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Frequently Asked Questions

The Basics

What’s the difference between Chemistry and Chemical Engineering? While there is much overlap between the disciplines, the major differences between chemistry and chemical engineering have to do with originality and scale. Chemists are more likely to develop fundamentally new chemicals, materials, or techniques, while chemical engineers are more likely to apply known materials or ideas to effectively solve real-world problems. 

Is it better to get a B.S. rather than a B.A. in Chemistry? Neither degree is necessarily "better" – it depends on your career path. Your specific experiences, coursework, and achievements during your time at Rice are more important for job or graduate school applications than the type of degree you earn. With that said, the B.S. degree is designed to provide the experiences necessary for a career in chemistry, including pursuing graduate school or laboratory research jobs in chemistry-related fields. On the other hand, the B.A. degree is designed for students interested in a broad range of careers that value scientific knowledge, rigorous analytical skills, and quantitative abilities, but who are not interested in laboratory research. Health professions and high school teaching are two examples of careers for which the B.A. degree is good preparation. Because it has lower credit hour requirements, some students find the B.A. degree convenient as part of a double major. Please seek advice from an academic advisor to determine which degree is best suited for your career path.

I want to earn degrees in both Chemistry and History. Can I do it? Yes. Although it is demanding, many students do complete the requirements for two majors in disparate fields. Note that Rice offers two options in this case: a “double major” or a “dual degree.” The majority of such students complete a “double major,” which is earned by completing the requirements for a B.A. in two different disciplines. A “dual degree” requires the completion of two different bachelor’s degrees (i.e. B.A. and B.S.) in two different disciplines and at least 30 additional semester hours at Rice beyond the hours required for the first degree. More information may be found in the General Announcements.

I will complete all of the requirements for my major but how can I be sure I have my 60 hours outside the major? All courses not specifically applied to your major requirements count as "outside" the major, even courses taken in the same discipline. For example, if you complete all the course requirements listed for a B.A. in Chemistry and take two extra CHEM courses, those courses count toward the additional 60 hours needed to graduate. Please review your Degree Works account with an academic advisor to audit your graduation requirements. 

For Freshmen

Should I take PHYS 101/102, PHYS 111/112, or PHYS 125/126? All three sequences fulfill the physics requirement for the B.A. and B.S. in Chemistry. PHYS 101/102 is intended for students majoring in engineering or the physical sciences, PHYS 125/126 for bioscience and premedical students, and PHYS 111/112 for particularly well-motivated students with a strong interest in the physical sciences.

Which Chemistry class should I take as a freshman? Most freshmen will take a full-year course in general chemistry, either CHEM 121/122 or CHEM 151/152. Organic Chemistry I (CHEM 211) is typically taken during the second year at Rice. However, some students with a strong AP/IB Chemistry background choose to take organic chemistry during their freshman year. See the handout “Which Chemistry Class is Right for Me?” for more information. CHEM 211 is offered in both the fall and spring semesters.

I have AP/IB Chemistry credit. Will this satisfy pre-health professions requirements? This is a question that must be answered on a case-by-case basis. In general, AP/IB credit will satisfy some pre-medical requirements for many, but not all, medical and other health professional schools. Students need to consult with the Office of Academic Advising (OAA) or each school for their AP/IB policies. 

Current Majors

Should I take CHEM 212 or CHEM 320? Both CHEM 212 and CHEM 320 count toward the undergraduate chemistry degrees, and both are excellent courses that have been well-liked by students in recent years. CHEM 212 is primarily taught as a large lecture course much like CHEM 211. CHEM 320 is a small course —12 to 25 students — and is intended for students considering chemistry as a major and those in related fields with a strong interest in chemical research. Taught in small groups, CHEM 320 minimizes traditional lecture time, and significant course time is spent on small group problem-solving work and applying fundamental concepts to new application, mechanism and arrow-pushing, and multistep synthesis. Memorization is de-emphasized. Both courses use the same textbook, though CHEM 320 may cover 1-2 additional chapters of material that are more important to chemists than a general audience. CHEM 320 also serves as an introduction to the department and to independent research in chemistry. Some class discussion is designed to help students find a research lab in chemistry and to work toward a career related to chemistry.

