Chemical engineering is one of the highest-paid engineering specialties, with higher median pay than biomedical engineering, civil engineering, mechanical engineering and electrical and electronic engineering as of 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The job requires a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering at a minimum, but some chemical engineers also have graduate degrees. Your level of education is only one factor in your expected salary range as a chemical engineer.
A graduate degree normally translates into higher salary expectations for chemical engineers. In 2012, "Chemical & Engineering News" reported the median salaries of new graduates from a survey by the American Chemical Society. The median full-time starting salary for a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering was $65,000 per year. However, chemical engineers graduating with a master's degree received median annual wages of $75,200, while those with doctorates averaged $93,000 per year. At every degree level, chemical engineers received higher wages than chemistry graduates. For example, the average starting salary with a bachelor's degree in chemistry came to $36,200 per year.
Average Salary and Range
Salaries for chemical engineers vary over a very wide range. Their average salary was $49.17 per hour or $102,270 annually in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest-earning 10 percent made $58,830 per year or less, while the top-earning 10 percent received $154,840 annually or more. BLS survey included 32,190 chemical engineers in all parts of the country.
The salary of chemical engineers depends in part on their industry of employment, though most of the largest industries provide similar pay. Architectural and engineering services employed 5,560 chemical engineers in 2012 and paid an average of $105,110 per year, according to the BLS. There were 4,240 chemical engineers who worked in basic chemical manufacturing, averaging $106,140 annually. Just more than 3,300 chemical engineers worked in scientific research and development and averaged $105,150 per year.
The BLS reports that the highest paying industry for chemical engineers in 2012 was natural gas distribution, where salaries averaged $152,930 a year. Those who worked in the category of "Management of Companies and Enterprises" ranked second at an average annual pay of $142,790. Oil and gas extraction jobs paid an average of $133,870 per year, while jobs in mining support paid $128,740 on average. Among these industries, only "Management of Companies and Enterprises" reported more than 1,000 jobs for chemical engineers.
Four states reported average annual pay above $120,000 in the 2012 BLS survey. Virginia led with average annual wages of $134,610, followed by Alaska, with average pay of $126,250. In Texas and Delaware, chemical engineers also reported salaries averaging more than $120,000 per year. The top-paying metropolitan area was Camden, N.J., with average pay of $148,880 annually. It was followed by Houston, where pay averaged $132,620 a year. Houston also had 3,740 jobs, the most for any city.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the number of jobs for chemical engineers to increase 6 percent from 2010 to 2020, which is slower than the 14 percent projected growth rate for all occupations. However, the expansion of chemical engineering into new areas, such as alternative energy and biotechnology, will increase the need for chemical engineers in some industries.