What is a STEM degree?

Learn all about STEM degrees, including what they are and why they are important in the modern educational world.

Updated by TCM Staff on 30th March 2021

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. A STEM degree is a college degree that focuses on one or more of these four fields of study. 

A bachelor's degree in a STEM field usually takes about 4 years, however, some universities offer a combined bachelor's (BS) and master's (MS) degree program that takes 5 years, which speeds up the process of earning an advanced degree. 

The demand for STEM education has been high in recent years, as these fields are highly important to the modern economy.

This article will walk you through everything you need to know about STEM Degrees, including what the best majors are, popular STEM degree jobs, some of the top STEM degree universities, and more.

What are the STEM degree divisions?

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Degrees that are related to any one of these fields are considered STEM degrees. 

Let’s take a closer look at the four divisions: 

Science

This is a diverse field and covers everything from physics to biology, astronomy, and more. Whether you’re studying tiny ants or huge distant galaxies, it’s all science.

There are many courses that a student can pursue in this field, including Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and more.

Sciencesource - Pexels.com

Technology

Do machines entice you? A technology-related degree might be a good fit. 

We deal with technology every day. From complex devices such as smartphones to simple machines such as a coffee maker, almost every tool we use involves some form of technology.

The demand for new technology will never fade, and neither will the opportunities to get a well-paying job in these fields. 

A few examples of degrees in this field are Software Development, Database Administration, Robotics, and more.

Engineering

Engineering involves technology, but it is more often concerned with the construction, design, and maintenance of infrastructure, network systems, and more.

It deals with both hardware and software, as well as large physical structures like bridges and highways. Courses heavy in this field are Civil Engineering, Industrial Engineering, and more.

Maths

Do you like working with numbers? If so, then this might be your field.

Every STEM degree has some sort of mathematics involved. A few of the subjects in this field are Statistics, Logistics, and many others.

Maths

source - Pexels.com 

What are the best STEM majors?

There are some programs that offer better opportunities and job growth when compared to others. Five of the top degree programs, their job growth prospects, and the salaries associated with them are given in the table below.

STEM Programs

Median Salary

Job Growth

Petroleum Engineering

$129,990

10%

Computer Engineering

$111,730

3%

Mathematics

$111,110

21%

Aerospace Engineering

$107,830

-3%

Nuclear Science and Engineering

$102,950

-4%

What are the top careers in STEM? 

As you will notice, although the demand for nuclear engineers or aerospace engineers is predicted to drop, there is still a lucrative pay opportunity. 

About 65% of graduates from a STEM career background earn more than those who have done masters in courses not relating to Science and Technology.

The fields of engineering and technology often offer better job prospects and handsome salaries as compared to Science and Mathematics.

Eligibility and requirements for a STEM degree

STEM degrees can be very difficult, and you need to have good academic skills in order to cope with the huge amount of coursework.

  • Students need a good SAT score to apply for STEM degrees, as these subjects deal with mathematics and science in general.
  • A high score in TOEFL is preferred, along with SATs for international students willing to obtain a STEM degree.
  • Transcripts from your previous education and letters of recommendation stating your goals and any work you’ve done in STEM can certainly increase your chances of getting selected.

Who is the ideal candidate for a STEM degree?

In order to build a successful career in this field, you need to have a few characteristics and personality traits. These qualities do not guarantee success as such, but the chance of failure is definitely reduced. 

  • Be inquisitive - Do you have a knack for learning? People in STEM are often curious to learn what happens behind the scenes in terms of machinery and technology.
  • Problem-solving skills - People in this field need to be good problem solvers. If you like fixing your own vehicle rather than taking it to a garage, then this degree might be the right pick for you. 
  • Innovation - While STEM fields have a heavy focus on science and numbers, innovation and creativity are just as important, as they can help you find new solutions to problems.

What is STEM education and why is it important?

The world needs skilled and innovative people to help advance the fields of technology and science.

According to a report from Change the Equation, there are 3.6 million unemployed workers for every available job in the U.S. However, for every single unemployed STEM worker, there are two unfilled jobs. 

There are more career opportunities, which should serve as a motivation for you to choose a STEM degree.

Why are people with STEM degrees unemployed when jobs are available?

Unemployment isn’t always caused by a lack of workers looking for work. It’s normal to see some level of unemployment caused by people naturally changing jobs by choice.

Some unemployment could also be caused by a high number of jobs being available in certain parts of the country where there aren’t enough workers to fill them. 

There could also be too many workers in a region where there aren’t enough jobs.

For example, if there are 100,000 STEM jobs available in North Dakota, but only 50,000 people working in that industry throughout the state, there will be 50,000 open jobs. 

At the same time, if there are 200,000 jobs in South Dakota, but 250,000 STEM majors in that state, 50,000 people will be unemployed. Those workers would have to move to North Dakota to find a STEM job, and they may not be willing to do so.

