Chemical engineering

Building the products, processes, and materials that power the modern world.

What is chemical engineering?

Chemical engineering is developing, improving and innovating sustainable processes to transform raw materials into a wide range of everyday products. Such processes are designed to be safe, environmentally friendly and cost-effective. Examples include production of medicines, design of systems to store hydrogen energy, food production and manufacturing of fibres to be used in the fashion industry.

Chemical engineering combines your knowledge of chemistry, physics, maths, and biology to understand how to alter the chemical, biochemical or physical state of a substance, so creating everything from face creams to monoclonal antibodies. Studying chemical engineering will help you develop a whole range of employability skills including creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving and communication.

Chemical engineering knowledge and skills are sought after across a wide range of industries: creating medicines, fuels, food, energy, transport, technology, materials, and healthcare products in more sustainable, cost-efficient, and safe ways. Chemical engineers are doing vital work towards achieving a more sustainable world including Net Zero and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Young, creative, and passionate minds are needed to make this a reality.

Chemical engineers are also some of the most in-demand graduates in the UK and globally, with some of the best career prospects of any subject. Chartered engineers, which are engineers recognised by the Institute of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) for their competence and commitment to the professions, can earn salaries well above average.

Chemical engineering course entry requirements

When it comes to subjects, Maths is crucial along with sciences such as chemistry, or physics. Other subjects which may help include further maths, statistics, design technology, product design, and engineering. Some universities offer foundation courses so If you do not have the qualifications necessary to apply directly for first-year entry, this could be the way to go.

In your personal statement, consider the characteristics of what might make a good chemical engineer, including team work, problem solving, and combining knowledge from different topics to solve a problem. Play on your skills and talents in research, experimentation, calculation, analysis, and your hands-on curiosity.

A levels – Entry requirements range from BBC to A*AA, with the universities and colleges most commonly asking for AAA.

Scottish Highers – Entry requirements for Highers (the most common qualification) range from BBBB to AAAAB, with universities or colleges most frequently requiring AAABB. Occasionally, universities ask for Advanced Highers to supplement Highers. If Advanced Highers are requested, universities or colleges typically ask for AA.

Vocational courses – Other Level 3/Level 6 qualifications (e.g. Pearson BTEC Level 3 National Extended Diploma, or an SCQF Level 6) may be accepted as an alternative to A levels/Highers by some providers. It’s essential that you check alternative entry requirements with universities or colleges.

What you will need to do
  • Apply by the January deadline
  • Write a personal statement
  • Attend an interview
  • Show work experience
What you won't need to do
  • Submit a portfolio
  • Audition for a place
  • Pass an entry test

What’s the difference between chemists and engineers?

Chemistry investigates the background of the science encompassing aspects of; organic, inorganic, analytical, physical, and bio-chemistry. Chemical engineering is more multidisciplinary and practical, applying engineering science to problems relating to heat transfer, fluid dynamics, equipment design etc. Whilst chemists will focus on developing novel materials and processes, chemical engineers focus on turning these new ideas and discoveries into useful products that are attainable. A lot of work falls into the design, construction and operation of plants and machinery, focussing on making products for profit and on a scale that is accessible to the many. An increasing focus for chemical engineers is supporting the development of new technologies to – for example – support the energy transition and make best use of available resources.

Penicillin is a good example; a chemist had found the molecule in a lab, but it is only thanks to chemical engineers that the process whereby penicillin could be manufactured at scale was developed. A more recent example of this is the large scale roll out of COVID vaccines.

Why study chemical engineering at university?

Chemical engineers and chemical engineering will be vital to us achieving a more sustainable planet. They will be at the forefront of developing new ways of making essential products and achieving net zero through alternatives to existing technologies as well as ensuring that populations have clean water, sufficient energy, food and access to medicines.  Chemical engineers work right across the economy and the world including pharmaceutical companies, renewable energy, water purification, food production and many other areas.

Chemical Engineering is often synonymous of process engineering, which is essentially the application of chemical engineering principles to optimise the design, operation and control of chemical processes.

