STEM degrees fall under the science, technology, engineering, and math umbrella. These degrees are often hands-on, interactive, and interdisciplinary, involving a mix of research, analysis, critical thinking, and industry experience. STEM careers offer opportunities to work at the cutting-edge of science and technology, solving real-world problems and impacting the future.
This guide explores what STEM degrees involve, as well as the different concentrations and career paths open to students who earn them.
What do STEM Students Learn?
Students pursuing STEM degrees learn specialized technical and theoretical expertise and apply it in real-world contexts ranging from medicine and engineering to aerospace engineering and agricultural science. Course work typically includes participating in lab work and skill-building workshops, attending classes and lectures, and collaborative project work.
How Can I Use a STEM Degree?
Students who have earned a STEM degree have the opportunity to pursue a wide variety of career paths, interests, and passions. While traditional occupations include doctor, software developer, wildlife biologist, and mathematician, graduates with industry-focused degrees can also choose from more unusual occupations, such as pyrotechnic engineer, forensic scientist, or fragrance chemist.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests an excellent career outlook for graduates with STEM degrees, with employment in STEM fields projected to increase to 165,413 jobs by 2030 (an increase of almost 8%).1
Popular STEM Degrees
The STEM fields are extensive and growing every day, as science and technology push the boundaries of what is possible. In response, institutions are offering an ever-expanding range of STEM degree options. The following represent five of the most popular types of STEM degrees for students at all levels.
Engineering degrees teach students to use math and science to solve problems using materials, structures, processes, designs, and systems. These degrees can emphasize the application of theoretical knowledge to practical issues, requiring both technical and creative ability.
Students can expect coursework to include a significant mathematics component, as well as technical and professional skills workshops, experimental lab work, and classes and lectures on a variety of STEM topics, depending on the concentration. Students generally complete a capstone project demonstrating engineering problem-solving skills as a graduation requirement.
Computer Science Degrees
Computer science degrees vary in scope depending on the chosen concentration but can cover anything from computational systems and software engineering to cybersecurity and data science. They typically involve instruction in specific technical areas, as well as training in critical and creative problem solving and development principles.
Students often study via traditional lectures and classes, as well as by participating in field experiences like internships, industry projects, and service-learning placements. Typical graduation requirements include traditional examinations and Praxis tests or a capstone project.
Mathematics degrees can be theory- or industry-focused, depending on the interests and career goals of the student. Mathematics forms the foundation of most STEM work, so mathematics can be studied as an entry path to other disciplines, but it can also be studied as a pure science in its own right.
In mathematics degrees, students learn both applied and core mathematical concepts, with the option to explore more field-specific areas of mathematical knowledge, such as actuarial science or statistics. Students in these programs learn via a combination of classes and lectures and can expect to complete examinations and Praxis tests, theory and research papers, and practical skills-based projects.
Healthcare and Medicine Degrees
Degrees in healthcare and medicine can range from human medicine and nursing degrees to degrees in related areas of healthcare such as healthcare administration, healthcare information systems, occupational therapy, or dental care.
These programs vary, but students can expect a combination of theoretical and skills-based knowledge delivered via traditional classes and lectures, project and lab work, and independent study. Examinations and Praxis tests, theory and research papers, and practical skills-based projects are typical graduation requirements, and students will be expected to display competence in a wide variety of pure science and mathematics areas.
Life and Physical Sciences Degrees
Degrees in the life and physical sciences, including biology, chemistry, and physics, remain popular choices for students with interest in theory and research. At the associate or bachelor’s degree level especially, they are a good first step towards industry-specific advanced degrees and careers like bioengineering or pharmaceutical development.
Similar to degrees in mathematics and medicine, these programs vary, but students can expect to learn a combination of theory and applied skills delivered via traditional classes and lectures, project and lab work, and independent study. Graduation requirements typically include examinations and Praxis tests, theory and research papers, and practical skills-based projects, and students will be expected to demonstrate advanced mathematical competence as well.
