What to Know About STEM and STEM Majors

STEM is an educational focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. There are more than 500 STEM-designated majors that give students a strong foundation in these fields.

Graduates in STEM majors are in high demand and have outstanding job opportunities in the US and global job markets. Those in STEM fields can expect to have a stable career that offers growth, versatility if desired, the opportunity to innovate in their profession, and compensation that is higher than for non-STEM fields.

Popular STEM majors include those in the broad fields of biology and related sciences, all types of engineering, computers, computer science and information technology, environmental science, statistics, data science and medical majors such as biomedical science and engineering and medical technology.

More males choose STEM majors, and 61% of graduates with a STEM degree are male while 39% are female. Just 7% of all college students earn a degree in a STEM major. As a result, “there continues to be concern over students‘ retention in those majors, especially women and minority students,” (Academic Success for STEM and Non-STEM Majors, Whalen & Mackey II, 2015).

All STEM majors are academically challenging, but some of those considered easier than most others are Biology, Heath Sciences, Psychology, Agricultural Sciences and Nutrition Sciences.

What is STEM?

STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These are interconnected disciplines that drive innovation and technological progress such as digital transformation, sustainability and global competitiveness.

In college, STEM majors promote scientific literacy by emphasizing a foundation in these subjects for the development of skills in critical thinking, analysis, problem solving, collaboration, communication, and laboratory techniques. These skills produce many advantages. “Experts agree that science, technology, engineering and math will drive new innovations across disciplines, making use of computational power to accelerate discoveries and finding creative ways to solve big challenges,” according to a National Science Foundation STEM Education report.

STEM curriculum in colleges and universities include a basis in theory and the practical application of scientific principles. As a result, most STEM majors in undergraduate studies are bachelor of science degrees with significant differences from bachelor of arts degrees.

What Are the Benefits of Choosing a STEM Major?

Graduating in a STEM major offers many benefits for starting a career, advancement and salary. Advantages of choosing a STEM major include:

  • Excellent job opportunities: Graduates in STEM majors are in high demand in a global job market and also have the potential for successful entrepreneurial pursuits.
  • Career stability and growth: STEM fields like engineering, software development, data analytics and IT/computer science are growing, which means that workers with a STEM degree will continue to be highly sought after and have opportunities to advance in their fields.
  • Career versatility: A broad foundation in math and the sciences gives you a wider range of opportunities to find a career that is a good fit for your skills and goals.
  • Development of valuable in-demand skills: The reason for broad career opportunities with high salaries is due to the scientific literacy gained in a STEM major.
  • Competitive compensation: Compared with non-STEM majors, graduates with a STEM degree earn higher entry-level salaries.
  • Scientific expertise: A broad understanding of the sciences allows you to make informed decisions in your life and career.
  • Innovation leadership: STEM skills prepare you to develop leading edge theories or practical applications in technology, the military, industry, education and healthcare.  
  • Collaborative work across disciplines: Having a STEM degree equips you with a foundational understanding in the sciences, which is ideal for working with experts in related fields.

What Are the STEM Majors?

STEM majors are those with strong emphasis in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The STEM majors include:

  • Sciences: Agricultural sciences, animal sciences, food science, plant sciences, soil sciences, forest sciences, biology, biological and biomedical sciences, molecular biology, genetics, chemistry, cellular science, microbiology and immunology sciences, genome sciences, physiology, pathology, neurobiology and neurosciences, architectural and building sciences, behavioral sciences, nutrition sciences, marine sciences, data science, environmental geosciences, physical sciences, atmospheric sciences and meteorology, geological and earth sciences, geophysics and seismology, geochemistry, materials science, social sciences, pharmaceutical sciences, healthcare sciences, management sciences, veterinary sciences, artificial intelligence, anatomy, parasitology, virology, immunology, mycology, infectious disease and global health.
  • Technology: Information technology, computer information sciences, computer graphics, cloud computing, military technology and applied sciences, communications technologies, science technologies, food technology and processing, wood science and technology, media technologies, data processing, educational and instructional technology, instrumentation technology, HVAC, water quality and wastewater treatment technology, hazardous materials technology, environmental control technology, quality control technology, safety technology, mining technology, CAD/CADD drafting and design, technology, nanotechnology, solar energy technology, biotechnology, aerospace technologies, cytotechnology, medical technology, chemical technology, robotics technology and engineering, hydraulics and fluid technology,
  • Engineering: Engineering technologies, applied engineering, aerospace and aeronautical engineering, agricultural engineering, biomedical engineering, bioengineering, chemical engineering, electrical engineering, nuclear engineering, civil engineering, computer engineering, water resources engineering, laser and optical engineering, materials engineering, mechanical engineering, metallurgical engineering, mining and mineral engineering, petroleum engineering, ocean engineering, systems engineering, plastics/polymer engineering, manufacturing engineering, geophysical engineering, electromechanical engineering, biochemical engineering, biological engineering, military engineering, transportation and highway engineering, telecommunications engineering,
  • Mathematics: Physics, biomathematics, statistics, applied mathematics, mathematical biology, mathematical economics, theoretical mathematics,

Because STEM majors are interdisciplinary, these groupings are only approximate.

