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Chemistry and chemical engineering: what's the difference?

Chemistry and chemical engineering: what's the difference?Find out how chemistry and chemical engineering compare, and which is the best course for you.

What's the difference?

On a chemistry course, you will get a broad introduction to the various areas of chemistry, including both theory and practical lab work. You'll also have the chance to specialize on a particular area of interest or branch out into related areas of science.

Chemical engineering is a more practical subject. It's about developing useful processes and substances using chemistry - for example, transforming crude oil into fuels and plastics. As well as learning the underlying chemistry, you'll learn how to put it into action efficiently and about the safety measures required in industry. However, you won't study as broad a range of chemistry, and there will be less scope to branch out into areas like molecular biology or the history of science.

A chemical engineering degree is more vocational than a chemistry degree: it will prepare you for a career as a chemical engineer and set you on the road to professional registration. Chemistry graduates are also very employable, but working as a research chemist will normally require further study.

However, there is a lot of overlap, and many careers will contain elements of both disciplines.

Entry requirements

Entry requirements are likely to be similar for chemistry and chemical engineering, and both will of course require chemistry A-level. Chemical engineering is more likely to require maths, whereas chemistry is more likely to require a second science A-level.

Studying both

Some universities offer combined courses which cover both chemistry and chemical engineering. If you're considering one of these, you should make sure you investigate the particular course you apply for carefully. Different courses will emphasize different areas, and some will lead to an MSc while others lead to an MEng.

If you do a chemistry degree, it's also likely that you'll be able to get onto a postgraduate course in chemical engineering as long as your results are good enough.

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