How to Become a Chemical Engineer (Duties, Salary and Steps)

If you love chemistry and math, this career might be right up your alley.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

How to become a chemical engineer

Being a chemical engineer is an incredible career choice. Their work helps us understand the world we live in, and how we can utilize chemicals and their properties to design better and more effective products and processes.

It is challenging and requires many skills and plenty of knowledge, so if you think you might be interested in becoming a chemical engineer, preparation is key.

This article takes you through everything you need to know about being a chemical engineer, including what the role involves, its salary and work environment, and how to get started with this incredibly rewarding career.

What is a chemical engineer?

Chemical engineers work on engineering projects that require knowledge of chemical processes. They’re employed in various industries such as oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and consumer goods, and they specialize in various areas. As such, chemical engineering is a broad field with many career avenues to choose from.

What are the different types of chemical engineers?

Chemical engineers can specialize in different industries and fields. Here are six common types of chemical engineer jobs:

  • Biochemical engineers apply chemical engineering principles to biological systems and natural processes, such as food, pharmaceuticals or biofuels.
  • Environmental engineers apply chemistry principles to environmental concerns such as water pollution, climate change or waste management.
  • Materials engineers study the properties and behaviors of all kinds of substances such as polymers and metals, focusing on their chemical principles.
  • Nuclear engineers create and control chemical processes relating to nuclear fuel and reactors, ensuring they are efficient, safe and scalable.
  • Process engineers are responsible for designing and controlling chemical production and manufacturing processes, ensuring they are safe and efficient.

What do chemical engineers do?

Whereas chemical engineering roles can be extensively varied, they do have several key job responsibilities in common. Here are the main duties of chemical engineers:

  • Designing, implementing and evaluating chemical processes and reactions in a specific field
  • Developing new products and materials using chemical engineering knowledge
  • Ensuring the safe operation of chemical equipment and processes, and that existing processes are audited for health and safety compliance
  • Undertaking research and continuous learning in order to keep up to speed with chemical engineering knowledge and trends
  • Using chemical engineering principles to discover efficiencies and economical improvements in order to maintain financial viability

What is their workplace?

Chemical engineers work in a mixture of office, laboratory and field settings, the latter of which might include factories, outdoor environments or other industrial locations.

Working hours will be largely confined to a standard working day, around 40 hours a week, but might include the need to work late or early shifts, weekends or overtime hours depending on the projects happening.

Chemical engineers might be exposed to risks such as handling hazardous materials, operating dangerous machinery or working in loud environments, but assessments of these risks will always be carried out and protective equipment will be provided.

How much do they earn?

Due to the breadth of their technical expertise and the various complexities of the role, chemical engineers do enjoy higher-than-average earnings.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey, the mean annual wage for chemical engineers is $122,910 ($59.09 per hour), with annual salaries at the 10th percentile being $75,650, and $176,420 at the 90th percentile.

The top-paying state for chemical engineers is Texas at $158,980, followed by New Mexico ($146,420), Oklahoma ($139,170), Arizona ($137,000) and Louisiana ($134,340).

In a snapshot:

Chemical Engineer Salary

What is the job outlook of chemical engineers?

The job outlook of chemical engineers is positive, largely due to an aging and retiring workforce, the continued demand for chemicals and our reliance on them, and emerging technologies meaning we can use them in different ways.

BLS data records the current number of chemical engineers at 22,800. This dynamic job market is expected to grow by 1,700 positions by 2032 to 24,500, which is an overall percentage change of 8%, compared to the average US job market growth of 3%.

Chemical engineers are mostly employed via companies (wage and salary employment), with no data available for self-employed engineers, meaning that hardly any are employed on this basis.

What are the entry requirements?

Getting started as a chemical engineer requires a large amount of time in education and training. Here’s what to consider when preparing to get started in this career.


Prospective chemical engineers must excel at STEM subjects and then achieve a chemical engineering-focused bachelor’s degree, possibly from an engineering school. Degrees that are endorsed by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology are desirable, as this is often a requirement to become licensed.