In all, the US government’s DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List updated in 2023 lists more than 500 STEM majors.

The most popular STEM majors include biology and biomedical sciences, math and statistics, computer science and information technology, healthcare sciences, engineering,

What Non-Stem Majors Are Mistakenly Considered Stem Majors?

The most common non-STEM majors mistaken for STEM majors are nursing,economics, kinesiology, geography, environmental studies, and agricultural sciences.

Many non-STEM fields like nursing use one or more of the STEM sciences including chemistry, physics, biology, microbiology, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and social and behavioral sciences, but are not currently STEM-designated occupations by the US government. As a result, there is confusion about what is a STEM major.

Also, many non-STEM majors have closely related fields that are STEM majors. For example, basic economics is not a STEM major, but mathematical economics is a STEM major.

In general, when comparing STEM vs non-STEM majors, STEM majors involve greater use of mathematics and natural sciences with a focus on experimentation and applied sciences. In contrast, non-STEM majors emphasize the human, social and cultural aspects of these fields of study.

What Are the Easiest STEM Majors?

While there is no objective standard or consensus on the easiest STEM majors, those science, technology, engineering and math majors considered easier than most are Biology, Health Sciences, Management Science, Environmental Science, Nutrition Sciences, Psychology, Geology, Agricultural Sciences and IT/Information Technology.

The reason that some STEM majors have a reputation for being easier is that they have fewer mathematics requirements, less emphasis on labs and content that is considered easier to grasp.

Any specific STEM major will seem easier for students with natural aptitude in the subject. For example, a student with strong interest in the environment, nature or conservation may find Environmental Science to be easier than other STEM majors like Aerospace Engineering.

Keep in mind that all STEM majors can be difficult because the coursework in math and sciences is heavier than for non-STEM majors. Critical and analytical thinking is necessary for all STEM majors.

What Are the Hardest STEM Majors?

No consensus exists about which STEM majors are the hardest. Difficulty for any major is based on the student’s natural interests and specific aptitude.

However, STEM majors with a reputation for being very difficult include Chemical Engineering, Biochemical Sciences, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Aerospace Engineering, Chemistry, Neuroscience and Electrical Engineering.

The hardest STEM majors are those that require the most upper level math courses, involve more hours of the week outside of class in study, and demand complex problem-solving, technical skills and abstract thinking.

What Are the Statistics About STEM

Statistics about STEM majors and graduates provide information about enrollment demographics, the job market, growth, and earning potential.

Most students enrolled in STEM majors are men. Just 28% of students in STEM programs are women, and of students receiving bachelor’s degrees, 39% of STEM graduates are female. Ethnicities have significantly lower enrollment and graduation percentages.

African American and Latino students are less likely than White or Asian students to choose STEM majors, as reported in a study on College Major Choice in STEM by Moakler and Kim. 

Only 7% of all students enrolled in college earn a bachelor’s degree in STEM majors. And 60% of STEM graduates in the US get jobs in non-STEM fields, demonstrating that STEM skills transfer well to other fields. However, by 2025, the US could have 3.5 million STEM jobs more than workers to fill them. One potential remedy is to understand why students choose STEM majors and to support their choices academically and financially beginning in high school and their first years of college (Wang, X. 2013).

STEM graduates are in high demand. Jobs are growing at a much faster rate than average. The US BLS Employment in STEM Occupations report estimates a growth rate of 10.8% for STEM occupations compared to 2.3% for non-STEM jobs in the years between 2022 and 2032. This means that more than 800,000 STEM jobs are projected to open in the next decade.

Due to the growing demand for STEM workers, the median annual wages for workers in STEM occupations is 219% higher than for those in non-STEM jobs. STEM occupations have a median annual income of $97,980 (2022).

Are There More Scholarship Opportunities for STEM Majors

Yes, more scholarships are available for STEM majors because STEM graduates are in high demand, and schools work to attract STEM-qualified students with offers of scholarship money.

There are more scholarship opportunities for STEM majors because occupations in STEM fields are growing at a rate nearly five times higher than occupations in non-STEM fields, 10.8% to 2.3%. In order to ensure there are graduates to fill those positions, both government and industry sources provide funding to colleges and universities to attract high-achieving students who are likely to be successful in challenging STEM programs.

Scholarships for science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors combine money for school with educational and research support in learning communities to encourage students to complete STEM degrees.

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