An online chemical engineering degree is not for everyone; in fact, it will likely appeal most to self-starters, especially those unable to make it to campus for class due to time, distance, or both. For those students, an online chemical engineering degree may provide the best solution.
Many online chemical engineering degree programs can be completed “100% online,” without the student ever setting foot on campus; such programs may prove most effective for those who are already employed full-time, or for parents of young children. They may also benefit students who don’t have physical access to a well-respected campus (such as students who live in rural areas, or military personnel stationed abroad), but who still wish to complete a degree without relocating.
Students pursuing an online chemical engineering degree should be fully prepared for the rigors of education outside of the classroom. While much of the program may still be interactive, it will likely not include the constant support of classmates, and direct contact with a professor or tutor may be limited when compared to a traditional program. Ultimately, students in these programs should thrive when working on their own, and should be able to work well in the absence of constant support and supervision.
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Like many other higher-education programs, there are specific admissions requirements prospective chemical engineering students must meet in order to be accepted, and the online program requirements tend to match traditional ones closely. Because of this, prospective students should understand what to expect in the admissions process, and have completed all necessary requirements beforehand in order to ensure the highest chance of qualifying and ultimately being selected.
Prospective undergraduate students will likely be required to submit proof of SAT scores, along with copies of their high school transcripts and diploma (or, in the absence of a diploma, a GED). These students should also expect to submit a number of letters of recommendation which, depending on the institution, may come from high school teachers or employers, advisers, or others who can attest to the student’s capabilities and level of responsibility. In most cases, prospective undergrads will be required to submit a personal essay as well as other supplemental information as determined by the individual institution. Finally, students must apply within a specific time frame; for example, early decision candidates must generally apply the previous November for a fall start, and regular decision candidates often must apply in January, with decisions being mailed out in late spring.
Prospective graduate students should expect a similar admissions process, albeit with certain differences. For one, these students will submit GRE scores in lieu of SAT. In addition, letters of recommendation may come from university professors as well as employers if the prospective student has been in the workforce since graduation.
Furthermore, some programs, both for undergraduates and graduates, offer two start dates per year: one in August or September and one in January. Those students hoping to start in January should look at the specific school’s admission requirements to make sure they apply within the necessary time frame. Finally, both undergraduates and graduate students should understand that even though their programs are held online, they generally must adhere to the same schedule as the rest of the campus. This means that these students may not simply start and finish any time they wish; instead, they must maintain campus deadlines like other traditional students.
When selecting an online chemical engineering degree program, prospective students may wish to choose one that has received accreditation through the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET is considered the national accrediting agency for engineering, computing, technology, and applied science degree programs in the U.S. ; the agency is comprised of different member societies based on branch, one of which is the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). Here it is important to note that accreditation is not required of a school; instead, the program must voluntarily undergo this process of peer review in order to receive the accolade.
In addition to this, prospective students should understand that a degree from an accredited school is generally a requirement for professional licensure upon completion of the program. To be sure, a professional engineering license, awarded by the National Society of Professional Engineers, is only available to those students who have received a degree from a four-year accredited program. And while a license is not required to perform basic work as an engineer, it is often necessary if the engineer wishes to teach engineering, work in a government position, or seal engineering work for public and private approval.
Overall, one of the biggest benefits for those engineers who have a professional license is higher earning potential. In fact, in a 2007 report provided by the National Society of Professional Engineers, data shows that professional engineers "earn an average of 20 percent more in salary than engineers with no professional license.”
In general, the curriculum for most chemical engineering degrees will remain consistent across institutions, albeit with slight variations based on the specific school. Prospective students should expect to complete courses in organic chemistry, heat transfer and thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, calculus, and other related courses. Undergraduates should expect to take free electives to cover requirements for general education.
Outside of the traditional track, some students (generally those obtaining a graduate degree) may be able to take courses in a specialized field of chemical engineering that allow for the pursuit of an additional certificate. Some available specialties related to chemical engineering include chemical and process engineering (as a collective specialty), and molecular and materials engineering.
Although obtaining a chemical engineering degree online (often referred to as “distance learning”) is a relatively new practice, it has certainly garnered the participation of a wide variety of highly-regarded institutions. Any prospective students interested in completing a chemical engineering degree online should consider one of the five following schools as highly competitive options.
Columbia University is known to offer top-notch education to students completing degrees in a variety of different fields. And this is a true “distance learning” environment; those studying at Columbia University are never required to appear on-campus throughout the course of their studies.
