Science, technology, engineering, and math, also known as STEM fields, play a significant role in today’s highly competitive and globalized society. Without STEM, fewer discoveries and advancements would be made in terms of saving lives, improving the economy, and increasing productivity (“25 best STEM majors for 2019,” n.d.). As scientific and technological innovations take the centerpiece of knowledge-based economies, the demand for STEM-based education becomes more prominent.
Expediently, colleges and universities from all over the world are responding to this by providing a growing number of STEM majors. Year after year, more educational institutions offer more STEM-related programs, attracting students to pursue an education in the science, technology, engineering, and math departments. For career-minded students, this means a wide range of job opportunities that they can choose from.
Upon examining the STEM courses list, many students will find that not all courses under STEM are created equally. While all of them are no doubt challenging, some courses tend to offer more career opportunities than others. In this article, readers will find out more about STEM courses, what they offer, and what students can expect when they enroll in STEM-specific subjects.
In the past decades, STEM has been the buzzword in the education sector. STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—serves as the foundation for an interdisciplinary approach to learning where academic principles are applied to real-life scenarios. Under the STEM curriculum, students are taught to apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics concepts and incorporate them into the real world.
Historically, the United States has been the leader in providing STEM education, awarding over 700,000 STEM certifications in the school year 2017-18 alone (“Number and percentage distribution of science,” n.d.). And while all types of educational institutions have seen a decline in enrollment in the past few years, many STEM programs have seen an increase in their numbers.
Source: Digest of Education Statistics (2019)
The rise of STEM majors signals how schools, colleges, parents, and students are responding to market needs. In four-year institutions, for instance, enrollments in STEM majors grew by 2.2%, with computer and information sciences seeing growth by 24,919 enrollments and biomedical and biological majors growing by 14,374 enrollments (“Current term enrollment,” 2018).
As job opportunities for STEM-related fields become more pronounced, a growing number of students are becoming attracted to STEM fields. Below are some detailed examples of popular stem courses. They are ranked randomly, with data about median salary, projected growth rate, number of jobs, and entry-level education gathered from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“Occupational employment statistics,” 2020).
Petroleum engineering refers to the field of engineering that deals with the production of hydrocarbons, which can either be natural gas or crude oil. Students in this program will learn about engineering basics, geology, and thermodynamics. Most courses will also be focusing on how to address and solve crucial issues on energy security, providing students with the knowledge and skills that they need to determine the most efficient ways in the exploration, extraction, and production of oil.
As cited in Forbes (Morrison, 2019), petroleum engineering is the STEM job that offers new graduates the highest salary. The average salary for petroleum engineers who have a bachelor’s degree is estimated at $137,720 per year. With more experience in the field, earning potential is also likely to increase. Petroleum engineers can also expect a faster-than-average job growth and with plenty of opportunities to travel the world to visit drilling sites.
Payscale also lists petroleum engineering as America’s best bachelor’s degree by salary, guaranteeing graduates with stable and well-paying job opportunities. According to the data, alumni with 10 or more years of experience in this field earn a median pay of $176,900, making it the ideal STEM course selection for students who want a quick return on their educational investment (“Choosing majors,” 2019).
Source: Payscale (2019)
Management science is all about the design and administration of complex systems, with a major focus on the application of analytical models, tools, and techniques on business organizations and performance. Students enrolled in this course will be taught to use qualitative methods and quantitative tools to explore logistical and strategic problems.
In management science, students will learn how to apply science, technology, and mathematics in designing systems, solving problems, and making critical decisions for organizations. The coursework will prepare students for a wide range of careers in financing, consulting, and entrepreneurship.
A degree in management science provides students with several career options, two of which are those of research analyst or head executive. As of 2018, the mean salary for professionals in this field is estimated at $84,810 per year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (“Top executives: Occupational,” 2020), the job growth rate for operations research analysts would grow at 26% between 2018 and 2028, providing students with plenty of career opportunities.
As technological advancements allow for a faster and easier way for organizations to get data, more companies are expected to hire operations research analysts to help them interpret data and turn it into actionable insights that can improve their business efficiency.
Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal that the federal government and manufacturing industries offer the highest median annual wages to operations research analysts. As of 2019, the median annual wage for operations research analysts in the federal government is $113,940. Meanwhile, those in the manufacturing industry earn $92,320 annually (“Home: Occupational,” 2020).
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019)
Computer science programs are designed to provide students with instructions on the latest computer engineering methods and practices. It prepares students for a wide array of career positions in the technological sector, such as becoming a software or game developer, database administrator, IT consultant, cybersecurity consultant, or technical writer. In this field, students will be provided with a deeper understanding of emerging technologies and complex theories related to software development.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of job positions in the computer and information technology sectors will leap significantly in the coming years (“Computer and information technology,” 2020). Job growth rate in this field is projected at 21% during the forecast period, with a median annual wage of $105,590 per year. The demand for positions in this field stems from the growing emphasis on information security, the collection and storage of big data, and cloud computing. Out of all STEM jobs available today, 67% are in computing.
