Chemistry is the study of the building blocks of our world, and chemical engineering is the application of this theoretical field to the study of engineering. More specifically, chemical engineering is a field that focuses on how what we know about chemistry and chemical reactions can be manipulated and turned into products and materials that are useful for human consumption. Bachelor's degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering share many lower-division course requirements but vary widely in upper-division coursework.
Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry
A bachelor’s degree in chemistry is intended for students who are interested in chemistry and chemistry-related laboratory work. This degree program is four years in length and typically requires students to complete 120 total credits. Students spend the first two years taking general education requirements, which give them a broad liberal arts education, and lower-division courses in chemistry, mathematics and physics. These courses are prerequisites for more advanced chemistry courses that students take in the last two years of the degree. Students who graduate with bachelor's degrees in chemistry go on to research-assistant jobs in chemistry labs, chemistry graduate programs and medical schools.
Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering
A bachelor's degree in chemical engineering is intended for students who are primarily interested in chemistry's applications as opposed to its theoretical foundations. This major is an engineering degree and therefore is an applied program that teaches students real-world engineering skills. This degree program is four to five years in length and typically requires students to complete 120 to 140 credits. Just as with the degree in chemistry, students spend the first two years taking general education requirements and lower-division prerequisites in chemistry, physics and mathematics. Graduates of bachelor's programs in chemical engineering pursue entry-level positions in engineering firms and post-graduate education in master's and doctoral programs in the field.
Requirements vary but both chemistry and chemical engineering bachelor's programs tend to require students to take a year each of general chemistry, organic chemistry and general physics with laboratory sections as well as two years of advanced mathematics. In particular, students are required to take Calculus 1, 2 and 3, advanced or multivariable calculus, and a course in differential equations. These courses give students a strong foundation and equip them with tools to succeed in upper-division chemistry courses. Most chemical engineering programs also require students to take courses such as introduction to chemical engineering, fundamentals of chemical engineering and computer methods for chemical engineering.
Most bachelor's programs in chemistry require upper-level students to take a year each of physical chemistry, inorganic chemistry and biochemistry and the associated laboratory sections. Unlike these theoretical chemistry courses, most bachelor’s programs in chemical engineering require students to take courses such as Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics 1 and 2, chemical processes, heat and mass transport, chemical reactor kinetics and chemical engineering processes. Both programs also require students to take electives, according to their interests, in more advanced areas of chemistry and chemical engineering. For example, chemical engineering majors might take additional courses in chemical processes, while chemistry majors might take additional courses in inorganic chemistry.
Kate Prudchenko has been a writer and editor for five years, publishing peer-reviewed articles, essays, and book chapters in a variety of publications including Immersive Environments: Future Trends in Education and Contemporary Literary Review India. She has a BA and MS in Mathematics, MA in English/Writing, and is completing a PhD in Education.