Chemical Engineering Vs. Computer Science: How To Choose The Right Major

Choosing between majors like chemical engineering and computer science is a big decision. While both fields involve technical problem-solving and offer high-paying careers, they require very different skill sets and interests.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Chemical engineering focuses on designing processes and systems that convert raw materials into useful products. Computer science deals with developing software, applications, and artificial intelligence using code.

Compare courses, career paths, earnings, and your own strengths to pick the right major.

This comprehensive guide will compare all aspects of a chemical engineering degree versus a computer science degree. You’ll learn about the differences in curriculum, career options, salaries, and more.

With an in-depth understanding of both paths, you can confidently choose the major that aligns with your talents and interests.

Typical Courses in Each Major

Chemical engineering core courses

Chemical engineering is a field that combines principles of chemistry, physics, and mathematics to design and operate chemical processes. As a chemical engineering major, you can expect to take a variety of courses that cover these fundamental areas.

Some of the core courses you may encounter include:

  • Thermodynamics: This course explores the principles of energy transfer and the behavior of materials at different temperatures and pressures. It is essential for understanding chemical reactions and process design.
  • Fluid Mechanics: This course focuses on the study of fluids in motion, including the principles of fluid flow and the behavior of fluids in various engineering applications.
  • Mass Transfer: This course delves into the principles of mass transfer, which is essential for understanding how substances are transported within a chemical process.
  • Chemical Reaction Engineering: This course covers the kinetics and mechanisms of chemical reactions, as well as the design and optimization of chemical reactors.
  • Process Control: This course teaches you how to control and optimize chemical processes using various control strategies and mathematical models.

Computer science core courses

Computer science is a rapidly growing field that focuses on the study of computers and computational systems. As a computer science major, you will explore various aspects of computer technology and programming. Some of the core courses you can expect to take include:

  • Programming Fundamentals: This course introduces you to the basics of programming and helps you develop problem-solving skills using programming languages like Python or Java.
  • Data Structures and Algorithms: This course dives into the design and analysis of data structures and algorithms, which are essential for efficient data manipulation and problem-solving in computer science.
  • Software Engineering: This course covers the principles and practices of software development, including software design, testing, and project management.
  • Database Systems: This course focuses on the design, implementation, and management of relational databases, which are crucial for storing and retrieving large amounts of data.
  • Operating Systems: This course explores the fundamental concepts and components of operating systems, including process management, memory management, and file systems.

Math and science requirements

Both chemical engineering and computer science majors have strong math and science requirements. In chemical engineering, you will need a solid foundation in calculus, differential equations, and chemistry.

Computer science majors, on the other hand, will need a strong background in discrete mathematics, linear algebra, and probability theory.

It’s important to note that the specific courses and requirements may vary between universities and programs. It’s always a good idea to consult the course catalog or speak with an academic advisor to get accurate and up-to-date information on the courses required for each major.

Career Paths and Jobs After Graduation

Choosing the right major is an important decision that can greatly impact your career trajectory. Both chemical engineering and computer science offer promising career paths with a wide range of job opportunities. Here is a breakdown of the career paths and job prospects for each major:

Chemical engineering roles

Chemical engineering graduates have a variety of career options in industries such as pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, food and beverage, and renewable energy. They can work as process engineers, research scientists, project managers, or consultants.

Chemical engineers are responsible for designing and optimizing chemical processes, developing new materials, and ensuring the safety and efficiency of industrial operations. They play a crucial role in developing sustainable solutions and improving the quality of life for people around the world.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for chemical engineers was $108,770 in May 2020, with a projected job growth rate of 4% from 2019 to 2029.

Computer science career paths

Computer science graduates have a wide range of career paths in various industries such as technology, finance, healthcare, and entertainment. They can work as software developers, data analysts, cybersecurity experts, systems administrators, or artificial intelligence specialists.

With the rapid advancements in technology, the demand for computer science professionals continues to grow. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for computer and information technology occupations was $93,250 in May 2020, with a projected job growth rate of 11% from 2019 to 2029.

Opportunities for advancement

Both chemical engineering and computer science offer opportunities for advancement and career growth. In chemical engineering, professionals can progress to senior engineering roles, become project leaders, or even move into management positions.

They may also choose to specialize in specific areas such as environmental engineering or biotechnology. Similarly, in computer science, professionals can advance to senior development roles, become technical leads, or move into management or executive positions.

Continuing education, acquiring certifications, and staying up-to-date with the latest industry trends are essential for career advancement in both fields.

Ultimately, choosing between chemical engineering and computer science depends on your interests, strengths, and long-term career goals. It’s important to research and consider the job prospects, earning potential, and industry trends associated with each major.

Additionally, talking to professionals in the field and seeking guidance from career counselors can provide valuable insights to help you make an informed decision.

Salary and Job Outlook Comparisons

Chemical engineering salary data

Chemical engineering is a highly lucrative field with excellent salary prospects. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for chemical engineers in the United States was $108,770 as of May 2020.

This figure can vary depending on factors such as experience, location, and industry. Chemical engineers working in the oil and gas extraction industry tend to earn the highest salaries, while those in scientific research and development services also enjoy competitive compensation.

It’s worth noting that chemical engineering graduates often have the opportunity to secure high-paying jobs right out of college. The demand for chemical engineers remains steady, particularly in industries such as pharmaceuticals, energy, and manufacturing.

This combination of high starting salaries and job stability makes chemical engineering an attractive option for students seeking financial security in their careers.

