Frequently asked questions

1. What is chemical engineering?

Chemical engineering is all about change - chemical and biochemical engineers create and develop processes to make useful products from raw materials, in a cost effective and safe manner.

2. What does the work involve?

Chemical engineers are trained to apply fundamental engineering principles, maximise economic returns and reduce environmental impact. Chemical engineers need to work as part of a team and develop good communication skills. Strong problem solving and analytical skills are also a bonus.

3. What subjects should I take at school?

Maths and chemistry are usually essential. Either physics or biology are also useful additional subjects.

4. What qualifications do I need for a chemical engineering degree course?

The general entry standard is:

    • 280 - 400 UCAS points (A*A*A - BBC depending on the course and university), including maths and chemistry or,
    • Scottish Advanced Highers in maths and chemistry with at least two other Highers; or,
    • typically 400 points in the Irish Leaving Certificate including at least a grade C3 in higher level maths; or,
    • an International or European Baccalaureate

Each university's entry requirements will differ slightly - always check with the university you plan to apply to. You'll find links to universities offering chemical, biochemical and process engineering degree courses in the university section of this website.

Direct entry to the second year at Scottish universities may be possible with appropriate A-levels, Advanced Highers or equivalent.

5. Are there other entry routes into chemical engineering apart from a degree?

The most straightforward entry route is to complete an IChemE accredited degree. There are some HND and HNC courses available but these mostly lead to completing a chemical engineering degree in order to become fully qualified.

Although there are plenty of apprenticeships available in the engineering sector, there isn't an apprenticeship specific to chemical engineering at present. More information about apprenticeships can be found here.

6. Is there anything I can do if I don't have the right entry qualifications?

If you don't have the qualifications in the relevant subjects needed for direct entry, there are a number of universities that offer foundation courses that cover the necessary background.

7. What type of person makes a good chemical engineer?

Chemical engineering is ideally suited to students with ability in maths and chemistry, who enjoy problem solving and aspire to be successful.

8. How do I find out what degree courses are available?

Visit the chemical engineering websites of universities throughout the UK and Ireland using the links in our universities section.

9. How do you choose a chemical engineering degree with a good reputation?

Any IChemE accredited course has a good reputation because IChemE has very strict accreditation procedures to ensure universities maintain the highest standards.

For an independent guide to the universities offering chemical engineering degrees, visit one or more of the following websites:

The Complete University Guide
The Guardian's University Guide
The Times' Good University Guide (subscription may be required)

10. What components make up a chemical engineering degree?

Courses are comprised of a number components including lectures, seminars, tutorials, laboratory experiments, design projects and research projects.

11. What is the difference between a BEng and MEng degree?

The MEng course lasts a year longer than the BEng course and provides a greater depth and breadth of study.

12. Is the MEng degree harder than the BEng?

Academically, more is expected from MEng degree students, but the rewards are greater too!

13. Can I move across from a BEng to a MEng degree if I want to?

Yes, but this depends on your exam results, attitude to your studies and getting permission from your course director.

14. What sort of jobs can I do with a chemical engineering degree?

The choice of work available is exceptionally wide. Chemical engineers work in large international companies, as well as smaller companies; in sectors as wide ranging as chemicals, oil & gas, pharmaceuticals, food and drink, biotechnology and water. They are also highly sought after in business and finance.

15. Will I have much contact with other people at work?

Yes, as a chemical engineer you often need to work as part of a multi-disciplinary team and rely on your social and communication skills.

16. What are the job prospects like?

A chemical engineering degree equips you with easily transferable skills. Graduates invariably take on considerable responsibility within a few years of graduation. For this reason, job prospects are excellent and often involve the chance to reach senior managerial positions at a young age.

17. What does a chemical engineer earn?

Chemical engineers are the best paid group of engineers and have the potential to earn more than doctors, lawyers and accountants. The median salary for UK chemical engineers is £57,000 rising to £73,000 for Chartered Chemical Engineers who are regarded as professional ‘high-fliers’. The average graduate starting salary is £28,500. (Source: IChemE Salary Survey 2016).

18. Can I use a degree in chemical engineering for employment outside the engineering sector?

Yes. An integral part of a chemical engineering degree is the development of interpersonal skills such as communication and teamwork. These, in addition to the numeracy, problem solving and management skills acquired, mean that chemical engineering graduates are highly sought after by a wide range of employers.

19. What is the difference between chemistry and chemical engineering?

Chemical engineers take chemists’ laboratory discoveries and figure out how to use them to make a useful product safely and cost-effectively on a large scale. For example chemists might develop a new drug, but the chemical engineer is responsible for designing a process to make millions of tablets of this drug which all contain exactly the right amount of drug, so that it is safe. They must also do this in the most cost-effective way to avoid waste and help their company make a profit.

20. What is the difference between biochemical and chemical engineering?

Chemical engineering is concerned with changing raw materials into useful products by designing processes which change their chemical or physical composition, structure or energy content.

