According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for chemists in May 2018 was about $77,000. Industries like pharmaceuticals, food and fuel processing, energy, and materials development all value the skills learned through a chemistry degree, which means there are many opportunities to use such a degree creatively.
We’ve ranked the 15 best small colleges for chemistry majors on a budget.
Our chosen colleges maintain an overall undergraduate graduation rate of at least 45%. Each program offers at least two different majors for people looking to study chemistry. These programs can include anything from forensic chemistry to biochemistry, and each has an estimated annual cost of less than $30,000, according to College Navigator.
Mount St. Joseph University tops this list not only because it's the most affordable small college for chemistry majors, but also because it offers those majors a breadth of courses they may not be able to find at other schools its size. Beyond the typical undergraduate chemistry degree, MSJU also supports a Biochemistry major, a combined program in Chemistry and Mathematics, and a Natural Science major with a concentration in Chemistry. To complement their coursework, undergraduates also have the opportunity to work with high-tech equipment in on-campus labs as well as participate in co-op experiences with industrial and research corporations around Cincinnati.
Like other religious colleges, faculty at Oklahoma Christian University believe that the study of science and faith are mutually beneficial. In fact, OC maintains the view that students can use their knowledge of the natural world as a tool to become exemplary Christians in their communities. But religious matters aside, this college garners widespread appeal simply for being one of the most affordable colleges for a chemistry degree in the entire country. Undergraduates can major in Chemistry, Biochemistry, Forensic Science, or Science Education. And while the coursework may vary, each of these programs share a common goal: to help students acquire a depth of technical knowledge while developing stable personal lives and an ethical approach to their work.
Yet another nationally ranked liberal arts college, Colby University boasts strengths in a broad range of academic disciplines. In particular, the Department of Chemistry stands out for its somewhat atypical concentrations, which include Biochemistry, Environmental Science, and the only combination Biochemistry/Cellular and Molecular Biology program on this affordable chemistry degrees ranking. The course catalog features a similarly unconventional selection of classes, including Chemistry for Citizens, The Science of Crime, Food and Drink: Everyday Biology and Chemistry, and Green Chemistry. In fact, graduates continue to reflect their school's signature eclecticism long after they leave campus by pursuing careers that span from medicine and dentistry to computer science and environmental law.
Bridgewater College's Department of Chemistry offers one of the most versatile academic selections on this top chemistry degrees ranking. In addition to the traditional chem major, the department also provides tracks in Applied Chemistry, Biochemistry, and Environmental Science, plus a special advising program for those who want to apply to pharmacy school. Regardless of specialty, all majors complete 53-54 credit hours in courses such as Physical Chemistry and Molecular Biology of the Cell. However, students in the Environmental Science track must also complete coursework in wildlife biology. Ultimately, the goal is for undergraduates to work toward self-designed independent studies as a way to prepare for the next phase of their careers, be it graduate school, industrial research, or consulting.
The Union College Chemistry Department lets undergraduates get their hands on state-of-the-art equipment in small classes and laboratory settings. The department boasts a 400 MHz nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, research-grade mass spectrometers, liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry, and a thermogravimetric analyzer. And while Union is clearly one of the best small colleges for a chemistry majors who want to play with expensive gadgets, it's also great for networking; the school encourages students to join its award-winning Chemistry Club, in which they can attend professional meetings and volunteer at local schools. Chemistry majors also have the opportunity to work alongside scientists and graduate students in Sicily at the National Research Council in Palermo.
Swarthmore College is one of the top liberal arts schools in the country, coming in 4th on U.S. News & World Report's ranking and 10th on Forbes magazine's ranking. And now that the school has landed on our list of affordable colleges for a chemistry degree, there should be no question as to the value that Swarthmore can offer budding scientists. Swarthmore's standard chemistry program consists of three tracks (Chemistry, Biochemistry, and Chemical Physics) while majors who are interested in teaching middle or high school science can opt for a separate course in Educational Studies and Chemistry.
Graduates of Hamilton College's chemistry program rave about the small class and lab sizes, which provide the opportunity for one-on-one mentorship between students and faculty. Hamilton offers programs in chemistry, biochemistry, and chemical physics and encourages undergraduates to get into the lab to perform research starting in their freshman year. And this isn't just busy work; members of this affordable small college chemistry program who dedicate sufficient time to their research projects could even end up as a co-authors on a scientific paper. Thanks to this emphasis on investigative learning, Hamilton's Department of Chemistry regularly produces alumni who find professional success as physicians, business analysts, executives, teachers, forensic scientists, and more.
