Outside of obvious choices like finance and law, the most secure and potentially lucrative careers these days are in the STEM field . There are perfectly practical reasons STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) has been the main concern of the Department of Education from primary to post-graduate schooling in recent years. Our society is increasingly dependent on technology in all quarters, from finance and commerce to entertainment and sports, which means there is more demand than ever for highly-trained professionals to keep our computers, biomedical technology, and public infrastructure intact and growing. The STEM field is wide and varied enough that just about anyone can find their niche in a technological world.
(Check out: Is a Stem Degree a Good Investment? and Woman in STEM: What You Need to Know Before Putting on The Lab Coat )
What is STEM Education and Why is it Important?
For students pursuing higher education, some of the most in-demand majors are the STEM majors. An abbreviation for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, these majors are critical to the growth, research, and improvement not only of individual careers, but are at the center of the most critical industries in the world.
The STEM education definition is to bring together these majors as they are unified for better success in understanding problem-solving and have the knowledge to have a better understanding of technological literacy, innovation, and gainful employment for the future. Students who have consistent access to this adequate education.
STEM Education in the U.S.
As the need for these programs continues to grow, so is the presence of STEM education in the U.S. Beginning in the K-12 public and private education classrooms, STEM programs are being introduced to students at an earlier age than before so that when they pursue higher education, they are on the right path for the available STEM programs that are available at that time.
Pros and Cons of STEM Education
STEM education in the U.S. is essentially thought to be productive and a positive educational area for upcoming students and current students who are sitting in classrooms and interacting on digital platforms. Like any field, however, there are Pros and Cons of STEM education that should be made aware to those students in these major. The Pros of STEM programs include:
- Advocate for women and gender equality
- Encourages job stability for students in the future
- Innovative skill set
- Problem-solving skills
- Workforce and higher education preparation
Once these students have pursued a degree or program that meets the STEM education definition, they are dedicated themselves to a work environment that promotes equal opportunity and the strongest of skills, while guaranteeing a career path for their future.
Unfortunately, there are a few cons to be made aware of when reviewing the STEM education definition:
- STEM programs and careers are not as easily outlined as other careers
- Students who are not performing as well as their peers early on may find themselves left behind in this field due to the early start
- The additional pressure placed on gifted students to excel at their highest ability
- Lack of attention and emphasis on proper communication skills
These students do not have a listed set of set-in-stone skills that are required to pursue these careers and many of these students display different qualities and strengths as opposed to their peers. Since most students are being introduced to the STEM field of study at a much younger age, those who do not perform early in their childhood are falling behind in this industry and having to fight much harder to keep up.
Those who have been excelling and are considering the available higher education programs available to them are required to maintain their academic excellence at a level that is not matched by their peers in other disciplines. Finally, building skills that are often embraced in humanity areas and business such as communication are not as heavily enforced in STEM programs, preventing proper communication of these students once they enter the workforce.
School/Program Accreditation for STEM
The leading STEM programs in colleges and universities across the nations are equipped with ABET accreditation. This accreditation focuses on the curriculum and standards provided by the following programs in these institutions and determines that the programs offered to students in these institutions are above standard.
- Computer Sciences/Technology
ABET-accredited schools can be found across the nation, and they offer programs that fit a variety of formats, including the online options that are growing by popular demand for working professionals in these fields. With over 80 years of reviewing and accrediting programs that fall into these study fields, there is a respect for this particular accreditation. They also review programs that are at the Associate, Bachelor, and Master level programs in these various disciplines.
Students who graduate from a program that has gained this certification is ready to take on a position in their selected STEM field and can pursue their career within the U.S. or on a global level. Employers look for graduates who have left a program with this accreditation because they know the curriculum for the field was leading and is an example of the global standard that is trusted and expected with an ABET accreditation.
Based upon the most recent certifications, ABET has accredited over 4,000 programs at the numerous ABET Accredited Schools across the nation and the globe. Students are able to search these ABET Accredited Schools by discipline and program level to determine which STEM program options are available to them and their career goals. Some of the programs available are ABET-accredited online schools where students receive the same instruction digitally as they do in the classroom at these STEM accredited universities in USA. With many of these students embracing technology at a young age and becoming proficient, ABET Accredited Schools have found significant benefit in choosing the online format for their programs, as it allows these students to have more of a direct focus on their learning outcomes, which benefit them in their careers.
