Choosing what to study in university is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make! It is especially stressful if you are not entirely sure what you want to do.
STEM as an area covers a wide range of academic subjects, with exciting prospects and opportunities for graduates that have an affinity for the scientific, the analytical and the technical. Want to find out if there’s a good fit for you? Read our guide:
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. All of these disciplines share many common attributes, and it is just a comfortable abbreviation to refer to them. If you like problem solving, critical thinking, learning and exploring, you’re almost guaranteed to find a STEM subject that suits your interests:
Aside from “STEM”, you sometimes find similar, but slightly altered acronyms with different meanings:
STEAM and STREAM usually refer to the way schoolchildren are taught - to promote a holistic view of school education. For you as a prospective university student, STEM is the relevant term!
There are many great reasons why you should pursue a university degree in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics. Here are the top ones - let them convince you:
Science and Technology are ever-evolving fields, so you will always be learning about or discovering something new. With a degree in STEM, you will be at the crest of the wave. Whether you want to become a researcher, or a professional in the industry, you can spend your life pursuing new ideas and new developments, so you will never have a boring day! If you enjoy the thrill of the chase, that Eureka moment, then a STEM subject is the right choice for you.
Science, Technology and Engineering are relevant to nearly every industry you can imagine. That means that with a STEM degree, you will have a wide range of career options. The world will always need such professionals; and as technology and knowledge become more and more advanced, this need will only increase guaranteeing you a high level of job safety.
STEM fields require a lot of training, and professionals often carry a lot of responsibility. Because of this, many STEM jobs are very well paid, especially once you have a Master’s degree. Like in all career paths, the more experience and knowledge you have, the more valuable you will be. Salaries can vary greatly across industries and roles, so it is worth exploring what your dream job is paid before you choose to pursue it.
STEM professionals do incredibly important jobs. It is up to STEM to solve the greatest problems that we face – from the development of green, sustainable energy; to solving climate change, curing diseases, and ensuring the future of the natural world. If you want to change the world, getting a degree in a STEM subject is a great way to start.
Many of the skills you will learn during your STEM degree are highly transferable. Knowing how to properly research, how to design and run experiments and projects, how to handle data and programme code – a STEM degree gives you a wide range of transferable skills.
STEM careers will take you all over the world - every country in the world needs STEM professionals. Your work or research can take you to some of the most remote and interesting places!
No matter what your area of interest, there is a STEM field to suit you. You will often find that your area of interest overlaps with several other areas, leading you down new and unexpected paths.
Choosing the right university is never an easy decision. Luckily, with STEM degrees, there are some ways you can make it easier – or at least ways to narrow down your choices:
Find some courses you are interested in and see what classes or modules are included in the curriculum. Check what is covered in each year of the programme! Some courses are more practical, and some are more classroom-based. Some include work placements.
Many universities have government or private industry connections through the research and work that they do. These connections can be very useful when it comes to your first job or work placements. For example, if you want to study astronomy, does the university have connections with a good observatory? Or if you are interested in Automotive Engineering, how close are they to car (parts) manufacturers?
If you think a career in academia is for you, take a look at the postdoc pages of the university website. They will list all their staff and what they are researching. What are the lecturers researching? Are these topics that you are also interested in?
Clubs and societies are an integral part of university life. Take a look at what extracurricular activities you can enjoy at the university. It is not only a great way to meet people, to indulge in your interests, but it is also a great way to learn skills that could be relevant to your dream career. For example, do you want to be a marine biologist? Then joining the diving club would be a great idea.
Many rankings don’t do the actual teaching quality justice and it should not be the only factor to look at. Also, generic rankings rarely say much about specific subjects. But subject-focused rankings can be an indicator whether a university is a good choice for you.
The great thing about STEM is that there are so many options to choose from, you are guaranteed to find a subject and study programme you will love. STEM covers science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and within each of those four categories there are copious options. Below are just a rough overview of the many things you can pick from:
Science is the intellectual and practical study of how the natural world works, through research and experimentation. Science is broken down into a wide variety of different topics. Each of which can be studied independently or in combination with other areas. Such topics include:
Studying technology involves taking scientific knowledge and finding practical uses for it. Where science is about understanding the natural world, technology is about actively addressing issues and challenges. For example, biologists want to look at bacteria, so technology builds them a microscope. Technology is for those who like to work practically, those who like to get their hands dirty and solve problems.
Closely related to technology, engineering is the study of science and mathematics with the goal of building structures and machinery. Engineers literally build the world around us – designing, testing and building infrastructure like buildings, bridges and roads. Like technology, engineering is a problem-solving field. If you like mathematics, problem-solving and thinking big then engineering might just be for you!
The main types of engineering are:
Mathematics is the abstract and practical study of numbers. Mathematicians strive to explain how everything in the universe works using numbers and equations; and no scientific or technical discipline could work without a mathematical foundation. If you love reason, abstract thinking, analyzing problems, being creative, and finding solutions to big questions, then mathematics might be for you.
University rankings can be a helpful pointer when deciding where to study. Just keep in mind that no ranking is perfect, and there are so many things about your university studies that they can’t possibly consider. If you want to look for top-ranked STEM universities, you should not necessarily look at the “general” rankings but rather subject-specific ones.
A good place to look is the annual “Global Ranking of Academic Subjects” by the widely referred-to Shanghai Ranking. Below is a selection of European universities that were ranked in the global top 300 for some popular STEM fields in the most recent edition:
Everyone is welcome in the world of STEM. Real scientists, engineers or “geeks” don’t mind where you are from, what your beliefs are or your lifestyle choices – all that matters is your mind. For a long time, STEM fields were considered to be male domains – but no more! Every year, more and more women are joining the ranks of STEM professionals. While certain fields are a little more behind than others, STEM is an equal opportunity industry.
STEM professionals stand on their own two feet. It is your intelligence and abilities within your field that will move you forward. Many universities promote initiatives to encourage greater diversity in STEM, and you will find lots of support and encouragement for whichever field of studies you choose.
You might be interested in a STEM field but are, at the same time, thinking about transitioning into a management role later in your career. If you’re wondering whether a technical or a Business degree would be the better choice today, consider that some industries require you to have a STEM background in order to become a manager or department head. It is very common for middle and top managers at large chemical, technology or engineering companies to have degrees in STEM fields: To make smart, successful operational and business decisions, you need detailed knowledge of the underlying processes.
A degree in STEM will also teach you many transferable skills that are also helpful in a business context – for example people skills, communication skills, project management, and budgeting.
If you feel torn between the two “worlds”, look for a course that combines the technical with the management aspects. But also, don’t worry that you would be locked into a specific role forever: If the opportunity to evolve into a management role does not present itself naturally during your career it is always possible to go back to university or business school to get a Business MSc or an MBA degree. Many MBA programmes are specifically designed for people with science or engineering backgrounds!19198 Programmes in Europe