What Nobody Told You About Being a STEM Major

If you're majoring in a STEM field, that means your degree program falls under the umbrella of science, technology, engineering or mathematics. While you can’t major in STEM itself, programs in this category include ones that emphasize research, innovation or the development of new technologies. These include majors in engineering, mathematics, computer science or the natural sciences, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS PDF Source).

Professionals working in STEM occupations statistically experience lower rates of unemployment and earn higher salaries than their non-STEM counterparts, according to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. Workers who majored in a STEM field typically earned higher salaries than those who did not: on average, $101,100 vs. $87,600, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey. About half of all STEM jobs filled in 2019 were in computer occupations, and another 29% were in engineering, the survey reports.

Earning a STEM degree doesn’t only boost your earnings potential and position you for success in a technical field; it offers you transferable skills that are attractive to hiring managers across all sectors. A U.S Census Bureau survey revealed that 62% of STEM majors in 2019 were employed in non-STEM fields such as business, the social sciences or communications.

What is a Good STEM Major?

STEM majors appeal to people with diverse interests and backgrounds—even if they don’t intend to enter a highly technical field. That’s because STEM courses often include experiential learning opportunities, labs and projects, according to Jonathan Kamyck, associate dean of cyber security programs at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). Kamyck said you can benefit from assignments that allow you to explore, reflect and apply your problem-solving skills to real-world projects.

For example, Kamyck’s students learn ethical hacking techniques to compete in a competition called the National Cyber League. Regardless of how they fare in the tournament, he said, students get to practice with authentic technologies, reflect on what they’ve learned and leave with resume-building experience.

It’s not surprising that one of the most popular STEM majors is a computer science degree. Due to big data and cloud computing growth, demand for workers with strong technology skills continues to grow. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in all computer and information technology jobs is expected to grow 13% through 2030—faster than average for all occupations. The median annual salary for professionals working in these occupations in 2020 was $91,250—more than double the median salary for all occupations.

Even if you aren’t interest in computer science, other STEM majors offer ample opportunities and competitive salaries for new graduates. For example, year after year, engineering jobs command the highest average starting salaries and the lowest unemployment rates, according to a Bankrate study. According to BLS, environmental engineers earned a median annual salary of $92,120 in 2020.

Where Can I Find a STEM Major List?

You might be surprised to learn what bachelor’s degree programs fall under the STEM umbrella. Listed below is a list of popular undergraduate degree programs that you might not have considered. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) offers a complete list of STEM-designated majors recognized by the Department of Education (DHS PDF Source).

Are STEM Majors Hard?

STEM majors can be challenging, but their rigor shouldn’t stop you from pursuing one. Expect to take a variety of foundational science, math and computer courses. In your program, you’ll be asked to apply critical thinking, data analysis and complex problem-solving skills to a variety of projects and experiments.

If you are juggling work, family or other commitments, you may decide to complete your STEM degree at a slower pace. Choosing a university that offers flexibility and recognizes the prior knowledge you’ve obtained on the job can make getting your degree easier. If you already hold IT certifications, you may be eligible to receive credits that you can apply toward your program.

SNHU allows you the option to carry over all 60 of your associate degree credits toward a bachelor’s degree, giving you a head start on your program. With more programs available online, you may still be able to work full-time while you pursue your STEM degree. Studying from home also might make it easier for you to dedicate the time you need to your classes.

You might also consider taking one step at a time when it comes to completing your STEM degree. Earning an associate degree in computer science, for example, can open up job opportunities right away and can take less than two years to complete. Web developers can often obtain employment with associate degrees, and command a median salary of more than $77,000 per year, according to BLS.

Many universities incorporate high-demand credentials into their coursework, further preparing you for entry into your field of choice. For example, computer science undergraduates at SNHU learn programs such as C++, Java Script and Python – programming languages that are used to develop software, applications and websites. When you graduate from the program, you should be able to show prospective employers a portfolio of your work, demonstrating your ability to apply your knowledge to real-world challenges.

Why Should I Pursue an Advanced STEM Degree?

If you already hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-STEM field, you may wish to earn a second bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree to improve your job prospects. Career changers and career advancers often leverage master's degrees to earn promotions or move from individual contributor roles to leadership roles, said Kamyck.

As part of your master's in cyber security program, for example, you can learn how to develop enterprise-wide security strategies on behalf of your organization, he said.

A master’s degree in a STEM field can also provide new insights into programs, research techniques and analyses that can help you create efficiencies and add business value to your current job. Regardless of your ultimate career goals, a graduate degree in a STEM field can set you apart from the competition.

What Jobs Can I Get with a STEM Major?

With a STEM degree, you’ll be prepared to enter a variety of exciting roles, depending on your major. Here are a few careers you might pursue with a bachelor’s degree, broken down by major.

Computer Science

What you can do with a computer science degree may include roles working alongside:

Cyber Security

Some types of cyber security roles may include:

Data Analytics

Some careers data analysts can pursue include working with:

Environmental Science

Education in environmental science could pair well with these roles:

Game Programming and Development

If video games interest you, a degree in game programming and development could help you work alongside:


Some geoscience job titles include:

Information Technologies

There are many types of IT careers, including:


With a math degree, you can consider careers, such as:

Do you know everything there is to becoming a STEM major? While you might not have decided which program is right for you, you can choose from many options that will allow you to explore the latest topics and apply your knowledge. No matter what STEM major you ultimately pick, the skills you’ll learn will prepare you to solve tomorrow's challenges.

Krysten Godfrey Maddocks '11 is a writer and marketing/communication professional. Connect with her on LinkedIn.