What Can You Do With A Chemistry Degree?

Kate Onissiphorou

by Kate Onissiphorou

9th March 2022

A typical week in a chemistry degree involves lab work

A chemistry degree can pave the way for a lucrative and rewarding career. It opens up a wide range of opportunities in both academia and industry.

However, the number of students applying for chemistry degrees in the UK and Ireland has declined significantly over recent years, largely as a result of changes to the GCSE and A level assessment process. 

While this has contributed to a skills shortage in pure sciences and certain industries, it also means that if you’re serious about pursuing a career in chemistry, you’ll probably be in high demand. 

How Long Does a Chemistry Degree Take to Achieve?

On average, a chemistry degree takes about three years to complete, although this may vary depending on whether you’re a full-time or part-time student.

Most universities offer a three-year bachelor of science (BSc) degree in chemistry. Others offer a four-year master of chemistry or master of science (MChem or MSci) degree in chemistry.

A typical week in a chemistry degree involves lab work

The topics covered in the first two to three years of an MChem or MSci course are very similar to those covered in a BSc degree in chemistry. In the fourth year, the subjects are more advanced and involve a large proportion of research. Consequently, the academic entry requirements for an MChem or MSci course are higher than those for a BSc degree.

Depending on the country or university, postgraduate studies like a PhD, DSci or post-doctoral fellowship will add three to six years of formal academic training and research.

Some senior professional chemists and academics will therefore have an average of 10 years of formal education.

Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry Explained

The programme and duration of the BScChem course can vary slightly, depending on the university and territory. In some countries, it may take four years to complete. However, in the UK you can normally complete the degree in just three years. 

The minimum qualifications for entry onto the programme include GCSE single science (Chemistry) and an A level in chemistry. You must have a very good grasp of general science and mathematics to qualify for a BSc Chemistry degree. 

The specific subjects or course units may differ between universities, but a BScChem degree generally includes the following core topics:

First year

  • Orbitals and chemical bonding
  • Mechanisms of chemical reactions
  • Molecular spectroscopy; coordination chemistry
  • The laws of thermodynamics
  • Chemical kinetics
  • Introduction to quantum mechanics

Second year

  • Chemical bonding and reactivity
  • Chromatography analysis
  • Chemistry of organometallic compounds
  • Molecular structure and symmetry
  • Metal-ligand bonding and complexes
  • Chemical synthesis and behaviours of polymers
  • Spectroscopic analysis

Third year

In your third year, you’ll have a wider range of units to choose from. Some cover traditional topics, while others are more advanced or may overlap with other fields. They include:

  • Computational chemistry
  • Organic and inorganic synthetic methods
  • Surface chemistry and catalysis
  • Photochemistry
  • Nuclear chemistry
  • Environmental chemistry
  • Biological chemistry
  • Practical training.

Master’s Degree in Chemistry Explained

In the UK, the core subjects of a Master’s degree in chemistry are identical to those studied in the first, second, and third year of the BSci degree programme. In other countries, a master’s degree is completed after a bachelor’s degree.

If you’re studying at a UK university, you can proceed directly to a four-year master’s degree in chemistry after finishing your A levels (providing you have the necessary academic qualifications and competencies).

The main difference is during the fourth year of the course, when you’ll study more advanced topics and focus on research.

An infographic showing the jobs you can do with a chemistry degree.

Is Chemistry a Good Degree?

The question of whether chemistry is a good degree depends on your passion and competencies. If you’re enthusiastic but don’t have the right competencies, you may not meet the university admission requirements. However, if you have the necessary competencies but lack passion, you might not have the motivation to graduate and find a good job.

Career options to pursue if you have a degree in chemistry include becoming a chemistry teacher

Career options to pursue if you have a degree in chemistry include becoming a chemistry teacher

Both passion and competency are crucial to succeed in any field. Chemistry will only be a good degree if you graduate and have sufficient knowledge and skills to be employable.

Put simply, chemistry is a good degree for the right student.

How Hard is a Chemistry Degree to Obtain?

If you have the right mathematical and scientific skills and a good attitude, pursuing a chemistry degree shouldn’t be too difficult.

Of course, you’ll need to earn the necessary academic units by passing exams and complying with other requirements such as term papers and laboratory activities. You can finish a BSci in Chemistry in three years if you’re a full-time student.

What’s the Average Salary of Someone With a Chemistry Degree?

The salary of an entry-level chemist is, of course, always lower than that of senior chemists with advanced degrees.

Your salary will also depend on the particular job and employer. Some of the most lucrative jobs in chemistry are in sectors such as the pharmaceutical and oil industries. On average, the annual salary of a chemist in the UK is £27,966. However, a senior chemist may earn more than £39,000 per year.

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