Overview of Chemistry Program as a College Major

When you think of chemistry, do you envision a mad scientist conducting experiments in his lab? Well, while scientists and researchers do work in laboratory settings experimenting with chemicals to determine how they react in a variety of circumstances, chemistry is all about the chemicals we find in everyday life and how we can use them to benefit us.

As with other sciences, chemistry is a broad field of study so many colleges and universities have focused areas of concentration in order to allow you to study a specific area such as analytical, inorganic, physical, and organic chemistry or biochemistry. You will need to fulfill certain basic core educational requirements including history, English and humanities along with chemistry-specific courses that might include classes in organic chemistry, biochemistry, and ecology.

Chemistry Program Curriculum

Given the rapid pace of scientific developments, if you choose a degree in any science program you’ll likely find you need to continuously upgrade your knowledge. However, you’ll want to begin by obtaining at least an undergraduate degree first. And while actual course work may differ from campus to campus, you will likely find yourself taking courses such as:

  • Mathematics/quantitative reasoning
  • Organic chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Enzymes and macromolecular interactions
  • Environmental chemistry
  • Physical chemistry
  • Computational chemistry
  • Organic qualitative analysis
  • Chemical analysis
  • Chromatographic separations
  • Metabolism
  • Nucleic acid function and protein synthesis

Education Levels Available for a Chemistry Degree

In 2009, the American Chemical Society (ACS) had approved about 650 Bachelor's degree, 310 Master's degree, and 200 Doctoral degree programs. In addition, there were other advanced degrees and certifications in chemistry at other colleges and universities. Though there are chemistry degrees at all education levels – Associate degree, Bachelor degree, Master degree and Doctorate degree – it is more common to pursue a graduate degree in chemistry so you can work in professional, technical or scientific positions.

Associate degrees in chemistry are typically obtained as the foundation to move on to higher educational pursuits. Bachelor and Master degrees are helpful; however, if your dream is to work in pharmaceutical, biotechnology, chemical manufacturing or research, your best chances are to get a PhD in chemistry.

Skills Developed through Chemistry Degree Program

While the skills of a scientist typically require you to have specific technical expertise in your chosen field, in today’s job market that is not enough. You also need to have solid work-related skills that enable you to persevere when research becomes tedious or mundane. Important skills include:

  • Critical thinking, logic and data analysis
  • Problem solving and decision making
  • Working knowledge of computers and a variety of computer programs
  • Keen ability to interpret laboratory data and formulate conclusions
  • Ability to present ideas both in writing and orally
  • Use of scientific methods and ability to explain its purpose in scientific investigations
  • Recognizing and constructing valid arguments using deductive and inductive reasoning
  • Concentrating for sustained periods and the patience to repeat an experiment
Where to Obtain a Chemistry Degree

If you’re considering a career as an organic, physical or material chemist, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that employment will likely be slower than in other occupations – somewhere around 3% over the next few years.

Getting your degree in chemistry will require you to complete hands-on work in the laboratory and use chemical instrumentation. This along with the fact that there are few online college science programs available suggests that an on-campus option is your best bet. Depending on what your ultimate career goal is, however, there are online programs in related subjects such as health science and biological chemical engineering as well as certificate programs in pharmaceutical science.

Career Opportunities for Chemistry Majors

One of the primary reasons that growth is slow for chemists is because many choose to work in the development and production of new goods, much of which takes place in a manufacturing environment. Unfortunately, due to the struggling economy, manufacturers in the U.S. have slowed their hiring pace.

Therefore, you may want to consider careers outside of traditional chemical manufacturing environments – such as paints, cosmetics, petroleum – and focus instead on biotechnology and pharmaceuticals or consider science-related careers in sales and marketing, academia and government.

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