Science, technology, engineering, and math graduates are not only in high demand, with increasing job prospects by the end of the decade, but also feature higher pay than average jobs. What steps can you take to earn a STEM education, decide on the right major and job field?
Practical reasons to choose STEM
Let’s start with a few practical reasons – aside from an interest in science, a love of tinkering with gadgets, an affinity for drawing up blueprints, or math skills – why you should want to choose a STEM field for your career.
STEM graduates are in demand, with only 16 percent of American high school seniors proficient in math and interested in a STEM career. Projected job growth in these fields, however, ranges from 16 percent to an incredible 62 percent by 2020. The average expected growth in occupations across the board, for comparison, is about 14 percent. In other words, if you are in high school and have a knack for one of the STEM fields, it is worth pursuing.
Earning potential for STEM-related jobs is also higher than the average career field. For example, architecture and engineering careers, within three years of graduating, earn a median salary of $50,000. On the technology and math front, computer, statistics, and mathematics majors earn about $43,000 per year. Non-STEM social science majors, meanwhile, make about $33,000 per year.
A non-entry-level software developer in May 2013, according to the STEM Coalition, had a median wage of $92,660. There will be a total of 218,500 job openings between 2012 and 2022, with projected employment in 2022 at nearly 753,000.
Why so many openings? Studies show that companies are turning to business intelligence when making decisions. This means analyzing data – with 30 percent of mid-sized businesses in 2014 reporting that business analytics were a top priority. On top of that, with more technology comes a need for coders. With the proliferation of affordable smartphones comes apps of all types, each needing someone to write code for the software.
Architectural and engineering managers had a median wage of more than $128,000, with 60,600 job openings between 2012 and 2022. About 207,000 people will be employed in those positions by then. Unlike some of the other positions, an engineering manager typically require about 5 years of experience.
Mathematicians slide into the middle of STEM careers with a median salary of $102,440, though with lower employment numbers – only 4,300 projected by 2022. Math-related positions, such as analysts, actuaries, or statisticians, typically require a Master’s degree.
Making the right university choice
How can you get a STEM degree? By choosing the right university. TIME reported in April of 2016 that where you obtain a degree from matters. Alverno College in Milwaukee reported annual salaries of $34,600, for their STEM graduates.
To contrast, graduates from private colleges like Bloomfield College in New Jersey were earning $69,300 after five years. But, graduation takes longer – only 32 percent of Bloomfield students earned a degree within six years.
A degree from a prestigious school does not mean earning a higher salary, however. Graduates from both Brigham Young and San Diego State universities, both noted for their academics, reported not receiving a significant pay boost.
There are certain colleges that provide better STEM educations. Here’s Forbes’ Forbes’ list of the 21 best STEM colleges from last year. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology tops the list, also taking the No. 5 spot in overall colleges. Standouts on the list include the US Naval Academy, Cornell, the US Air Force Academy, Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, California Polytechnic University San Luis Obispo, and the University of Portland.
Of course, in the end, the choice is ultimately yours. There are many ways to finally – including the use of social media to help decide.
Grants and scholarships
Many of the universities on the list are prestigious – with a price point to match. Thankfully, with a recent push for STEM education, paying for these colleges may not be as hard as you think.
Your first option is grants. There are grants specifically meant for STEM students – here’s a list of grants by state. Many universities, even those with higher tuition, also offer grants or scholarships to make tuition more palatable. This list provides links to national STEM-related scholarships and internship opportunities.
Once you have narrowed the list of potential colleges, consult each university’s financial aid advisors to explore your options.
Your STEM education may not end with a Bachelor’s. In some fields, such as math, obtaining a Master’s degree could not only be beneficial, but required for a job. Pathways for both Master’s and doctoral degrees can be found here.
Universities often offer incentives including more grants and scholarships, meant specifically for postgraduate degrees. If, instead, you take a career path straight out of an undergraduate degree, your employer may be willing to foot at least part of the bill for continuing education, in order to further improve employees’ skills.
With above-average job prospects and salaries in the next few years, STEM fields show excellent career opportunities.
There are grants and scholarships meant just for STEM students, to ease the burden of tuition. Employers or the university itself may help with postgraduate degrees. If you have any interest in science, technology, engineering, or math, now is the perfect time to position yourself for the growing job market.