If you desire to work as a chemist, earning your bachelor's degree is generally enough to qualify for an entry-level job -- but not necessarily much more. Many companies prefer candidates who have master's degrees or PhD’s, and such candidates consistently earn more money. If you possess one of these advanced degrees, you can expect your salary offers -- even your starting salary -- to increase.
Bachelor of Science
A chemist with a bachelor of science degree, or a BS, may expect to make the smallest starting salary when compared to those with higher degrees. According to the American Chemical Society, the starting salary for a medicinal chemist with a BS ranges from the high $30,000s to the high $40,000s. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the beginning salary of a BS chemist was approximately $39,897 in 2009.
Master of Science
By earning a master's degree, you have the opportunity to earn tens of thousands of dollars more per year than you would with just a bachelor's. In 2009, the median base salary for a chemist with a master's degree was approximately $81,000 per year -- more than $14,000 higher than a chemist with a BS degree. Despite this national average, an MS degree is not always beneficial. As of 2009, for example, chemists with MS degrees actually earned less in the east and west south-central regions of the United States than those possessing only bachelor's degrees.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, chemists with doctoral degrees have the best and most varied job prospects. Many employers prefer chemists with PhD's, which makes such applicants more competitive in the job market. They also have the opportunity to work in academia, teaching chemistry at major universities. According to a study published in "Chemical & Engineering News," the median base salary for a PhD chemist in 2009 was approximately $100,000 per year.
The starting salary for a chemist in any field is not set in stone, nor does it consistently increase over time. For example, salaries for chemists with any type of degree increased for nine straight years prior to 2008, but between 2008 and 2009 the median base salary fell. Salaries also vary by region -- for example, PhD chemists in New England can earn as much as $104,500 per year, while others with the same qualifications in the central northwest may make only $83,300. When beginning your career in chemistry, you may want to consider the region you desire to work in and the average beginning salaries in that area.