Career Paths

Where do you want to go?


Students choose to major in chemistry or biochemistry for a variety of reasons.  Some are simply expanding on an interest in chemistry that began in high school, while others foresee a future working in the chemical field.  But for many others, the choice to pursue a degree in chemistry or biochemistry is based on the solid foundation the degree provides and the endless career paths down which it can lead.   As demonstrated by the graduating classes from the past two years, the majority of our students head to medical/dental school or pursue their doctoral degree in a chemistry related field.  A solid scientific background is also useful to those interested in proceeding on to law school or business school.  Our graduates find four of Notre Dame’s masters level programs particularly appealing:  the Entrepreneurship Master's Program (ESTEEM), the Master of Science in Global Health, and the Master of Science in Management.  Not interested in advanced study?  That’s fine too. Several of our students choose to go into teaching, service or directly into the workforce.

How we help you get there

The programs of study for chemistry and biochemistry majors are designed to teach you how to be a scientist. The lecture curriculum provides you with a substantial knowledge base. This prepares you well for advanced courses you may encounter and results in excellent scores on admissions tests such as the MCAT or GRE. The laboratory courses will introduce you to new techniques and methodologies. As you go through the curriculum, you learn the importance of keen observation, and your problem-solving and critical-thinking skills develop. While these experiences are beneficial to those pursuing a research career, these same skills are an asset in any career field. 

FAQs for graduate school

Where do I go to find information on what graduate programs are offered at various schools and the national rankings of these programs?

  1. US News & World Report
  2. National Research Council ranking of programs (similar to US News but they give ranges)
  3. Your undergraduate research advisor (most valuable). Your undergraduate advisor can also council you on your potential for acceptance to certain programs. They might also be able call up friends or colleagues at other departments, which may aid your application.
  4. Brochures and mailers on the bulletin board in front of the main chemistry office

Should I take the GRE subject test?

The GRE general test is usually required. You should take the test in the fall of your senior year early enough for programs to get the scores by January at the latest. Most graduate schools will make decisions in December. You should check with the schools where you are interested in applying and see if they require the GRE subject test. Many list it as recommended, and that is all it is, a recommendation. Some schools will often require you to take the subject test, although the general GRE scores are more seriously weighed in the decision making process.  

To how many schools should I apply?

Schools generally have a $50-100 application fee. So your upper limit is determined by how much time and money you want to spend writing applications. Realistically 6-7 applications is the average, with some students applying to more programs.

I have been invited to visit a school.  Is this an interview?

It depends. Most institutions extend visits after an acceptance has been offered; however, some invite students prior to extending an acceptance offer. Your letter should indicate clearly whether or not you have been accepted. If not, clarify this question before the visit. Specific schools and programs (particularly biochemistry programs) have what is essentially a conditional accept. In this case, you are interviewed at the visit and afterward get a second letter notifying you of the final decision.  

If information is not provided by the school regarding what to expect during the visit, ask the chemistry/biochemistry advisor for our department’s brochure for perspective graduate students visiting Notre Dame. There isn’t anything specific that you are expected to ask during the visit.  However, you give a better impression if you show interest and talk to the professors.  Ask them questions about how they run their group, size and makeup of group (undergrads, grad students, post docs), etc.  You could also ask about what a typical graduate student project might look like for their lab. More importantly, you should be asking questions of the faculty and students about the school and program that will allow you to make an informed decision about where you want to go. There are also intangible aspects to a graduate school decision (i.e. whether you got a good vibe from the school, whether you felt you would get along with a certain professor, whether you got the sense that the environment was good for you, etc.)

How important are service and other extra curricular activities when applying to graduate school?

Generally, these activities are not considered in the application process. It is more important that you give the sense that you are prepared and committed to doing research. 

What is the average GPA of a graduate school applicant?

Of course, the higher the GPA the better. In general a GPA of about 3.5 (out of 4) will make you a viable candidate in most programs. It is also critical that the GPA in the subject area is good. Unexplained poor grades anywhere in your chemistry GPA are a red flag. If you had a bad semester, briefly explain any legitimate reasons (such as illness) for the discrepancy in your academic record. Finally, if you have filled your schedule with easier classes, this will be apparent on your transcript. You want to have taken challenging classes that demonstrate to the admissions committee that you have the background necessary to succeed.  

