Look at the screen of your iPhone, the way it lights up when you put your thumb against it. How does that work?
Or take a look at the label on your orange juice from the grocery store. Was it made from oranges that were fertilized? Or tell me this: the last time you had a headache, did you ever think about what exactly is going on when you swallow an ibuprofen?
I bet you rarely think about why and how these seemingly simple things happen. But guess what? Most likely, all of these products and processes, and countless other things throughout our daily lives, started in a research lab with a chemical engineer.
Chemical engineering combines nearly all of the natural and experimental sciences (chemistry, physics, biology, biochemistry, and mathematics) to design and develop processes that transform the most basic materials into usable products (like iPhones and food and medicine!).
This is no small feat, though. Chemical engineers are among the most gifted and talented members of society. Because they’re dealing with highly specialized sciences, most aspiring chemical engineers go through lots of training and tough competition to develop these life-changing products.
But they also are rewarded quite well in the job force. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2015, the median annual wage for chemical engineers was $97,360. So if you’re a math whiz, or a chemistry geek, or just someone who is fascinated with how things work, chemical engineering might just be the degree for you.
Top 10 Best Chemical Engineering Degrees
||Massachusetts Institute of Technology
||California Institute of Technology
||University of California—Berkeley
||University of Pennsylvania
||Johns Hopkins University
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Related: 100 Best Colleges and Universities
To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of the top 25 chemical engineering schools across the United States, from California to Delaware. In each ranking, you’ll see the annual tuition, as well as our College Choice Score, which is computed based on each school’s reputation, the department’s reputation, and the school’s return on investment.
Essentially, we’ve distilled a list of schools that offer the best cost, reputation, and effectiveness in the job market. If you’re looking for a school in which to study chemical engineering, you really can’t go wrong with any of the ones on our list. Ready to jump in?
See our rankings methodology page.
Located in the northern Santa Clara Valley of California, Stanford University is one of the most reputable private research universities in the world. From 2013 to 2016, a poll The Princeton Review consistently named Stanford the school most commonly referred to as students’ “dream college.”
The chemical engineering curriculum at Stanford is based off of the three pillars of science: chemistry, physics, and biology. The program offers six different 4-year course plans to their incoming students; each plan is designed with differing emphases in math, chemistry, and academic rigor.
By providing a minor, major, honors program, and coterminal bachelor’s and master’s degree, Stanford University meets aspiring chemical engineers at whatever level they would like to enter the program. The coterminal degree allows rigorous students to work toward a M.A. or M.S. while they are completing their undergraduate work. The honors program is designed for students who intend to pursue a PhD in chemical engineering, and requires an honors seminar as well as an honors thesis on top of other coursework.
Stanford University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Founded in 1861 with a goal of bolstering industrialization in the United States, MIT is a private research university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Though MIT is most known for its school of engineering, which typically enrolls over 60 percent of its student body, it also houses four other schools in science, humanities, management, and architecture.
The chemical engineering degree at MIT is divided into three options: Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering, Bachelor of Science in Chemical-Biological Engineering, and Bachelor of Science with Concentration. This allows students to choose a track that fits their particular interests and career goals.
The classes offered in this program reflect that flexibility; beyond the core requirements in chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics, this program offers classes in quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, chemical kinetics, energy conversion, and a wide range of other electives. Students at MIT are be led by thirty-five faculty members who are on the forefront of cutting-edge research.
MIT is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
Known as one of the most prestigious schools in the United States, Princeton University is a private Ivy League research university located in Princeton, New Jersey. The university boasts numerous well-accomplished alumni; among them are Nobel laureates, Rhodes Scholars, and multiple National Medal of Science winners.
The rigorous chemical engineering program at Princeton requires students to complete 36 courses that range from core mathematics and physics classes to organic chemistry to thermodynamics. Students may choose to concentrate in one of six areas. During their final year, students complete a senior thesis, which is a full-year research project related to their concentration.
As a way to encourage study beyond the major, Princeton offers Certificate Programs, which are course requirements that supplements chemical engineering with another field. Students may choose from Applications of Computing, Architecture and Engineering, Geological Engineering, Robotics and Intelligent Systems, and others.
Princeton University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
California Institute of Technology
As one of the eighteen esteemed Institutes of Technology across the country, CalTech is a private university that tends to enroll aspiring science and technology professionals. Located in Pasadena, California, CalTech was recently rated number one in the United States for the number of graduates who go on to achieve a PhD in their field.
Students enrolled in the Chemical Engineering BS at CalTech not only get the opportunity to study beneath some of the top thinkers and researchers in the country, but also gain solid experience in chemical process simulation tools and laboratories. After completing core courses their first two years, students choose to specialize in one of four tracks: biomolecular, environmental, process systems, or materials. In total, students will complete 72 units of courses.
