Chemistry Department Major Selection

The selection of a major is dependent upon what you want to do with it. Unfortunately, you are usually asked to choose a major before you really know what you want to do. In many cases this may be because you haven't enough experience to know what you would enjoy doing for your career. So, one key piece of advice is not to limit your options until you have to do so. Keep as many doors open as possible. Have a plan B (and C). As you consider choosing a major in chemistry, we would encourage you to read the advice/information below the descriptions of the majors.

The Chemistry Department offers four different majors. The biochemistry and chemistry majors are offered with different concentrations that will help prepare you for different positions upon graduation. For each major, we give a brief description below. There is also a link to the catalog page that provides an overview of the courses needed to fulfill the requirements of the major. When in doubt, talk to an advisor. Note that the names, and some of the requirements, for four of the majors changed starting with the 2022-23 catalog. If you are using an older catalog, please see the flow charts on the course sequences page.

There is also a minor in fermentation science which can be selected by biology, biochemistry or chemistry majors.

Many students are interested in pursuing a specialization in forensic science. Many of them used to register as biochemistry/toxicology majors. However, this was not really the best program for many of them. In fact, the biochemistry/toxicology program has been phased out and is no longer available for selection by new students. We have prepared a brochure with helpful information for those who are interested in some aspect of forensic science.

If you don't think a chemistry major is right, you may wish to consider a chemistry or biochemistry minor.

Finally, you might be considering chemistry because you are interested in attending a professional school (medical, dental, pharmacy, mortuary science). If so, click here to get useful information about these pre-professional tracks. Note that you cannot major in pre-dental, pre-medical, etc. You need to choose a regular major and pursue it, while completing all of the requirements for the professional school you hope to attend someday.

What is the difference between a "General" concentration and a "Research" concentration? Which one should you choose?

The "research" concentration of our chemistry and biochemistry majors provides the traditional strong background expected of someone who is planning a professional career in the field, including adequate preparation for admission to graduate school. Students completing the chemistry major are certified to the American Chemical Society (ACS). Biochemistry majors may be certified if they select the proper electives. The necessary paperwork is completed by the Chemistry Department Head when s/he completes the department's annual report to the ACS.

The "general" concentration of the biochemistry and chemistry majors, on the other hand, is appropriate for those who anticipate careers requiring less rigorous technical backgrounds than professional chemists or biochemists. Examples would be laboratory technician, medicine (but not medical research), dentistry, business, patent law, technical writing, industrial health and safety, and secondary education.

The programs have most of their lower-level courses in common. The students in the general concentration will take fewer advanced courses and not need to complete as many math prerequisites. This can be particularly helpful for preprofessional students (premed, predent, etc.,) who need time in their schedule to take other courses outside of the major required for professional school admission.  However, some preprofessional majors still choose the research concentration in order to distinguish themselves from their peers by the rigor of their coursework.  

Students in any concentration are encouraged to find opportunities for mentored research in the department, as this provides excellent hands-on training for future jobs. However, students taking the research concentration are required to do at least two credits of mentored research to fulfill the major requirements.  

Essentially all of our graduates are able to find jobs; however, majors taking the general concentration may not have as many options. For example, one big employer, the U.S. government, defines "chemist" as someone who has had the full year of physical chemistry, which is required only for the research concentration.  If you are in doubt about which track to pursue, we recommend that you start out with the research concentration. It's easy to switch to the general concentration later on, but the reverse transition can be difficult.


Biochemistry Research

Biochemistry General

Chemistry Research

Chemistry General

American Chemical Society CertificationYes, with certain electivesNoYesNo
Prepare for Career in Chemistry Research or Grad SchoolYesNoYesNo
Prepare for Professional School (med, dent, pharm) or Other Non-Research CareersYesYesYesYes
Calculus II RequiredYesNoYesNo
Easy to Switch into Other ConcentrationYesNoYesNo
Research ExperienceRequiredOptionalRequiredOptional
  • Careers in Chemistry

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    Chemists, like snowflakes, are all different. A great variety of employment directions are possible. Duties commonly expected of chemists include the following:

