the logo

What can you do with a chemical engineering degree?

Chemical engineering requires a range of scientific and analytics skills. The study of chemical engineering will become increasingly more important with the shift towards renewable energy sources

  • Guides
May 3 2024
Chemical engineering


Chemical engineering: studying, working and earning

This article will outline the jobs and career paths that you can go into if you study a chemical engineering degree. It will cover:

  • What is chemical engineering?
  • What you will study in a chemical engineering degree
  • What you need to study in high school to pursue a chemical engineering degree
  • What jobs you can do with a chemical engineering degree

What is chemical engineering?

Chemical engineering can be defined as turning raw materials into useful products for everyday life. 

register- wide
Join the THE Student community and unlock free benefits

A key area in which chemical engineering is important is the energy sector and the utilisation and refining of resources such as oil and gas in generating electricity or powering engines.

Chemical engineering will also be important in the global shift towards renewable resources such as solar and hydroelectric, requiring innovation and development to ensure these sources can meet our energy needs.

Chemical engineering is also used in processes such as the creation of pharmaceuticals and food manufacturing. 

What does a chemical engineer do?

A chemical engineer’s role involves learning and discovering how raw materials can be turned into new products such as food, clothes, machinery and energy.

The day-to-day work of a chemical engineer will vary but will include tasks such as risk analysis, product development, design and manufacturing. 

As engineers progress through their careers, they can begin to specialise in specific areas such as environmental design or food product development. 

The industrial sector of chemical engineering is also rapidly expanding, and as well as its traditional outlets it offers graduates career opportunities in fields such as nanotechnology and biotechnical engineering.

A degree course in chemical engineering will teach many transferable skills for a wide variety of sectors. Business and leadership are an important part of a chemical engineering degree, as are skills such as communication, presenting, teamwork, problem-solving, product development and analytical skills. 

Students will also gain skills in information technology, and the potential to pursue a career in this field, for instance as a software engineer. 

Where do chemical engineers work?

Chemical engineers can work in a wide range of roles and industries. 

Many chemical engineers will work in chemical plants, however others may work in food manufacturing or power plants, cosmetic product development labs, schools, universities or research labs. 

How to become a chemical engineer

The main way to become a chemical engineer is to study a chemical engineering degree or a general engineering degree and take modules specialising in chemical engineering. Students can also pursue postgraduate study in chemical engineering in order to be able to specialise further. 

In the UK, once you complete your degree it is recommended that you work towards attaining chartered status. To achieve this you will have to show experience and expertise in your field. Most senior roles will require engineers to be chartered and becoming chartered can also increase your earning potential. 

In the US, students will probably major in engineering and will then be able to choose classes in chemical engineering. 

Chemical engineering modules

Universities across the world offer a three-year modular Bachelor’s of Engineering programme, or a four-year master’s qualification. The first year will often focus on transferable skills, such as information technology, and the basic concepts of chemical and energy engineering, such as distillation and membrane technology.

Courses are rapidly evolving, ensuring that a student is kept informed of the latest developments in the shifting energy and manufacturing sectors.

Courses usually include working on large projects as part of a team, and laboratory research in areas such as catalysis and unit operations. Degree programmes often feature a sandwich year in industry, where students can experience a paid entry-level position in the field while establishing a professional network to utilise upon graduation.

In many courses, undergraduate and master’s degrees will be similar for the first two years, before the graduate course diverges into more specialist study. Graduate courses offer a chance for a student to focus on an area and can be combined with other areas of expertise, for instance nuclear engineering.

These are just some of the modules you may study on a chemical engineering, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. This will vary across universities and countries too. 



Introductory Chemical Engineering Principles

Covering sustainability, process calculations, and fluid mechanics.

Chemical and Biochemical Product Design

Focusing on designing chemical and biochemical products.

Engineering Design and Manufacturing Workshop

Practical workshop in designing and manufacturing engineering products.

Process Thermodynamics

Study of thermodynamics in chemical processes.

Heat and Mass Transfer

Essential principles of heat and mass movement in chemical engineering.

Reaction Engineering

In-depth look at chemical reaction processes and their engineering applications.

Separations and Solids Processing

Techniques and principles in separating chemical mixtures and processing solids.

Process Dynamics and Control

Understanding the dynamics of chemical processes and their control mechanisms.

Process Design and Plant Design Project

Hands-on project involving the design of a chemical plant.

Sustainability and Advanced Design in Chemical Engineering

Exploring sustainability challenges and advanced design principles in the field.

Best universities for chemical engineering

According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, some of the best universities in the world for engineering degrees are Harvard University, Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge

The ranking contains institutions from 70 countries including Singapore, Canada, Switzerland, Germany and Hong Kong. 

We have also produced tables for the best universities for engineering the UK, the best universities for engineering in the US, best universities for engineering in Canada and the best universities for engineering in Australia

What can you do with a chemical engineering degree? 

A degree in chemical engineering combines knowledge of chemistry, mathematics, physics, economics and biology, providing students with a variety of skills. Graduates can apply their training in experiments, design, calculations and communication to many industries. These are just some of the jobs that a chemical engineering graduate can do:

  • Manufacturing production technician 
  • Chemical plant and system operator 
  • Analytical chemist 
  • Food engineer 
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturer 
  • Energy engineer 
  • Chemical process engineer 
  • Chemical engineer 
  • Environmental engineer 
  • Process engineer 
  • Petroleum/nuclear engineer 
  • Mining engineer 

What should I study to do a chemical engineering degree?

An educational grounding in chemistry is essential, and universities will usually require a student to have a proficient level of understanding before acceptance onto a course. As well as chemistry, traditional sciences such as biology, in which a student can learn about digestion and the impact of food manufacturing processes, and physics, which can touch on the formulas of nuclear power, are also very useful.

In education systems in which one chooses a major after beginning a university course, a business or economics minor can be an ideal accompaniment because the feasibility and execution of chemical engineering projects will invariably come with cost analysis and management responsibilities. Given the confluence of business and science, mathematics is also a valuable subject to learn. 

In a globalised industry, written English language skills can be crucial, and languages such as Mandarin or Arabic can also be highly valued by employers and universities.

Chemical engineering scholarships

Most universities that offer chemical engineering will have bursaries and financial aid for students. Below are some externals societies that offer funding towards chemical engineering degrees. 

Famous people who studied chemical engineering

Koch Industries is a multinational corporation with manufacturing and investment subsidiaries; founder Fred Koch has a degree in chemical engineering practice from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and his sons David and Charles have chemical engineering degrees from the same institution.

Other notable figures with chemical engineering degrees include astronaut Robert Satcher (also MIT) and film director Frank Capra (Tsinghua University).

You may also like

Mathematics, maths, math

What can you do with a mathematics degree?

Why should you study maths at college, what jobs can you get, and how hard is it to get a place?

September 29 2022
sticky sign up

Register free and enjoy extra benefits