Though the competition is fierce, graduates of the chemical engineering degree at CalTech go on to show a strong presence and leadership in the professional world. 52 percent of alumni enter engineering and science positions, 18 percent go on to the educational world, and 6 percent find employment in software and IT. The average starting salary for graduates of CalTech is an impressive $70,000.
California Institute of Technology is accredited by Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
University of California—Berkeley
Ranked as the top public university by the 2016 U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges” report, the University of California—Berkeley (or UCBerkeley) also boasts the number one rating for its chemistry department, which houses the Chemical Engineering major and minor.
Out of the total 120 units required to graduate with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering at UCBerkeley, students must complete both the university core requirements and the 45 engineering units. The major stresses the importance of providing a well-rounded education for its students, and requires up to 20 units of humanities courses in addition to the hard sciences.
Chemical Engineering majors are granted ample research experience, and many students pursue projects either independently or under the guidance of UCBerkeley’s faculty. Undergraduate students are currently conducting research in fields such as synthetic biology, energy storage, multiscale modeling, polymer physics and more. Oftentimes, this research leads to further study at the doctoral and professional level.
University of California—Berkeley is accredited by Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
University of Pennsylvania
When Benjamin Franklin founded the University of Pennsylvania, a private Ivy League school in Philadelphia, he modeled the school based on the principles of public service and classic education. Since then, the university has blossomed into a multidisciplinary research hub that enrolls close to 11,000 undergraduates each year.
Despite its impressive enrollment and scope, the chemical engineering program at the University of Pennsylvania emphasizes its small class sizes and its group of invested faculty. Among the possible specializations that students may choose from are Polymer Science and Engineering, Electronic Materials Processing, Pharmaceutics and Biotechnology, and Environmental Engineering. To specialize, students must take at least five courses in the concentration; these four specialty tracks allow students to hone in on specific research projects and internships, which students complete with faculty guidance.
The program also offers a unique Product/Process Design class, which is completed over a two-course sequence. In the fall, students learn the basics of product and design process, and in the spring, students complete simulated design problems in groups. Consultants from a local chemical plant visit the classrooms to provide feedback and guidance to the students. This class is often a highlight for graduates, and it’s a great resume-builder to boot!
The University of Pennsylvania is accredited by Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Located in the center of Houston’s Museum District, Rice University is a private research institution that consistently receives high marks for both its beautiful campus and its academic rigor. With an undergraduate acceptance rate of about 16 percent, it is considered Texas’ most selective university.
Since the founding of the department in 1921, the chemical engineering degree at Rice University has grown into a strong and rigorous program with eighteen full-time faculty members. Graduates of the B.S. in Chemical Engineering must complete 132 credit hours, with at least 96 credits designated to the department.
This program provides similar specializations as others on our list; however, Rice University also offers computational engineering as a specialty track. This is for students who are particularly interested in mathematical analysis and simulation of chemical engineering products. Students must take at least 12 credits of “breadth” classes—which includes a basic science course and electives—and at least 15 credits of “depth” classes—which are specific to their specialization area.
Rice University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS).
Known informally by its students as “Vandy,” Vanderbilt University is a private research institution located in Nashville, Tennessee. The campus, which is officially considered an arboretum, is known for its beautiful, 330-acre campus, making it a green sanctuary amidst the Nashville cityscape.
The B.E. in Chemical Engineering at Vanderbilt requires a minimum of 126 credit hours to complete. Within the curriculum, students take core classes—Basic Science, Engineering Fundamentals, and Liberal Arts Core—as well as specialized engineering classes. Specific to this program is the option to specialize in nanotechnology (in addition to other specialization options). Students at Vanderbilt have access to top-notch research opportunities and internships; past graduates have interned with Chevron, Intel, and Merck, just to name a few.
During their junior year, students may petition the faculty to join the honors program, which requires students to take at least 9 hours of upper-level electives in addition to chemical engineering courses specific to the honor program. Honors students complete a capstone research project and thesis, which they design one-on-one with a faculty member.
Vanderbilt University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
Considered the first research university in the United States, Johns Hopkins University—located in Baltimore, Maryland—has a long history of strong institutional leadership in medicine and public health. However, the university also excels in its other programs. The school is among the most cited institutions in the world, and remains an axis for global research.
The B.S. in Chemical Engineering degree at Johns Hopkins offers two tracks of specialization—Interfaces/Nanotechnology and Molecular/Cellular Bioengineering—which students typically complete in four years. Regardless of their specialization, students at Johns Hopkins enjoy access to an impressive network of research programs such as Johns Hopkins Medicine, the Institute for NanoBioTechnology, the Applied Physics Laboratory, and more.