Biochemical engineering is a rapidly developing sector which takes exciting science discoveries and transforms them into cost-effective and environmentally-friendly ways of making vital products at scale. Biochemical engineers use these processes to create products ranging from new medicines through to renewable energy, as well as greener solutions to waste treatment.

Modern society relies on the work of chemical, biochemical and process engineers - they help manage resources, protect the environment and control health and safety procedures, while developing the processes that make the products we desire or depend on.

Better nutrition and improved health; greater social mobility; warmth and light; protection of the environment, and many other measures valued by society are also the result of chemical and biochemical engineers’ hard work.

A degree in chemical engineering will give you the knowledge, skills and opportunity to make a real difference in the world, and get rewarded well for doing so.  

Chemical engineering graduates are hot prospects for organisations all around the world, ranging from the biggest private sector companies, to national government departments and research facilities. Even outside the sector, a chemical engineer’s range of talents and specialised skills will stand them in good stead for applying to well-paid jobs in a wide range of industries such as finance and management consultancy

Some modules you may study are:

  • Separation processes
  • Thermodynamics
  • Heat, mass, and momentum
  • Petroleum engineering
  • Fluid mechanics
  • Industrial chemistry
  • Environmental management
  • Cell biology
  • A design project

Do I need to be good at maths to become a chemical engineer?

While the name implies that chemistry and engineering are the most useful topics, both physics and maths are hugely important for a chemical engineer. From simulations to experiements to modelling, you’ll be using maths skills to calculate and predict the outcome and safety of your work. Maths is very important for chemical engineers.

What can you do with a chemical engineering degree?

A chemical engineering degree opens doors to biochemical engineering, chemicals, consultancy, education, food and drink, health, safety and environment, mining and minerals, oil and gas (exploration and production), paper and packaging, pharmaceuticals and toiletries, plastics, power generation (renewable/ fossil fuels/nuclear generation or decommissioning), water, waste management. The list is vast.

Chemical engineering graduates will most often go on to careers in:

But, your range of skills will also make you highly employable in:

What’s it like to study chemical engineering?

Chemical engineering is a rewarding and exciting degree. Study may be over 3 or 4 years depending on the final qualification, with some universities also offering an additional industry placement.

There will be a mix of lectures and labs alongside self-study.

As you start your course, you’ll be building a foundation of knowledge in the subject, so expect a lot of introductory modules which span key topics. You are likely to begin to specialise in the second and third years, as you understand more about chemical engineering as a science.

And you’ll be developing this understanding in a range of environments. From mastering theories and calculations in the lecture hall, to running simulations in computer rooms, to putting your knowledge into practice in laboratories, to seeing them in action during site or visit fields – it is certainly a degree which offers variety.

Once you’ve completed your degree, you can expect to be in demand. As some of the best paid graduates, chemical engineers can expect to earn on average £32k straight from university, making them second only to doctors according to research.

Are you considering an accelerated degree? Click here to read more about the possibility of completing your undergraduate course in two years rather than three. 

Studying a chemical engineering degree is likely to involve:

  • writing reports and essays
  • attending lectures and seminars
  • laboratory and experimentation work
  • placements and industry experience
  • project, presentation, and group work
  • independent research projects

Let’s talk about engineering apprenticeships

Listen to our brand new podcast all about degree apprenticeships in engineering. Find out about funding, what day-to-day life is like, making friends, and more from our expert panel.


If you want to combine work and study while earning a salary, you could consider an apprenticeship. Which apprenticeships are available, and how you apply, depends on where you live.

Find out more about apprenticeships across the UK.

There are approximately 120 apprenticeships in the engineering sector available in England, with more in development.

Each apprenticeship sets out occupational standards for specific job roles, designed by employers. The standards outline the skills, knowledge, and behaviours required to demonstrate that an apprentice is fully competent in the job role.

Higher apprenticeships (Level 4)

Degree apprenticeships (Levels 5 – 7)

Discover more about apprenticeships in engineering

Our guide has all the info you need to know about doing an apprenticeship in this industry. Find out what it's really like from current apprentices and decide if it's the right route for you.

Engineering industry guide

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