Computer science salaries

Computer science is another field known for its strong earning potential. The median annual wage for computer and information technology occupations was $93,260 as of May 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This includes a range of roles such as software developers, computer systems analysts, and network architects.

Salaries in computer science can vary widely depending on factors such as experience, location, and specialization. For example, software developers in the software publishing industry tend to earn higher salaries compared to those working in other industries.

Additionally, individuals with advanced degrees or specialized certifications may command higher salaries.

One of the advantages of pursuing a career in computer science is the abundance of job opportunities. The demand for skilled computer science professionals continues to grow rapidly, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a 11% increase in employment for computer and information technology occupations from 2019 to 2029.

Growth projections for each field

When considering a major, it’s important to take into account the growth projections for each field. While both chemical engineering and computer science offer promising career prospects, the rate of growth may vary.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of chemical engineers is projected to grow 4% from 2019 to 2029, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. This growth is primarily driven by the need for research and development in various industries, such as pharmaceuticals and alternative energy.

On the other hand, computer and information technology occupations are expected to grow much faster than the average, with a projected growth rate of 11% from 2019 to 2029. This growth is attributed to increased reliance on technology, the expansion of e-commerce, and the ongoing need for cybersecurity professionals.

It’s important to consider these growth projections when choosing a major, as they can directly impact job prospects and opportunities for advancement in the future.

Major-Specific Skills and Qualities

Capabilities needed for chemical engineering

Chemical engineering requires a strong foundation in mathematics and science. Students pursuing this major should have a deep understanding of chemistry, physics, and biology. They must be able to analyze and solve complex problems, as well as think critically and creatively.

In addition, chemical engineers need excellent communication and teamwork skills, as they often collaborate with colleagues and present their findings to clients or stakeholders. The ability to work under pressure and adapt to changing situations is also crucial in this field.

According to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), chemical engineers must possess technical skills such as process design, data analysis, and laboratory techniques. They should also have a solid understanding of thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, and heat transfer.

These skills are essential for designing and optimizing chemical processes, developing new materials, and ensuring safety in industrial settings.

Traits important for computer science majors

Computer science majors need to have a strong aptitude for problem-solving and logical thinking. They should be able to break down complex problems into smaller, manageable tasks and develop algorithms to solve them.

Proficiency in programming languages is a must, as computer science majors often write code to create software applications, build websites, or develop algorithms for artificial intelligence.

In addition to technical skills, computer science majors should have good analytical and research abilities. They need to stay updated with the latest advancements in technology and be able to apply their knowledge to solve real-world problems.

Attention to detail, perseverance, and a passion for learning are also important traits for success in this field.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer scientists often work in teams and must possess strong communication and collaboration skills. They should be able to explain complex concepts to non-technical individuals and work effectively with colleagues from diverse backgrounds.

Complementary strengths of the two fields

While chemical engineering and computer science are distinct disciplines, they do share some complementary strengths. Both fields require strong analytical thinking and problem-solving skills. Chemical engineers and computer scientists are trained to approach problems systematically and find innovative solutions.

Moreover, both majors involve working with data and conducting experiments. Chemical engineers use data analysis techniques to optimize processes and make informed decisions, while computer scientists analyze large datasets to derive meaningful insights and develop predictive models.

Furthermore, the integration of computer science in chemical engineering has become increasingly important. As industries embrace digitalization and automation, chemical engineers with programming skills are in high demand.

They can develop software tools to simulate chemical processes, improve efficiency, and enhance safety.

Preparing for Each Program in High School

Choosing the right major is an important decision, especially when it comes to fields as diverse as chemical engineering and computer science. To make an informed choice, it’s crucial to start preparing for each program while still in high school.

This will not only give you a head start but also help you gain a better understanding of the subject matter and whether it aligns with your interests and goals.

Recommended chemical engineering electives

When considering a major in chemical engineering, it’s beneficial to take certain elective courses in high school that can provide a solid foundation for future studies. Recommended electives include advanced math courses such as calculus and physics, as well as chemistry and biology.

These subjects will help you develop the necessary analytical and problem-solving skills required in the field of chemical engineering. Additionally, participating in science fairs or research projects can give you hands-on experience and a deeper understanding of the subject.

Computer science prep coursework

For those interested in pursuing a major in computer science, there are specific coursework options that can be taken in high school to prepare for the program. It is essential to take math courses such as algebra and calculus, as mathematics is the foundation of computer science.

Additionally, programming languages like Python or Java can be learned through online tutorials or coding clubs. Engaging in coding competitions or hackathons can also enhance your skills and demonstrate your passion for computer science to potential college admissions.

Extracurriculars to bolster your resume

Aside from coursework, engaging in extracurricular activities can help bolster your resume and showcase your commitment to the field you are interested in. For chemical engineering, joining science clubs, participating in science-related competitions, or even interning at a local lab can demonstrate your dedication and passion for the subject.

Similarly, for computer science, joining coding clubs, creating your own projects, or contributing to open-source software can showcase your coding skills and problem-solving abilities.

Remember, while preparing for each program in high school is important, it’s equally essential to explore your interests and determine which field aligns with your passion and career goals. Researching and talking to professionals in the field can provide valuable insights and guidance in making this decision.


When weighing chemical engineering against computer science, consider your interests in working with physical processes versus software applications. Examine the potential career paths, required skills, and salary outlooks.

While the majors are very distinct, both provide rewarding problem-solving roles in growing technical fields. Use this guide to make an informed choice based on your own strengths and aspirations.

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