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Best Bachelor's in STEM Degree Programs

Oct 20, 2021

What is a STEM Bachelor Degree?

Bachelor's degrees are typically 4-year programs that include general education courses and specialized core courses in a given subject. STEM bachelor degree programs refer to a wide range of 4-year degrees in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. These degree programs are usually more technical and may help prepare students for careers that are hands-on and/or research-based. Some of these STEM careers may work in laboratory settings, while others work in offices and businesses. An emphasis on STEM degree programs came with the growing use of technology and the need for professionals with technical and critical-thinking skills in these areas. As we will see below, the field has more recently grown to include other important subject areas. Explore details of STEM bachelor's degree programs here.

What's the Difference Between STEM, STEAM, and STREAM?

As schools and programs began to shift their emphasis to STEM curriculum, other critical subject areas were being left out or neglected. Arts supporters argued for the inclusion of the arts, which was the first area to sometimes be added back into the acronym. This became STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics). The arts refers to all types of arts, including technology-related arts, such as virtual reality and gaming. Most recently, supporters of literacy have worked to add in the 'R' into the acronym to create STREAM (science, technology, reading and writing, engineering, arts, and mathematics). The reading and writing portion focuses on the basics of literacy to help ensure that students can communicate. Below, we explore in greater detail what areas are included in these different acronyms.

STEM Degrees & Fields

STEM degrees include a wide range of fields. The science-related degrees include majors from both the natural and physical sciences, such as biology and geography. Careers in these areas are usually research-focused and may include laboratory and fieldwork. Technology-related degrees include various areas of computer science, information technology, and more. These careers are often interdisciplinary and found in an array of industries, as the use of technology increases. Engineering degrees include various kinds of engineering, such as mechanical, civil, and aerospace engineering. Some may overlap with areas of science and technology, such as biomedical engineering or computer engineering. Graduates in engineering can also work in a wide range of settings, based on their specialty. Finally, mathematics degrees include statistics and some business-related majors, such as finance. STEM degree programs are most commonly offered as Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees.

STEAM Degrees & Fields

Supporters of STEAM argue that the arts help promote innovation and creativity in STEAM. These degree programs still include the STEM programs, but also add the arts-related degrees. These arts programs usually include more liberal arts courses to give students a more well-rounded degree. They are most commonly offered as Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degrees. The arts can refer to the traditional fine arts, as well as visual communication. Careers in the arts portion of STEAM can include creative careers, such as artists and graphic designers, as well as careers that incorporate other aspects of STEM, such as architects who utilize art, math, and some engineering.

STREAM Degrees & Fields

The supporters of STREAM emphasize reading and writing, which is already incorporated into most STEM and STEAM degrees and careers. There are not usually too many degree programs that specifically focus on reading and writing, outside of English, writing, and education majors. The importance of being able to read and write well can be seen in many different types of careers across STEM and STEAM, as these positions need to communicate effectively. For example, science majors need to read research and procedures and communicate their findings. On the arts side, graphic designers need to be able to communicate ideas through visuals.

STEM Bachelor Program Options

Students interested in pursuing a STEM bachelor's degree have many different majors to choose from. These degree programs are more technical and typically include more science and math courses than a liberal arts degree. STEM degree programs often include laboratory classes to give students hands-on learning experience in their given field. Each section of STEM, such as science or engineering, includes multiple fields and majors that can help prepare students for a variety of careers across a range of industries. Often, colleges and universities provide diverse major options within each area of STEM, as well as minor options. Therefore, some students may even end up with a STEM major in one area and a STEM minor in another. Below, we examine some examples of possible STEM bachelor degree programs.

