You are very wise and practical in seeking out basic information at this critical stage in your life and your life-profession training. Your questions are general and nonspecific but don't surprise me since I've heard them recited many, many times every where I've been in the last 47 years. You will develop more specific and key questions as you progress in your university studies. Even upon obtaining your graduate degree as a Chemical Engineer, you will still be in the dark as to all the specific answers. So, I'm furnishing you with some generalized answers to your questions, but trusting that you will accept the challenge and join us in the quest for further challenges in resolving problems for society:
1) What is it like to be a chemical engineer?
It has always been great to be a Chemical Engineer. Recognition, acceptance, compensation, respect, and the chances to help others improve their lives and their investments has been just some of the rewards heaped on me. Being able to resolve problems that normally overcome others is an accomplishment that is very rewarding.
2) How is the course?
Tough, taxing, demanding, and very competitive. Sometimes the end of the tunnel was not in sight. But the satisfaction of completing what others could not even attempt and the knowledge that I did it with nothing more than my God-given brain and my family's work ethic was more than a just reward; it was the opening of a doorway that revealed my capabilities in meeting very exacting and demanding conditions of employment and becoming a part of a meaningful organization. The knowledge that one can overcome one of the most difficult curriculums in university is a satisfaction and a boost in ones self-esteem such that it gives you a jump-start on what progressively are harder and harder problems in a professional career. The ability to confront, understand, and dominate those problems is a lasting reward in itself. Being counted as a member of an elite class of problem-solvers such as Chemical Engineers is a prestige that is worthwhile and satisfying and fully compensates for the tough and demanding academic tests and trials.
3) What are the prospects for chemical engineers?
Right now, it couldn't get any better! Chemical Engineers are making more economic gains in their salaries than any other engineering profession. And it doesn't seem that it will change in the future. The reasons are many. I think I gave the best one in the question (2), above. The toughness and the diversification of the Chemical Engineering curriculum has made for very exceptional and versatile engineering graduates. Industry has not been blind in noting the obvious. That explains the exceptionally high starting salaries offered to ChEs. More important than salaries, in my opinion, are the varied and diversified job opportunities and careers offered to ChEs. One can go on to a Master's Degree or an MBA as well as proceed on to Sales, applications, Design, Operations, Development, and many other applications within the profession. Energy, Food, Pharmaceuticals, Sales, Government, management, Construction, etc. are just some of the areas where the ChE is in demand. And I haven't even mentioned foreign assignments – if you care to travel.
Right in your own country, you have what is probably one of the best examples of a topflight, experienced, and successful Chemical Engineer – a person who has the proven and recognized brains and experience to compete on a worldwide basis: Mr. Harvey Wilson. If I were you, I would make every effort to get to know him and get his firsthand recommendations and opinions on your aspirations to join us in the profession. You can start by going to his website:http://www.katmarsoftware.com/index.html
As an example of what ChEs do and what they use to resolve problems, download his free units conversion program, Uconeer. This is a marvelous example of how ChEs solve other people's problems. I personally know that I am not the only experienced engineer who depends on Harvey's Uconeer for daily work and calculations help on my problems and projects. If you can succeed in obtaining Harvey's attention and words of wisdom, you will have answered practically all of your questions and queries of who we are and what we do – and whether you want to join us as a colleague or not.
Good Luck and work hard at your profession – whatever it may turn out to be.