Chemistry or Chemical Engineering – What Is the Difference?

Chemistry or Chemical Engineering – What Is the Difference

Many students who are interested in chemistry think of chemical engineering as their major - what is the difference? Both disciplines deal with much the same things and there is much overlap, but the basic differences are novelty and scale.

It is sometimes said that a chemist wears a lab coat; a chemical engineer wears a hard hat. But more specifically:

Minors and dual degrees

Chemistry majors can use the Chemistry electives to fulfill a minor requirement in another department. They can also take a dual major by using the electives in one department to take the required courses in the other. This is difficult with Engineering departments but less so with other Science or H&SS departments. Because a dual major program involves a heavy load of challenging courses, students should not choose this option without careful consideration.

Pre-Medical and Pre-Dental Studies

For students who plan to apply to medical or dental school. Chemistry is a good background from which to enter the medical field. The following courses are recommended before the senior year as preparation for the qualifying exams required for admission to medical school: Biol-4270-4280 Human Physiology I and II; Biol-4620 Molecular Biology.

Two Communications courses should be included among H&SS options.

For more information, see the Pre-Med Program page.


Cheminformatics refers to the use of computational and other data handling techniques to derive relationships from large amounts of chemical data. Its most well-known applications are to determine the relationships between structure and properties of compounds to aid in the discovery and synthesis of new pharmaceuticals, and graduates with knowledge in this area are in demand in the pharmaceutical industry, but it has wider applications. A B.S. in chemistry with an emphasis on elective courses in computer science and bioinformatics provides a background for this field.

Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science

A licensed pharmacist requires a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree. This is a professional degree program which in some schools can be entered directly but in others is entered after a minimum of two years of a regular college science program. A degree in chemistry can lead into programs at this level, or can be a preparation for more advanced Ph.D. level programs in the pharmaceutical sciences involving research. A chemistry B.S. also is preparation for careers in the analytical and manufacturing parts of the pharmaceutical industry.

Forensic Science

Forensic science has been defined simply as the application of science to the law. Forensic science is an umbrella term for many distinct disciplines that may be used in a legal investigation. While forensic science is multidisciplinary, most practitioners work in a particular field, and often a particular specialty in that field.  A laboratory science is a valuable background and analytical chemistry is particularly appropriate. Some knowledge of biochemistry also is useful – e.g., molecular biology, biochemistry and molecular biology laboratory.

Engineering Chemistry

Chemical engineering is very different from chemistry, but there is much overlap and the ability to understand engineering concepts can be useful in certain industrial positions. Appropriate courses in Chemical Engineering will permit you to bridge the disciplines of chemistry and chemical engineering for industrial employment that requires competence in both fields and allows the option of graduate school in either.


Students can prepare for careers in technologically based industry by combining a chemistry degree with appropriate management courses. Introduction to management, courses on marketing and accounting should be considered.


A degree in chemistry is an excellent preparation for a career in patent law or Environmental law, for which technical knowledge is essential and which includes contact with cutting edge technologies and working closely with scientists. Some courses in Philosophy dealing with logic, ethics and the philosophy of law are helpful, as are courses in communication.


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