Can I pursue summer school, study abroad, and internship opportunities as a CHEM major? Chemistry course credit earned from summer school and study abroad programs is allowed. Interested students should refer to the Transfer Credit Policy found in the Undergraduate Advising Booklet and obtain approval from the transfer credit advisor in advance of enrolling in summer coursework. The Department encourages student participation in study abroad programs. Course substitutions completed through summer school and study abroad programs must be approved through the Office of the Registrar and the Department of Chemistry. Most students who want to do internships complete them in the summer, but academic-year internships are also possible. Please consult with the Study Abroad office and an academic advisor to design a four-year schedule that allows for study abroad and/or internship opportunities. 

If I’m not doing well in one of my prerequisites, should I not be a CHEM major? Many successful chemists have struggled in undergraduate courses. You can overcome adversity if chemistry is the field you want to study. There are many reasons why students do not perform at their best, but there are tremendous resources at Rice to help. However, it is the student’s responsibility to take initiative when they are struggling in a course, and their greatest mistake is to wait too long before seeking academic assistance. Students should consult their professor for help with a specific course, utilize their residential college’s Academic Fellows/Mentor Society, and see an academic advisor to discuss options if they are struggling with multiple courses. 

Can I Pass/Fail a chemistry course as a CHEM major? Courses taken as Pass/Fail cannot be used to meet major requirements. If required courses are taken pass/fail, the Registrar will replace the P with the letter grade earned during the final degree audit. If you have multiple courses that could be used to fulfill the same major requirement, address any potential problems with your major advisor prior to your final degree audit.

Can I earn credit for chemistry research? Yes, you may enroll in Research for Undergraduates (CHEM 391/491/492/493) to earn credit for independent research. B.S. students must complete 8 credit hours of chemistry research (corresponding research courses in other departments in Science and Engineering may be used towards this requirement with departmental approval). CHEM 391 is the standard independent research course for first-time lab students, while CHEM 491 is for continuing lab students that is repeatable for credit. The Chemistry Honors Research Program, CHEM 492/493, offers students in their final year at Rice the opportunity to perform a two-semester, individual chemistry research project. These courses function as a pair and must be taken in the same academic year. Students must formally apply into CHEM 492/493 with the recommendation of their research professor. The course requires students to complete a research proposal, a public presentation of findings, and a formal report or thesis. For more information, refer to the “Undergraduate Research Opportunities” section.

How do I get involved in chemistry research?  There are many ways to find research opportunities as a Rice undergraduate. The most common method to join a lab in the Chemistry Department is to contact the faculty member directly about working in their lab for course credit. For more information and suggestions, please refer to the “How Do I Find a Research Opportunity?” section.

Life After Rice

What are some post-graduation options for me if I graduate with a CHEM degree (aside from medical school or grad school)? You have many options, especially if you are not geographically limited. Often, these are jobs in chemical industry (including biotechnology) or science education. Other relevant career paths include conservation, science writing, science policy, scientific/medical illustration, forensic science, management consulting, and patent law. Please meet with your Chemistry major advisor and the Center for Career Development for more information. 

How important is my GPA for getting into graduate school? Admissions committees typically place considerable weight on the GPA, especially in math and science courses. The admission committee will also place a heavy emphasis on undergraduate research experience and the recommendation of the student’s research mentor. However, every part of each student’s application is examined closely by the admissions committee, so there is no single element that would make or break a student’s admission. Among other factors, students with a strong research record that includes publication in a peer-reviewed journal are looked upon favorably. 

What are good resources for investigating my options and choosing graduate schools to apply to? First, examine the American Chemical Society website. Second, speak with your Chemistry major advisor and research advisor to find ideal graduate programs to which you should apply that best match your research interests and career path.