STEM Careers

Interested in learning more about careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)? Click for information about opportunities for education.

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by Christina Payne

Updated October 20, 2022

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Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs open the door to many different careers, including opportunities in engineering, science, and research. STEM professionals can explore diverse fields like aeronautics and biochemistry. Some STEM students also apply their technical knowledge in law, politics, and education.

Read on to learn more about STEM careers and potential educational pathways.

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Featured Programs for STEM

What Are Some Educational Paths in STEM?

There are dozens of STEM disciplines and professional fields recruiting students with strong math and science skills. The following section covers some of the most common STEM programs. Most of these fields offer opportunities for greater specialization, particularly for students in graduate programs.

What Jobs Are in the STEM field?

Each STEM field offers many different specializations. For example, students interested in science can pursue programs in biology and chemistry, while aspiring engineers can explore fields like electrical engineering and mechanical engineering.

Each specialization offers unique challenges and areas of expertise, which can help students determine their career path. Students interested in theoretical physics, for example, may be better served focusing on mathematics rather than engineering.

Read on to learn more about several STEM fields.

Aeronautics

Aeronautics professionals can work in aviation, aerospace, and astronautics as engineers or technicians. Professionals can explore aircraft design and piloting, and many conduct their own research. Entry-level careers in this field typically require a bachelor's degree.

Explore Aeronautics Careers

Biology

Biologists study living organisms like plants and animals, focusing on aspects of anatomy, physiology, and morphology. Many biologists work for pharmaceutical companies, researching and creating new drugs. Most biology professionals need a bachelor's or master's degree.

Explore Biology Careers

Biotechnology

Biotechnology explores biological processes to address industry demands. For example, biotechnologists may create antibiotics or hormones. Many professionals in this field become research scientists or work in the pharmaceutical industry. Biotechnologists need at least a bachelor's degree.

Explore Biotechnology Careers

Chemistry

Chemists explore the properties of matter and how matter interacts with different substances. These professionals can find work as chemical engineers, pharmacologists, forensic scientists, or hazardous waste chemists. Most professionals in this field need a bachelor's or master's degree.

Explore Chemistry Careers

Civil Engineering

Civil engineering deals with built environments, such as roads and bridges. These professionals typically need a bachelor's degree for entry-level positions. Students can pursue careers as structural engineers, design engineers, engineering managers, or geotechnical engineers.

Explore Civil Engineering Careers

Computer Science

The discipline of computer science studies computers and their systems. Professionals in this field pursue careers as data scientists, web developers, systems analysts, and network architects. Computer scientists typically need a bachelor's or master's degree.

Explore Computer Science Careers

Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineering explores technical concepts like circuitry and power manipulation. Most professionals need at least a bachelor's degree for an entry-level career. Electrical engineering graduates can pursue careers as electricians or computer hardware engineers.

Explore Electrical Engineering Careers

Environmental Science

Environmental science blends biology, chemistry, and meteorology to study the environment and how humans interact with it. Professionals typically need a bachelor's degree and can pursue careers as environmental engineers or environmental scientists.

Explore Environmental Science Careers

Industrial Engineering

Industrial engineering studies complex processes, systems, and organizations. Professionals in this field can pursue careers as health and safety engineers or logisticians. Most professionals need at least a bachelor's degree for entry-level positions.

Explore Industrial Engineering Careers

Information Systems

Information systems professionals store, collect, and distribute information. Most professionals in this field need at least a bachelor's degree. They can find work as database administrators, information systems managers, or IT consultants.

Math

Some math professionals, such as professors, only deal with high-level theories. Others use mathematics more practically, pursuing financial analyst or economist roles. Most professionals need a bachelor's or master's degree.

Explore Math Careers

Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineering studies objects and systems in motion. Professionals in this field can work as mechanics, maintenance engineers, or technicians. Most professionals need at least a bachelor's degree for entry-level positions.

Explore Mechanical Engineering Careers

STEM Career Outlook

The outlook for careers with a STEM degree differs depending on each worker's education and location. Readers should always research specific careers to learn more about their job outlook and potential salary.

For example, life, physical, and social sciences professionals can expect to earn median annual salaries that range from $41,970 for agricultural and food science technicians to $128,950 for physicists and astronomers. Additionally, median annual salaries for computer and information technology professions range from $55,510 for computer support specialists to $126,830 for computer and information research scientists.

Meanwhile, median annual salaries for architecture and engineering professionals range from $46,200 for surveying and mapping technicians to $137,330 for petroleum engineers.

Note that lower-paying jobs tend to only require an associate degree, whereas more lucrative opportunities often require a graduate degree.

How Do I Start A Career in STEM?

Careers in STEM demand different levels of education depending on the specific job. For example, aerospace engineering and operations technicians usually only need an associate degree. Meanwhile, many careers in medical science require a doctorate.

The vast majority of STEM careers require some kind of postsecondary degree. Readers interested in pursuing a career in STEM should strongly consider applying to a college with a STEM program in their target field.

While advanced degrees cost time and money, they also give students the training and knowledge they need to find jobs in the workforce. A college degree opens the door to many entry-level positions, and it can also lead to promotions.

Education

The following sections detail the different degree options available for STEM students, from an associate degree to a doctoral degree. Each degree level offers a different path for students interested in careers in STEM.

Associate Degrees

Most colleges offer associate programs in person, online, or through a hybrid delivery method. A typical associate degree requires about 60 credits. Full-time students can complete their degrees in two years.

