Chemical engineering spans multiple science and related subjects, from chemistry to physics, maths and biology. It focuses on converting chemicals and materials from one item into another to create new products. This can be anything from plastics to gases and beyond. Much of our modern products and everyday processes could not exist without chemical engineering.
What is chemical engineering?
Chemical engineering focuses on the processes needed to convert raw materials. As an engineer, you will use your advanced chemical knowledge and apply it to large scale, industrial chemical engineering. Your work could be as part of a laboratory team, but you could just as easily work with a large manufacturer as an expert in chemical processes.
There are various specialisms within chemical engineering. You could become a biochemical engineer, focusing on biological chemicals or chemicals related to medicine. You can also move into particular production processes or focus your work on specialised engineering methods.
Some degrees are accredited via the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE). If they are, they may go towards earning the title of Chartered Chemical Engineer (MIChemE) alongside evidence of workplace abilities and a peer review. If this is a route you are keen to take it is worth checking your degree is accredited.
What are the modules for this course?
Chemical engineering course modules vary depending on where you study. Typically you will begin your degree with foundational modules. These give you the key knowledge you need to understand your later studies and teach you vital chemical engineer skills. In your second and third years (and fourth, if you are in Scotland) you will have the opportunity to specialise, selecting modules that cater to your particular interests.
Chemical engineering is a challenging course and chemical engineering requirements are generally high.
Typically, first year modules include topics such as:
- Chemical engineering foundation
- Computing for Chemical Engineering
- Introduction to Laboratory Work
- Maths for engineering
- Physics for engineering
After completing your first year, you will have the opportunity to specialise in your second and third years. Second year usually combines some mandatory and some self selected modules. In your third year, alongside some compulsory modules, you will usually have the chance to direct your own learning with self selected modules, and a heavily weighted research project. Common second year modules include:
- Advanced chemical engineering processes
- Advanced chemical engineering principles
- Chemical process engineering
- Heat and Mass Transfer
- Laboratory Projects
- Materials Science
- Process Design
- Process Fluid Flow
Third year modules could include:
- Batch Processing
- Catalyst Reaction Engineering
- Product design and engineering
- Environmental engineering
What are the entry requirements?
Chemical engineering is a challenging course and chemical engineering requirements are generally high. Typically universities ask for around 96-165 UCAS points. This translates to:
- A Levels: A*A*A-BBC
- BTECs: D*D*D*-DDM
- Scottish Highers: AAAAA-BBBB (sometimes universities require Advanced Highers at AA)
- International Baccalaureate: 42-26 points
Most universities will be looking for a mathematical and scientific background from applicants. You will usually be expected to have studied maths with chemistry or physics (sometimes both). You may also need a minimum of 5 GCSEs at grades 9-4 (9-5 for some universities) including English and maths, though this may differ for a BTECs and international baccalaureate.
How do I write my personal statement for this subject?
In your chemical engineering personal statement you are persuading the reader that chemical engineering is a good fit for you. You will want to cover your current studies, and why they are relevant to a chemical engineering degree. You should also cover any hobbies or interests you have that connect to the discipline, as well as those not relevant but showing you to be a well-rounded person. Throughout, it is key to connect your experience and interests to the qualities of a good chemical engineer, such as having great attention to detail, a strong scientific and mathematical mind, and a fascination for chemical processes and how they work.
You will utilise a combination of textbook and academic articles during your degree studies.
When you discuss your current studies, think about how they connect to chemical engineering. What elements of your post-16 courses made you think chemical engineering would be right for you? Equally, share where in your courses you were keen to learn more. Perhaps you briefly touched on a particular chemical process but want to learn more, and this will be covered in a chemical engineering degree. Make sure to do your research to check that the degrees you are applying to include this teaching.
Alongside your previous studies, it is a good idea to share in depth what you are keen to learn about on your degree. What jobs do you aspire to? Include these in your statement. This would also be a good place to share any personal qualities that connect well with the work of a chemical engineer.
Sharing your hobbies, work experience and interests are also key to your personal statement. If you have any that are relevant to chemical engineering, include these. If you have any particular chemical engineering work experience, reflect on what you learned and why it encouraged you to pursue further study. It’s great, however, to share your wider interests to show that you will make a good addition to a wider university community.
What books or equipment do I need?
You will utilise a combination of textbook and academic articles during your degree studies. These should be provided by your university library, both in person and online. You may need access to your own scientific calculator, and access to a personal laptop. Any software or programs that you need to use should be provided by your university.
Typically there are two branches to postgraduate study for chemical engineering.
You will use a variety of chemical apparatus and techniques during your studies. These, again, should be provided by your university as part of your tuition fees. You will usually access them via a communal lab during labs and workshops.
How will I be assessed?
Assessment methods vary depending on where you study. You could be assessed via a combination of exams, coursework, presentation and laboratory observations. As each university assesses in different weighted combinations, it’s a good idea to compare different assessment methods across your university choices. You can then make an informed decision about where to apply if you have a preference for being assessed in a particular way. You will also find that different modules within degrees are assessed in different ways. As you progress through your course, you can select modules that fit your preferred method of assessment, if you have one.
What are the career prospects?
Chemical engineering is a highly practical degree and is relevant to many different career paths. Most chemical engineers go directly into a chemical engineering job role. This is because chemical engineering degrees are highly aligned with industry and the practical applications of the scientific principles taught.
Alternatively, there are various other career paths that align well with a chemical engineering degree. You could work in manufacturing, product design and development, and managerial or consultant roles where scientific knowledge is key.
What jobs can I get with this degree?
There are a variety of chemical engineering jobs that suit graduates well. Examples include:
- Biochemical engineer
- Chemical engineer
- Engineering consultant
- Process engineer
- Product design and production scientist
How does chemical engineering change at a postgraduate level?
Typically there are two branches to postgraduate study for chemical engineering. Graduates of aligned degrees, such as maths, computing or sciences, may want to specialise in chemical engineering when they already have a degree, so take a generalised masters level course which tops up their previous scientific knowledge.
Chemical engineering focuses on the processes needed to convert raw materials.
Alternatively, if you already have a chemical engineering degree, you could take a more advanced chemical engineering masters. Usually you would do this if you hope to pursue a specialised career that wasn’t covered in your degree in chemical engineering, such as biotechnology, or you hope to move on to PhD study. If you want to pursue an academic or research career path after your degree, PhD study is usually required. As with most qualifications, the more advanced you are, the more independent you are expected to be. At masters and PhD level you will receive specialised supervision, but you will usually be expected to research and conduct your own studies independently.
What is the average grad salary in this area?
An early career chemical engineer can expect to earn around £28,600. This is according to the Institution of Chemical Engineers as of 2018. Salaries vary considerably depending on location. A general rule is the larger the company and the closer to big cities, the higher the salary.
Alternative career paths such as academia and product development can vary significantly, so it’s a good idea to look at the average graduate salary for your area.
-  New report reveals latest chemical engineering salary trends — IChemE.org Retrieved 24 November 2022.