Become a chemical engineer
Choosing a degree course or career option can be a daunting task, but the information below may help with your decision.
Choosing the right course
With the huge variety available, how do you choose the best chemical or biochemical engineering degree course for you? There’s no easy answer to this question other than to research the range of options available and choose the one that seems to fit your circumstances best. Here are some factors to consider:
Bachelor’s vs. master’s
Undergraduate degree courses are offered at two levels:
- a bachelor’s degree (ie BEng/BE/BSc) usually lasts 3-4 years and give students a sound education in core chemical engineering subjects and a solid skills base
- a master’s degree (ie MEng/ME) is generally a year longer than a bachelor’s and enables you to gain advanced knowledge and higher-level skills.
Accreditation involves assessing a course's content against high, internationally recognised standards, and provides a route(s) for graduates towards professional registration (ie Chartered Chemical Engineer).
IChemE accredits chemical engineering programmes in a number of countries. View our list of universities with accredited degree programmes.
To find out of the course you’ve chosen is accredited, use Engineering Council’s Accredited Course Search
Most universities either offer courses that include an industrial placement/work experience, or will allow students to take time out of their course to complete a placement. If the university isn't able to help find you a placement the Year in Industry scheme may be able to help.
Many universities offer options to study abroad as part of your degree, perhaps for a semester or one school year, ie in Europe, the USA or Australia.
If choosing to study in a country where subjects are not taught in English (ie Germany, France or Spain) knowledge of the necessary language is required.
Small departments may offer a more intimate learning environment where all students are known by staff, whereas large departments may be able to offer a wider choice of modules.
Do you want to live in a town or city? Are you keen to be near to industry? Do you prefer a more rural location for study? It's best to attend some university open days to get a feel for which location will help you to feel at home - details should be on university websites.
- does the university guarantee accommodation?
- what standard of accommodation is offered and what does is cost?
- is it close to where you study?
- are there shops, restaurants and places to socialise nearby?
- are there good transport links?
Different universities will have different expectations, but the general entry standard is usually:
- A-Levels: 120–160 UCAS tariff points (A*A*A–BBB) including Maths and Chemistry
- Highers/Advanced Highers to include Maths and Chemistry
- Irish Leaving Certificate - minimum of six subjects to include Maths at grade H4 or above
- International or European Baccalaureates, or equivalent qualifications to any of the above are usually considered.
You can find details of individual university entry requirements at www.ucas.com. Alternatively, see which universities offer IChemE accredited courses.
Taster courses can offer students an insight into what it's like to study engineering at university, and to learn more about degrees that lead to jobs in technology-based industries.
The following organisations run online and/or residential courses for students in the UK. Visit their websites for more information about their courses and details on how to apply:
Many companies and organisations offer financial sponsorship for students studying chemical engineering, whereas others may not offer a specific scheme but could consider good candidates on an individual basis. Visit the companies website and contact them directly.
There may also be sponsorship opportunities available at the university you plan to attend such as: industry backed sponsorship; support for students gifted in areas such as sport or music; prizes for examination performance. Visit www.thescholarshiphub.org.uk to find out what's available.
The following organisations offer scholarships for eligible students. Visit their websites for more info:
Students looking for work experience placements should seek advice from their school/university careers adviser. If your careers adviser is unable to help, you should contact the Personnel or Human Resources departments of companies directly. Chemical engineers are employed across a huge variety of industries so you should research companies carefully before contacting them.
Applying for work experience
When contacting a company regarding work experience include the following information:
- your age
- the subjects you're studying and exam results (where relevant)
- specific dates for the work experience (if needed)
- your motivation/interest in chemical engineering
- why you are approaching their company.
If emailing or writing to the company it's essential to make a good impression. Make sure that all communications are free of spelling and grammatical errors, and it's always useful to include a copy of your CV - if you don't have one, write one!
Please note: because chemical and biochemical engineers often work in companies where a production process is carried out, health and safety restrictions can limit work experience opportunities for students under 18 years old in some cases.
Apprenticeships are a great option for those who would prefer to learn on the job. They allow you to earn while you learn and are available at a variety of levels from the equivalent of GCSEs to postgraduate level (Level 2 – Level 8).
Degree-level apprenticeships are becoming available in a range of industries. Studying a degree-level engineering apprenticeship allows you to gain practical experience and earn a living while also studying towards a degree qualification.
Universities and industry are working to develop chemical engineering apprenticeships, but it may take some time to get these fully operational. In the meantime, use the government’s Find an apprenticeship search tool. Keywords such as process, chemical, laboratory, science industry and plant may be useful.
Alternatively, to find out more about apprenticeships and whether they’re a viable alternative for you, see the UK government's guide to apprenticeships.