STEM degree jobs

There are many jobs available to people who hold a STEM degree. Many of these jobs have specialized educational tracks, but depending on your education, you may be able to cross between certain industries.

For example, A STEM graduate with a strong math background may be able to work as an actuary or a statistician. Those with a computer science education could find a job in many computer-related fields.

  • Computer Programmer - They are responsible for the millions of lines of code that run the various computer applications we use every day.
  • Web Developer - A web developer creates, designs, and maintains websites.
  • Statistician - Collects, analyzes, and interprets quantitative data by applying statistical theories and methods.
  • Actuary - A business professional who measures, manages, and mitigates financial risk and uncertainty. 
  • Petroleum Engineer -  These engineers are concerned with all projects relating to crude oil and gas exploration.
  • Medical Scientist - Conducts research aimed at improving overall human health and developing new drugs and treatments for the medical field.
  • Software Engineer - Develops, designs, maintains, and evaluates computer software.

Stem jobssource - Pexels.com

Besides the ones listed above, there are a number of other jobs with high salaries, such as Biomedical Engineer, Electrical Engineer, Geoscientist, Logistician, Data Scientist, Management Science, and much more.

What has made its demand so high?

Demand for STEM education is high for a few reasons.

One is that in the modern economy, almost every industry involves some amount of STEM work. 

Even restaurants, which seem relatively low-tech, need websites they can use to advertise, or accept online orders for pickup and delivery. That means they need a computer scientist or web developer to help them build an online presence.

STEM fields also tend to pay well. 

According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, STEM graduates are expected to earn the highest salaries of all graduating students.

Because many people want to get careers that have high salaries, many students are choosing a STEM major when they go to college.

STEM Is also popular because of the high demand for STEM workers. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of STEM workers in the country will increase by 8% between 2019 and 2029, compared to just 3.4% for non-STEM workers.

This high demand for workers can make it easier for students to find a job and avoid unemployment.

The demand for professionals in the tech field of software, medicine, and machinery is so high that the government has rolled out the OPT (Optical Practical Training) scheme, which allows international students who graduate with a STEM degree to remain in the United States and work in the industry for two years.

STEM OPT program

If an international student is pursuing a degree with a STEM designation, they can apply to join the STEM OPT Program. 

If approved, the student may receive a STEM OPT extension to their student visa, letting them remain in the United States for up to two years after they graduate to work in a STEM job. 

A student must meet the following requirements to join the STEM OPT program.

  • The candidate should be an F-1 student who qualified for a STEM degree program specified in the STEM Designated Degree Program List by Homeland Security and Immigration division.
  • The employer should be using E-verify.
  • Must have an initial grant of OPT employment authorization after completing the course based on the STEM degree.

 STEM Opt program

source - symmetry magazine 

If a student using a STEM OPT extension to remain in the United States loses their job, they may remain in the country while unemployed for up to 60 days. If they are unable to find a job during this period, they may have to leave the US.

This gives students in the STEM OPT program some freedom to move between jobs in their industries without losing their visa status.

List of STEM degree universities

There are many colleges and universities that have STEM degree programs. You should try to choose a college that provides quality education in these fields.

Some of the universities and the best programs offered by them are listed below.

Universities offering STEM programs
University  Degree Programs
University of Southern California Graduate Certificate in Petroleum Engineering
Grantham University Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering Technology
American Public University Bachelor of Science in Mathematics
Kansas State University Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering
Capella University BS in Data Management
Liberty University BS in Aviation Maintenance Management

Scholarships for STEM degree majors

STEM workers constitute the backbone of the US economy. If you want to enroll in a college’s STEM program, there are many scholarships that are available to you.

We have listed a few of the best-known scholarships for a STEM degree.

  • Best Value Schools offers our own STEM Scholarship for Women
  • Science, Mathematics & Research for Transformation
  • Science Education Scholarships
  • American Society of Metals
  • Society of Women Engineers

Is being a STEM student difficult?

STEM majors are often considered to be quite difficult because of their heavy focus on science and math. Some students may struggle with these disciplines, while others find they come naturally. 

There seems to be some truth to the common idea that STEM majors are more difficult. A survey by PrepScholar found that the five degree programs with the highest average GPA were:

  • Education
  • Foreign language
  • English
  • Music
  • Religion

By contrast, the five degree programs with the lowest average GPA were mostly STEM subjects:

  • Chemistry
  • Math
  • Economics
  • Psychology
  • Biology

If you’ve always enjoyed math and science, there’s a good chance that you’ll enjoy pursuing a STEM major, but be prepared to put in the work.

Conclusion

A degree in Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering increases your skill set and helps you to get a high-paid job. There is an increasing demand for skilled people and experts in this domain for the overall growth of the state.

Pursuing these subjects as majors in college can certainly transform your life, given the urge for technical expertise required in the industry.

If you have a knack for science and tech, then you should go for choosing a degree in STEM.

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