Compared to the average college graduate, a computer science major earns 40% more and can potentially accumulate a total of $1.67 million life earnings (“Career earnings by college major,” 2020).
Source: The Hamilton Project (2020)
As a subset of computer science, computer engineering is another valuable STEM major, with a projected growth rate of 5% during the forecast period of 2018 to 2028 and a median pay of $112,690 per year. A bachelor’s degree in computer engineering leads to positions in a wide range of industries, such as automotive, communications, electronics, aerospace, robotics, healthcare, or transportation.
In computer engineering, students will learn how to match the proper software and hardware in order to meet the administrative, scientific, and technological needs of various industries and businesses. While it can be a challenging four-year course, it provides students with attractive and high-paying job opportunities. In fact, it is expected to command the highest salaries out of all bachelor’s degrees in the U.S. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (“5 reasons,” 2019), the average pay for software engineers in the U.S. is $92,240.
With information driving today’s economy, nearly every industry requires IT professionals, making it one of the best choices for students seeking excellent employment opportunities. Some career paths in the IT field include computer system analysts, web or software developers, network engineers, and IT managers. With further education and on the job experience, IT professionals can expect to get paid higher than the average salary, which is estimated at $106,710, according to research by WorldWideLearn (“25 best STEM majors for 2019,” n.d.).
A typical IT course basically includes everything from hard drives and computers to databases and networks. It covers how technology and information are applied in various ways, enabling students to learn how to analyze, troubleshoot, and use a wide range of tools for the conception, growth, and storage of information.
With a bachelor’s degree in the biological sciences, students can pursue multiple career avenues in research, teaching, and fieldwork or use it as a good base to move into the medical, biotech, and pharmaceutical industries. Many biology degree graduates choose to take a postgraduate level to broaden their expertise and accelerate career progression.
Biological sciences offer students numerous high-paying jobs. Professionals in this field often specialize in areas like marine biology, bacteriology, biology, and immunobiology. Compared to other majors, there are also more degree-holders in biology working as dentists, biological scientists, and optometrists (“General biological sciences,” 2017).
With an extensive amount of training and education, professionals in this field can expect to earn an average salary of $80,200 per year (“25 best STEM majors for 2019,” n.d.)
Source: Data USA (2020)
Students interested in the study of microorganisms will find microbiology the perfect STEM course to major in college. In the program, they will have the chance to learn about infectious diseases and conduct scientific experiments with a major focus on the pathogenic potential of disease-causing organisms. A microbiology program also covers some aspects of physiology, biochemistry, and genetics of microorganisms.
Since microbiology overlaps with other biology fields, such as molecular biology, genetics,and immunology, degree-holders in microbiology have plenty of opportunities to pursue a career path in a wide range of sectors. Job titles include research associate, laboratory technician, lead scientist, and university professor. Wages usually vary according to education, experience, and job sector and range from $40,000 to $100,000 per year. (“Careers in microbiology,” n.d.)
A recent graduate survey conducted by the University of Minnesota reveals that 72.7% of all chemical engineering graduates are employed (“Undergraduate programs,” 2018). Because of the thriving manufacturing sector in various industries, the demand for chemical engineers is consistently on the rise. This gives degree holders greater employment opportunities for major chemical and pharmaceutical companies.
As a STEM course, chemical engineering offers graduates a wide range of opportunities to travel and work in different countries and find employment for multinational companies operating in the sector. It is a growing global profession with a large pool of employers, making it one of the best STEM courses available today. A bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering can expect to work as a field engineer, perform scientific research, or occupy a senior management position.
Chemical engineers require an extensive background in science and advanced mathematics with a handful of introductory courses in engineering. Typically, a bachelor’s degree program in chemical engineering combines lectures, seminars, and tutorials with practical laboratory work and computer practice sessions. Classes by industry professionals and site visits are also regularly conducted throughout the entire program. (“Why should I study,” n.d.)
Source: University of Minnesota (2018)
Mathematics is an ideal major for students who show proficiency in calculus, algebra, and other branches of mathematics. A bachelor’s degree in mathematics leads to rewarding career opportunities in teaching, research, business, government, or science-related fields. With an average salary of $122,240 annually, mathematicians are considered one of the highest-earning professionals in the scientific research and development services industry (“Mathematics degree salaries,” n.d.).
In a mathematics degree program, students will be introduced to courses such as abstract algebra and nonlinear differential equations during their first years. The later years in the course usually involve a wider selection of modules and in-depth exploration of various areas in mathematics. With math degrees increasingly becoming digitally-based, students can also expect to touch on computer science modules, such as automated theorem proving and symbolic computation.
A career as a statistician mainly revolves around the collection, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of quantitative data. As more industries become data-heavy, graduates of statistics can land a job as data analysts, biostatisticians, cost estimators, actuaries, and business analysts. In 2018, the median salary for statisticians was estimated at $87,780 (“How much can a statistician,” n.d.), making it an attractive choice for students who want to pursue a STEM-related career.
