The 11 Best Chemical Engineering Schools

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If you love chemistry, physics, math, and problem-solving, chemical engineering may be an excellent field of study for you. Chemical engineers are in high demand, and they earn higher average salaries than many other types of engineers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for chemical engineers is over $108,000.

Most strong undergraduate engineering programs have a chemical engineering option. In the United States, 188 four-year, non-profit institutions offer a degree in the field. The hands-on study of chemical engineering requires large equipment and significant resources, for chemical engineers often work in plants with large tanks, extensive piping, and elaborate systems for heating, cooling, and mixing. On the other end of the spectrum, chemical engineers also work with nanotechnology and need access to powerful equipment for microscopy and characterization. For this reason, the best chemical engineering programs tend to be at larger universities with plenty of laboratory space and research dollars. The top programs will also provide opportunities for students to gain intern or co-op experience working in the profession.

The eleven schools below (listed alphabetically) were selected for the strength of their curricula, the accomplishments of their faculty, the quality of their laboratory spaces, and the professional success of their graduates. All have excellent chemical engineering programs and provide students with ample research opportunities.

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California Institute of Technology

Beckman Institute at Caltech
Beckman Institute at Caltech.

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Located in Pasadena, California, CalTech often vies with MIT for the top spot in rankings of engineering programs, and its chemical engineering program also does extremely well in national rankings. The program is the smallest on this list, and it awards just a dozen or so bachelor's degrees each year. That said, the small size is part of what makes CalTech special. The institution as a whole has under 1,000 undergraduates. Combine that with an impressive 3 to 1 student/faculty ratio, and you're guaranteed to get lots of personal attention and plenty of research opportunities.

Caltech has 44 faculty members who teach in the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, and the divisional structure creates healthy collaboration between the fields of chemistry, chemical engineering, and biochemistry. In their junior and senior years, chemical engineering majors pursue a concentration in one of four subfields: biomolecular, environmental, materials, or process systems. All students have the opportunity to conduct independent research through a senior thesis.

The admissions bar for CalTech is extremely high. The acceptance rate is in the single digits, and you're going to want a math SAT score in the 790-800 range or an ACT math score of 35 or 36.

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Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech.

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Not only does Georgia Tech consistently rank among the nation's best engineering schools, but it also represents an excellent value as a public university in a state with relatively low tuition. The school's location in Atlanta gives students easy access to a wealth of internship opportunities.

Chemical engineering at Georgia Tech shares a school with biomedical engineering, for the two fields have significant areas of overlap. The School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering has notable strengths in areas including energy & sustainability, biotechnology, complex systems, and materials & nanotechnology. Strong students who enter Georgia Tech with significant AP or transfer credit can take advantage of the institute's five-year BS/MS program

Chemical engineering is popular at Georgia Tech, and well over 200 students earn a bachelor's degree in the field each year. All majors complete a capstone design project in their senior year. Working in teams of 4 or 5 students, seniors tackle a design challenge that includes both engineering and economic analysis. Projects are sponsored by a company such as Eastman Kodak, Chevron, or Exide, and the work culminates in a presentation to the engineering faculty.

While admission to Georgia Tech isn't as selective as schools like CalTech, MIT, and Stanford, it is still highly selective. Roughly 20% of applicants are admitted, and they tend to have SAT and ACT scores that are well above average.

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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MIT frequently tops the rankings of engineering schools in the US as well as the world, and its chemical engineering program also one of the very best. Chemical engineering (or "Course 10" in MIT lingo) at MIT awards about 30 bachelor's degrees, 40 master's degrees, and 50 doctorates each year. The large number of graduate students means that undergraduates will have ample opportunities to work in the lab as a research assistant, and such positions tend to be paid through the school's Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP). The department is home to 40 labs where students can conduct research focused on areas including energy/sustainability, biotechnology, polymers, manufacturing, nanotechnology, and surface science.

MIT's location in Cambridge, Massachusetts, sits across the Charles River from Boston, and the city is home to numerous tech companies that offer additional opportunities. With universities and colleges such as Harvard, Northeastern, BU, Wellesley, Brandeis, and many other Boston area colleges nearby, MIT students live within a few miles of hundreds of thousands of other college students,

With a single-digit acceptance rate, the MIT admissions bar is high, and applicants will need a stellar high school transcript, near-perfect SAT or ACT scores (especially in math), and personal qualities that are a good match for MIT's diverse, creative, and eclectic student body.