    • Performing laboratory analyses related to industrial, governmental, pharmaceutical or medical research.
    • Monitoring water treatment and waste disposal facilities, and compliance with environmental pollution standards.
    • Working with complex electronic instrumentation, including computers. Preparing the materials, standards and specifications for chemical processes, facilities, products and tests.
    • Testing production samples for quality control.
    • Synthesizing new materials for industrial, commercial or medical use.
    • Developing new equipment and methods for solving chemical problems.
    • Collaborating with engineers and others on solutions to problems.
    • Technical writing for both reports and professional publications.
    • Preparing and presenting findings of tests or experiments, in both written and oral forms.
    • Teaching and lecturing.
    • Maintaining accurate and detailed records.

    What you do will depend on two things:

    • How much training you have.
    • Your area of specialization.

    The American Chemical Society Education Division has constructed a website with information on more than 30 career areas in chemistry, career options within each subdiscipline (organic, physical, etc.) and information on what students can do now to begin preparing for a degree in chemistry. Go to the College to Career site.

  • Significance of Your Degree

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    Four years of college nets you a bachelor’s degree (BA or BS). With approximately two more years you can earn a master’s degree (MS), or, with approximately four or more years (MS not necessary), a doctorate (Ph.D.) People with more training tend to be “people in charge” in a work situation.

    Although most BS-level chemists work in laboratories, there are many other possible directions to go; combining chemistry with interests in business leads to employment in sales, personnel, purchasing, advertising and other areas of business where a knowledge of chemistry is required. Some chemists become technical writers. A particularly attractive combination is a chemistry degree and a law degree. Such people are scarce and are needed for patent law, environmental law, and other legal fields. High school teachers with a chemistry degree are also in more demand than those with less technical training.

    The MS degree is intermediate between the BS and the Ph.D, although a review of employment ads shows that most employers consider the MS to be closer to the BS than to the Ph.D. MS degree-holders tend to do much the same work as BS degree-holders, although they are likely to have somewhat greater responsibilities and earn higher pay.

    The jobs available for Ph.D. degree-holders most commonly involve research, in either an industrial or university setting. Typically a Ph.D. will be responsible for the design and supervision of a project. They are likely to be directing the work of other people in a laboratory even if they continue to work at the bench. Some industrial Ph.D. scientists move into management in mid-career.

    The performance of original research in a specialized area to generate new knowledge is always the primary emphasis in Ph.D. training. Thus, Ph.D. students not only learn what is already known about a subject, but are trained and required to discover new knowledge about the subject.

  • Consider Graduate School

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    Students in our professional curricula are encouraged to consider going on to graduate school to earn a Ph.D. The educational experience and intellectual stimulation are absolutely unbeatable, and your long-range potential for a satisfying career, and—depending on how you play it—more money, will be greatly enhanced. For most students nearing the end of their undergraduate careers, the prospect of four-or-so more years of school might seem unthinkable. However, consider the following facts before you make up your mind.

    You get paid!

    Essentially all full-time Ph.D. students in the chemical sciences are supported by teaching or research assistantships throughout their entire graduate school program. In addition, full waiver of tuition and fees is common. Typical yearly stipends range from about $15,000 to $30,000 (MS students get paid less). That's not a lot of money, but it beats what you got paid to earn your BS and you can live on it.

    It's not just another bunch of course work.

    There is a lot of variation, but a typical Ph.D. program involves a maximum of two years of half-time course work. The rest of the time is spent on teaching assistant duties (for the first year or two) and doing research. Summers are usually spent just doing research.

    Graduate school is like an apprenticeship.

    So you can adopt the psychologically advantageous attitude of thinking of it as your first job, rather than more school. In the skilled trades, an apprentice works for a few years for a low wage, while learning the journeyman’s skills. The Ph.D. is like a journeyman’s union card with respect to employment doors it opens and wage scale it sets you on.

    Graduate students are in great demand.

    You don’t need to be an all-As student. Some of our seniors have been flown out, put up in hotels and provided meals and a rental car (expenses paid by the recruiting school) to interview for graduate assistantship positions.

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