First of all, I have written two posts about what chemical engineering is all about and what modules do chemical engineering students take. So check them out before you continue to read the article, especially if you are still trying to get an idea about what chemical engineering is all about. Reading the articles especially about what chemical engineering students study throughout the degree should give you some idea on how difficult chemical engineering is.
I hope you can appreciate that this question is not the most straightforward question to answer. The classic answer, of course, is that it depends! How difficult chemical engineering will be for you will depend on your background, what you studied, what curriculum did you take before, your learning style, how much time you are willing to invest studying, etc. So I am going to answer this question by sharing my experience. From my experience, I hope you can roughly gauge and compare with your current situation.
My education history
I did IGCSE but instead of going to A-level, I did a foundation year instead. It’s only 1 year course instead of 2 years A-level and in my opinion, much easier compared to A-level. My flatmates did A-level, and when I compare what we studied, I probably study less than half of what they are doing. For example, maths that I took covers only core maths (C1-C4) in A-level, and we didn’t even cover everything in C1-C4. It’s mostly the differentiation and integration that we cover. I know some of my friends in A-level did like mechanics/statistics/Icantrememberwhat modules as well, which I didn’t. I took chemistry, but I didn’t take physics. So in terms of educational background I didn’t go for the standard curriculum in the UK by taking A-level, and my background is weaker compared to my friends doing A-level because foundation year is much easier.
Then when I came to Manchester I found out that a lot of my friends have like 4A*s for their A-level. Some of my friends are the best students in Malaysia. When I knew that I trembled in fear hahahaha. Without trying to be discriminative (hey I am Asian), Asian schools are generally much harder compared to the UK. At university you are graded against your peers to a certain extent – so the thought of having to compete (to some degree) with these students was quite intimidating.
First year – year of tears and blood
First year was challenging. Some of my friends thought the maths were really easy because they’ve done it previously. I didn’t, so I had to put more work compared to my friends. Some of my friends don’t even come to maths lecture because they don’t think it’s beneficial for them. But I attended every single lecture because I had to. It’s kind of hard when people said ‘oh yeah the maths is really easy’ or ‘I’ve done that before’ when I didn’t have a clue what was going on. I spent a lot of time asking my friends and demonstrators and try my best to ignore people when they said, ‘oh you haven’t done this before? Wasn’t this in A-level?’
I started having doubts on myself and thinking whether I would be able to complete the whole degree. I had some fantasy of changing course and stuff like that, but it wasn’t serious. I don’t think it was difficult enough to make me want to move to another course. Wasting one year worth of effort, time and money is too much compared to just persevered so I did the later instead. My first year result wasn’t too great – I got a borderline first (first is 70% above) and nearly failed one subject.
2nd years till now
Many of my seniors told me that second year is going to be much harder compared to first year, so I made the decision to study really hard from the first week of second year. At the end, I found second year to have the same difficulty with first year. Well I took a slightly different course with my friends, I am doing chemical engineering with business compared to pure chemical engineering. The main difference is that they had 6 exams in 2nd year semester 1 and 4 exams in semester 2. I had 5 exams for both semesters. It made quite a big difference. In 3rd year semester 1 I managed to escape to Maryland while my friends were bombarded with another 6 exams. That made a huge difference too. My second and third year results improved quite a lot compared to first year.
Most of the stuff is still the same though, like it’s not that I am facing a completely different thing compared to my friends. Even though I am taking chemical engineering with business management, I only have 4 classes of business throughout my entire degree, 2 in 2nd year and 2 in 4th year. I couldn’t escape the hardest part of chemical engineering by going abroad – design project, because which we all had to take in Manchester. I did survive it with quite a decent grade.
In conclusion, I think that chemical engineering is, yes, challenging, but it’s doable, it’s not impossible as long as you are willing to put in the work. Forget about talent and everything else.
People think you need to be gifted in maths and science to study chemical engineering. I personally don’t think so. Don’t just give up by saying oh I am not gifted in maths and science and then abandon it altogether. I don’t think I am the most gifted person in terms of maths, I had to do more work than everyone in terms of understanding what is going on, but hey I survived. I’m not trying to boast, I’m just saying that if I survived, you will too.
I do think having some level of interest is important. Yes I am a geek XD. But it’s possible to like chemical engineering. I think I’ve fallen in love to it at this stage. Being interested in chemical engineering really helps me to power through those moments when I have 5 exams in the space of 2 weeks and the Christmas month that I spent revising nonstop.
But above all, I think that hard work and perseverance alone is the most important factor. Forget about everything else. If you have some degree on interest (not just after the money that you will get after graduation), meet the pre-requisite and you are willing to persevere, I have the confidence that you will graduate together with the brightest students in your class. Hundreds if not thousands of students graduate from chemical engineering each year. If they can do it, you can do it too!
If you have any question, feel free to ask in the comment section 😊 see you soon!