Unique to the Johns Hopkins program, the concurrent B.S./M.S.E. program in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering allows junior or senior undergraduate students to complete both their bachelor’s and master’s degree in succession. The university even offers a 50 percent tuition waiver for students in this program, which propels students into top leadership and research positions upon graduation.
Johns Hopkins University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Located just north of Chicago in Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University is a private research institution that offers 124 undergraduate degrees. The McCormick School of Engineering, which houses the Chemical Engineering degree, enrolls close to 1500 students who are taught by an impressive 180 faculty members.
In order to complete the B.S. in Chemical Engineering, students must complete 48 courses: 32 units of core courses, 16 units of chemical engineering courses, and 5 technical electives. In addition, students have the option of six areas of specialization: bioengineering, chemical process engineering, design, environmental engineering and sustainability, nanotechnology and molecular engineering, and polymer science and engineering.
Research opportunities at Northwestern are unprecedented; undergraduate students have the opportunity to apply for quarterly grants that fund research expenses between $1000 to $3000. Similar to other top programs on this list, Northwestern offers the combined BS/MS degree, which allows the top students to complete their bachelor’s degree in less than four years. Some even complete both their bachelor’s and master’s degree within four years. This combined degree launches students directly into top-paying professional roles.
Northwestern University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
The University of Notre Dame is a Catholic research university in South Bend, Indiana. While the school began as an all-male institution, first enrolling women undergraduates in 1972, Notre Dame has expanded into a top institution of close to 9000 undergraduates, a Division I football team, and a loyal alumni network.
In addition to their core classes, students at Notre Dame specialize in one of three concentrations—Biomolecular Engineering, Materials, and Energy—by taking four upper-level courses in one of the areas. In their senior year, students have three different opportunities for undergraduate research, each of which build upon the next, resulting in an undergraduate research thesis.
Unique to Notre Dame, this degree offers students the opportunity to travel abroad to England, Ireland, Australia, Spain, and Italy within their four-year degree, giving students a chance to broaden their worldviews and apply their knowledge in other research settings. Back in South Bend, students are ensured a solid education by a team of world-renowned faculty. The National Research Council recently ranked Notre Dame among the top 25 in the country for quality of faculty.
Notre Dame is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and a member of the North Central Association (NCA).
Georgia Institute of Technology
Founded during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, Georgia Institute of Technology began as an effort to boost the industrial economy. Since then, the public research institution has grown into one of the top ten public universities in the United States, with an engineering program ranked 9th in the world.
The chemical engineering program at Georgia Tech offers three different degree options: the standard B.S. in chemical engineering, a B.S. in chemical engineering with a focus in biotechnology, and a five-year B.S./M.S. degree in chemical engineering. The last option is typically only available to students who enter the program with a number of AP credits from high school.
In addition to solid coursework and research opportunities, many students stay connected to others in the field by participating in numerous chemical engineering student organizations, including Omega Chi Epsilon National Honor Society for Chemical Engineering, Society of Women Engineers, National Society of Black Engineers, and more.
Georgia Institute of Technology is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
University of Michigan—Ann Arbor
As the oldest state university, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor is a public research institution with a long history of cutting edge research in the STEM fields and beyond. Its student body of almost 44,000 students (both undergraduate and graduate) are divided between its four campuses.
Students aiming to complete the B.S. in Chemical Engineering must pass 50 credits at U-M, including 30 technical credits of upper-level engineering courses. Within the department, many students customize their degree, adding on minors—such as Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Engineering or Interdisciplinary Design degrees—or a dual degree in or outside the sciences.
The University of Michigan works hard to make it easy for motivated students to enter its undergraduate program regardless of financial capabilities. The department offers over fifteen different scholarships to help give undergraduates the chance to reach their professional potential. Students also are given the opportunity to work within the department for credit or pay through research, internship, and TA positions.
The University of Michigan is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
University of Virginia
Founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia is not only a top research institution located in Charlottesville, Virginia, but also a World Heritage Site and bursting with historical significance. According to the most recent U.S. News & World Report, it ranks 3rd among public universities.
The B.S. in chemical engineering at the University of Virginia emphasizes the vast professional opportunities awaiting its graduates by offering three separate curriculum within the department: the Broad Curriculum, the Biotechnology and Biochemical Engineering Curriculum for students wanting to specialize, and the Pre-Med Curriculum for students aiming for medical school.