Types of STEM Degrees
Science and technology depends on technicians, from laboratory assistants to nuclear technicians, so the associate’s degree (AA/AS) is an entry into a lot of middle-class careers. Associate’s degrees are usually attained through community college, and many offer specialized certifications for specific jobs (such as graphic design, nuclear technician, or computer support).
(Check out: What is the Benefit of Going to a Community College? )
The bachelor of science degree (BS) is usually the standard for higher-paying professional STEM jobs, and must be earned at the college or university level rather than community college. STEM bachelor’s are usually 4 year programs, though some may be 5 years, and many universities offer programs such as a 5-year master’s degree in which students work simultaneously toward the BS and MS. The bachelor degree is where STEM students further specialize, in preparation for further graduate study or professional careers.
With more people graduating from undergraduate programs than ever before, the master’s degree (MS) is becoming a standard for higher-status leadership positions. If you want to manage others, not just follow orders, the master’s degree is the way to distinguish yourself on the job market. It is also preferred, though not required, for most public and private secondary teachers. Most master’s degrees take 2-3 years to complete full-time, though online programs may pack the work into only a year or 18 months.
The Doctor of Philosophy degree (PhD) is not just for philosophers; it is the highest academic degree in most disciplines, and is usually reserved for those who want to become university professors or researchers. The PhD is research-intensive and can take many years to complete, requiring a high degree of academic discipline and motivation.
There are several types of STEM degrees that vary in program level and also in the discipline.These specific majors list over 100 different programs. However, the most common that are highest in demand are found in the following STEM majors list:
- Animal Sciences and Biology
- Computer Science and Programming
- Environmental Science
- Information Technology
- Life Sciences
- Natural Sciences
Majors such as engineering can be broken down into the different industrial forms of engineering such as electrical engineering, civil engineering, and environmental engineering just to name a few. The best STEM colleges will offer a version of all of these programs, as they are the most sought after by students and also in-demand in industries across the globe. In order to qualify as one of the best STEM schools, these programs must also have the ABET accreditation that ensures the program is what the student needs to be successful in their approaching career.
The best STEM majors found in the STEM majors list include the natural sciences, engineering, computer science, and mathematics. These majors are guaranteed to offer a general set of skills that students will need at the Bachelor and Master levels in order to be successful in their studies and then later in the workforce. Nursing is also another STEM major that is gaining national attention as the need for nurses in this field continues to grow in most states. Students are also taking a degree like nursing and cultivating it into another career such as a nurse practitioner.
The best STEM schools are designed with innovation at the center and the future in mind. Their curriculums are as diverse as their majors, with skills and disciplines intertwined to give students and later employees the ability to realistically perform in their discipline. Industries are no longer separated under a globalized economy, and gaining skills in a single discipline is no longer enough to meet the demands of future innovation. Some of the most lucrative college majors are derived from STEM programs.
The best STEM colleges according to Forbes extends to universities across the nation. However, the majority of the highest-ranked ones are located in the Northeast region. In order to be recognized as one of the best STEM schools is to include a STEM-focused curriculum that includes the basics of STEM learning objectives. Of the top 25 STEM colleges, the leading institution was Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). These institutions were chosen also because of their graduate success and the employment rate that students are in STEM careers and generating successful positions.
How Do We Define the Best STEM Majors?
Some of the best STEM majors are the unique and specific degrees available in STEM higher education everywhere. An example of these programs includes quality control and safety technologies, soil microbiology, systems science and theory, and nuclear engineering technology just to name a few. These programs are specific enough that they make a student marketable to a specific field, but students are also taught and master foundational math and science concepts that are essential in all fields.
The best science majors in STEM include Molecular Physics, Biology, Animal Sciences, and Biochemistry. These majors include a variety of math and science concepts to be mastered in order to graduate with a program in these fields. Most of the technological degrees found focus around computer science, information technology, and other computer essentials such as programming and system building off of the STEM majors list.
The best science bachelor degrees and the best science masters degrees will provide students with a foundation in science, but include elements of technology, engineering, and mathematics so that students can complete problem-solving and solutions, make sound decisions, and utilize the concepts they have mastered today to enhance the life quality of tomorrow.
Which Degree Should I Pursue?
When students are looking into pursuing a STEM major, one of the biggest questions to consider is the degree level. For those who plan to advance their career as far as the Master’s level at some point, they should pursue a minimum of a Bachelor degree in science or one of the other STEM majors that fit their career goals.
If the student has already pursued and received a Bachelor degree and still desire to further their education for their career purposes, they should consider pursuing a Master degree as opposed to a second Bachelor program. Students can choose a Master degree in a similar but different field as an attempt to market themselves more broadly in their industry and gain the necessary knowledge to move their careers into the next direction.