Skills and qualities

Chemical engineers need to be logical and analytical individuals with an innate curiosity about the world around them. In addition to this, they need to use various skills; here are six of the most important skills for a chemical engineer to have:

Training, licensing and certification

Prospective chemical engineers should work towards their Professional Engineer license. State licensure includes qualifications accredited by ABET and will also encourage chemical engineers to constantly develop their skills.

Do you have what it takes?

Chemical engineering is a career where you can really put your passion to work. If you’re interested in science or a career in chemistry, and you have abundant curiosity and an analytical mindset, you’ll likely find that being a chemical engineer will be a satisfying career.

If you’re still figuring out what the ideal career looks like, then CareerHunter’s six-stage assessment might help you. These tests, compiled by professional psychologists, will assess your skills, career goals, values and interests, and map them out against best-fit job options, also helping you with tips to get started on your personal career journey.

5 steps to become a chemical engineer

Becoming a chemical engineer is an exciting and varied career, and there are plenty of things to think about when considering how to forge a career path in this field. Here are five key tips that you can follow to start your journey as a chemical engineer, regardless of your specialization.

1. Choose a chemical engineering field

While you might decide upon a chemical engineering specialization later on in your career, it’s a good idea to start thinking as early as you can about what your preferred chemical engineering field might be.

As discussed previously, there are many different career paths to choose from, and some of these have extensive and nuanced educational and experience requirements that you might need to prepare for as soon as you can. If you find that your chemical engineering interests change as your career progresses, you can still segue into a new career with a little retraining or additional education.

2. Focus on foundational and higher education

Strong results in STEM subjects are a good start to becoming a chemical engineer, but you’ll also need to earn a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. With this degree, you’ll learn the principles of several areas important to chemical engineering, such as mathematics, engineering, chemistry, biology or physics, as well as foundational knowledge in specialized areas like thermodynamics, reaction engineering or process control.

Senior chemical engineer roles and some specialties will require additional education such as a master’s degree or PhD in chemical engineering or a related field; these might also be mandatory in order to attain licensure.

3. Gain practical experience

Although having excellent theoretical knowledge is vital to being a successful chemical engineer, you’ll also need extensive practical experience to learn your trade and discover what area of chemical engineering you are most interested in.

Seek experience through co-op programs or internships where you can apply your classroom knowledge to real-life situations. Use these experiences to build your network, as companies that are impressed with your internship efforts might be keen to offer you permanent roles once you have graduated or become licensed.

4. Become licensed

Generally, entry-level chemical engineers are not required to be licensed, but this becomes increasingly important as your career progresses.

Chemical engineers can obtain a Professional Engineer license, which can give them greater autonomy and supervisory responsibility. State licensure varies but typically requires either a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an ABET-accredited program, as well as a passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and PE examinations, as well as several years of work experience.

Some states require that chemical engineers maintain their licensure by undertaking additional training or continuing professional development.

5. Consider further education and development

Further education and CPD isn’t just important for maintaining licensure; it’s also the best way for chemical engineers to stay up to date in their field and remain professionally competitive in the long term. The world of chemical engineering is always changing, with new technologies, methodologies and regulations being introduced on a regular basis.

Further education and networking can open new doors, and joining organizations like the American Institute of Chemical Engineers or the Institution of Chemical Engineers can also be a great way to learn more about the industry and take on a manager role or a wider remit.

Final thoughts

If you love science and are a logical thinker, passionate about making the world a better place, then being a chemical engineer could be a great career for you. You’ll need to focus on your education and settle in for the long haul in terms of qualifications and licensure.

Ensure you research the chemical engineering discipline carefully, as there are so many career options to choose from, and finding your chemical engineering niche sooner rather than later can mean you can develop yourself faster. This means you can progress swiftly and get stuck into larger and more complex engineering projects.

Are you an aspiring chemical engineer? Let us know in the comments section below.