Alongside strong undergraduate research opportunities, UVA maintains state-of-the-art equipment in their laboratories, including UV spectrophotometers, a three-dimensional tracking microscope, high pressure liquid chromatographs, IBM workstations for simulation and visualization, and more. Students choose to work with specific faculty members on extensive research projects throughout their four-year stay at UVA.
The University of Virginia is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
University of Southern California
A top private, research university in Los Angeles, California, The University of Southern California has a long history of producing leaders in entrepreneurship and business leadership. Along with its top research opportunities, USC houses the world’s most powerful quantum computer, which gives undergraduates and graduates a unique access to cutting-edge research.
The number of courses required for the basic B.S. in Chemical Engineering is 129 units. However, students who decide to specialize in a concentration must take 133 units. In addition to the Chemical Engineering major, the department offers undergraduates the option of adding on a minor in Petroleum Engineering (with an added 16 credits).
USC is known for its vigorous research community; currently, undergraduate students are engaged in research projects related to Advanced Materials, Advanced Computing and Simulations, Nano-bio Systems, and Advanced Studies in Energy and the Environment. The Mork Family Undergraduate Petroleum Engineering Scholarship, awarded to one incoming student with an interest in studying petroleum, provides up to $10,000 of financial aid per year.
USC is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
University of Wisconsin—Madison
The oldest and largest public university in the state, the University of Wisconsin is a public research institution in Madison. The university oversees over one hundred research centers and programs, and is one of the national leaders in stem cell research.
Unique to the University of Wisconsin, students are encouraged to participate in international study, co-op programs, and internships during their four-year stay, which gives students real-life experience in the workforce while they are undergraduates. In fact, almost 85 percent of engineering majors participate in a paid internship or a co-op experience.
This program provides both paid and for-credit research opportunities for students; the Special Problems course puts students alongside faculty to research a problem and present a paper, and the Honors in Research course goes even further by requiring students to present a senior thesis to a committee. There are also more than fifty engineering student organizations on campus that students may choose from.
The University of Wisconsin is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
University of Texas—Austin
Considered a “Public Ivy” school, the University of Texas in Austin is a public research institution that enrolls over 50,000 students across its multi-school system. Despite its size, UT Austin is one of the most selective universities in the region, accepting less than 40 percent of its applicants.
With its twenty-three full-time faculty, students of the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering receive some of the top education and guidance in the nation. As early as their second semester, students may apply to become an Undergraduate Research Assistant either for credit or pay. This leads directly into individual research with an advisor.
The after-graduation results for students at the UT Austin is impressive; the average starting salary for graduates of this program is $73,380, with 90 percent of undergraduates going directly into jobs or doctoral programs. The department is committed to helping out students financially, too. Last year they awarded 1.3 million dollars in scholarships to their undergraduates.
University of Texas is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
Initially founded as a school for science, technology, and agriculture, Purdue University is a public research institution in West Lafayette, Indiana. Though it has since expanded into offering over 200 majors for undergraduates, Purdue has maintained its roots in excelling in the sciences, with an engineering program that consistently ranks in the top ten nationally.
The B.S. in Chemical Engineering at Purdue University offers a challenging, holistic, and varied educational experience. In addition to the 97 credits of required core classes, students may participate in internships, the cooperative education program, or even earn scholarships to study abroad for a semester. The department offers a $1000 scholarship to any ChE student who decides to study at sister schools, including universities in Singapore, Australia, London, New Zealand, and more.
By setting educational objectives for students to achieve within five years of graduation, the department at Purdue displays a long-term investment in their students; some of these goals include publishing scholarly articles, attaining an advanced degree, reaching leadership responsibilities in their professions, and more. Between the flexible curriculum, the research opportunities, and the involved faculty, students are well taken care of at Purdue.
Purdue University is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
University of Minnesota—Twin Cities
Organized into nineteen different colleges and schools, the University of Minnesota Twin Cities is a public research university located in Minneapolis and St. Paul, sister cities with campuses located three miles apart.
The chemical engineering department at the University of Minnesota typically graduates around 100 students with B.S. degrees in Chemical Engineering each year. While the majority of graduates from this program go directly into the workforce, 22 percent of students from the 2015 graduating class went on to pursue doctorates in chemical engineering.
The program has a strong reputation for its mathematical modeling and computation resources when it comes to research; however, students are given much broader options for selecting their research focus, choosing from fourteen core themes. Internship, study abroad programs, and and co-op opportunities round out this program, making it one of the top choices for aspiring engineers.
The University of Minnesota—Twin Cities is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
Texas A&M University is a coeducational public research institution in College Station, Texas, known for its strong showing in sports, research, and engineering. Between two primary research locations—Research Valley and Research Park—the university has almost 3 million square feet of space designated to academic research.