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Princeton University

Princeton University
Princeton University.

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The only member of the prestigious Ivy League on this list, Princeton University's engineering program continues to build its national and international reputation. The university awards roughly 40 bachelor's degrees in chemical engineering each year and another 30 graduate degrees. Like many schools, the university's chemical and biological engineering programs are housed within the same department. Students can choose from six areas of concentration: energy & environment, surface science & catalysis, biomolecular engineering, cellular & tissue engineering, complex materials & processing, and theory & simulation.

The program takes pride in the diversity of its students including the fact that 63% are female. 29% of chemical engineering undergraduates go directly into graduate school, 10% enter healthcare or pharmaceutical industries, and another 18% go into management and technical consulting.

One of the more selective Ivies, Princeton has an acceptance rate of around 6%. As with many top engineering programs, applicants will need a glowing high school transcript, extremely high standardized test scores, and impressive accomplishments outside of the classroom.

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Rice University

Lovett Hall at Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA
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One of two Texas colleges on this list, Rice University in Houston has a highly regarded chemical engineering program. The major is one of the most popular among undergraduates, and the program graduates over 50 students each year. Another 30 students earn graduate degrees in chemical engineering annually. The university's undergraduate focus, 6 to 1 student/faculty ratio, and $6.5 billion endowment means that students have plenty of opportunities to conduct paid research. The Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering is home to five centers and institutes including the Carbon Hub, the Ken Kennedy Institute with a focus on data science, and Rice ENRI, the Rice Energy and Natural Resources Initiative. Rice has long and relationships with the Texas oil industry, and today many students and faculty members explore issues related to clean and sustainable energy. Other prominent research areas include materials & nanotechnology and biomolecular engineering.

Students working towards a BS in chemical engineering can select one of five areas of specialization: biotechnology & bioengineering, computational engineering, environmental engineering, materials science & engineering, and sustainability and energy engineering. Students also have the option to not specialize and instead focus on engineering breadth. Upon earning a bachelor's degree, students can stay for a fifth year to earn a master's degree in chemical engineering.

Rice, like several schools on this list, is highly selective with a single-digit acceptance rate. Admitted students tend to have "A" averages in high school and SAT or ACT scores that are in the top one or two percentiles.

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Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

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Rose-Hulman may not be familiar to some aspiring engineers because of its small size (about 2,000 students), undergraduate focus, and location in Terre Haute, Indiana. For students looking for a more intimate undergraduate experience where the institutional focus truly is on undergraduates rather than graduate research, Rose-Hulman is an excellent choice. Chemical engineering is the second most popular major at the school (after mechanical engineering),

With its undergraduate focus, Rose-Hulman gives students the opportunity to work directly with the faculty rather than with graduate student researchers. ChemE students work in the High Bay Lab and Unit Operations Lab, and they can begin gaining hands-on research experience starting in their first year of study. As students develop their areas of interest, they have the opportunity to pursue a concentration in one of six areas: advanced chemical engineering analysis, energy production and utilization, industrial and process engineering, math, and engineering management.

Rose-Hulman is the most accessible school on this list, but applicants shouldn't be fooled by the 74% acceptance rate. Applicants tend to be self-selecting, and successful applicants tend to have extremely strong academic records and SAT/ACT scores that are well above average.

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Stanford University

Stanford University
Stanford University.

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Stanford University and UC Berkeley, both in California's Bay Area, tend to dominate rankings for engineering programs on the West Coast, and both are top ten programs for the entire US. Stanford's chemical engineering program awards about 25 bachelor's degrees annually and another 50 or more graduate degrees. While ChemE is not one of the school's most popular STEM fields, the faculty, resources, and research opportunities are excellent—students have the opportunity to join one of 20 research groups, and faculty members are affiliated with 14 research and training centers. Like many cutting edge chemical engineering programs, Stanford places a heavy emphasis on research related to energy, the environment, and human health technologies.

