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What is a Stem Major?

March 31, 2021 | Staff Writers

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STEM major is a college degree program in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The term STEM has always been used to describe academic programs that focus mainly on hard sciences. These programs not only lead to many career opportunities but also boast of some high paying jobs. There are many reasons to consider a career in STEM. This article provides everything you need to know about STEM majors. 

What Does STEM Stand For?

STEM is an academic curriculum based on four different disciplines, as explained below. These fields are integrated into an interdisciplinary and applied approach to offer a holistic education that prepares individuals for various career paths. Instead of teaching these disciplines separately, STEM connects them into a unified educational curriculum based on real-world applications. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. 

  • Science: The science part of STEM often integrates natural and formal sciences, such as chemistry, biology, statistics, mathematics, physics, and environmental sciences. 
  • Technology: Technology often focuses on the accomplishment of goals or production. These include applications of computer and information technology. 
  • Engineering: Engineering is a wide-ranging area that includes specialized study areas in designing and constructing various machines, structures, and buildings by applying scientific concepts. 
  • Mathematics: There is no generally accepted definition for mathematics. However, all STEM programs involve math to some extent. Mathematics includes fields such as arithmetic, geometry, and algebra. Applied mathematics integrates all these concepts to other fields of STEM. Therefore, all areas of science, technology, and engineering require competency in mathematics. 

What Academic Disciplines Are Included In STEM?

STEM disciplines cover a wide range of academic studies and departments, which means a wide range of majors for students. Below are some common examples and the best degrees in STEM programs you can choose from in any college. 

  • Earth sciences
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Health sciences
  • Computer science
  • Engineering
  • Astronomy
  • Information technology
  • Mathematics
  • Physics

These disciplines have many other branches of study with numerous career opportunities. For instance, a broad field such as Biology has many subfields like aquatic biology and the study of insects, etc. Similarly, engineering also branches out to offer electronics and aeronautics, among many more. 

What Types of Jobs Can STEM Majors Do?

According to stats from the National Center for Education Statistics, a bachelor’s degree with STEM major accounts for more than 20% of all degrees conferred in the United States. Many students interested in this study area benefit from job growth as numerous industries call for knowledge and STEM training. This section outlines some of the jobs students with STEM majors can do. 

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that more than 9 million STEM jobs are available for individuals with related skills and expertise. STEM positions have increasingly remained appealing to many people due to the above national average wages they attract. The average annual salary for most STEM careers in 2020 was $90,420, compared to the national average wages for all non-STEM occupations at $55,700.  STEM careers also come with job stability due to the ever-growing market. In contrast, non-STEM jobs have shown a slow growth rate over the years.

As one of the rapidly growing and high paying jobs, individuals with a STEM major should be confident of better career paths in the years to come. The following are some of the most in-demand STEM jobs. Students should complete their research first before finding a role that suits their interests. 

  • Mathematician/statistician
  • Computer systems analyst
  • Computer & information research scientist
  • Biochemist
  • Environmental scientist
  • Geoscientist
  • Civil engineer
  • Environmental engineer
  • Chemist
  • Chemical engineer
  • Software developer
  • Postsecondary teacher

Types of STEM Degrees in High Demand

Not all STEM degree majors are equal. However, all the available STEM degree programs are challenging, though some offer better career opportunities than others. Besides, all job prospects show that computing and engineering degree programs are the most in-demand. 

Computer networking and systems analysis are some of the STEM degrees with high job opportunities. Engineering degrees such as software engineering is another in-demand STEM degree program. According to stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, candidates who major in computer science, management information systems, and software engineering have the most in-demand job offers. Other in-demand STEM major degree programs are mathematics, physics, natural sciences, and life sciences. Most people who major in these fields end up as academic researchers. 

As much as science and math have excellent job prospects, some technology fields also pose a significant competition in the job market. 

What Factors Should You Consider When Choosing A STEM Degree?

Choosing a STEM major is one of the most important decisions you can make as a student. Ideally, a STEM major can open doors to many job offers and help you pave the way into a fulfilling career path. Choosing what to study in college is never a light decision to make. Prospective STEM major students should be aware of degree programs that will put them at the forefront of the job market with the highest-paying jobs once they graduate. Here are some factors to consider when choosing a STEM major to study in college or university.

