What Nobody Told You About Being a STEM Major


Coined by biologist Judith Ramaley in 2001, then assistant director of education and human resources at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), STEM refers to a broad group of disciplines and subdisciplines focusing on sciences, technological fields, engineering, and mathematics. It has exciting prospects and opportunities for graduates passionate about the scientific, analytical, and technical fields.

In this article, we’ll address more in-depth what a STEM degree is, what some examples of STEM majors are, whether studying a STEM major is worth it, and whether STEM majors are hard. Read on to find out if a future in STEM is a good fit for you.

What Is a STEM Degree?


A STEM degree is a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. It takes an integrating approach to these areas to develop skills like critical analysis, creativity, communication, digital literacy, teamwork, problem-solving, and many more. The key objective of STEM is to offer an interdisciplinary approach, a hands-on approach to help students gain new skills and see the world from a new perspective, thus preparing them for the modern-day issues that need solving.

Science: It’s the intellectual and practical pursuit of understanding how everything works and how we can utilize knowledge to make an impact.

Technology: It focuses on addressing issues and challenges and finding practical uses for them.

Engineering: It’s closely related to technology as both of them are problem-solving fields, which are the distinction of the goal of building structures and machinery.

Mathematics: The general definition states that it’s the abstract science of numbers, quantity, and space. As every scientific or technical discipline has a mathematical foundation, it’s rightfully “the queen of all sciences.”

Examples of STEM Majors


STEM covers a wide area of specialization with hundreds of options for studying a STEM discipline.

Science majors: Biology, Physics, Biochemistry, Neuroscience, Data Science, Geology, Microbiology, etc.

  • A Data Science degree aims to teach students the study of data to extract meaningful insights and make informed decisions. It combines principles and practices from many fields, such as statistics, mathematics, AI, computer engineering, etc.

Technology majors: Information Technology, Computer Science, Biotechnology, Information Science, etc.

  • The key objective of an Information Technology degree is to prepare students to analyze complex computing problems and apply principles of computing to find solutions.

Engineering majors: Civil Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computer Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, etc.

  • Through a Chemical Engineering degree, you’ll be able to learn how to design and troubleshoot the process for the production of fuels, foods, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, biologicals, and more.

Mathematics majors: Applied Mathematics, Statistics, Analysis, Geometry, Mathematical Economics, Applied Statistics, Combinatorics, Discrete Mathematics, Algebra, etc.

  • An Applied Mathematics degree’s goals include teaching students to apply mathematical theory to model and solve issues dealing with physical, natural, and societal problems.

Is Studying a STEM Major Worth It?


All and all, despite difficulties and challenges, a STEM degree is worth it, as it can be incredibly rewarding.  If you’re unsure if a STEM degree is right for you, many reasons make a STEM degree worth it, such as:

  • Good job opportunities: STEM is relevant in nearly all industries; therefore, you’ll have more job opportunities in an area you’re passionate about.
  • High salaries: Although salaries in STEM vary because of factors like location, knowledge, and experience, many career paths pay well, as STEM graduates have a lot of training and hold many responsibilities.
  • Making an impact: STEM graduates get to work on important issues of the modern world, such as developing sustainable energy, curing diseases, solving climate change, etc.
  • Transferable skills: During your studies, you’ll get the chance to learn transferable skills like researching, handling data, designing, running experiments, and managing projects, which will be helpful in your future career.
  • There’s something for everyone: As a diverse field, you’re bound to find something that piques your interest. There’s also an overlap between different areas, leading you to explore new things.

Another bonus benefit of studying STEM is that in the world of STEM, you’re valued for your mind and hard work, not by beliefs, gender, and lifestyle choices. Although, for many decades, it was considered a male domain, every year, more and more women are joining the STEM field and helping promote equality. Positive changes are also happening in schools, with initiatives promoting and encouraging diversity in STEM from a young age.

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Are STEM Majors Hard?


STEM majors are considered some of the most challenging and demanding majors, as they require a strong foundation in math and science as well as a masterful display of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Some of the most challenging STEM majors are:

  • Computer Science
  • Physics
  • Materials Science and Engineering
  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Nuclear Engineering

Some of the factors that make STEM majors hard are:

  • High level of competition: Studying in any STEM major can be highly competitive with tons of hardworking students, which requires students to work extra hard to stand out from the rest.
  • Rigorous coursework: STEM majors like Physics and Engineering demand a lot of math and science coursework. Furthermore, Pre-med and Computer Science may require a lot of hands-on experience and lab work which can be demanding for many.
  • Constant change and evolution: Technology and Computer Science are constantly evolving, which can take a lot of work for students to keep up-to-date with the latest developments and trends.
  • The need for flexibility and adaptability: STEM majors like Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Environmental Science require students to work in different settings (laboratories, classrooms, outdoors, etc.), which can be challenging for many.

The Bottom Line

STEM is a loose term used to describe majors and careers that deal directly with hard sciences. Getting a degree in a STEM discipline allows you to enter an in-demand and high-paying field; the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that STEM occupations will grow 8% by 2029.

Understandably, STEM majors aren’t for everyone, as they require a lot of coursework and pressure to perform. But that doesn’t mean you’ll find it challenging as well. If you’re good at math, enjoy learning new technology, and prefer a computer-based job, a future in STEM can be right for you. Remember to research the major that fits your interests and career goals.

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