Statistics is a STEM-related course that prepares students for a professional role as a statistician whose job duties include collecting, organizing, and analyzing data. Data mining, biostatistics, probability, and survey sampling are some of the concepts commonly studied in statistics courses. With statistics influencing major decisions in a wide range of sectors, a bachelor’s degree in this field provides students with plenty of career options in various industries.
At its core, civil engineering combines a number of scientific disciplines, including but not limited to hydraulics, mechanics, geotechnics, statistical analysis, and materials science. Courses in civil engineering mainly include subjects related to the construction, design, and maintenance of man-made products and infrastructure. The course also includes a high level of hands-on experience, with students being required to take an internship at some point in the program.
On average, tuition costs for civil engineering are $43,869 for out-of-state private colleges and $7,542 for in-state public colleges. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign emerged as the top university for civil engineering by the number of awarded degrees, followed by the University of California Berkeley and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (“Civil engineering,” 2017).
Degree-holders of civil engineering courses can also expect a number of career opportunities waiting for them upon graduation. Employment for civil engineers is projected to grow at 6% from 2018 to 2028, with a median pay of $87,060 per year (“Home: Occupational outlook handbook,” 2020). While entry-level positions in civil engineering do not require licensure, a professional-engineering (PE) license is required for senior positions.
Source: Data USA (2017)
Unlike most STEM majors that focus on cutting-edge technologies, Paleontology revolves around the study of the past life on Earth based on fossils. Paleontology encompasses a number of subdisciplines, including micropaleontology (the study of microscopic fossils), palynology (the study of protists and land plants and the pollen and spores they produce), and ichnology (the study of fossil tracks, footprints, and trails).
In a four-year paleontology degree program, students will be trained in discovering the secrets of dinosaur fossils and ancient plant life. The coursework typically includes natural sciences, mathematics, statistics, as well as field methods and laboratory courses. It also provides students with the opportunity to participate in research projects and gain hands-on experience in studying fossilized bones, shells, and casts of animals. The average tuition for in-state colleges that offer paleontology degree programs is estimated at $14,906 (“Paleontology college tuition comparison,” n.d.).
A degree in paleontology leads to a number of exciting career opportunities. Some of the most common career paths are teaching, working in a museum, or becoming a researcher. Degree-holders can expect to land a job as a geologist, curator, anthropologist, researcher, or topographic surveyor. Professionals in the paleontology field earn an average annual salary from $89,000 to $105,000 (Painter, n.d.).
Source: National Center for Education Statistics (2017)
The rise of green and fuel-efficient technologies propels the growth of aerospace engineering, providing plenty of employment opportunities for students who want to work as aircraft manufacturers for civil and military organizations from all over the world. As one of the fastest-growing industries, aerospace engineering serves as an attractive and rewarding STEM major, enabling students to join organizations where they can build or design missiles, aircraft, spacecraft, or systems for national defense.
Aerospace engineering degree programs take at least three to five years of education in disciplines that include fluid mathematics and thermodynamics, solid mechanics, numerical and experimental methods, computer-aided engineering, and gas dynamics. Students are also expected to master concepts in physics, chemistry, calculus, and differential equations. (“What can you do,” 2019)
Degree-holders of aerospace engineering are primarily employed in the manufacturing, research and development, analysis and design, and the federal government. They can also work for government research agencies and satellite platforms across the globe and earn up to $116,500 per year.
With so many STEM majors available today, students often have a hard time choosing which one suits them best. As STEM courses require a great deal of specialization, it is important for students to weigh their skills, talents, and knowledge when choosing which major to pursue. A number of factors must also be considered, such as family attitude, passion, salary, and past experiences (Fizzer, Darren, 2013).
Family attitude is an influential factor that affects students’ choice of major. For instance, students whose parents are running a small business may be inclined to follow a career path that can be useful to their family business. With an established business owned by the family, students are likely to take over and hold a high position within their operations. Aside from that, family role models also hold significant influence over what students choose as their major. (Wildman and Torres, 2002)
Based on a recent Student Loan Hero study (Josuweit, 2016), 88% of college students choose their majors based on their passion. When students pick a major they are interested in, they are more likely to be highly motivated in completing a degree in their chosen field. The coursework becomes more interesting to them, and they constantly nurse a desire for academic achievement. Students who consider their passion in choosing a major are also less likely to experience job dissatisfaction and career burnout later in life.
Not all career paths bring equal earning potentials, and it is undeniable that some careers tend to bring more money than others. As students aim to achieve economic stability after graduation, they consider the earning potential of a career path as an important factor when choosing a college major. Given today’s economic situation, students seek out high-paying jobs and aim for a secure job position in the future.
Students’ past experiences through summer camp, volunteer work, or vacations have significant impacts on their choice of major (Strada Education Network, 2017). Such hands-on experience drives the students’ interest in a field of study, which then leads them to pursue a career path in that direction.