What is chemistry?
Chemistry is exciting, there’s no doubt about it. As one of the three main branches of science, its impact is wide-reaching and impressive. Through chemistry we have made great discoveries, such as penicillin and pasteurisation, and made the modern world possible with inventions including plastic and lithium ion batteries. Chemistry plays a role in almost every action on earth, and in every object we touch. It’s the study of substances, and their composition, structure, and properties.
Chemical scientists are leading research on the world’s most pressing concerns, including challenges around human health, climate change, and energy. They use their scientific, problem-solving, and analytical talents to pioneer new medicine, technologies, and discoveries. They’re consulted in fields as broad as engineering, nuclear power, and space travel – working at the forefront of science is thrilling and challenging in equal measure.
- Apply by the January deadline
- Write a personal statement
- Submit a portfolio
- Audition for a place
- Attend an interview
- Pass an entry test
- Show work experience
Do I need to be good at maths to study chemistry?
Maths is an integral part of chemistry, and you will use it throughout your studies. However, not all courses will require you to have a qualification higher than GCSE or Scottish Standard Grade. Many providers will offer support and chances to improve your skills through further study.
Why study chemistry?
Do you ever wonder why the sky is blue, how leaves change colour in autumn, or how a tablet screen works? If you’re naturally curious, the type of person who questions why things are and how they work, and also have a love of numbers and analysis, chemistry could be the subject for you!
Studying chemistry will open doors you may not have even thought of. You can continue your career in a science-related discipline, or you can use the skills you learn in a different field. Chemists are considered thinkers, who can work with large amounts of information to make the best, measured decisions. Some of the biggest names in history have been chemists: Marie Curie, Alfred Nobel, and Robert Boyle, so you’ll be in great company.
Some topics you may study are:
- medicinal chemistry
- molecular pharmacology
- physical chemistry
- environmental chemistry
- solid state chemistry
Did you know...?
In 2018, the Nobel Prize for chemistry was awarded to a woman for only the fifth time in history! Frances H Arnold earned the award through her work on enzymes. The award was also awarded to George P Smith and Sir Gregory P Winter, for their work on peptides and antibodies. Could this be you one day?
The first Briton in space, Helen Sharman, and the first female British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, both studied chemistry at university.
What can you do with a chemistry degree?
Chemistry will open the doors to countless careers, both in the lab and out of it, and people who have studied chemistry are employed in many sectors, including medicine research, manufacturing, and education.
Chemical scientists have a higher employment rate than students of other subjects, and they tend to be paid more too – up to 15 per cent higher in some cases! Over 70 per cent of chemistry students will enter a professional or managerial role when they have finished their studies and double the UK average go on to further study. *
Common career choices for chemistry students are:
- analytical chemist
- laboratory technician
- medicinal chemist
- production chemist
- research chemist
- environmental scientist
Chemistry students, through further study, often move into careers such as:
Your skills will also make you highly employable for roles in:
- forensics – e.g. using chromatography to help catch criminals
- law – such as a solicitor or legal secretary
- food science – e.g. using titration to determine how much salt or sugar is in a product
* data from Royal Society of Chemistry, 2017 RSC membership annual report
What’s it like to study chemistry?
There are many, many chemistry-related courses you could take, so ensure you research courses thoroughly, and understand the length and content of each option available to you. You can find information on UCAS course search, or on course provider websites, through speaking to admissions tutors, or someone already studying a course.
Whichever chemistry-related course you choose, you’ll have in-depth training on the subject matter, be required to conduct individual study and, of course, you’ll be spending time in the lab.
A degree is not the only route into a career in chemistry. There are also many options for work-based learning, and many providers offer chemistry-related apprenticeships. If you’re not sure university is right for you, but you love chemistry, an apprenticeship or a degree apprenticeship may suit you perfectly. There are opportunities for lab technicians and laboratory scientists – you’ll be applying straight to the company offering the apprenticeship, and competition can be high, so make sure you do your research and get your application in early.
Studying chemistry is likely to involve:
- laboratory and experimentation work
- placements and industry experience
- project, presentation, and group work
- independent research projects
Studying chemistry will equip you with valuable life skills including reason and logic, communication, presentation, analysis, observation, and many, many more skills which are valued by all job sectors.
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.
Chemistry course entry requirements
Entry requirements will depend on the route you choose to take to your future career, but it will be beneficial for you to have studied chemistry before. If you’re looking to go to university, biology, physics, and maths qualifications will also help your application.
When it comes to showing that you’re the right type of student for chemistry, in your personal statement or application you’ll want to demonstrate skills in analytical thinking, problem-solving, attention to detail, and research. If you know which type of chemistry you’re particularly interested in, let it show, as this will help set you apart from other candidates.
Take a look at our advice on what to include in a chemistry personal statement.
A levels – Entry requirements range from BCC to AAA, with the universities and colleges most commonly asking for AAB.
Scottish Highers – Entry requirements for Highers (the most common qualification) range from BBCCC to AAAAB, with universities or colleges most frequently requiring AABBB. Occasionally, universities ask for Advanced Highers to supplement Highers. If Advanced Highers are requested, universities or colleges typically ask for AB.
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.
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 over 60 apprenticeships in the health and science 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.