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Courses and Curriculum

The Master of Chemical Sciences degree is designed to give you a well-rounded, mechanistic foundation in a blend of chemistry topics. To that end, the curriculum is structured with a combination of core concentration courses and electives, which allow you to focus on topics best suited to your interests and goals. As a new student in the Master of Chemical Sciences program, you will meet with your academic advisor to review your previous experiences and your future goals. Based on this discussion, you will create an individualized academic schedule. Most students start the program in the fall term, but a different schedule can be worked out in consult with the director.

Complete the program full or part time

Our program may be completed full time in two years. Full-time students typically take 3 or 4 c.u.* the first two terms, and 1 or 2 c.u. the remaining terms. They also start the ten-month capstone project during the first summer term. Students who do not have visa or student loan requirements can complete the degree on a part-time basis, taking 1 or 2 c.u. per term. This option is particularly well suited for working adults seeking to advance or pivot to a new career in chemistry; some courses are taught in the evening or in a hybrid format that requires fewer campus visits. Prospective part-time students, particularly those who have been out of college for several years, are encouraged to schedule a one-on-one meeting with the program director. The director will review your CV and transcripts and propose an academic plan, which may include prerequisite courses to facilitate your transition into the master’s degree program.

The Master of Chemical Sciences requires the minimum completion of 10 course units (c.u.) as follows:

  • Pro-Seminar (1 c.u.)
  • Core concentration courses (4-6 c.u., depending on concentration and advisor recommendations)
  • Elective courses in chemistry, such as computational chemistry, environmental chemistry, medicinal chemistry, catalysis and energy (2-4 c.u., depending on concentration and advisor recommendations)
  • Optional Independent Studies (1 c.u.)
  • Capstone project (1-2 c.u.)

Pro-Seminar course

The Pro-Seminar (CHEM 540, 1 c.u.) will review fundamental concepts regarding research design, the scientific method, and professional scientific communication. The course will also familiarize students with techniques for searching scientific databases and with the basis of ethical conduct in science. 

Concentration courses

The concentration courses allow you to develop specific expertise and also signify your mastery of a field to potential employers.

The number of elective courses you take will depend upon the requirements for your area of concentration, and upon the curriculum that you plan with your academic advisor. These concentration courses allow you to acquire the skills and the critical perspective necessary to master a chemical sciences subdiscipline, and will help prepare you to pursue the final capstone project (below). 

You may choose from the following six chemical sciences concentrations:

Independent studies

The optional Independent Studies course (CHEM 599, 1 c.u. maximum) will be offered each fall and spring semester, giving you an opportunity to participate in one of the research projects being conducted in one of our chemistry laboratories. During the study, you will also learn analytical skills relevant to your capstone research project and career goals. You can participate in the Independent Studies course during your first year in the program as a 1 c.u. elective course option. The Independent Studies course is available in the fall, spring, and summer terms. 

Capstone project

The capstone project is a distinguishing feature of the Master of Chemical Sciences program, blending academic and professional experiences and serving as the culmination of your work in the program. You will develop a project drawing from your learning in and outside of the classroom to demonstrate mastery of an area in the chemical sciences.

The subject of this project is related to your professional concentration and may be selected to complement or further develop a work-related interest. It is an opportunity to showcase your specialization and your unique perspective within the field.

Your capstone component may be a Penn laboratory research project, an off-campus laboratory research project, or a literature-based review project. All capstone projects culminate in a final written report, to be graded by the student's concentration advisor, who is a member of the standing faculty or staff instructor in the Chemistry Department. (CHEM 698, 1-2 c.u.) Students working in science-based off-campus locations may complete the capstone requirement at their company or institution; to qualify, a formal memorandum of understanding needs to be established with guidance from the MCS director.

All capstone project proposals must be pre-approved by your committee members, which include the Master of Chemical Sciences Program Director, your off-campus project supervisor, and a secondary reader. Nondisclosure agreements will be signed by students securing projects with private companies. It is expected that the capstone project will take an average of six to ten months. Most students are expected to start in the summer after their first academic year and conclude at the end of the fall semester of their second year. Depending on the capstone option selected, students may begin to work on the capstone as early as the spring semester of their first year in the program.


*Academic credit is defined by the University of Pennsylvania as a course unit (c.u.). A course unit (c.u.) is a general measure of academic work over a period of time, typically a term (semester or summer). A c.u. (or a fraction of a c.u.) represents different types of academic work across different types of academic programs and is the basic unit of progress toward a degree. One c.u. is usually converted to a four-semester-hour course.

Looking for financial assistance?

Learn about the options at Penn.

Am I eligible to apply?

Admissions to the master's program is highly selective. Learn more about applicant qualifications.

Creating the right chemistry

See how our Master of Chemical Sciences program makes it possible for students to link their academics to industry experience.