The B.S. in Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M boasts one of the largest departments in the country, with around 600 undergraduate students enrolled in the major. Students have plenty of space to dive into their research in one of the eighty-eight research facilities on campus. Beyond the core classes, this department offers twelve different areas of specialization, including Multiscale Systems Engineering, Complex Fluids, Nanotechnology and more.
Texas A&M is one of the more affordable programs on our list, mostly in part to the generous scholarships made available to its students. Last year, undergraduates in the department received 304 scholarships, which totaled to $306,000.
Texas A&M is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The University of Delaware is a private research institution, and the largest university in the state, with sister campuses in four other locations. Its College of Engineering generates a high amount of research, with an annual research expenditure of 55 million dollars.
Requiring a total of 126 credits to complete the degree, the B.S. in Chemical Engineering at Delaware University aims to give students a holistic, interdisciplinary education. At least 18 credits are set aside for classes in the humanities and social sciences, while the remaining credits are divided within major-related courses.
First-year engineering students can expect class sizes of around 50 to 100 people, though in the upper-level courses, the class sizes shrink to around thirty to 40 students, taught by one of the 32 faculty members. Through its RISE program (Resources to Insure Successful Engineers), the University of Delaware is committed to recruiting a diverse student population to its program.
The University of Delaware is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
The smallest school on our list, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology is a private college in Terre Haute, Indiana that specializes in science, mathematics, and engineering. Its engineering department offers not only an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering, but also degrees in civil, computer, electrical, mechanical, and biomedical engineering.
On top of a core curriculum of 194 credits, chemical engineering majors at Rose-Hulman may choose to specialize in one of the three areas of concentration—Advanced Chemical Engineering Analysis, Energy Production and Utilization, or Industrial and Process Engineering—which usually includes three or four additional classes.
Within its core courses in chemical engineering, the program also incorporates numerous independent research projects to students. Some current student projects include gas-liquid microfluidic flows, polyelectrolyte multilayer films, biodegradable drug delivery vehicles, and more. The small class sizes at Rose-Hulman allow for focused one-on-one interactions between students and its 11 faculty.
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.
The University of Houston, a state research university in Texas, is the flagship institution of the four-university system. Research at the university is divided into six interdisciplinary “clusters,” or subject groups, spread amongst the forty different research centers on campus.
Students enrolled in the B.S. in Chemical Engineering degree at the University of Houston complete 126 credits, typically within four years. If students opt to apply to the honor’s program, they take classes specific to that program, which are primarily upper-level chemistry and math courses with more emphasis on research.
Meeting the increasing demand for skilled professionals in the oil and gas industry, this program offers undergraduates the option to minor in Petroleum Engineering, which requires them to take 16 credits in petroleum engineering courses. In addition to six outside scholarships, awarded twice a year, the Cullen College of Engineering also awards a large number of merit-based scholarships to undergraduates.
The University of Houston is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
One of the nation’s largest research universities, the Florida State University is a public institution that is also considered a land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant research university. In fact, it was recently named one of the top-five US institutions for research in biotechnology.
The B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering at Florida State University offers three options: chemical engineering, biomedical engineering, and chemical-materials engineering. Most students in this program finish within four to five years. The curriculum includes an impressive list of electives, including kinetics and reactor design, distilled spirits processing, and lots more.
Juniors and seniors have the chance to engage in the Undergraduate Research Program (URP), which is a two-tiered program that allows top students and honor students to gain quality experience in their field. Some current student research projects include the study of crystal growth for magnetic systems, glycerol electrooxidation, and co-processing fossil and biomass oils. The size and scope of the research facilities at Florida State University make it an appealing choice for many.
Florida State University is accredited by The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
Located in Tucson, the University of Arizona is a public research institution that enrolls over 42,000 students each year. Despite the size, the university finds ways to create smaller communities, like its Honors College, which provides a space for around 4,500 of its top students.
The Chemical Engineering undergraduate program at the University of Arizona is housed in tandem with its Environmental Engineering program. Depending on their interests, students are guided into a customized curriculum, with classes that put more emphasis on environmental engineering, premedical studies, or biomedical engineering. Research within this program is divided between three categories: environment and sustainability, semiconductor and thin film materials manufacturing, and biotechnology.
As an alternative to the core four-year plan, ambitious students are given the opportunity to complete the Accelerated BS/MS Program in chemical engineering, which makes it possible to work on a master’s degree while students are still undergraduates. If they stay on track, students can finish both degrees in five years, giving them a sizable advantage in the work force.
The University of Arizona is accredited by Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA).