Study Chemistry: Associate's, Bachelor's & Online Degree Info

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What will you learn in a chemistry degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate's and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Chemistry Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

For students with a strong interest in science and mathematics, an associate's or bachelor's degree program in chemistry may be a good match. In these programs, you explore subjects such as calculus, physics, chemistry, and computer science. These degrees open up opportunities to continue your study of chemistry or work in one of many jobs in the field.

Associate's degree holders may find themselves limited to support level jobs, such as chemical technician positions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that though chemical technicians will continue to be needed in research and development, job growth will be slower-than-average at 7% from 2010-2020. Bachelor's degree holders are eligible to work in a number of different careers - such as chemist, pharmaceutical sales representative, or soil scientist. The BLS predicted only a 4% growth for chemists during the same decade.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who Is This Degree For? People interested in gaining an entry-level support position in the field or transferring into a bachelor's degree program People interested in working in chemistry or continuing on to a master's degree or PhD program in chemistry or a related area
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Chemical Technician ($42,000)*
- Laboratory assistant ($34,000)**
- Chemist ($70,000)*
- Medical Technologist ($57,000)*
- Food Scientist ($58,000)*
- High School Teacher ($54,000)*
Time to Completion Approximately 2 years, full-time Approximately 4-5 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - General education requirements in science, mathematics, and writing
- Focused courses in chemistry and related subjects
- Laboratory work
- General education requirements in science, mathematics, and writing
- Focused courses in chemistry and related subjects
- Laboratory work
- Internship optional
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability Limited Limited

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Salary.com (May 2012 figures).

Associate's Degree in Chemistry

Many associate's degree programs in chemistry are designed for students who wish to transfer into bachelor's degree programs; however, some graduates choose to begin their careers immediately after earning their associate's degree. Chemistry programs train students to analyze chemistry problems, understand mathematical principles and develop chemical knowledge. In addition to completing classes, students complete laboratory classes. You'll spend a lot of time in labs learning to dispose of and handle chemicals safely and purify elements.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Prepares students for transfer into 4-year programs in chemistry
  • Chemistry associate's degree programs can prepare you for careers in health sciences or pre-professional fields
  • Provides a base education for several higher-level health programs

Cons

  • You may need a bachelor's degree to gain employment higher than support-level
  • Online opportunities may be limited and cover general math and science principles
  • Employment is expected to decline in chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturing for chemical technicians due to outsourcing*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Common Courses

You'll encounter general education requirements in mathematics, composition, and computer information systems. These requirements will be the majority of your coursework, but you may also find opportunities to choose additional courses in subjects of interest. You will also find that most programs have laboratory requirements.

Some examples of courses you may take include:

  • General chemistry
  • Calculus
  • Physics
  • Organic chemistry

Online Degree Options

While 2-year programs in chemistry are limited, you may be able to find online programs exploring chemistry concepts. Online programs may be hybrid programs, combining online and on-campus coursework, or programs delivered completely in an online format. You may also find more general associate's degree programs in mathematics and science - though these online programs are not focused on chemistry, they may be good preparation for eventual transfer into a bachelor's degree program in chemistry.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

Though job opportunities for associate's degree holders may be more limited than those for bachelor's degree holders, there are some ways to stand out with this degree. The best opportunities exist for graduates who are trained on lab equipment; taking lab courses is important experience, and something you should keep in mind when selecting what type of program to enter. Another thing to consider when selecting a program is whether you will be able to enroll in computer science courses. Computer science skills will be useful when analyzing data in a laboratory environment and a great competence to include on your resume.

Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry

At the bachelor's level, you may find 4- or 5-year programs in chemistry. In many programs, you will be able to select an area of concentration based on your own strengths and interests after completing a variety of general requirements in science and mathematics. You'll explore concepts in physics, cell biology, and kinetics. The coursework is intensive and much of your coursework will be completed in laboratories.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Many bachelor's degree programs in chemistry allow students to select from several specialization tracks
  • A broad range of career choices, in private and non-profit organizations and government agencies, are available to graduates
  • Completing a bachelor's degree program will prepare you to enter a master's degree or PhD program in chemistry or a related field

Cons

  • A master's degree or PhD is necessary for some research jobs in the field
  • The BLS reports that job growth for chemists is expected to be slower-than-average (4% from 2010-2020)*
  • If you wish to teach chemistry in a public high school, you must complete an additional student teaching experience

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

You will take courses in general chemistry, linear algebra, and physical sciences. Many programs offer the opportunity to focus on one area of chemistry, such as chemical biology, environmental chemistry, or chemical physics.

Depending on your area of interest, you may take courses including:

  • Chemical bonding
  • Analytical spectroscopy
  • Thermodynamics
  • Computational chemistry
  • Biomedical imaging

Laboratory work will also be a part of your studies, and many programs have lab requirements. Some programs require students to complete a senior research project. Within a 5-year program, you have the opportunity to complete co-operative experiences.

Online Degree Options

Online bachelor's degree programs in chemistry do exist, though they are not very common at this time. Laboratory work is very important when completing this degree program and provides valuable experience for your future career in the field. When seeking an online program, be aware that some programs are divided into traditional courses and online courses. It may be advantageous to select a program with some campus-based lab work. Online programs also exist specifically for the purpose of training students for a career in teaching chemistry.

Stand Out With This Degree

Experience is very important when seeking employment in the field. While completing a bachelor's degree program in chemistry, it may be helpful to seek out internships and opportunities to assist in laboratories. Some co-operative education programs exist in which students divide their time between traditional coursework and phases of full-time employment in a chemistry related area. The six months of co-operative education allows you to immerse yourself into the chemistry field. These types of programs are a great way to gain experience and make networking connections while you earn your bachelor's degree.

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