Information for High School Students

Start your career exploration early by volunteering, interning, or job shadowing to get a first-hand look at career(s) of interest.

It’s common to hear college students say things like, 'I didn’t know X career existed until I did an internship with Dr. Y', or, 'I didn’t realize I’d enjoy research so much before volunteering in Dr. Z’s lab'. Although your natural interests and aptitude for particular subjects should certainly direct your choice of career, the best way to learn whether a particular career path is a good fit for you is through direct experience. You can then tailor your choice of academic major and coursework accordingly.

Be and intern or volunteer

Learn what chemists do by seeking out internship/volunteer or job shadowing experiences. For example, Portland’s OMSI, the Oregon Zoo, Saturday Academy, and OHSU offer an array of high-quality courses, camps, and internships specifically for high school students. The ASE program facilitates numerous short-term STEM internships, including with OHSU, for high school students Pathways to Science provides internship opportunities (often paid) for underrepresented minority students. Also check out the Upward Bound and Educational Talent Search programs right here on the PSU campus. Find  other local and non-local opportunities through an internet search for 'STEM high school internships'!

While it may be intimidating, a great way to pursue short-term job shadowing experiences is through cold emails to professionals working in careers that interest you. Don’t be afraid to do this; they’ll be flattered you sought them out! Here's an example of such an email:

Dear Dr. Viking,

Hello.  I am a junior at Varangian High School who is considering pursuing a future career in chemistry.  I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you in person and perhaps shadow you or your team on the job to learn more about this career.  I know your time is valuable, so would be extremely grateful if you allowed me to quietly observe you for a half- or full-day as you go about your usual schedule.  If possible, it would be helpful if we also had a short interview toward the end of the shadowing.

Thank you very much for considering my request.  I look forward to hearing from you.  Please feel free to contact me via email or phone (below).  Thank you for your time and consideration.


Phone: 555.555.5555

If they agree to meet with you, be prepared to tell them a bit about yourself and your interests, and bring a list of job shadowing questions that could include:

  • How did you decide to work in this field?
  • What educational and career path did you take to get where you are?
  • What’s a typical day like for you?
  • What do you see as the pros and cons of this type of work?
  • What sort of personality is best suited to this career?
  • Do you have any advice for someone hoping to enter this field?

Explore this list of questions for additional ideas.

Next Steps

If after these explorations you think the chemistry major is right for you, we recommend:

  • Taking as many science and mathematics courses as possible while still in high school. These will prepare you to succeed in your major coursework. Composition or other writing intensive courses will also be extremely beneficial since writing is a critically important skill for any science career. Foreign language courses (or learning for free online) may be especially beneficial for students considering working abroad in research or healthcare, or in international business careers.
  • Checking out our minimum admissions requirements.
  • Earning early college credit. This is a great way to continue your career exploration and shorten your time to degree completion. Also, earning 30+ college credits will allow you to skip PSU’s Freshman Inquiry course requirement and elevate your class standing for access to earlier course registration. There are several ways to earn early college credit:
  • Taking AP/IB courses to earn college credit and/or skip lower-division courses. See which exams and scores we accept here. Note that not all professional programs (e.g., medical schools) will accept AP credit. Please check the catalogs of schools to which you wish to apply.
  • Earning credit by examination.
  • Taking college courses. This may sound scary, but PSU welcomes high school students into lower division courses through our Challenge program.
  • In either case, be sure the courses you take count toward the Chemistry degree. See our degree requirements and suggested schedule for degree completion. Note that Math 111 and 112 (Algebra II and Trigonometry) are perquisites of several science courses required for the degree. Find out about our math placement tests.
  • Finding out about transferring credits earned at community colleges.
  • Contacting an adviser with any questions.
  • Visiting our campus and registering for an orientation. We look forward to meeting you!



The curriculum, faculty, library, and facilities of the Department of Chemistry are accredited by the American Chemical Society (ACS). Graduating chemistry majors are eligible for certification to become members of the ACS after two years of professional service.