Is research at the undergraduate level a requirement for acceptance into graduate school?  

No, but it helps tremendously. Better schools will expect this since it tells them that you are prepared to do research. They are looking to see that you are ready to participate in graduate-level research and are not coming in with false expectations. Most of your competition will have done summer research or will have participated in REU programs around the country. They will have done this for a few years in a row. Some might even have publications if they have worked in a lab for several years.  

I have done undergraduate research but do not have any publications?  Will graduate schools still consider me?

Yes. Having a paper does not matter as much as the letter from the undergraduate research advisor. You want this person to provide superlatives in their recommendation. So having research experience counts, having papers counts, but the most important thing is the letter from the advisor and what it says about you.  Also, keep in mind that presentation of your research at local and regional meetings looks positive to selection committees. It demonstrates that you 1) have accomplished enough to draw some reasonable conclusions from your data, and 2) that you have the ability to organize your work into a coherent story to share with others.

In my personal statement, should I mention specific faculty with whom I am interested in working at the various schools?

It does help the committee identify what area they would consider you for (i.e. inorganic, organic, physical, analytical, biochemistry, etc.). Plus it shows that you have really looked at their program and envisioned how you would fit in there. However, there are possible drawbacks as well. If you choose faculty in widely divergent areas (for example a hardcore physical chemist and a total synthetic organic chemist), it may indicate that you don’t know what you want. If you are going to choose names, then make sure it makes logical sense (similar areas, explain interdisciplinary interests, etc.). Also, if you choose faculty who are extremely popular or won’t be accepting students in the upcoming year, you may get bypassed because the committee won’t be sure they have a place for you.

Is it appropriate for me to follow up with schools after I apply?

If you have received confirmation that all your application materials have been received, it is best to just wait and see.

FAQs for medical school

Does this major prepare me for med school?

Approximately 1/3-1/2 of our majors plan to attend medical school in the future. Those interested in medical or dental school will find that either program of study fulfills the medical/dental school requirements and leads to high MCAT/DAT scores. As a result, our majors experience a high acceptance rate into these professional programs.

What is gap year?  

It is becoming more common for students to wait a year or two after graduation before applying to medical school. This allows students to make the most of their undergraduate education by taking advantage of opportunities such as study abroad, completing a second major/minor, etc. After graduation, students spend one or more years gaining life experiences that better prepare them for a career in medicine.  Some examples of gap year activities include research, service (in the US or abroad), or working in a healthcare setting.

When should I take the MCAT?

You can take the MCAT at any point after you complete the course content on the exam. This means you should have taken two semesters each of biology and physics and four semesters of chemistry. Additionally, with the changes to the MCAT2015, you should also fit in your biochemistry, psychology and sociology courses before taking the exam. Cell biology and genetics can also be helpful for the exam. 

Can I study abroad if I am interested in medical school?  

Yes, you can. However, there are some considerations you must keep in mind, especially if you do not want to take a gap year. First, it will be necessary for you to go to a location that will allow you to take classes that you need prior to taking the MCAT. Second, it takes a while for grades to come back from the overseas programs. Therefore, you cannot go abroad during the spring semester of your junior year if you plan to apply to med school that summer. You will need to either plan to go abroad during the fall semester, or look at the summer opportunities for international experiences. If you are planning to do a gap year, then you can go abroad either semester.

FAQs for other preprofessional programs

Does this major prepare me for these programs?

Our programs prepare students for a wide range of preprofessional programs. It is important to meet with your advisor and the advisor in the preprofessional office early in your studies as each school and program has different entrance requirements. However, students who complete the specific requirements for these programs experience a high acceptance rate for these programs.

When should I take the entrance exams?

You can take the DAT at any point after you complete the course content on the exam. This means you need to complete two semesters each of biology and physics and four semesters of chemistry.  Most veterinary programs only require the general/revised Graduate Record Exam (GRE) that needs to be taken in August or September of the year that you plan to apply. Some veterinary programs will also accept the MCAT in place of the GRE, and the premed guidelines for taking that exam should be followed. For those interested in Pharmacy programs, most programs require the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT). The PCAT is taken after completion of 2 semesters of biology, 1 semester of microbiology, anatomy and physiology, 4 semesters of chemistry, and 1 semester of biochemistry. The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is given four times a year, and students should complete the exam by October in the year prior to their planned start date.