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STEM Major Overview

Heard about the great job and salary prospects in STEM fields, but don’t really know what they’re about? Well, STEM is an acronym referring to Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics. So, if you’re planning on studying as a STEM major, you should ideally be interested in at least one of those topics. 

To learn more about STEM majors, including typical coursework, what you can do with a degree in STEM, salaries in STEM, and more, keep on reading! 

What is a STEM major?

STEM majors include any of the science, technology, engineering, or mathematics-related majors. Some of the more common STEM majors available at many colleges include:

  • Astronomy
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Engineering
  • Information Technology
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • And many more!

Due to the wide range of majors that are considered STEM, it’s somewhat difficult to describe them as a whole. However, there are some similarities between most of them. 

For one, STEM majors often branch off into smaller subfields, allowing students to study and specialize in whichever areas they choose. Additionally, as STEM spans multiple fields, students majoring in STEM tend to have many career options (often lucrative ones!) post-graduation. 

Skills that STEM majors earn and develop while earning their degree include collaboration, problem-solving, listening, and critical thinking. These skills make them a benefit to any workplace, even those that aren’t necessarily STEM-oriented.

See Also: What Is a STEM Degree (And Why You Should Study One) 

Coursework to expect

STEM majors take a variety of courses throughout their time at college, but the exact type of courses that one is taking is often dependent on their major. So, while a biology major make take more classes related to biology (e.g. human biology, marine biology, neuroscience, etc.), an engineering major will likely be taking more classes related to their field (e.g. linear algebra, introduction to engineering analysis, physics, etc.). However, as with any major, there are some classes that are more commonly taken by STEM majors (no matter what their specific field is). So, let’s take a look!

Here are some of the (more general) classes you may encounter as a STEM major:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Statistics
  • Calculus
  • And more!

We know that this list seems very short, but it’s only because of the great difference between many STEM majors! It’s hard to definitively describe the required coursework for STEM majors as the specific class requirements vary so greatly between fields. However, this short list above will give you a good idea of some of the classes you will be required to take (in many STEM fields).

Also see: How to pick a major

Opportunities after graduation

A lot! And, not to keep repeating myself, but your options truly do vary depending on your specific major. However, here are some of the more common careers chosen by STEM majors:

  • Zoologist and wildlife biologist
  • Microbiologist
  • Computer network architects
  • Health and safety engineers
  • Network and computer systems administrator
  • Statistician
  • Software developer
  • Information security analyst

No matter what exact type of profession you’re interested in, STEM careers tend to be lucrative. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 10 highest-paying jobs in 2021 were all STEM-related, including psychiatrists, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and physicians.

Jobs you can get with a STEM degree

The careers that you can pursue with a STEM degree are plentiful and tend to pay well too. For example, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), while the projected salary of engineering graduates in 2019 was a whopping $69,188, the average starting salary for the class of 2018 (across all majors) was far lower, at $50,944.

So, we now know that STEM majors tend to pay well, but how much exactly can you make in some of the different careers? Let’s see. 

1. Geoscientists

Becoming a geoscientist may be a good career path for those interested in the physical aspects of Earth, including its composition, form, and processes. Specifically, some of geoscientists’ duties include doing field studies, analyzing photographs and rock samples, conducting lab tests, and writing scientific reports. While only a bachelor’s degree is required to become a geoscientist, some enter the profession with a master’s degree.

2020 Median Pay: $93,580 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 5% (faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. Software Developers

Software developers create the computer applications and software that we use every day, utilizing users’ feedback to assess what they should next develop. After development, they continue to monitor their programs, making sure they run smoothly and successfully for users.

2020 Median Pay: $110,140 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 22% (much faster than average) 

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

3. Mechanical Engineers

Mechanical engineers design and redesign thermal devices and subsystems, figuring out how they can use them to potentially solve problems. If something goes wrong, they also investigate equipment issues and failures, “diagnosing” the issue and suggesting ways to fix it.

2020 Median Pay: $90,160 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 4% (as fast as average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Also see: Top engineering scholarships

4. Statisticians

Statisticians use mathematical theories and techniques to help solve problems in many fields, including business, the sciences, engineering, and more. They also design studies, surveys, and polls to collect data, which they then analyze to communicate their findings to audiences. They create visual representations of these data and findings, which are shown to businesses to aid them in making decisions. While most statisticians have a master’s degree in mathematics or statistics, some positions are open to those who only have a bachelor’s degree.

2020 Median Pay: $93,290 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 33% (much faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

All these seem great, right? STEM majors can be exciting to pursue, not only for their high salaries, but also for the great range of opportunities that they make available to you. Before you decide to major in STEM however, how do you know if it’s the right choice for you? Let’s discuss.

Frequently asked questions 

Are STEM jobs in demand?

Definitely! The many career opportunities available in STEM (along with the relatively high salaries) are actually a major pull for many considering careers in STEM. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected job growth for STEM occupations is expected to rise 8% between 2019 and 2029, compared to just 3.7% across all occupations. So, if you’re interested in the STEM subjects and want to feel assured that you’ll be able to find a job out of undergrad, you may consider pursuing a STEM major.

Also see: Top college majors for the future

How do I know if a STEM major is right for me?

If you’re considering a major in STEM, you might want to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you curious about how the world (or technology) works?
  • Do you value using creativity and critical thinking to solve problems?
  • Are you passionate about creating new ways to solve problems?
  • Do you enjoy science and math?

Ultimately, if you answered “Yes” to multiple of these questions, majoring in STEM might just be the right choice for you.

All in all, we hope this article has helped you learn the basics of what a STEM major is. We wish you luck in your future endeavors (whether you decide to pursue STEM or not!).

Keep reading: Top STEM Scholarships