Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.
These educational disciplines are the foundation of STEM, a loose term used to describe education and careers that directly relate to hard sciences. This type of education, and the careers that follow, are essential to the long-term success of our country. We need STEM experts to enhance medicine, reduce environmental impact, find more efficient ways to manufacture, and develop high-quality facilities.
Even though STEM majors are offered at almost every college in the country, it’s largely believed that America is lacking these skills and falling behind in the hard sciences. Right or wrong, it’s a common argument that we have too many people with philosophy and literature majors and not enough people who can build a bridge, design industrial equipment, or develop energy technology.
While America’s need for more STEM graduates is debatable, one thing is fairly certain: people with STEM degrees are likely to find high-paying, long-term, rewarding careers.
If you are thinking about a STEM major, you owe it to yourself to learn more about the field. You need to understand what STEM is (and what it is not), as well as which majors would be the best for your future.
With the right approach, you can get the right degree and launch a STEM career that enrich your live, make a sizable income, and keep you busy for decades!
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What is STEM?
STEM is a loose definition of education and related careers that focus on four areas of study: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. By combining and emphasizing these four disciplines, the hope is that students will have a greater chance of achievement and the nation will be able to fill a perceived gap in these areas.
The sciences can cover a wide range of fields, from biology to astronomy to physics. These careers are complex but because of their broad-ranging and diverse topics, science brings in people of all types, from people fascinated by tiny insects to those who want to learn more about the galaxy.
Examples of STEM fields that are heavy with science:
- Biomedical engineering
- Chemical engineering
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Technology is another broad term. Your coffee maker is a form of technology, as is the smartphone in your purse and the industrial crane in a commercial construction zone.
Examples of STEM careers that are heavy with technology:
- Software developer
- Database administrator
- Data management
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Although technology and engineering are somewhat synonymous, engineering is often seen as the design and construction of large, complex structures, such as buildings, computer networks, and ships.
STEM fields that are heavy with engineering:
It’s all in the numbers. Math involves calculations from simple to complex that help make predictions and solve problems. While some deal with it more than others, all STEM fields will involve math in some form.
STEM jobs that are heavy with math:
What About Healthcare & Medicine?
While it may seem ironic, when people discuss STEM education they generally leave out medical and healthcare degrees. This is not to say that jobs in the healthcare industry don’t involve science, technology, engineering, and math, it’s just that when people discuss STEM, they usually leave out doctors, dentists, physicians, and other healthcare professionals.
There is, of course, a perfectly logical and reasonable argument for including healthcare in STEM discussions. Doctors study anatomy (science), prescribe specific doses of medicine (math), and use advanced robotics (technology and engineering), but there is a general disagreement on whether the health industry should be included.
The argument against healthcare professions as part of STEM really comes down to classification. STEM is a loose definition used to describe careers that deal directly with hard sciences, and healthcare is simply left out to keep the term more specific.
For this reason, we will not be including traditional healthcare positions, such as doctors and nurses, as a part of our list. We will, however, include majors that build things for the medical industry, such as biomedical engineers.
Why is STEM Education So Important?
There is little doubt that America has a huge need for people educated in STEM programs. These are the people who build our infrastructure, create new innovations, and allow us to grow as a nation.
There are various numbers to back up the claim that American needs more STEM degree graduates. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “not enough of our youth have access to quality STEM learning opportunities.” However, STEM jobs make up roughly 5 to 20% of our total job market (the number varies depending on how STEM is defined), making it a significant portion of our overall economy.
A report from Change the Equation, states that there are 3.6 unemployed workers for every available job in the U.S. However, for every single unemployed STEM worker, there are two unfilled jobs. Despite the fact that millions of Americans are unemployed, the manufacturing sector simply cannot fill their staffing needs, due largely to a complete lack of skilled candidates.
Skilled jobs like machinists, operators, and technicians, which require STEM education and training in some form, are going unfilled.
Who is the Ideal Candidate for a STEM Major?
Because STEM subjects are so broad and cover a vast range of studies, it is nearly impossible to pinpoint a specific type of person who will enjoy and thrive in STEM and another type of person that won’t. However, there are a few characteristics and personality traits that may indicate that someone would be successful in a STEM career. They certainly won’t guarantee success, and the lack of these traits isn’t a guarantee for failure, but it will help point you in the right direction.
First of all, people in STEM are often curious. They have an inherent need to understand how things work, from scientific processes to basic machinery. Children who tore apart VCR’s to simply discover how they functioned on the inside often grow up to thrive in STEM jobs.