  • Find your passion
    A STEM major will likely influence your college experience. In most cases, you will join clubs related to your major and interact with similarly interested people. Therefore, it is advisable to choose what you like most. Consider a STEM major in line with your interests and passion.
  • Think about the school
     If you want to go for a specific STEM major, consider how your target school teaches the subject. For instance, does the university have a reputation for molding graduates into successful professionals? 
  • Consider career advice
    You can always gain a better understanding of the STEM major you want by consulting professionals in the industry or your tutor. Advice from people with experience in the field can be beneficial. 
  • Evaluate how far your STEM major can take you
    Many jobs require a bachelor’s degree. However, some positions may require additional training. So, it is essential to consider how far the STEM major will take you. 
  • Weigh various STEM disciplines
    Job prospects and salaries for STEM disciplines are promising. However, they differ in weight. You may want to compare all fields to know the one that suits your needs. 

Careers for STEM majors

STEM majors have promising career prospects. As stated above, the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the job market for STEM disciplines is always growing. Students in this study area can be sure of well-paying jobs upon graduation. The following are some high-paying careers for various types of degrees related to STEM. 

  • Cartographers and Photogrammetrists
    These engineering professionals use their skills to make maps and charts. Their work often involves geography assessment and the study of weather patterns. You need a bachelor’s degree in cartography to land a job in this field. This STEM career path has a job growth rate of 15%, making it an in-demand program. 
  • Operations Research Analysts
    This category includes mathematicians. The BLS predicts a growth rate of 26% by 2028, making it the fastest-growing STEM career. You can always start with a bachelor’s degree, though you need a masters’ degree in operations research, mathematics, and other comparable majors to get the best-paying roles. As an operations research analyst, your job would be gathering information and analyzing data to create solutions for real-world problems. 
  • Statisticians
    Statisticians need a master’s degree in mathematics. This career involves gathering and assessing data to make conclusions about a research area or project. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 31% job growth rate through 2028 in this STEM career. 
  • Computer Systems Analysts
    This career is part of computer and information technology. The BLS predicts a 9% growth rate through 2028 in this career field. As a section of the technology industry, this career requires a bachelor’s degree in various disciplines, such as computer science. 

    Computer systems analysts analyze computer systems and recommend better devices or install software and proposed computer procedures for efficient systems functioning in organizations.
  • Web Developers
    Web developers are equipped with skills and knowledge to combine technicality and creativity to make websites. Their role involves designing and programming sites to function correctly. Web development is part of the computer and information technology profession. You can get a job in this field with an associate’s degree with the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasting a 13% job growth in this sector. 
  • Biomedical Engineers
    Biomedical engineering requires a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering or other related disciplines. The work of a biomedical engineer involves designing and installing medical equipment. They can also create computer programs used by healthcare professionals in their line of work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 4% job growth in this category. 
  • Geoscientists
    Geoscientists are professionals with geosciences knowledge. You need at least a bachelor’s degree to start working in this career field. A geoscientist’s work involves photographing the earth and conducting rock or soil assessment for research purposes required to make maps. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this career falls in the physical sciences category and has a 6% job growth rate. 

What Are the Benefits Of A STEM Career?

People wonder why STEM education is increasingly becoming important in today’s workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half of the United States’ economic expansion is driven by career fields related to STEM. This means that the demand for STEM education is higher than any other area of study. The skills and knowledge obtained in STEM majors are crucial to sustaining the United States’ economic growth. 

The U.S. Department of Education refers to STEM education as education for global leadership, stressing the importance of this curriculum. Accordingly, STEM careers revolve around almost every industrial application. Therefore, if you are wondering about the benefits of a STEM career, here is a sneak peek into some. 

  • Innovation Leadership
    A STEM career is all about positioning an individual at the forefront of the next groundbreaking innovation. A STEM major offers you the opportunity to work with leading-edge technology in various fields, such as engineering, design, medicine, technology, and robotics. These careers allow you to enjoy flexibility for new ideas and innovation. 
  • Industry Growth
    With advancements in technology, STEM careers are the fastest-growing careers in the United States. The predicted job growth in every STEM field indicates that this is one of the best career paths you can take. 

