The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that chemical engineers working in the United States earned an average annual income of $99,440 as of May 2011. However, it may take a recent graduate several years of experience to begin making a comparable salary. According to a 2011 survey conducted by the American Chemical Society, or ACS, starting salaries for chemical engineers can be significantly lower.
Bachelor's Degree Holders
As of 2011, chemical engineers who graduated with a bachelor's degree reported a median starting salary of $65,000 per year, according to the ACS. Although this starting salary was significantly less than the median income of all chemical engineers reported by the BLS, it was much higher than the median salary reported by recent graduates with a bachelor's in general chemistry: $36,000 per year. In 2011, 13 percent of new chemical engineering graduates with bachelor's degrees were reportedly unemployed and seeking employment.
Master's Degree Holders
2011 graduates with a master's of science in chemical engineering reported a median starting salary of $77,000 per year, according to the ACS. Chemical engineering graduates still outearned their counterparts with general chemistry degrees at the master's level, who earned a median income of $51,800 to start. However, 19 percent of 2011 graduates with an M.S. in chemical engineering were reportedly unable to land a job, although they were looking.
Doctoral Starting Salaries
According to the salary survey conducted by the ACS, chemical engineers who got their Ph.D. got their money's worth. Not only did they have the highest median starting salary, $92,800 per year, but they also experienced the lowest rate of unemployment, 9 percent. Furthermore, they also reported the highest rate of full-time employment, at 61 percent. That compares to 52 percent for those with a B.S. and 43 percent for those with an M.S.
Other Factors Affecting Starting Pay
The 2011 ACS Salary Survey revealed that men with degrees in the chemical sciences tended to earn an average of $10,000 per year more than women with comparable degrees in their first year of employment. The survey also found that those employed by small employers with fewer than 50 total employees reported the lowest median starting salary, at $32,500 per year. By contrast, those graduating with a B.S. in the chemical sciences tended to earn the highest median starting salary, at $55,000 per year, at very large companies employing between 10,000 and 24,999 workers.