Science Bachelor Programs

The science part of STEM may be one of the largest areas as it incorporates a wide range of natural and physical sciences. Often, students think of some of the major scientific areas, such as biology, chemistry, and physics when they think of science-related STEM programs. However, there are also broader, yet lesser-known areas, such as bachelor's degrees in environmental science or bachelor's degrees in geoscience, as well as degree programs in very specific areas, such as bachelor's degrees in fire science. Some health-related majors also fall within the field of science. Many of these science degree programs include fieldwork and/or laboratory work to train students in the scientific method and lab procedures. Other examples of science bachelor programs include:

  • Exercise science
  • Animal science
  • Forensic science
  • Astronomical and planetary science
  • Biochemistry

Technology Bachelor Programs

With technology undergraduate programs, most people think of bachelor's degrees in computer science or bachelor's degrees in information technology. These are two of the primary areas within technology, but there are also a variety of more detailed and specific bachelor programs within these two areas. For example, students can pursue a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, data modeling, and more. Typically, these programs incorporate computers and technology to accomplish a given task. Students are often exposed to various kinds of software programs, computer languages, and hardware systems. These programs may include lab courses or other opportunities for students to work hands-on with different technologies. Other examples of technology bachelor's programs include:

  • Computer systems networking and telecommunications
  • Data processing
  • Computer programming
  • Computer graphics
  • Computer information systems

Engineering Bachelor Programs

Engineering bachelor's programs include several different areas of engineering. Some of these areas are more traditional areas of engineering, such as bachelor's degrees in civil engineering or bachelor's degrees in mechanical engineering, while other areas overlap with other STEM areas, such as bachelor's degrees in biomedical engineering.

Engineering degree programs utilize technology and math to help create tools and structures in various industries. Students in these programs usually complete various kinds of projects and likely have lab courses for hands-on learning and experience. Some engineering programs can help prepare students for specific or advanced jobs, such as a degree in engineering management. Some specific engineering-related programs help train students in certain technologies or processes, such as degrees in solar energy technology or water quality and wastewater treatment management and recycling technology. Other examples of engineering programs include:

  • Electrical engineering
  • Environmental engineering
  • Architectural engineering
  • Chemical engineering
  • Manufacturing engineering

Mathematics Bachelor Programs

Mathematics may be the smallest section of STEM, although all areas of STEM utilize various kinds of mathematics. Most commonly, students can pursue a bachelor's degree in mathematics or one in statistics. However, there are more mathematics-related degree programs available. Often, these degree programs overlap into other industries or areas and could be included in the science or technology sections of STEM. For example, students can pursue a bachelor's degree in data analytics, which is often housed within a business school, or they could earn a bachelor's degree in data science, which is more science-related. Either way, students in mathematics-related programs typically learn various ways of working with numbers and producing meaningful results and solutions from data and formulas. Students often receive training with mathematical and statistical software programs.

Why Should I Choose a Bachelor Degree in a STEM Field?

As mentioned, with the growing use of technology and complex issues arising in many different fields, students who are trained in STEM are often equipped to take on these challenges. STEM students have been trained in critical-thinking and technical skills needed to utilize new technologies to carefully analyze problems and develop solutions. Many students enter a STEM field based on their interests. Some students really enjoy working with their hands, experimenting, problem-solving, and troubleshooting. Students who love the outdoors and/or working in a laboratory or office can all find areas of STEM that incorporate these settings.

While it varies by specific position, STEM professionals are often in high demand, which can make finding a job easier. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for STEM occupations from 2019 to 2029 was 8%, while the job outlook for all non-STEM positions was 3.4%. Also, with the technical skills and knowledge that these programs provide, students can often move into positions that make more money. We will cover this in detail below.

How Common Are STEM Majors in Bachelor Programs?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of available STEM degrees has increased over time and STEM majors are now very common in bachelor's degree programs. As discussed above, there is no shortage of majors that could qualify for one or more areas of STEM. Many 4-year schools and universities have multiple departments in science, engineering, and even technology-related areas. While broader STEM majors, such as biology, computer science, and mathematics, are the most common and are found at most schools, more specific STEM programs may only be available at a few select schools. For instance, larger 4-year institutions known for their engineering programs may offer more choices within different areas of the field, such as nuclear engineering or agricultural engineering.

How Much Can I Earn With a Bachelor Degree in a STEM Field?