The admissions bar for Stanford is as high as any school on this list. The university has an acceptance rate of around 5%, and admitted students will need excellent grades in a rigorous high school curriculum, high standardized test scores (1500+ is common on the SAT), and impressive accomplishments on the extracurricular front.

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University of California Berkeley

University of California Berkeley
University of California Berkeley.

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For in-state applicants, UC Berkeley is a bit less selective than Stanford, but this prestigious public university still has an acceptance rate down in the teens, and engineering is more selective than the university as a whole. Berkeley consistently tops the lists of the nation's best public universities. Chemical engineering is a popular major, and over 120 students earn a bachelor's degree in the field annually. Another 60 or so students earn graduate degrees in chemical engineering each year.

Berkeley is a research powerhouse, and the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering has 26 full-time faculty members as well as many lecturers and researchers. Research areas fall into four broad categories: biomolecular engineering; energy, sustainability, catalysis, & electrochemical engineering; theory, computational systems, & machine learning; and materials & interfaces.

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University of Michigan—Ann Arbor

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

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Like UC Berkeley, the University of Michigan's flagship campus in Ann Arbor typically ranks near the top of the nation's best public universities, and the school is well known for its strong STEM fields. Of the over 1,100 students at Michigan who earn a bachelor's degree in engineering each year, over 10% of them major in chemical engineering. The program frequently ranks among the top 5 in U.S. News & World Report.

Michigan undergraduates have a range of opportunities to conduct research including through the Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering program (SURE) and the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP). The university's research institutes and centers include the Biointerfaces Institute, Energy Institute, Center for Photonic and Multiscale Nanomaterials, and Michigan Institute for Data Science. The university also has impressive research facilities including a nanofabrication facility, electron microbeam analysis laboratory, high-temperature corrosion laboratory, and battery lab.

A little over 20% of applicants to the University of Michigan are admitted, and you're going to need excellent grades and standardized test scores to get in. Like all schools on this list, the admissions process is holistic, so non-numerical measures such as the essay and extracurricular involvement are also extremely important.

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University of Texas at Austin

University of Texas at Austin
University of Texas at Austin.

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UT Austin is another high-ranking public university with impressive strengths in STEM. With over 50,000 students, the university may not seem like a good choice if you're looking for an intimate college experience, but the chemical engineering program takes pride in its tight-knit community and culture of mentoring. Size also has advantages, for with over 150 chemical engineers graduating each year, the school has a lot of breadth in its course offerings and areas of faculty research. The program has 31 full-time faculty members.

Chemical engineering students have the opportunity to become an Undergraduate Research Assistant as early as the second semester of their first year of college. Research areas include energy biotechnology, modeling & simulation, process engineering, environmental engineering, and advanced materials, polymers, & nanotechnology. Over 90% of graduates get a job or get placed into a graduate program within six months of earning their bachelor's degree.

UT Austin admits roughly a third of all applicants, and Texas residents with a high enough class rank receive "automatic admission." Realize, however, that guaranteed admission to UT does not mean you are guaranteed admission to an engineering program.

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University of Wisconsin—Madison

Bascom Hall
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The University of Wisconsin's flagship campus in Madison is another public university with extremely strong STEM programs. Over 1,000 students earn a bachelor's degree in engineering each year, and over 100 of those students major in chemical engineering. The university's Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering has four broad research focus areas: bioengineering, catalysis, materials, and systems. The university is home to the NSF Materials Research Science and Engineering Center and the nation's largest NIH-funded Biotechnology Training Program.

Undergraduate students are encouraged to get involved with research, and the program offers both paid and for-credit options. Many students also participate in the co-op program. Strong students can take CBE489, Honors in Research, a course that allows students to conduct research with a faculty mentor, write a senior thesis, and present their work to a faculty committee.

Wisconsin's applicant pool is strong, and admitted students tend to have "A" averages and standardized test scores that are well above average. Its acceptance rate is around 50%.

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Grove, Allen. "The 11 Best Chemical Engineering Schools." ThoughtCo, Jan. 26, 2021, Grove, Allen. (2021, January 26). The 11 Best Chemical Engineering Schools. Retrieved from Grove, Allen. "The 11 Best Chemical Engineering Schools." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 12, 2021).