Online vs. Residential Programs
The relative advantages and disadvantages of online or residential STEM degree programs depend in part on the field, and in part on the level of education. In areas such as computer science or mathematics an online degree may be just as effective as, and even preferable to, a residential program, as these are more cerebral fields that do not require as much in-person interaction; in others, such as biology or engineering, hands-on experimentation and laboratory practice are essential, and may be less effective in a virtual or simulation setting.
The level of education makes a difference, too. Some STEM undergraduate degrees are barely offered online, as the basic foundations are better taught live, while the graduate level can be taught effectively online (engineering, for example, is rarely taught online at the undergraduate level, but online graduate degrees are common). Many students find online to be more effective at the graduate level, especially those who are already working in their field and have hands-on experience on a day-to-day basis. For these students, the flexibility and convenience of an online program is most helpful.
(Check out: Are Online Degrees a Good Investment? )
When making the choice between online and residential programs, ultimately a student needs to be self-aware and realistic about their personal strengths and weaknesses. For students who are more self-motivated and comfortable with technology, or who know their field and merely need credentialing, online may be better; for those who need the guidance and support of other students and faculty, or who are still learning the basics, a traditional residential program may be the best bet.
Many of the programs found on the STEM majors list are available both on-campus and also online. As professionals in the STEM industries continue to diversify their methods and skills, they are also diversifying their student body by offering online program options. Students that are working adults are able to take advantage of these programs. These students bring experience to the STEM field in addition to their education and are essential in building and innovating in many of these industries.
Also, students who are not able to make the trek to an on-campus classroom may not have been able to pursue their STEM education. Not only is this a loss for the student, but also for the STEM field in general, as they are missing out on unique and essential employees in the field. Because of this, many STEM industries encourage and promote online degree programs. With an online degree program, students are required to utilize technology daily for coursework and course interaction, requiring technical skills that are essential in STEM careers.
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Financing Your STEM Education
One of the first questions that come to mind when you decide to get a college or graduate degree is “How am I going to pay for school?” The first step is the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The FAFSA will let you know what kind of help you qualify for, and from whom.
(Check out: Common Errors When Filling Out FAFSA )
Most students look at student loans as the first source of money, unless they have some deep pockets. Federal Stafford loans are usually low-interest, subsidized by the government, and administrated by the government or a sanctioned third party; federal Perkins loans are rare, but they are capped at 5% and are administered through the college or university; private loans come through private banks and are riskier since they can have higher or variable interest rates and may be harder to pay off.
There are other sources of income, including private and public scholarships (which are usually merit- or need-based), federal grants (which do not have to be repaid like loans), and the Federal Work-Study program , in which students work part-time jobs for their institution in return for tuition assistance. Working adults may be able to get help through their employer if their company has a tuition reimbursement plan . Plans vary widely from company to company, but many will pay part or all of an employee’s tuition for a higher credential (if it’s in the same field, of course).
(Check out: Top 50 College Scholarships )
What Are STEM Careers for Today and Tomorrow?
STEM is huge when it comes to careers. It encompasses quite a few domains including architecture; life, physical and social sciences; engineering; mathematics; and information technology. And of course, not everyone in STEM is a laboratory scientist or theoretical mathematician, like we see in the movies. There are many different kinds of career paths to take within STEM:
- Research, Development & Design
- Teaching/Education (at Postsecondary level)
Those in STEM-related Management usually fare the best as far as wages go, bringing in well over six figures annually (BLS statistics report $133K). Technicians are on the low end averaging $56k; however, keep in mind that a particular career path only requires an associate’s degree , so the initial investment in time and money is much lower.
(Check out: University, Community College, or Trade School: Which Makes the Most Economic Sense? )
When students are moving into choosing STEM higher education programs, they look to determine the different career options that come as a result of the program they are choosing. As STEM industries continue to fuel economies at the state, federal, and global level, the career demand for these positions will continue to rise at a significant rate. Each year the demand for students with degrees in one of the STEM fields is growing at a similar rate to match the need. For prospective students and those who are looking for a career that will continue to be relevant in the future, STEM positions offer job stability, as they are essential currently and to the future of the STEM industries.
STEM Job List
Below is a list of STEM jobs that are currently in high demand and offer job stability that is desired by college graduates who are looking for a return on their investment regarding their education.
