Chemical engineering

Become one of the curious and creative critical thinkers who build the products, processes, and materials that power our world.

If you study chemical engineering, you’ll learn how to alter the chemical, biochemical, or physical state of a substance, and transform raw materials into a whole host of everyday products from face creams, to medicine, to the fibres that are used in the fashion industry. Chemical engineers are doing vital work towards achieving a more sustainable world, including Net Zero and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. They’re also some of the most in-demand graduates in the UK and globally, with some of the best career prospects of any subject. You could work in the public or private sector, researching renewable energy, waste management, food production, or a whole range of other things. You could also work towards chartered status and earn a well above average salary.  

The impact you could make
  • Work on textiles products to create sustainable, environmentally-friendly fibres for clothing
  • Develop new technologies to help us transition efficiently to green energy
  • Create an effective water purification system for use in countries affected by environmental disaster or war
What you could study
  • Separation processes
  • Thermodynamics
  • Heat, mass, and momentum
  • Petroleum engineering
  • Fluid mechanics
  • Industrial chemistry
  • Environmental management
  • Process design and analysis
  • Product design

Study options

Options to study in this field include:

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Example module
"Reactor engineering, process control, thermodynamics, separation process, and fluid, heat, and mass transfer."
Second year chemical engineering student at University of Greenwich
Example project
"The most enjoyable would be from a group project involving safety in a chemical plant. My group studied the flixborough disaster. It was quite interesting to understand the failed safety components within this plant."
Second year chemical engineering student at Queen’s University Belfast

Subjects it's useful to have studied first

Some chemical engineering courses or apprenticeships will have requirements for previous qualifications in certain subjects

Design Technology
Product Design
Hard skills you'll develop
  • Analytical chemistry
  • New product development
  • Good manufacturing practices
  • Project management
Soft skills you'll develop
  • Creativity
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Communication

The expert view

Yvonne Baker OBE CEng MIChemE, Chief Executive Officer of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE)
If you want to make a real difference in addressing the world’s major challenges including sustainability, climate change, food security, and ensuring good health for all, then chemical and process engineering is for you. It will equip you with skills and knowledge that are in high global demand and that can really change the world! Chemical engineers play a pivotal role in how we all live, working across societies and industries worldwide to achieve the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. Chemical engineering enables you to use a unique mix of your creativity, knowledge and problem-solving skills to make our planet a better place.

Careers: Where it can take you

Find out more about your career prospects from studying chemical engineering. The following information is based on a typical chemical scientist role. 
Available jobs
23,746 vacancies in the past year
4.61% growth over next eight years
Average salary
Up to £56,981

Career options

Engineering and science

What is a... Food scientist?

You may have heard of the term ‘food scientist’, but it’s not all about Heston Blumenthal or making magic on MasterChef. Food scientists work in designated kitchens or laboratories, making sure food tastes good, it’s safe to consume, and that it’s got the right structure. You might get to do lots of cooking to begin with, seeing what ingredients work in what situations, as well as sometimes developing new recipes. As a food scientist or food technologist, you’ll also make sure the ingredients and nutritional labelling on food is accurate, as well as finding ways to make it look appealing, keep well, and give the company you’re working for value for money.  

Getting in: Entry requirements

Find out more about what you'll need to study chemical engineering at university or as an apprenticeship. 

Average requirements for undergraduate degrees 

Entry requirements differ between university and course, but this should give you a guide to what is usually expected from chemical engineering applicants. 

A levels
Scottish Highers
Other Level 3/Level 6 qualifications (e.g. Pearson BTEC Level 3 National Extended Diploma or SQCF Level 6) may be accepted as an alternative

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.

Considering an apprenticeship?

Applying for an apprenticeship is just like applying for a normal job. Here’s what you need to know: 
  1. Deadline

    Apprenticeships don't follow the same deadlines as applying to uni, the deadline is down to the employer. 
  2. Where to apply

    You apply directly through the employer. 
  3. No limits!

    You're not restricted to one apprenticeship application; you can do as many as you like. 
  4. Apply to university and apprenticeships

    There's nothing stopping you applying to university through UCAS, while also applying for apprenticeship vacancies. 
  5. Find out more

    Read our guide to engineering and manufacturing apprenticeships. 

Explore further

Go deeper into topics around chemical engineering with the following.
  1. The Chemical Engineer

    The Chemical Engineer magazine is published by the Institution of Chemical Engineers with news and features on research, policy, and technology in the chemical engineering world.  
  2. Chemical Engineering Explained in 4 Minutes 

    Follow Shawn Esquivel as he explains what chemical engineering is, and offers feature videos about his degree and a ‘day in the life’ of a chemical engineering student. 

  3. Engineers

    Check out the Science Museum’s ‘Engineers' exhibition online or in-person in London, celebrating products and systems and the engineers who invented them.  

Application advice

Whether it's personal statement tips or what to write in a cover letter for an apprenticeship application, our application advice will help you get ahead in your chemical engineering journey.
  • Consider the characteristics of what might make a good chemical engineer, including team work, problem solving, and combining knowledge from different topics to resolve an issue. Then think of times you’ve shown those characteristics – maybe you’ve done a part-time job or sport outside of school that requires team work? When have you been faced with a problem you had to solve?
  • Admissions tutors are looking for creative people with initiative, curiosity, and a bit of originality. Play on your skills and talents in research, experimentation, calculation, analysis, and your hands-on curiosity. Have you worked on a project at home or in a club that required you to be practical and figure out how something worked, like fixing an electronic toy, or doing some background coding?
  • Engineers need to have good time management and self-organisation too. Can you give examples of when you displayed these qualities, like balancing schoolwork with extracurricular activities and hobbies? Demonstrate you have the motivation and ability to complete this potentially challenging course.
  • Where do you see yourself afterwards? If you have a particular goal in mind, then mention what you plan to do with your chemical engineering degree. Show you understand something of the industry you intend to head into.
Personal statement guide
We asked admissions tutors to share their dos and don’ts for writing a strong and engaging chemical engineering personal statement. Here's what they told us. 

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