    STEM competence gives individuals a competitive advantage when applying for jobs. Accordingly, it offers an easy way to change your career because the skills gained are always crosscutting. 
  • Less Competition
    More than 3.2 million jobs remain unfilled in STEM due to a lack of competence in the field. There are not enough professionals with STEM skills and knowledge to fill the available vacancies. This situation leaves STEM careers with less competition for the available qualified personnel.  
  • Better Pay 
    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 93% of STEM careers pay more than the national average wage. Additionally, 43% of individuals with bachelor’s degrees in STEM disciplines earn more than Ph.D. holders in some industries, which means a STEM career guarantees a better salary than any other career path. 
  • Job Satisfaction
    A good paycheck is not the only job benefit you get with a STEM major. A better reward includes a high level of job satisfaction. 

STEM careers require a meticulous work ethic and the ability to communicate ideas. You also need to develop critical thinking and teamwork skills to succeed in this field. Since innovation never stops, STEM careers will always be in-demand. What is more encouraging is that you won’t have to go all the way to earn a STEM degree if you have financial constraints. Various universities offer financial aid, specifically for STEM-related programs.

Top Schools with STEM Programs

Choosing a college or university can sometimes be a daunting process. You have to decide where you want to live and the STEM discipline to major in before completing your final year of high school. You might even find yourself unsure about a college major to take. However, some people find it easy to choose a major to study and only worry about what school to attend. 

If you are passionate about science, technology, engineering, and math, you have the choice of many colleges and universities in the United States that focus on STEM degrees. In most cases, the highest-ranking STEM schools also rank high nationally in other categories. 

We have created a list of the top ten schools to earn any STEM-related degree. This list will help you choose the best place to pursue your STEM education. The ranking is based on the overall quality of STEM curriculum and success rate, as indicated by the number of successful graduates.

  • Stony Brook University (Stony Brook, NY)
    Stony Brook University stands out due to its commitment to STEM research and diversity in STEM-related fields. The school offers an Institute for STEM Education for students of all ages. The institution also provides many other summer research opportunities, such as a grant-funded program named Exploration in STEMS, A 10-week mentoring research program. This program is for students with financial constraints and individuals from underrepresented backgrounds.  
  • San Jose State University (San Jose, CA)
    San Jose State University is in Silicon Valley, a strategic location for tech-enthusiast students. The institution has plans to expand STEM resources for students, including a Center for STEM Education. The university also focuses on recruiting females into the STEM curriculum through its Girls STEM Network program. SJSU is known for its contribution in developing the first college-based cybersecurity center in Silicon Valley. 
  • The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, MI)
    The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor is ranked highly among public research universities due to its standout initiatives for accessible STEM programs. The institution also offers many scholarship opportunities for STEM students with their M-STEM program to diversify STEM programs. 

    Through the M-STEM program, the university ensures students from underrepresented backgrounds can participate in a six-week summer transition program. The program offers students an opportunity to interact with peers and industry leaders to develop their skills and STEM competence. 

    42% of STEM students are allowed to join specialized student programs like the STEM-I, which focuses on integrating TSEM skills with business skills, such as finance and investment. Some of the best STEM major programs at this university include computer science, mechanical engineering, and neuroscience. 
  • University of Connecticut (Storrs, CT)
    The University of Connecticut received a $1.5 billion grant to expand its STEM programs in 2013, including an effort to get more students involved in STEM programs and building new STEM facilities. The school aims to improve its enrollment into the engineering school by 70% by 2023 and increase STEM graduates by 47%.

    The school has a competitive STEM scholar honors program. Accordingly, all students admitted into their programs get monthly seminars, personal advice, project grants, and STEM living and learning community benefits. 
  • California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo (San Luis Obispo, CA)
    The institution has more than 50 dedicated clubs for engineering and 80 state-of-the-art research labs for students in any STEM-related course. Cal Poly puts a strong emphasis on the practicality of its programs through the Learn by Doing slogan. This learning design improves the chances of their students getting employment in the lab work-related fields. 

    Cal Poly also has a designated Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education (CESAME) for students to access STEM resources. It is also one of the best computer science schools in the country. 
  • Colorado School of Mines (Golden, CO)
    The Colorado School of Mines is famous for its science-centric education with a strong focus on research. The school also emphasizes the responsible use of resources. The campus features multiple labs, including the only Center for Space Resources in the United States. It is a unique destination for STEM students.
  • Michigan Technological University (Houghton, MI)
    Michigan Technological University focuses on STEM programs, with 86% of the student body majoring in a STEM discipline. The school has almost 20 research institutes and centers to improve cutting-edge research in various STEM fields. 

