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Top Chemical Engineering Schools


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Chemical engineers manipulate the molecular structure of matter. They use their skills in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, food and manufacturing industries, producing new substances and altering old ones. Entry-level jobs for chemical engineers in government and business require bachelor’s or master’s degrees; students pursuing doctoral degrees go on to teach and make contributions to research.

U.S. News and World Report provides a ranking of top chemical engineering schools. The ranking is based on many criteria, including research activity and spending, acceptance rate, mean GRE scores, and the assessment of peers from other institutions. Each of these distinguished schools receives its accreditation from ABET, the body that accredits engineering programs in the United States.

 1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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MIT (Photo: Adam Fagen)

Both the graduate and undergraduate chemical engineering programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) rank at the the top of U.S. News and World Report’s national listings, and have done for more than two decades. MIT also tops the U.S. News ranking of the best international chemical engineering schools. The ChemE program at MIT is very selective, with only 14% of applicants admitted.

The world’s first four-year curriculum in chemical engineering, Course X, was established at MIT in 1888. It combined mechanical engineering with current European developments in chemistry. The graduate program began in 1942.

Today, undergraduates at MIT with an interest in chemical engineering choose to focus on a particular aspect of the field. A student can seek a bachelor’s of science in chemical engineering, or a bachelor’s of science in chemical-biological engineering, for those who might attend medical school. Other choices include a bachelor’s of science in engineering or simply a bachelor’s of science.

For graduate students applying to MIT’s ChemE program, GRE scores are required. Degree options include an M.S. or a Ph.D. in chemical engineering practice (CEP). The CEP programs involve spending some time at a Practice School, where students work on site at affiliated host companies in the United States or internationally. The M.S. CEP industrial internship can be finished within a single year. The Ph.D. CEP involves taking management courses at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Graduation requirements include the creation of a paper that integrates ChemE with business. Graduate students who intend to make research their careers seek the doctoral degrees of Ph.D. or SCD.

Interdisciplinary ChemE graduate degrees are available through the Technology and Policy Program (TPP), a division of the engineering department concerned with responsible development strategies; and the Program in Polymer Science and Technology (PSST), for researchers interested in advancing the knowledge of polymers.

 2. The California Institute of Technology

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Caltech (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The chemical engineering program at Caltech, number two in the U.S. News Rankings, began its existence as the department of applied chemistry in 1937. The program contributed greatly to the development of the U.S. oil industry during the mid-20th century.

Undergraduates may choose the chemical engineering option, the Caltech term for major. This involves combination of lecture and lab classes that prepare them for graduate study or a career in research. Besides learning the fundamentals of the field, undergraduates are encouraged to take part in research with faculty. In order to continue in the program, undergraduates must maintain a 1.9 or higher GPA.

For graduate students, the GRE is required. Caltech grants master’s of science degrees and Ph.D.s in chemical engineering. Only rarely are students admitted with the goal of attaining an M.S. degree; when they are, the coursework takes just around a year to complete. A few students are also given permission to seek a concurrent B.S. and M.S. degree. Most of the graduate degrees are Ph.D.s. Admission to the doctoral program requires a bachelor’s degree in one of the sciences.

Students within Caltech’s chemical engineering department have access to state-of-the-art equipment, including a Raman spectrometer, a wide-bore nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer and X-ray diffraction facilities. Many students also make use of the advanced equipment at other Caltech departments. Caltech is smaller than most of the other schools with top chemical engineering divisions, and there is much interdepartmental cooperation. Caltech is home to the world’s most powerful supercomputer, the Intel Delta. With approval, Caltech chemical engineering students can also use the nearby facilities of the San Diego Supercomputer Center and the computers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

 3. University of California at Berkeley

UC Berkeley Engineering

UC Berkeley Engineering (Photo credit: Flickred)

The UCLA Berkeley Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) came together in part from the many contributions the members of the chemistry and engineering faculties provided to the United States during the Second World War. For a time, both the College of Engineering and the College of Chemistry housed a chemical engineering department; the one in Chemistry prevailed. The first Chemical Engineering professor at Berkeley was appointed in 1946, and chemical engineering was established as a separate department in 1957. The “biomolecular” of the department’s title was added in 2010 to indicate that its research interest in molecules of biological origin had become significant.

As a public university, tuition prices are considerably lower at Berkeley than at other best engineering schools such as MIT, Caltech or Stanford. Undergraduates seek a B.S. in chemical engineering. CBE also offers joint majors with the Materials Science and Engineering and Nuclear Science departments. The bachelor’s degrees are meant to prepare students for careers in the field or for additional graduate study.

Applicants to the graduate programs must supply their GRE scores. Students seeking an M.S. in chemical engineering at Berkeley apply through the Product Development program. This program seeks to create graduates with an ability to turn chemical engineering technology into successful commercial products. Ph.D. candidates, who must come to the program with an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering or a related science, can add a designated emphasis, or focus, to their research.

A close relationship with the Laurence Berkeley National Laboratory gives researchers and graduate students access to exceptional instruments and technologies, such as an artificial photosynthesis lab, a molecular foundry and the bioenergy institute.

 4. Stanford University

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Stanford University – Huang Engineering Center Adam Fagen (Photo: Adam Fagen)

The ChemE program at Stanford was established in 1960. Around 25% of students who apply to Stanford’s chemical engineering program are accepted.

At Stanford, a B.S. in chemical engineering provides a foundation in chemistry, physics and biology. The program prepares students for work in industry or for continued studies. A CHE minor is also possible with the taking of certain core classes.

All applicants for graduate studies coming from outside the chemical engineering department must submit their scores from the GRE general test. The Stanford chemical engineering department offers a co-terminal bachelor’s and master’s degree. An M.S. is conferred with a minimum of 45 hours of coursework, with a 3 point GPA maintained. An engineer’s degree requires an additional year of study to produce a thesis. While the CHE engineer’s degree is not a prerequisite for a Ph.D., a student may use it as the basis for his admission to the doctoral program. The Ph.D. requires 135 credit hours with a 3-point GPA, and includes teaching, a dissertation and an oral defense. A CHE minor as part of a Ph.D. requires 20 hours of lecture classes in the department.

 5. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Northrop Mall at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Campus (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Chemical Engineering and Materials Sciences (CEMS) department at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities branch is the least costly option among the top five programs in U.S. News and World Report’s rankings of chemical engineering programs. Chemical engineering at U of M dates to 1919; the department has existed in its current configuration since 1970, when chemical engineering absorbed the materials department. A large public research university located in the twin cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, U of M always performs well in surveys of research institutions.

The Twin Cities chemical engineering department grants B.S. degrees to around 100 students every year. The undergraduates hear lectures three times weekly and meet twice a week for smaller discussion groups and labs. Applicants for the graduate programs must take the GRE general test. The University of Minnesota’s emphasis on research causes them to admit mostly doctoral students. While some applicants are accepted into an M.S. program or the professional master’s of engineering program, these students receive no financial support in the form of grants or fellowships. Master’s degree not required for admission to doctoral program. A strong background in engineering or in related sciences, however, is.

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