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Hottest College Degrees – Chemistry & Engineering, or Both

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Is it surprising that when someone at Forbes went to the Bureau of Labor Statistics to see which college degrees were the hottest, they came away with chemical engineering in the petroleum industry? Chemical engineering has been the top degree the last few years because of the rise in petroleum fuel prices and our (and other country’s) increasing demand for the black gold. Not only are chemical engineers paid well, they’re in high demand with a reported 0.2% unemployment rate!

Software engineers received the second mention, which jives with what CNN Money discovered over a year ago – the two top earning jobs were chemical and software engineers. Another trend that agrees between the two articles is the importance of getting an engineering degree of some kind – 8 of the 14 highest paid degrees from a year ago are ‘engineering’ degrees with computer science and information sciences (arguably engineering-like) mixed among the 6 non-engineering titled degrees.

Now, does that mean everyone going off the college today should be in chemical engineering or computer engineering? No, because trends may change in four years but chances are there will be a job waiting for you if you get some sort of engineering degree (don’t go with computers, I don’t think they’ll catch on!)

via Forbes.

{ 8 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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8 Responses to “Hottest College Degrees – Chemistry & Engineering, or Both”

  1. angry dinosaur says:

    Some of that chemical engineer starting salary may be inflated due to the cost of luring college grads out to the areas where the chemical factories are. Presumably it takes some monetary incentive to get 20-somethings to choose to live in the areas with a booming chemical industry.

    And despite the quoted 0.2% unemployment rate, when it comes to switching or finding employers, it will be much easier for those in the software industry due to larger overall demand for personnel.

  2. jim says:

    is that really angry dinosaur?

  3. Matt says:

    There’s a pretty small number of places where one can earn good money as a petrochemical engineer, and the prospects for starting your own business on the basis of that skill aren’t especially good. Sure, those small number of large corporate employers are all hiring lots of bodies at nice salaries, but frankly it sounds like a recipe for getting sucked into an undesirable life with few ways to make fundamental changes without serious pain. Sort of like the folks who based their career on chasing the ’80s aerospace boom.

    Frankly, I think the one question every student considering a particular path of study should ask is not “how easy will it be to get a good job when I graduate”, but rather “how easy will it be for me to make good money at this _without_ having a conventional job”…or at least “how likely is it that, if every company recruiting these majors today is having a hiring freeze or entering Chapter 11 five years from now, there will be different opportunities available to make use of the same skills”.

    I’m disinclined to take seriously most people who profess a substantive difference between “software engineer” and “programmer”, but the fact remains that the demand for computer people isn’t just deep but _wide_. And in the job market, depth can be a fickle beast, but width is usually pretty stable. Depth can give you bargaining power when the market is on your side, but width is what’ll keep you eating when the market _isn’t_ on your side.

  4. Great comments Matt. I agree that tech is good because it’s a wide field, that’ll continually grow. I don’t see technology shrinking, but rather growing. As far as chemical engineering goes, I would be inclined to say that this field also going to continue growing, think medicinal…Of course petrochemical engineering might shrink, but I’d think a company would hire a chemical engineer, without a ton of emphasis on specialization.

    On a side note, chemical engineering is a tough field.

  5. …academically speaking that is…

  6. boredairhead says:

    As a recent chemical engineering grad, I feel inclined to add my two cents. While the prospects for starting your own business (ie your own refinery or plant) are exceedingly slim, I do have one word for you: consulting. Most, if not all, companies will use a consultant at one point or another. Some companies have full time consultants as part of their business model. While a consultant may specialize in one aspect of the industry (process engineering, equipment design, etc.), they will get a broad range of experience in that area because they are working for more than one client. There are some areas, like environmental, where the community is so small that it is easy to make a name for yourself, which will make starting your own firm much easier. In my admittedly limited experience with the industry, the recent graduates are the ones doing most of the number crunching and technical work (what we went to school for). Those who have been working for 5+ years are mostly in management or have moved on to some other aspect of the business.

    That said, there are other uses for a chemical engineering degree than working in/for the petrochemical and oil industries. We also work in the food industry, microelectronics manufacturing, and pharmaceuticals to name a few. And let’s not forget the graduate level research, they’re doing much more than trying to debottleneck existing plants or researching new catalysts. Many go on to law school and become patent lawyers. Some work for the government (EPA and the like) or become lobbyists. I know several people who used their degrees to get into medical and dental school. I’m not going to argue that the field has the width of computers, my point is the knowledge gained from a chemical engineering degree is used in a much wider variety of industries and careers than most realize (including myself until recently, I had no idea my cheetos were designed by a chem e).

  7. anon says:

    Matt is dead on. Well said and something I think a lot of these salary surveys leave out.

  8. angry dinosaur says:

    Turns out I am a PF junkie. Great job on the blog; I think i’m going to become a regular reader.


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