    Michigan Technological University spends almost $70 million annually on improving research projects in partnership with NASA. Their unique Enterprise Program allows STEM students to collaborate with other non-STEM students in various problem-solving missions. 
  • Texas A&M University (College Station, TX)
    Texas A&M University was once ranked the second-best school for biological and agricultural engineering and petroleum engineering. It is one of the largest public universities in the United States with massive educational resources. The school has always aimed at growing the total enrollment of its engineering students year by year. 

    To achieve its goals, Texas A&M University has created many new STEM programs, such as the ENGR[x] program that requires students to complete at least one career-oriented activity before graduation. Such activities include leadership seminars, entrepreneurship classes, or community service. 
  • Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA)
    The Georgia Institute of Technology is ranked eighth-best public university in the United States and fourth-best undergraduate engineering school. With the advantage of a large public university, Georgia tech houses the country’s most extensive engineering department. The school spent more than $824 million on research in 2017 to improve its innovative research programs. 

    The school also connects with communities through its CEISMC program that looks to increase the number of STEM students entering the institution at a young age. Its most popular STEM degree programs include mechanical engineering and computer information sciences. 
  • Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN)
    Purdue University is ranked ninth best undergraduate engineering school and first in biological and agricultural engineering in the United States. With its dominant size, 52% of students at Purdue University study STEM-related courses, which means the school produces thousands of STEM professionals every year. 

    Purdue University focuses its STEM degree programs on innovation and creating students prepared for future job markets. For instance, the institution has a Bechtel Innovation Design Center that allows students to access technology resources required to test ideas and innovative projects. This center also focuses on creating solutions for real-world problems.

All the above-listed schools emphasize creating a strong STEM education curriculum by updating their facilities and research centers. Public universities often have an advantage for students due to available educational resources. If you want to join a public university for your STEM degree, you have a diverse set of standout STEM-centered institutions all over the country. 

How Should You Choose A School for Your STEM Degree?

Choosing a school for a STEM degree can be overwhelming. Luckily, many tools can help you determine the amount your chosen school will cost and what you get in return for such investments upon graduation. These tools show that STEM degrees are the most rewarding in the United States. 

You can choose a school by state, type, degree major, or kind of career path you wish to take after graduating. You can also consider toggling factors such as campus life, financial aid, and the school’s reputation in developing successful graduates. 

For instance, prospective students interested in technology, in-campus living, and access to financial aid would consider a school with these qualities. Some institutions are known to offer better STEM disciplines in engineering and math, while others focus on science and technology. All these factors are essential takeaways when choosing a school for your STEM degree.

You can also narrow your search based on majors, location, or type of degree programs offered. For instance, if you are interested in an associate’s degree in STEM fields, you can opt for a community college instead of a four-year university. Accordingly, a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree program in STEM-related fields requires a four-year university compared to a community college. 

Therefore, what is the takeaway here? A STEM degree is always a safe bet for people looking to dive into the job market immediately after graduation. You will not have loads of debts to clear in most cases because you are guaranteed to enter a high-paying and in-demand job market after your education. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, entry-level tech pros earn more when compared to most majors in metro areas.  

Best, well-established universities such as Purdue University tend to dominate the list when choosing the right school for a STEM degree. However, you can also receive quality STEM education from little-known schools like community colleges. The Southeastern Oklahoma State University and the University of Alaska Fairbanks are two of the best alternative institutions you can opt to get better STEM education. 

If you are still unsure about a school to attend, you can always consult your academic adviser, tutors, or friends for help. However, the choice should be yours to make in the long run because you are the one who will experience the environment. A good piece of advice here is to evaluate all schools you qualify for and pick one that suits your needs. 

The Bottom Line 

Few educational fields offer better job prospects for career-minded individuals than science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has indicated that the STEM career-related industries will continue growing year by year, an assurance that a STEM major offers many job opportunities for prospective students and attracts a better paycheck than the national average wage. If you ever want a career path that has it all, consider going for a STEM major.

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