Jingyue Ju holds a number of positions in the Columbia University school of engineering, one of which being professor chemical engineering and pharmacology. He asserts that his laboratory has “pioneered the use of chemistry and fluorescence energy transfer (ET) principles to construct ET molecular tags for high-throughput genomic research.”
Jeffrey T. Koberstein is the Percy K. and Vida L.W. Hudson Professor of Chemical Engineering at Columbia University. His research focus lies in developing fundamental relationships between molecular structure and properties of polymers and other soft matter, among others.
The Illinois Institute of Technology offers high-quality education in the field of chemical engineering for working professionals and others interested in an online degree. This school even offers international opportunities.
John L. Anderson is a Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology. His research interests include, among others, electrokinetic phenomena, membrane separations, and bioengineering.
An online degree in chemical engineering at Kansas State University is available to students both within and outside of the United States. Students are only required to travel to campus at the end of the program for an oral examination.
Larry E. Erickson is a professor of chemical engineering at Kansas State University. His research interests include biochemical engineering, biological waste and treatment process design and synthesis, mathematical optimization, transport theory, boundary layer theory, and environmental engineering.
Larry A. Glasgow is a professor of chemical engineering at Kansas State University. In addition to teaching, he is the author of Applied Mathematics for Science and Engineering, as well as numerous other publications.
Lehigh University offers graduate degrees in a variety of different fields, including chemical engineering. Students in this program will enjoy the flexibility of the degree while still obtaining a top-notch education.
Manoj. K Chaudhury is the Franklin J. Howes, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at Lehigh University. He has been the recipient of many awards since 1986, including being the Elected Fellow of the American Physical Society and receiving the Dow Corning Chair Professorship.
Prospective students can expect to earn a master’s degree at North Carolina State University within three to five years. These students will pursue this degree through the use of web technology, video-based learning, and other methods.
Keith Gubbins is the W.H. Clark Distinguished University Professor of Chemical Engineering at North Carolina State University. His focus areas include confined materials, adsorption, molecular simulation, and surface properties.
Phillip Westmoreland is a professor of chemical engineering at North Carolina State University, as well as the executive director of the North Carolina State University Institute for Computational Science and Engineering. His areas of focus include molecular modeling and reaction theory, combustion research, and biofuels.
Generally, for online degrees in chemical engineering, students will only be required to visit the campus once or twice, if at all. For example, students at Kansas State University must visit the campus to complete an oral examination; however, those at Columbia University may complete their degree without ever coming to the physical campus. Ultimately, the attendance requirements will differ across each institution.
Beyond many of the aforementioned criteria, prospective students should take into consideration a variety of other factors before selecting their program. For example, students should examine resources for post-graduation job placement, as well as networking opportunities available through the institution. These individuals should consider contacting the program admissions office to inquire about these, as well as other specifics to expect during the course of the program. Performing this due diligence will help ensure the prospective student is fully prepared when making the decision to begin the application process.
These five highly-regarded professors teach at schools that offer chemical engineering degrees through accredited distance learning programs. Their influence extends beyond the classroom to research and scholarly publication, and many have been formally recognized for significant contributions both inside and outside the classroom. All are helping to advance the field of chemical engineering in some material way, whilst helping to train a future generation of engineers.
Jingquan Chen is the Thayer Lindsley Professor of Chemical Engineering at Columbia University. He has over 20 patents in the United States, over 9,000 citations with h-index over 50, and has nearly 300 journal publications (the h-index proposes to measure the scientific productivity and the apparent scientific impact of a scientist; the number is ultimately a measurement of citations by scientists in other scholarly publications).
Mayuresh Kothare is the Department Chair and the R.L. Mann Professor of Chemical Engineering at Lehigh University. His areas of research include neuroengineering, modeling of biological systems, nonlinear systems, and others. He also serves as a visiting professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
Saad Khan is the director of the chemical engineering graduate program at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He has received numerous awards since 1994 and his focus areas include rheology of gels and suspensions, associate polymers, photo-crosslinking, electrospinning, and functional nanofibers.
Sohail Murad is the Chair of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology. His research interests include the areas of classical and statistical thermodynamics, and he has published book chapters as well as a host of other publications.
James H. Edgar is the Chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering at Kansas State University. He has been a University Distinguished Professor from 2013 to the present, and has been the reviewer of over 37 different academic journals.