UCAS: Elements for lasting success

Diana Appleyard discovers chemistry is attracting up to 4,000 applicants each year because of the career prospects it affords
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Chemistry is often perceived as a subject which does have difficulty in attracting undergraduates. Whilst figures are not actually decreasing - there has in fact been a slight increase in applicants over the past few years - there has not been a marked explosion as there has in so many of the other courses such as media studies and veterinary science.

In 1985, just over 3,000 students applied to read chemistry - the latest figures for last year from UCAS show just under 4,000 students applied. Entrance requirements for chemistry remain relatively high - University College London, for example, is asking, on average, for three Bs, although offers are often tailored to the individual and can be as low as three Cs. The entrance requirements for most universities are usually an A-level in chemistry and in at least one other science subject.

What does often happen is that students apply for either medicine or veterinary science - entrance requirements for vets are now around the three-As mark - and either realise that they are not going to get the grades after they have finished their exams or have to change their plans after they have received their results and go through Clearing and choose chemistry.

Dr Derek Tocher, the admissions tutor for chemistry at UCL says: "We seem to pick up a number of students who realise they aren't going to get

0in to study medicine or veterinary

science. What we stress to students who apply to us is that, in studying chemistry, you can keep your options open. Many of our chemistry graduates go on to do law, banking, accountancy - it is seen as a very useful numerate degree which enables you to go on and do a whole range of careers."

Dr Sett Gruber, a spokesman for the Royal Institute of Chemistry, agrees with this.

He said while a third of all those who take a chemistry degree go on to take higher degrees in the subject, about half choose jobs outside chemistry.

"It is perceived as not an 'easy' degree, in the sense that any degree which includes laboratory work is seen as more demanding, but the rewards can be great."

Career options within chemistry range from oceanography, agriculture and environmental work to medical chemistry, pharmacy and pharmacology. Cambridge and Oxford are still regarded as the top institutions to study chemistry. Next comes Imperial College, then Bristol, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Durham and Leeds.

In all 74 institutions around the country offer the course - many with a combination of a language or management skills.

Many universities, such as Exeter, are now offering a year in industry as part of the degree, others are offering a year in Europe or America. At UCL, students can spend a year working in a European laboratory.

Bath, for example, offers options such as physics, languages (French, German and Italian) with its chemistry courses, and also can include a year abroad in Europe, Canada or the USA. Birmingham offers combinations with French, business studies and education and, at Bradford, you could even take a degree course in archaeological chemistry.

While applications have remained steady this year, there are likely to be a good number of places available around the country to study chemistry with a range of combinations.

At the University of Derby, for example, places are available on courses combining chemistry with biology, geology, environmental studies and environmental monitoring and management. The university also offers a course in chemistry with heritage conservation. A combined science degree is also available with covers three subjects - for example, students have the flexibility to study chemistry with heritage conservation and biology.

Spokeswoman Sue Dakin says: "The university has created innovative, vocationally based courses which combine chemistry with other subjects to give a broader scientific knowledge. They give the student a background in analytical chemistry which allows them to enter specialised employment such as quality control or environmental analysis."

Like a number of other new universities, Derby also offers the chance of a foundation year if you do not have a scientific background.

The University of Huddersfield also reports it will have a handful of places available through Clearing.

First-year students go on to a parent course (rather like a foundation course ) and then choose their options. The university currently has about seven different options ranging from straight chemistry to medicinal chemistry and environmental science.

In terms of entrance requirements, the department prefers a good A-level in chemistry, but will equally accept two other A-levels - with mathematics as a preference.

The GNVQ advanced science course is also accepted.

The university also offers industrial placements abroad, and has the attractive option of one or two semesters at its twin university in France - the University of Franche-Comte at Besancon, which gives students dual qualifications.

The Clearing hotline at the University of Derby is 01332 621300