STEM Degree Concentrations and Careers
Common concentrations for engineering degree students include aerospace, agriculture, architecture, biomechanics, civil engineering, computer engineering, and manufacturing. Some popular careers and expected annual salaries for students with these concentrations include:
- Aerospace Engineer: $118,610 per year2
- Agricultural Engineer: $84,410 per year3
- Electrical Engineer: $103,390 per year4
BLS data suggests employment growth in engineering fields will be average, at about 6%, between 2020 and 2030, with around 146,000 new jobs projected.5
Common concentrations for computer science degree students include artificial intelligence, networks, information security, data science, programming, software engineering, and game design. Some popular careers and expected annual salaries for students with these concentrations include6:
- Computer Network Architect: $116,780 per year
- Information Security Analyst: $103,590 per year
- Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers: $110,140 per year
Graduates should expect job growth in computer science occupations in the range of 13%, with around 667,600 new jobs expected between 2020 and 2030.6
Common concentrations for mathematics degree students include mathematics education, statistics, actuarial science, applied mathematics, mathematical computing, data science, and mathematical biology. Some popular careers and expected annual salaries for students with these concentrations include7:
- Actuaries: $111,030 per year
- Mathematicians: $93,290 per year
- Operations Research Analysts: $86,200 per year
The employment outlook for jobs in mathematics is expected to be much higher than average at 28%, with 67,200 new jobs expected between 2020 and 2030.7
Healthcare and Medicine
Students pursuing a medical degree can choose to concentrate on either osteopathic or allopathic medicine.8 Typical concentrations for nursing degree students include gerontology, midwifery, orthopedics, and psychiatric nursing. Other typical healthcare degrees include exercise and sport science, healthcare analytics, clinical laboratory science, dentistry, and pharmacy. Some popular careers and expected annual salaries in healthcare and medicine include:
- Physician/Surgeon: $208,000 per year9
- Athletic Trainer: $49,860 per year10
- Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse: $48,820 per year10
- Medical Sonographer: $70,380 per year10
- Occupational Therapist: $86,280 per year10
BLS data suggests that job growth for surgeons and physicians is expected to be around 3% between 2020 and 20309, while that for other healthcare occupations is predicted to be around 16%.10
Life and Physical Science
Life and physical science (biology, chemistry, and physics) degree concentrations include biochemistry, microbiology, environmental science, sustainable and renewable energy, economics, paleontology, biotechnology, and astrophysics. Some popular career options and their expected annual salaries include11:
- Meteorologist: $99,740 per year
- Microbiologist: $84,400 per year
- Nuclear Technician: $84,190 per year
- Conservation Scientist: $64,010 per year
The BLS predicts employment growth for occupations in the life and physical sciences to grow by about 8% between 2020 and 2030, with 113,800 new jobs predicted.11
How Long Does It Take to Earn a STEM Degree?
The length of time needed to complete a STEM degree varies according to both the program and the student’s form of enrollment. Some typical timeframes include:
- Certificate programs: ~1 Year
- Associate degree: ~2 Years
- Bachelor’s degree: ~4 Years
- Master’s degree: ~1 Year
- Doctoral degree: ~4 Years
Certificate programs can typically be completed in a year or less with full-time enrollment. Online bachelor’s and associate degrees generally take longer, with programs ranging from two years for an associate degree to four years for a bachelor’s degree with full-time enrollment. Data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics suggests that students typically take around 52 months to complete a bachelor’s degree.12
Naturally, any program will take longer if a student is enrolled only part-time. For students who want to complete their degree faster, accelerated programs and online programs can help speed things up by providing greater flexibility and concentrated program schedules.
For students desiring even greater levels of specialization, master’s and doctoral degrees add additional years of study. A master’s degree typically takes an additional year to complete, and most doctoral programs take three years or more. To practice medicine, a student should expect to also add four years of medical school after completing a bachelor’s degree, plus additional years of training in a residency program.13
Discover More About STEM Degrees
Q. What is the typical application process for STEM degrees?
Depending on the degree, the application process for a STEM degree typically includes the completion of an application form and personal statement and the provision of reference letters, transcripts, and exam results. Students should expect to be asked to demonstrate proficiency in math and science through GPA, SAT, and AP test scores, and other measurable indicators.
Q. Are scholarships available for STEM degrees?
There are a number of scholarships available to students pursuing degrees in STEM fields. These are usually industry-specific. A few include the Women in Aviation Scholarship14, the Thiel Foundation Fellowship Scholarship15, and the Exxon Mobil Engineering Scholarship.16 Students should ask their chosen institution about local and institutional scholarship options as well.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Employment in STEM occupations. https://www.bls.gov/emp/tables/stem-employment.htm.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Occupational outlook handbook: Aerospace engineers. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/aerospace-engineers.htm.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Occupational outlook handbook: Agricultural engineers. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/agricultural-engineers.htm.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Occupational outlook handbook: Electrical and electronics engineers. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/electrical-and-electronics-engineers.htm.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Architecture and engineering occupations. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/home.htm.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Computer and information technology occupations. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Math occupations. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/home.htm.
 Murphy, B. (2021). DO vs. MD: How much does the medical school degree type matter? American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/residents-students/preparing-medical-school/do-vs-md-how-much-does-medical-school-degree-type.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Occupational outlook handbook: Physicians and surgeons. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physicians-and-surgeons.htm.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Occupational outlook handbook: Healthcare occupations. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Occupational outlook handbook: Life, physical, and social science occupations. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/home.htm.
 National Center for Education Statistics. (2021). Fast facts: Time to degree. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=569.
 Carver College of Medicine. (2021). Road to becoming a physician. https://medicine.uiowa.edu/md/admissions/road-becoming-physician.
 Women in Aviation International. (2021). Scholarships. https://www.wai.org/education/scholarships/2018/american-airlines-engineering-scholarship.
 Thiel Fellowship. (2021). Two years. $100,000. Some ideas can’t wait. https://thielfellowship.org.
 SECME/ExxonMobil. (2021). SECME/ExxonMobil Scholarship Guidelines. http://secme.secme.org/docs/students/exxon-scholarship-guidelines.pdf.