Biochemical engineering is a branch of chemical engineering which is concerned with biological changes and is particularly important in the production of pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs and the treatment of waste.

21. What is the difference between chemical and process engineering?

Process engineering is essentially the application of chemical engineering principles to optimise the design, operation and control of chemical processes. Since this requires equipment design and selection, mechanical engineers may also be employed as process engineers.

22. Are all courses the same at university?

Apart from the compulsory ‘core’ subjects which are usually studied in the earlier years, there are a broad range of optional subjects. In addition to ‘straight’ chemical engineering or biochemical engineering, there are some courses that combine both of these, and yet others which include other combinations such as food engineering, environmental engineering or non-engineering options such as a foreign language or European studies.

23. What does the course involve?

Courses are well structured with a balance of lectures, laboratory work, computing, tutorials and other sessions, such as design and research work. An important part of the course is the design project, which consists of small groups of students working in teams to solve a practical process engineering problem.

24. Will I spend all my time studying technical subjects?

No. Chemical engineering courses include management topics and a wide range of transferable skills. These open up a range of employment opportunities.

25. How will the course be taught?

The course is taught by qualified professionals in lecture theatres, small tutorial rooms and in the laboratory. There are also occasional invited guest lecturers and site visits.

26. How much chemistry does the course contain?

A good background understanding of chemistry is essential. Chemistry is taught as part of the degree in the early years.

27. Do I need to be good at maths and how much maths is involved?

Maths is an integral part of engineering. You will use the maths you are taught in the early part of the course throughout the rest of your studies.

28. Are there any courses that offer the chance of a year abroad or in industry?

Most universities offer sandwich courses giving the opportunity to spend time in industry getting relevant work experience, or studying at a university abroad.

29. Are there further study opportunities after university?

There are opportunities for post-graduate study. Opportunities vary depending on the university. Find out more by visiting the chemical engineering department website at your university of choice.

30. What sorts of companies employ chemical engineers?

Sectors chemical engineers work in include:

    • chemicals
    • contracting
    • oil and gas
    • consultancy
    • pharmaceuticals
    • energy
    • water
    • nuclear
    • mining and minerals
    • food and drink
    • materials
    • process and equipment
    • biotechnology
    • business and finance
    • education

31. Is work experience available and how do I find out about it?

Many companies offer work experience placements some as short as one week, others lasting 6 months or even a year. To find out more visit the website of the company you are interested in or write to them directly. Alternatively you can contact the Year in Industry who find paid, degree-relevant work experience for students in their year out before, or during, university.

32. Are there any bursaries, grants or sponsorship awards for chemical engineering?

A number of companies and organisations offer schemes to financially assist chemical engineering students, though demand is high so competition for places is fierce. Contact your university of choice to find out more as many companies have particular sponsorship opportunities linked to specific university departments. Alternatively check out www.scholarship-search.org.uk

33. Are there opportunities to work outside the UK?

Yes – chemical engineering is a truly international profession providing many opportunities for worldwide travel.

34. Can I take a gap year?

If you wish to take a gap year, you should notify the Admissions Tutor at your university of choice.

35. Can students with a chemical engineering degree enter other fields of employment?

Yes! A degree in chemical engineering is a well respected degree that opens many career paths across industry, business and finance. Chemical engineering graduates are highly sought after as employers recognise that they have analytical and problem-solving skills that are second to none.

36. What is IChemE?

The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) is the global professional membership organisation for people with relevant experience or an interest in chemical engineering, and is the only organisation to award Chartered Chemical Engineer status. Founded in 1922 as a professional institution for chemical and process engineers, IChemE has grown to its current status of approaching 43,000 members across 120 countries.

37. What does an accredited course mean?

Accreditation by IChemE means that the course has been certified as fulfilling academic standards in education necessary for its graduates to gain professional recognition as Chartered Chemical Engineers after gaining appropriate industrial experience. You can check the accreditation status of all engineering degree courses with Engineering Council.

38. What is a Chartered Chemical Engineer?

A Chartered Chemical Engineer has been awarded Chartered status by IChemE. This is a professional qualification for a practicing chemical engineer which also conveys a status respected in society and is recognised by employers. 

39. How do you become Chartered?

Graduates of fully accredited courses in full-time employment, or pursuing a relevant postgraduate course, may be awarded the designatory letters ’AMIChemE’ as members of the Institution of Chemical Engineers. After a minimum of four years experience, the professional engineer seeks Chartered Chemical Engineer status.

40. What are the benefits of being Chartered?

This is a highly lucrative professional qualification which not only increases your earning potential, but is recognised - and sometimes sought after - by employers.

41. What help can IChemE offer?

IChemE offers a range of products and services to help members maintain an awareness of developments in their field and support their professional development.

Students can join IChemE as soon as they start university (or have a firm acceptance to study chemical engineering). For more information about IChemE and the benefits of Student Membership visit www.ichemeoncampus.org.