If you are deciding between majoring in physics or chemical engineering, you might want to know more about what each major has to offer. This post will show you the key facts about each major and help you to decide which would be a better degree for you.
At a glance:
|Types of jobs|
you can qualify for
|Difficulty of the|
|Key things to note|
There are only around 32,600
chemical engineering jobs in
the US. This could make it
difficult to find a job and you
will likely need to relocate.
Average predicted job growth.
Good reported job satisfaction.
Very employable if
you combine it with
a more applied minor
such as computer
Also employable if
you combine it with
data science skills.
Source for physics pay and jobs
There are a number of things to consider when choosing between the two degrees. Below, are details about each major, their differences and reasons to choose one or the other.
Details about a chemical engineering degree
Below are some details about a degree in chemical engineering.
According to Payscale, the average pay of someone with a degree in chemical engineering is $81,140. This is similar to the average pay you will find with most other engineering majors and it is higher than most other majors. However, it is slightly lower than the reported average pay for physics majors. Also, according to the BLS, the median pay of a chemical engineer is $108,770.
The predicted growth rate for chemical engineering jobs is 4%, in total, over the next decade and the number of chemical engineering jobs is said to be 32,600 (source). This means that chemical engineering only has average predicted job growth. Also, compared to other engineering majors, 32,600 is not a lot of jobs. This means that it is more likely that you will have a hard time looking for a job in chemical engineering and that you will be more likely to have to relocate.
However, as mentioned above, the median pay of a chemical engineer is high, so when you do get a job it can pay well. Also, they tend to be relatively secure jobs so you should be able to keep your job for a decent amount of time once you get one. Also, most people find them to be interesting jobs with good job satisfaction.
According to Payscale, common jobs for chemical engineering majors includes:
- Chemical engineer
- Project engineer
- Process engineer
- Manufacturing engineer
- Production engineer
- Environmental engineer
Chemical engineering is a difficult major. It will include a lot of math and physics and the chemical engineering classes themselves can be difficult. Overall, you can expect chemical engineering to be similarly difficult to physics which can also be a difficult major.
Some classes you can expect to take in chemical engineering can include:
- Linear algebra
- Differential equations
You can look here to see an example degree sequence of chemical engineering.
Things to consider
One thing to consider is that chemical engineering is not the same as chemistry. In chemical engineering, you will be focusing more on creating systems to create chemicals, fuel, drugs, food, and other products (source). Whereas, a chemist will be more focused on things such as studying substances at the atomic and molecular level in a lab (source).
While other engineering degrees will pay a similar amount and often have a wider job pool available to you, you might prefer chemical engineering because of the types of jobs you can work in. It would help to do a lot of research the types of things you could be working on and to see if it is something you would enjoy.
Details about a physics degree
Below are some details about a degree in physics.
According to Payscale, the average pay of someone with a bachelor’s degree in physics is $86,600. This makes physics one of the best paying degrees available and only certain engineering degrees, such as electrical engineering and computer science are able to match it.
However, something to be aware of is that the average pay of someone fresh out of college, with no work experience, will likely be a lot lower than that.
A physics degree can give access to a wide range of job opportunities. However, a physics degree can be quite general in nature and it can be difficult to find a job with just a bachelor’s degree in physics. However, this will depend a lot on the classes that you choose to take. You can also greatly improve your job prospects by minoring in something more applied such as computer science, completing programming projects and getting summer internships.
Jobs that you could get with a degree in physics could include:
- Software engineer
- Data scientist
- Data analyst
- Mechanical engineer
Physics can give good job opportunities if you combine it with more practical skills. Currently, data science is a popular career path for physics majors. If you are interested in data science, it would help to learn programming, data analysis, machine learning to complete data science projects and to take a number of computer science classes including data structures and algorithms.
A physics degree can also be a very difficult degree and you will have to put a lot of time into the degree. Physics involves a lot of mathematics and the physics classes themselves can be difficult.
You can expect to take math classes such as:
- Differential calculus
- Integral calculus
- Multivariate calculus
- Differential equations
- Linear algebra
- Partial differential equations
In addition you can expect to have the option to take more math classes if you would like. You might also have the option to take some classes from related disciplines such as statistics, engineering and computer science.
You can also expect to take multiple physics classes including:
- Introduction to physics
- Mechanics and waves
- Electricity and magnetism
- Quantum physics
- Statistical mechanics
You can look here to see an example of required classes in a physics degree.
Reasons to choose chemical engineering
A chemical engineering degree, by itself, can qualify you for chemical engineering jobs which pay well.
Furthermore, the jobs that a chemical engineering degree can qualify you for tend to be very interesting jobs that have high levels of satisfaction. Although, many of the physics jobs can be very interesting in their own right but they often require a master’s degree.
Reasons to choose a physics degree
As the numbers show, a physics degree can also qualify you for a lot of jobs with high pay. Also, the demand for people with physics degrees is climbing due to companies getting more and more data that they need people with mathematical skills to make use of. A physics degree combined with statistics, data analytics, data science and machine learning skills will likely put you in a very good position in the job market in the coming years. Getting a minor in computer science would also put you in a good position to obtain software engineering type roles.
Additionally, physics can also qualify you for many jobs in other disciplines including software engineering, finance, and engineering, provided that you take relevant classes.
However, it is very important to be aware that a physics degree by itself can be difficult to qualify for jobs with. The degree will only have good employment prospects if you combine it with applied knowledge as mentioned above.