An associate program teaches the fundamentals of STEM, including introductory topics in mathematics and science. Some examples of associate-level STEM courses include the following:

Graduates with an associate degree can often transfer into a four-year program if they wish to continue their studies. Many colleges accept all credits earned in an accredited associate program; these can be applied toward a bachelor's degree, significantly shortening the program's length.

Associate programs may also prepare graduates for assistant or technician positions within engineering or architectural firms and manufacturing companies, including the following:

Bachelor's Degrees

A bachelor's degree usually requires about 120 credits. Colleges offer in-person and online program options that full-time students can complete in about four years. Students who transfer into a bachelor's program with a completed associate degree can often complete their degrees in about two years.

Bachelor's programs offer a higher level of specialization than associate tracks, allowing students to pursue majors and minors in a specific STEM field. Bachelor's programs typically require both breadth and depth courses, providing a well-rounded education. Sample courses that students may encounter while earning a STEM bachelor's degree include the following:

Most graduate programs in STEM require a bachelor's degree for admission. Students who want to eventually earn a master's, doctorate, or medical degree should first earn a bachelor's degree.

Bachelor's degrees prepare graduates for entry-level positions in engineering firms, pharmaceutical companies, and research facilities. Some common careers in STEM include the following:

Master's Degrees

Master's degrees typically take about two years to complete. Most programs require 30-60 credits, depending on the major. Applicants almost always need a bachelor's degree in the same subject or a closely related field to apply, although some schools may offer five-year programs where students earn both a bachelor's and a master's.

Master's programs move beyond fundamental courses, covering more technical and advanced aspects of STEM subjects. Master's tracks may also offer highly specialized credentials, such as a master's in flight test engineering or a master's in hydrology and water management.

Some STEM master's programs cover these fields:

Earning a master's degree can prepare students to pursue a doctorate or other professional degree. Readers considering a doctoral degree should research whether their prospective programs require a master's degree from applicants.

Graduates can also pursue managerial positions and jobs that require advanced technical expertise, such as scientific research and lead engineering positions.

Below are a few examples of STEM careers that individuals may qualify for with a master's degree:

Doctoral Degrees

Doctoral degrees are the highest degree that students can pursue. These degrees usually require 4-6 years to complete and include approximately 90-120 credits.

Doctoral candidates must complete an extensive, original research project and write a dissertation. Most candidates work under the supervision of a faculty advisor while conducting their research. Students only graduate after they successfully defend their work to a panel of professors at the university.

Students enrolled in a doctoral program take advanced, highly specialized classes in their particular area of STEM, discussing issues at the highest intellectual level. Some examples of doctoral classes in a STEM field include the following:

These programs prepare students to work in the highest levels of research, academia, and management. Professionals with a doctorate also tend to qualify for lucrative positions.

Some potential careers in STEM that doctoral degree-holders can pursue include the following:

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Certifications and/or Licensure

Many STEM professionals need licensure and/or certification to perform their duties or advance their careers. Licensure typically comes from a federal, state, or local government agency. Most licenses require candidates to pass a test, and professionals must renew their licenses every few years.

Civil engineers may need to earn licensure depending on their state of residence. Similarly, health and safety engineers need licensure from their state board if they decide to pursue a professional engineering license, which prepares them for managerial roles.

Certification may also require a test and/or continuing education classes. However, certification typically comes from a professional organization. These organizations usually require professionals to renew their certification every few years. Chemists, for example, can earn certification through the American Institute of Chemists.

Continuing Education

Professionals seeking to change careers or move into a senior position in a current career should consider returning to college to earn another degree. Professionals with graduate degrees often make more than workers with only a bachelor's degree, and they may be more likely to qualify for managerial positions.

Many colleges also offer certificate programs as a continuing education option. Students can usually complete a certificate program in a year or less. These programs offer highly focused curricula in emerging technologies and help professionals stay up to date on current theories and trends.

Professionals can also take individual classes to earn continuing education units (CEUs). CEUs differ in length, ranging from a few hours to several weeks, depending on the intensity and subject matter of the course. Professionals can also find free online classes offered by colleges.

Next Steps to Pursing a STEM Career

STEM professionals should also consider joining a professional organization in their field. Many of these organizations welcome both students and professionals as members, and they often provide certification and continuing education opportunities.

Professional organizations host online resources, such as workshops and scholarly publications for STEM professionals. They also afford members the chance to network with their peers, help solve industry problems, and search job boards for new career opportunities.

Readers can explore professional organizations such as the Association for Women in Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Society for Engineering Education.

Frequently Asked Questions About STEM Careers

What are the best STEM careers?

There are many high-paying, in-demand STEM careers. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that industrial engineers will experience 14% job growth between 2020 and 2030. During that same period, the BLS projects 33% job growth for information security analysts.

How do I start a career in STEM?

Almost all STEM careers require a postsecondary degree. However, many well-paying technician positions, such as aerospace engineering and operations technicians, only require an associate degree. Readers can begin their career journey by researching potential STEM programs.

What are the highest-paying jobs in STEM?

The BLS reported a median annual salary of $137,330 for petroleum engineers in 2020. However, a worker's salary potential depends on their location, education, and experience.

Is a STEM degree worth it?

As many entry-level careers in STEM require a postsecondary education, readers should strongly consider earning a college degree. Prospective students should research STEM programs to find one that fits with their career goals. They should also seek out financial aid opportunities.

For more information about choosing the right college, follow this link.

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