According to a study done by the Center on Education and the Workforce entitled Economic Value of College Majors, STEM and business degree programs were the highest-paying majors. Also, in 2020, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for all STEM occupations was $89,780. However, salaries can vary by a wide range of factors, including position, employer, location, education, experience, and skills. In general, STEM careers are more technical and require specialized skills and knowledge, which typically result in higher pay. Pay can also increase with further education and positions with more responsibilities, such as management positions within a field. According to PayScale.com, the median annual salary for graduates with a Bachelor of Science (BS/BSc), which many STEM degrees are, was $71,691, as of May 2021.

What Can I Do with a Bachelor Degree in a STEM Major?

There are many STEM jobs that are in high demand and students have no shortage of career options within STEM. Sometimes, a bachelor's degree in STEM may be the common education requirement for a career, while other times a bachelor's degree may only qualify students for entry-level positions. For instance, many research-based science careers require a master's or doctoral degree in the field to perform independent research, such as careers in physics. Graduates of STEM programs may also be able to work in a position for so many years and then move into more advanced positions of leadership and management. Typically, graduates of STEM pursue careers that are related to their major or are at least in a similar field. For example, a biology major may be able to pursue biology-related careers, as well as some other related natural science jobs.

Become an Environmental Scientist and Specialist

An example of available science careers includes environmental scientists and specialists. These professionals need at least a bachelor's degree in a natural science to help protect the environment and human health. Sometimes, these professionals have prior work experience as scientists or research assistants. Depending on the position, they could be required to obtain certification for handling hazardous waste or other certifications from groups such as the Ecology Society of America. Job duties for these scientists and specialists include developing research projects to investigate environmental threats, collect data, analyze their findings, and make suggestions to policymakers and other community leaders based on their findings. Their work is often presented in technical reports. Per the BLS, environmental scientists and specialists made a median annual salary of $73,230, as of 2020. Employment for environmental scientists and specialists is projected to expand by 8% between 2019 and 2029.

Become a Computer and Information Systems Manager

There are several different careers in information technology management, including computer and information systems managers. These managers usually need to have at least a bachelor's degree in an information science or computer science area. They also need to have some prior work experience in an information technology position. Job duties for these professionals vary by position, but in general, they are responsible for overseeing the computer-related activities of an organization. This requires them to understand its technology needs, install the necessary hardware and software, and help ensure that computer and network systems are secure. These managers also need to examine new technologies as they emerge and oversee the work of other information technology professionals. As of 2020, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for computer and information systems managers was $151,150. Jobs for computer and information systems managers are predicted to see a 10% increase between 2019 and 2029.

Become a Civil Engineer

An example of engineering careers is a career in civil engineering. Civil engineers have to hold at least a bachelor's degree and can advance their careers with further education and an engineering license. Licensing is not usually required for entry-level positions in the field, but many engineers earn their Professional Engineering (PE) license to take on leadership positions and/or work more independently. The license requires students to pass two different exams and gain at least 4 years of work experience with a licensed engineer. Civil engineers develop and construct various kinds of infrastructure projects, such as bridges, roads, and more. To design projects, they must examine maps, utilize design software, compare building materials, and calculate costs. Per the BLS, as of 2020, civil engineers made a median annual salary of $88,570. The BLS also projected a job outlook of 2% for civil engineers (2019-2029).

Become a Mathematician or Statistician

A couple of the most traditional STEM careers in mathematics include mathematicians and statisticians. Entry-level positions as mathematicians and statisticians, especially in the federal government, may only require a bachelor's degree, but typically, these professionals need a master's degree or higher. Advanced positions in leadership, such as a career as a biostatistics manager may also require some prior work experience. It is usually beneficial for mathematicians and statisticians to have some experience working with data analysis software or some prior computer programming coursework. These professionals examine data using different mathematical methods and models to help solve complex issues in a range of industries, including healthcare and business. They apply these mathematical theories and methods and may explore new theories and rules to figure out what best solves their particular problem. The median annual salary for mathematicians and statisticians, as of 2020, was $93,290, according to the BLS. while the job outlook is 33% (2019-2029).

