 

$ 58.49

$ 121,660

Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution

$ 55.01

$ 114,410

Computer Systems Design and Related Services

$ 53.56

$ 111,410

Every single one of these average annual wages are well above the national average for all occupations, $58,260. Each one of these listed industries also pay, on average, more than the overall annual average wage for chemists of $89,130. Needless to say, chemistry degree jobs can certainly be lucrative careers to pursue, and the above list includes only five industries. The full catalog of industries that employ chemists and offer chemistry major jobs is far more extensive, and tend to beat the national average pay for all occupations in the U.S.

The Bottom Line on Finding Chemistry Major Jobs

The career horizons for chemistry majors are a bright one, both for careers in chemistry and for careers adjacent to chemistry and its requisite skills. With a chemistry degree, you can go into lab-based work, beginning perhaps as an assistant and then working your way up to a manager. You can find work at companies that are heavily involved in manufacturing, which requires serious knowledge of chemical reactions, chemical composition of materials, how chemical processes can be conducted safely, and turning out products based on your work. And, if you prefer academia and passing on your love of chemistry, there is always the route of becoming a chemistry teacher or, more highly paid, becoming a college chemistry professor. Majoring in chemistry does not solely have to be a major for a college student who is pursuing a pre-med educational path.