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Chemistry Overview - Preparation - Specialty Areas - Co-ops and Internships - Employment - Earnings - Profiles of Chemists - Career Path Forecast -Professional Organizations 

Your college education is your first step toward your future chemistry career. It is a critical first step. Because chemistry offers so many different career opportunities and can be your entrée into a whole spectrum of careers, scientific and nonscientific, you should consider your options; choose as your goals the fields that interest you most, and plan your education with your goals in mind. Your degree offers vital proof of your mastery of basic principles and how well you prepared for specific career options.

Education Options
It would be uncommon for a university to not offer a degree in biology.  Professional Science Master's are also available for many chemistry areas. As of May 2011, there are 663 Bachelor's, 308 Master's, 12 PSMs, and 204 PhD's in chemistry available for consideration. Click here to search a current list of all universities offering bachelor's, master's, or PhD programs in chemistry approved by the American Chemical Society.

Degree Choice
The variety of degrees in chemistry and related fields include: Associate in Applied Science (AAS), Associate of Science (A.S.); Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in chemistry; Master of Science (M.S.) degree and the Master of Arts (M.A.) degree; and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree. Some receive additional training in post-doctoral positions. SCCC also offers more resources on academic degrees.

The Associate in Applied Science (AAS) is offered to those wishing to complete programs in chemical technology. Many chemical technicians begin their career by earning this degree. After earning this degree, some graduates continue their studies to earn a bachelor's degree in chemistry or a related field.

Associate of Science (AS) degrees are two-year degrees that can serve as the first step towards bachelor's degrees in chemistry. To facilitate transfer of credits, students pursuing AS degrees should know the requirements of the institution to which they intend to transfer.

The designation of Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees in chemistry, both four-year degrees, varies from one institution to another. BS degrees typically includes more chemistry, other science, and math courses, while BA degrees typically include more courses outside of science, engineering, and math.

Master of Science (MS) and the Master of Arts (MA) degrees in chemistry and related fields are typically earned after two years of study after the bachelor's degree. Earning a bachelor's degree in chemistry and a master's degree in a related field (or vice versa) can be very useful to students planning an interdisciplinary career. A master's degree is essential in order to teach in a community college. It is also helpful to have a master's for a high school teaching career. A master's degree can also serve to deepen or broaden your chemistry knowledge and better prepare you for industrial careers. Some students use the master's degree to help them determine their career interests and aptitudes before making the longer commitment to a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) chemistry program. This approach can be particularly useful to students who were not able to participate in an undergraduate research program.

Professional Science Master's programs consist of two years of academic training in an emerging or interdisciplinary area, along with a professional component that may include internships and "cross-training" in workplace skills, such as business, communications, and regulatory affairs.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees in chemistry is preferred for many research positions in industry and government. Colleges and universities usually require Ph.D. degrees when they hire new faculty members. Earning a Ph.D. degree demonstrates a long –term commitment to chemistry as a career. It provides the chemist with a depth of chemical information and the knowledge of how to do productive research.

Post-doctoral Positions
Most research universities and some colleges prefer that employment candidates also complete some postdoctoral research in addition to earning their Ph.D. In postdoctoral research, Ph.D. chemists work with a professor or chemical professional in industry on a research project but do so more independently than they did as graduate students. Usually, they leave the institution where they earned their Ph.D. to work in another university, industrial, or government laboratory. Industrial post-docs are becoming more common as are post-docs before beginning a research career in industry, particularly the pharmaceutical industry. Post-doctoral positions typically last two years. They offer chemists two types of opportunities. The first is to work in the same field as they did when earning their Ph.D. This provides a depth of knowledge and specialization that can be very useful if there are plentiful job opportunities in their field of specialization. The second is to work in a different field than the one in which they earned their Ph.D. This will allow them broaden their knowledge and experience, thus qualifying them for a broader range of job opportunities and demonstrating their versatility to employers.

Graduate School Considerations
Before deciding whether to apply to graduate school, determine the kind of career you want. Consider both your interests and abilities when making this determination. One of the reasons so many chemists enjoy their careers is that they are a good match for their interests and abilities. Graduate school is intended to develop independent researchers and is usually the best option for those who want to spend a major portion of their career doing research and development work. However, be prepared to revise your plans as your interests change. For example, after working in research, some industrial chemists develop an interest in guiding research and determining what research areas are explored at their company.

A major component of many Master's degree and nearly all Ph.D. programs is research and writing a thesis. This is an intense experience. Working on an undergraduate research project will help you decide if you find research rewarding and thus would enjoy graduate school. So will working in an industrial research lab after graduation or as part of a co-op program. Of course, you'll also learn if your abilities will enable you to be a good researcher.

In deciding whether to continue your education past the bachelor's degree, assess your abilities as objectively as possible. Consult your faculty advisor and other faculty members who know you well. Consult graduate students. If you know some chemists who have completed graduate school and know you, consult them as well. If they do not know you well, they can still advise you on what they think are the most important qualities you need to do well in graduate school.

Success in your undergraduate studies is not a definite predictor of graduate school success. Graduate school is unique, far more than an extension of your undergraduate study. In short, graduate school requires more work, a stronger commitment, and concentrated effort as well as creativity in research and analysis. The course work is more intense. You will have to be self-motivated and work independently to succeed at your research. This requires maturity and motivation. Writing your thesis is a major effort that both demonstrates your research accomplishments and indicates whether you can organize and effectively communicate complicated technical information to others.

Your decision to attend graduate school is not final; it does not have to be made prior to receiving your undergraduate degree. Some students receive their undergraduate degree and work as chemists or in other fields before deciding to attend graduate school. A break of a year or more can offer you a chance to gain practical experience before choosing a specialty.

Some are concerned that delaying graduate school to gain work experience or earn an income may ultimately lead to not returning to school to do graduate work as they get used to developing their careers and earning a salary. However, many employers encourage their employees to attend graduate school while continuing to work and often offer financial assistance to do so.

Once you've decided you have the abilities and commitment to succeed in graduate school, you will have to decide on which schools to apply, complete application materials, gain admission, and decide how to finance your graduate education. 

Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the American Chemical Society.

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