- Applications Software Developers
- Civil Engineers
- Computer Programmers
- Environmental Engineers
- Environmental Scientists
- Industrial Engineers
- Medical Scientists
These are by no means the only STEM careers available, but they are in demand and are some of the best careers for the next ten years. Students who are unsure of what their discipline or major should be can take a look at this diverse but essential list and determine a field that fits their interests. The best bachelor’s degrees for students in these careers should center on the industry that they are entering, such as science, engineering, mathematics, or technology.
The best careers in science are biologists, environmentalists, and scientists of a specific discipline. These careers are desired by numerous public agencies as well as private research companies that are striving to get ahead of their competition and make positive strides in the livelihood of others.
STEM Careers for Women
Women are also growing and becoming more widespread in the STEM fields. It is essential to have women present in all of these fields in order for these companies and agencies to have a well-rounded staff and obtain a perspective that has been limited in the past. As women continue to move past obstacles in other industries and become empowered in their careers, women are now making an appearance in STEM fields. Women have been slowly entering the STEM fields by pursuing the nursing field, and in the last decade advancing their nursing degree to a higher level of a nurse practitioner in an attempt to advance their career to its highest potential. Because of this breakthrough, women are taking advantage of other STEM industries and moving into these fields as scientists, engineers, and IT specialists in companies and agencies across the nation.
In the past, women were faced with a gender bias that they were not able to pursue these careers, as society had placed women in a box and limited their career options. Women were also blocked from moving forward with their education if they did desire a career in STEM, as many of the department chairs in colleges and institutions continued to stunt their abilities. However, this trend has taken a positive turn, and research suggests that women seeking a STEM career have been a benefit to the industry.
Because of the increased employee retention and the ability of women to match their male peers in the industry, STEM leaders and employers are seeking out women interested in the field to fill some of the current job positions. They have been promoting these careers for women by promoting these careers as early as middle and high school. Many of these agencies and companies also do community outreach at orientations to encourage students to pursue STEM careers for women by promoting the best careers in science.
Moving Forward With A Plan
When deciding which career is the right path for a student, taking a few minutes to complete a job search, STEM jobs near me, students will gain a wide perspective of the different fields and positions offered within their area. They are then able to narrow down the list to the fields that fit their personal interests, and then determine which program fits their needs. Students who may be torn between a few different choices can review the salary potential for these programs and assist with making a decision.
Salary Potential in STEM-Related Careers
STEM careers are not only dominating in higher education, but they are also thriving and leading in the salary pool. Because these careers are in the highest of demands among other industries, they are willing to pay their employees a fair wage to get them interested and then retain them in the field.
Depending on the level of education that a student pursues in the STEM, they can expect to receive a salary that compensates them for that level. Even when students return to school to advance their education, they are met with salary raises in these fields.
Popular Highest-Paying STEM Jobs:
- Petroleum Engineer $145,000
- Aerospace Engineer $98,000
- Chemical Engineer $96,000
- Structural Engineer $80,000
- Civil Engineer $78,000
- Research Scientist $78,000
- Statistician $71,888
- IT Specialist (Entry Level) $55,000
One of the highest paying STEM jobs is engineer. With over twenty different types of engineers, the engineering salary is one that ranges significantly. According to Payscale, the highest-paid engineer in the Petroleum engineer, with a salary of approximately $145,000. The Aerospace Engineer and Chemical Engineer follow with salaries between $96,000 – $98,000 averages. Some of the more common engineers such as civil engineers and structural engineers have salaries that range from $78,000 to $80,000 annually.
Before deciding to become an engineer, it is a positive idea to determine which industry a student would like. However, engineering is a degree that can be complex, but it also includes foundational concepts that allow engineers to shift their careers to different industries if they choose to do so.
Although the engineering salary is one of the more dominant salaries when it comes to the highest-paying STEM jobs, a math major jobs salary ranges around $71,888 as a statistician, which is the most popular career following a degree in mathematics.
For graduates who are entering the STEM field as entry-level research scientists, they can expect an average salary of $78,000 across the nation. While some are starting at a little less than that, with annual bonuses and raises, this salary is attainable shortly after beginning their career. For students who are pursuing a degree in the information technology field, they can expect an average annual salary of $55,790. These jobs are required in all agencies and companies, as well as being required in every county and state.
While salary is not the only reason to pursue a career in the STEM field, it makes the required education and challenges in the work area an incentive to be a part of tomorrow’s leaders. A potential salary is an estimation of what to expect in that career field and an insight as to where this career can take a student in ten years or more.
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