People in the STEM fields also need to be problem solvers. They shouldn’t want to just tear apart the VCR, they should want to be able to understand how it works, piece it back together, and make adjustments so it operates better than ever. Someone who desires to fix their own vehicle before taking it to an auto shop would be a great candidate for a STEM major.
Creativity is another important characteristic of people in a STEM field. This is closely tied to problem solving, as STEM professionals need to create innovative and creative solutions to complex problems.
Best STEM Majors
Let’s look at the biggest STEM majors that can launch a successful career. These majors, and the corresponding careers, not only provide a substantial income, but most are expected to be in high-demand for years to come, giving STEM students a fruitful, long-term career.
Median Salary: $129,990
Job Growth: 10%
Number of Jobs: 35,100
Energy is an important industry in the 21st century, and while renewable technologies get a lot of attention, the petroleum industry remains an important area for STEM majors. With a degree in petroleum engineering, students learn to design equipment for the extraction and use of oil and gas while considering many economic and environmental factors.
- Computer Engineering
Median Salary: $111,730
Job Growth: 3%
Number of Jobs: 77,700
Computer engineering is a common education for people who want to work as computer hardware engineers, which is one of the high-paying STEM careers available today. Hardware engineers create a wide variety of computer equipment and often test and analyze the hardware they have built. They may also be tasked with updating existing computer hardware or managing the manufacturing of new devices.
Median Salary: $111,110
Job Growth: 21%
Number of Jobs: 3,500
Mathematics is a great major for anyone interested in a STEM career and shows a proficiency for algebra, calculus, and other types of math. Mathematicians don’t just hammer out equations, they actually develop new ways of conducting math, which can be extremely useful for other STEM majors.
- Aerospace Engineering
Median Salary: $107,830
Job Growth: -2%
Number of Jobs: 72,500
Students who are proficient in math, physics, and chemistry may be perfectly suited to a degree in aerospace engineering. During this education, students will use both field and class studies to understand the structures and science behind the most advanced spacecraft and airplanes. They will also learn how to develop new innovations, making them essential to the aerospace industry.
- Nuclear Science & Engineering
Median Salary: $102,950
Job Growth: -4%
Number of Jobs: 16,800
Positions as a nuclear engineer are generally reserved for professionals with masters and doctorates, although you may be able to break into the profession with a bachelor's degree in nuclear science and engineering. Although the demand for nuclear experts may drop over the next decade, there is still a lucrative pay opportunity.
- Software Development
Median Salary: $100,690
Job Growth: 17%
Number of Jobs: 1,114,000
Median earning software developers earn well over $100,000 a year, but even people just out of their STEM major can earn a substantial income. A student with a degree in software development will learn how to analyze needs and design computer programs to accomplish specific goals. They may create applications or plan parts or a whole program.
- Chemical Engineering
Median Salary: $97,360
Job Growth: 2%
Number of Jobs: 34,300
This broad degree covers the development and design of products that involve chemical and biological changes. Chemical engineers can be involved in the production of drugs, food, fuels, household chemicals, and substances used in mechanics. They are often involved in the development of manufacturing processes but can also work on safety and health issues involving chemistry.
- Actuarial Science
Median Salary: $97,070
Job Growth: 18%
Number of Jobs: 24,600
Licensure: CAS or SOA
There are many educational paths to becoming an actuary, which analyzes financial risk, the most obvious degree choices are actuarial science or finance. These degrees teach students to analyze risk using a combination of science and mathematics. Actuarial science majors are often employed in the insurance industry, but they are also found in scientific research and company management firms.
- Electrical Engineering
Median Salary: $95,230
Job Growth: 0%
Number of Jobs: 315,900
An electrical engineering degree involves classroom studies, laboratory work, and field activities to develop a strong understanding of how electricity functions and how it can be harnessed on a large and small scale. Electrical engineers may design new uses for electrical power or perform detailed calculations to be used in the installation or maintenance of electrical systems.
- Geological Engineering
Median Salary: $94,040
Job Growth: 6%
Number of Jobs: 8,300
This degree uses a combination of sciences, such as chemistry, physics, geology, and biology, as well as engineering basics to understand the earth’s structure and develop systems for responsible use of resources. Geological engineers are often employed by the mining industry, developing open-pit and underground mines while supervising construction and devising safe transportation methods for extracted materials.