LeTourneau University's chemistry program combines the study of the physical world with the belief that God created the universe. Rather than seeing these ideas as mutually exclusive, the faculty consider an exploration of the physical sciences as crucial to understanding humanity and its relationship to God. And it's easy to see that LeTourneau doesn't skimp on scientific coursework; its affordable undergraduate chemistry degree even offers distinct biological, physical, and chemical engineering concentrations. As if that weren't enough, LeTourneau also offers a degree in forensic chemistry (for those who would like to work in a crime lab) as well as chemistry teacher education programs for elementary, middle, and high school.
Bowdoin College's chemistry program encourages and ensures collaborative work among students and faculty, with coursework progressing steadily from guided to self-designed investigations. To facilitate their academic journey, Bowdoin has participants in this top small college chemistry program familiarize themselves right away with the most modern and sophisticated instruments on campus. Some of these high-tech gadgets include a Bruker multinuclear 400 MHz nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, a Varian Vista MPX inductively coupled plasma (ICP) spectrometer, and an IonSpec HiRes Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption/Ionization Fourier Mass Spectrometer (MALDI-FTMS). With this kind of technology at their disposal, it's a no brainer that Bowdoin should be a top choice for any future chemist with an interest in experimental work.
The California Institute of Technology's Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering offers undergraduate degrees in both chemistry and chemical engineering, and the department's coursework covers an impressively wide variety of topics. This selection includes an especially rich assortment of traditionally-guided courses in areas like scientific writing and social media, which prepare chem majors to be successful in any number of contemporary career fields. But CalTech's real claim to fame as one of the best small college chemistry programs stems from its intense focus on undergraduate research and independent study, and most graduates transition directly into PhD programs at the world's most prestigious universities.
North Central College is one of the best small colleges for chemistry majors with aspirations to attend graduate school. Why? Because unlike larger universities, which typically limit research opportunities to upperclassmen and graduate students, NCC encourages its chem majors to begin exploring the lab and designing original projects as early as their first year. In doing so, the school enables program members to jump-start their critical thinking and analytical skills, which will come in handy once they move on to independent study and internships. Speaking of internships, North Central College's proximity to Chicago serves as a convenient gateway to job opportunities with successful companies like BP, Nalco, and Baxter Healthcare.
Barnard College prides itself on developing highly motivated chemists through vigorous study in chemistry and biochemistry. Undergrads must complete three years of core courses before beginning extensive and comprehensive lab work in modern laboratories in the heart of the Big Apple. Given that it has one of the best small college chemistry programs around, it should come as no surprise that Barnard maintains an extensive course catalog to keep majors engaged for those first three years; examples include Chemical Problem Solving, Pumpkin Pie to CSI: Chemistry in Everyday Life, Problems in Chemistry, and Quantitative Analysis. Barnard also encourages their future chemists to undertake independent research projects throughout the school year and over the summer.
Eastern University affords those pursuing a top undergraduate chemistry degree the chance to major in biochemistry or chemistry-business as well. In this manner, EU prepares its graduates for careers in all the expected industries, including medicine, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, and academia. Note that program members who opt for the chemistry-business route must also complete coursework in business and marketing in order to meet the degree requirements. But regardless of which program they choose, chemistry majors at Eastern enjoy plenty of opportunities to gain practical experience, from working alongside faculty on interesting research projects to interning in nearby Philadelphia.
Wooster's Department of Chemistry maintains a student-centered curriculum with the goal of helping its graduates apply what they learn to better shape the world around them. Students can work toward a degree in chemistry or chemical physics (a blend of chemistry and mathematics). Chemistry majors must take at least 10 classes in the department, including a one-semester independent study course that will prepare them to tackle an original research project as seniors. But perhaps the most noteworthy news comes from the National Science Foundation's recent decision to make Wooster the recipient of a $350,000 Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer, thereby solidifying the school's reputation as an affordable small college chemistry program with expensive equipment.
The Chemistry Department at The University of the South fosters a culture of creative problem solving and critical thinking, an approach that enables graduates to connect what they learned in the classroom to other more humanistic endeavors. Of course, what exactly they learn will depend on their choice of undergraduate degree; programs in both chemistry and biochemistry are available and feature courses like The Science of Food and Cooking and Drug Design and Development. In the past, many graduates of this top small college chemistry program have secured positions at large pharmaceutical companies and international chemical manufacturing firms, while others have continued their studies at some of the nation's most prestigious universities.
Want to find out exactly how much it will cost for you to attend one of these affordable small college chemistry programs? Check out the U.S. Department of Education’s Net Price Calculator Center.
For information about our methodology, click here.
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