The answer to whether a double major in mechanical engineering and chemistry is suitable for a career in chemical engineering isn’t yes or no, but yes and no. Technically, there aren’t any rules preventing an individual trained in mechanical engineering and chemistry from working as a chemical engineer. This doesn’t mean, though, that employers will choose to hire these individuals over those who hold a degree in the field.
Getting a Job
Both the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the American Chemical Society maintain that chemical engineers must have chemical engineering degrees. Employers, however, don’t necessarily adhere to this stance. While employers often desire applicants with a degree in the field, they may also hire those who have a related degree or experience. This is partly because chemical engineering is the "universal" engineering field; professionals in the field work in many industries and solve many problems. A double major in mechanical engineering and chemistry may or may not be adequate training, depending on the scope of the job or task.
Chemical engineers can become licensed professional engineers. Although licensure isn’t required in all states, employers often prefer to hire PEs since they have effectively demonstrated their knowledge. To become a licensed chemical engineer, you don't need to major in chemical engineering; any individual with an engineering degree from a program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology is eligible to undergo the PE licensing process. Students who studied both mechanical engineering and chemistry can take the chemical engineering PE exam.
Planning for the Future
Students with a double major in mechanical engineering and chemistry have one advantage over students who majored only in chemical engineering: They are prepared for careers in two fields, whereas a chemical engineering student is prepared for one. Those who aren’t sure of the exact position they’d like after graduation might find this beneficial since it opens up more options than simply chemical engineering. On the other hand, students who are certain they want to work in chemical engineering might choose the area as their major to undergo in-depth preparation.
Considering All the Variables
In the field of engineering, having internship or research experience is almost as crucial as holding a degree. Before choosing a degree program, consider how you’ll work these opportunities into your education. Many of the largest employers of engineers offer internships to engineering majors; Dow Chemical, for example, provides internships to students studying mechanical or chemical engineering. Internship positions can be competitive, however, and chemical engineering positions could go to those studying in the field. Research opportunities can be more forgiving. Because research is often customized through the help of an adviser, a student with a mechanical engineering and chemistry double major could pursue research in chemical engineering that draws from both subjects.
- American Chemical Society: Chemical Engineering
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Chemical Engineers
- Monster: Chemical Engineer Jobs
- University of Minnesota Duluth: Careers in Chemical Engineering
- National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying: Licensure
- Dow: Manufacturing and Engineering US National Student Program
- Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images