- Marine Engineering
Median Salary: $93,110
Job Growth: 9%
Number of Jobs: 8,300
From sailboats to aircraft carriers, marine engineers and naval architects are responsible for the design and production of water crafts. They need a strong understanding of hydrodynamics, machinery, performance testing, and many other skills to create seaworthy vessels. From military to shipping to recreation, marine engineering students are the minds behind the boats.
- Materials Science & Engineering
Median Salary: $91,310
Job Growth: 1%
Number of Jobs: 25,300
With hands-on development of nearly any product or material available, people with an education in materials science and engineering are responsible for developing a wide range of items, ranging from everyday to rare. They can work with many different raw materials, including metals, plastics, and ceramics to create innovative new products.
- Biomedical Engineering
Median Salary: $86,220
Job Growth: 23%
Number of Jobs: 22,100
Biomedical engineering is a complex degree that combines multiple disciplines, including biology, medical research, and (of course) engineering. People with a STEM degree in biomedical engineering can work in a variety of settings, including hospitals and laboratories, designing equipment and devices for the healthcare industry.
- Health & Safety Engineering
Median Salary: $84,600
Job Growth: 6%
Number of Jobs: 25,200
By combining health and safety practices with engineering practices, health and safety majors learn how to create systems that keep people from injury and sickness. With a degree in health and safety engineering, you will know how to evaluate equipment, identify potential job hazards, and check mechanical controls.
- Environmental Engineering
Median Salary: $84,560
Job Growth: 12%
Number of Jobs: 55,100
As environmental awareness grows alongside the global population, the need for sophisticated systems that allow us to live our lives with less impact on the planet will have to be enhanced. A STEM degree in environmental engineering teaches students to prepare environmental reports, design environmental protection structures, and study the effects of infrastructure development.
- Mechanical Engineering
Median Salary: $83,590
Job Growth: 5%
Number of Jobs: 277,500
Students who obtain a degree in mechanical engineering are trained to design, redesign, and analyze mechanical devices. Much of the work done by mechanical engineers is completed with computer-aided processes. Mechanical engineering degrees not only study the development of mechanics, but also testing and final analysis.
- Industrial Engineering
Median Salary: $83,470
Job Growth: 1%
Number of Jobs: 241,100
This degree is largely concerned with the efficiency and productivity of industrial processes. Someone who studies industrial engineering will know how to review production schedules, find ways to manufacture products, and develop management control systems that create greater profitability and success in the industrial sector.
- Civil Engineering
Median Salary: $82,470
Job Growth: 8%
Number of Jobs: 23,600
A degree in civil engineering will educate you on how to create publicly-owned structures, such as roadways, bridges, and municipal buildings. Civil engineers often analyze long-range plans for cities and states, and take into account construction costs and regulations while planning projects.
- Database Administration
Median Salary: $81,710
Job Growth: 11%
Number of Jobs: 120,200
Licensure: Software vendors / technology companies
The organization and implementation of databases is crucial to many organizations, including businesses, non-profits, and government institutions. Database administrators need to understand database language, such as SQL, and will learn other important computer science and information technology skills.
Median Salary: $81,110
Job Growth: 34%
Number of Jobs: 30,000
Using dense, complex amounts of data, statisticians answer questions, solve problems, and analyze trends. A degree in statistics, which develops a student’s mathematical and analytical skills, is essential for any statistician. Courses during a statistics degree can include probability, experimental design, calculus, and more.
- Computer Programming
Median Salary: $79,530
Job Growth: -8%
Number of Jobs: 328,600
A degree in computer programming can be applied to nearly any industry and nearly any geographical area. Computer programmers write and test code, making them essential to the production of efficient and effective computer technology. They often work in offices and test software created by developers and software engineers.
Median Salary: $76,100
Job Growth: 7%
Number of Jobs: 112,600
Licensure: Architect Registration Examination
If you choose to study architecture, one of the most common STEM degrees for 2017, you will learn how to design the structures where people live, work, and play. Architecture takes into account scientific laws, but also includes artistic design, creating buildings and homes that are structurally-sound as well as visually pleasing.
- Agricultural Engineering
Median Salary: $75,090
Job Growth: 4%
Number of Jobs: 2,900
Agricultural engineering degrees are vital to the development of environmentally-safe yet effective agricultural systems, structure, and equipment. Someone with a agricultural engineering degree will use computer software to design equipment or modify environmental factors to enhance production. The degree will also teach a student to oversee construction of agricultural infrastructure.
Start a STEM Major Today
The right STEM education is waiting for you. Whether you want to work in engineering, computer development, or biological sciences, a STEM career will enhance your future and give you a platform for long-term success.
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