What Other Types of Degrees Are Available for STEM Majors?

STEM degree programs are not limited to only the bachelor's degree level. There are other undergraduate programs, as well as graduate degree programs, available in various STEM fields. In general, undergraduate STEM programs help prepare students for entry-level careers in a given field, while graduate STEM programs help students advance their careers. Depending on the school and subject area, some of these programs are available in on-campus and/or online formats. Below, we examine some STEM majors by degree level.

Associate Degrees in STEM Fields

There are many different associate degrees in STEM available from community colleges, technical schools, colleges, and universities. Many associate degree programs are completed in 2 years and are designed as transfer degrees to help students continue their studies at a 4-year school. For instance, students interested in an associate degree in chemistry may go on to earn a BS in Chemical Technology or another related degree. Some examples of associate degree programs available in STEM include:

Master's Degrees in STEM Fields

Master's degree programs in STEM are plentiful and usually help students advance their careers and qualify them to work more independently. Many of these STEM programs are interdisciplinary and can cross various fields, such as master's degree programs in marketing analytics that combine math, technology, and business. Master's degree programs usually take about 2 years to complete and could require a thesis, depending on the program. At the master's level, students can even pursue degree programs in STEM education to learn how to pass skills in STEM on to the next generation.

Doctoral Degrees & PhDs in STEM Fields

Doctoral degree programs, including Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs, in STEM are the highest level of education one can achieve. These programs run the gamut from doctorates in health science to doctorates in cybersecurity. Most are heavily research-based and allow students to customize the curriculum to align with research and career goals. Many of these programs require students to complete a final dissertation. Due to the research focus of these degrees, many are only available on-campus, but there are some online doctorate degrees available, such as an online doctorate in computer science.

Certificates in STEM Fields

Certificate degree programs in STEM are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Some of these certificate programs are available in a general area, such as network security certificate programs, while others, usually at the undergraduate level, are designed for specific, immediate career outcomes, such as computer technician certificate programs or medical lab technician certificate programs. Certificate programs are usually shorter than degree programs and often allow students to finish in 1 year or less. Some of these programs are available in online formats.

How Much Does a Bachelor's Degree in a STEM Field Cost?

The cost of a bachelor's degree in STEM differs by several variables, including chosen school, type of student, and fees or additional costs. Each college and university typically has its own system for tuition rates. Most commonly, tuition is calculated per credit hour. Therefore, transfer students who have already earned a 2-year degree can usually finish their bachelor's in less time than a traditional student and are likely to pay less.

However, some schools charge different rates for in-state vs. out-of-state students or on-campus vs. online students. For instance, a school may charge $300 per credit for in-state students and $400 to $500 for their out-of-state counterparts. This can make a big difference over the four years it takes to earn a degree. At $300 per credit, you'd pay total tuition of $36,000 for a bachelors; at $400, you'd be looking at $48,000.

Many schools also charge a variety of fees, such as recreation fees, technology fees, or health services fees. Finally, students need to consider the cost of books, materials, and living expenses. Often, STEM programs will require lab courses and other hands-on learning experiences that may come with additional costs.

Scholarships & Financial Aid for Bachelor Programs in STEM

To help decrease the cost that students have to pay for a STEM bachelor's degree, the government and many schools and organizations provide different forms of financial aid. Every academic year, without fail, students should submit their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if they qualify for state and federal loans and grants. While loans have to be repaid with interest, grants and scholarships typically do not have to be repaid.

Scholarships and grants are widely available from schools, professional organizations, and other groups, including those involved in STEM areas. Some of these awards focus on a specific area of STEM or major, while others may focus on a specific population within STEM, usually minority groups. For example, the National Science Foundation (NSF) provides STEM scholarships that can award up to $10,000 a year to individuals, and there are also women in STEM scholarships available to help promote and support women in traditionally men-dominated fields.

One great place to search for STEM scholarships is CareerOneStop's scholarship finder, which is run by the U.S. Department of Labor.

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