Chemical Engineers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

High school students interested in chemical engineering should take all the mathematics and science courses their schools offer. These should include algebra, geometry, calculus, trigonometry, chemistry, physics, and biology. Computer science courses are also highly recommended. In addition, students should take four years of English, and a foreign language is valuable. Students should participate in high school science and engineering clubs and other extracurricular activities.

Postsecondary Training

A bachelor's degree in chemical engineering (or chemical and biomolecular engineering) is the minimum educational requirement for entering the field. For some positions, an M.S., an M.B.A., or a Ph.D. may be required. A Ph.D. may be essential for advancement in research, teaching, and administration.

For their college studies, students need a chemical engineering program approved by ABET, a nonprofit organization that accredits college and university programs in engineering, engineering technology, computing, and applied and natural science in the U.S. and around the world. There are about 150 accredited undergraduate programs in chemical engineering in the United States offering bachelor's degrees. Some engineering programs last five or six years; these often include work experience in industry.

As career plans develop, students should consult with advisers about special career paths in which they are interested. Those who want to teach or conduct research will need a graduate degree. There are approximately 140 accredited chemical engineering graduate programs in the United States. A master's degree generally takes two years of study beyond undergraduate school, while a Ph.D. program requires four to six years.

In graduate school, students specialize in one aspect of chemical engineering, such as chemical kinetics or biotechnology. Graduate education also helps to obtain promotions, and some companies offer tuition reimbursement to encourage employees to take graduate courses. For engineers who would like to become managers, a master's degree in business administration may be helpful. Chemical engineers must be prepared for a lifetime of education to keep up with the rapid advances in technology.

Other Education or Training

Many professional associations provide continuing education (CE) opportunities to chemical engineers. For example, the American Chemical Society offers CE courses for scientists and engineers on topics such as computers, statistics, special topics in chemical engineering, management, and technical writing. The National Society of Professional Engineers provides webinars for student members of the society. Past webinars included "Career Success in Engineering: A Guide for Students and New Professionals," "Ethics and Professionalism for Students and Young Engineers," "How to Get Your First Job," and "Engineering Your Career with a High Quality Social Network Web Seminar." The Society of Women Engineers offers conference sessions, webinars, and other education resources on topics such as leadership, career development, and special issues for women in engineering. Other organizations that provide continuing education opportunities include the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Society of Manufacturing Engineers, and the American Society for Engineering Education. Contact these organizations for more information. 

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

SME (previously known as the Society of Manufacturing Engineers) offers voluntary certification. Visit its Web site (https://www.sme.org) for more information.

Chemical engineers must be licensed as professional engineers if their work involves providing services directly to the public. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have specific licensing requirements, which include graduation from an accredited engineering school, passing a written exam, and having at least four years of engineering experience. About one-third of all chemical engineers are licensed; they are called registered engineers. There are two levels of licensing for engineers. Professional Engineers (PEs) have graduated from an accredited engineering curriculum, have four years of engineering experience, and have passed a written exam. Engineering graduates need not wait until they have four years experience, however, to start the licensure process. Those who pass the Fundamentals of Engineering examination after graduating are called Engineers in Training (EITs) or Engineer Interns or Intern Engineers. The EIT certification usually is valid for 10 years. After acquiring suitable work experience, EITs can take the second examination, the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam, to gain full PE licensure. The exam is administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (http://www.ncees.org).

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Take as many math and science (especially chemistry) classes as possible and participate in internships and other experiential opportunities to gain experience in the field.

Important personal qualities for chemical engineers include honesty, accuracy, objectivity, and perseverance. In addition, they must be inquisitive, open-minded, creative, and flexible. Problem-solving ability is essential. To remain competitive in the job market, they should display initiative and leadership skills, exhibit the ability to work well in teams and collaborate across disciplines, and be able to work with people of different linguistic and cultural backgrounds.