Why Students Choose STEM

Why do today’s students choose STEM over other fields of study such as business, law, or the arts? Income? Passsion?

According to a new study, most college students studying for degrees in science, technology, engineering or math make the decision to do so in high school or before. However, only 20 percent say they feel that their education before college prepared them “extremely well” for those fields, according to a a STEM Survey released by Microsoft and polling company Harris Interactive.

The survey, which asked college students pursing STEM degrees and the parents of K-12 students about attitudes toward STEM education, also found that male and female students enter the fields for different reasons: females are more likely to want to make a difference, while males are more likely to say they’ve always enjoyed games, toys or clubs focused on the hard sciences.


The STEM Study also found:

  • Just over half (55 percent) of college students said they were “extremely” or “very” well-prepared for college, with female students more likely to say they were well-prepared than male students.
  • The majority of students (57 percent) decided to study STEM subjects in high school, and students who felt they were “somewhat” or “not at all” prepared for college science courses were more likely to have decided in college to pursue a STEM degree.
  • Sixty-six percent of students, and 76 percent of parents of K-12 students, agreed that the U.S. is doing “a poor job” of teaching STEM subjects compared to other countries.
  • Despite the dissatisfaction with K-12 education, only 31 percent of college students said a good science education before college was “absolutely essential” or “extremely important” to college success. “Having a passion” and “studying hard” were the two factors most frequently cited as essential.
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One Response to Why Students Choose STEM

  1. Jane Jackson says:

    Yes, most students who major in STEM degrees in college make that choice in high school. And students who take high school physics are TWICE as likely to earn a STEM bachelor’s degree as students whose highest high school science course is chemistry. (Tyson et al., 2007).

    Moreover, interactive engagement (minds-on and usually hands-on) high school physics courses almost DOUBLE AGAIN the number of students who intend to major in STEM in college, compared to conventional lecture-based high school physics (TIMSS, 2000).

    These research findings suggest that K-12 education policy should target physics:
    a) professional development for physics teachers that is research-validated,
    b) 9th grade physics courses, as promoted by the American Assn. of Physics Teachers,
    c) integration of high school math courses with science, especially physics.
    And all with interactive engagement pedagogies, such as Modeling Instruction. (http://modeling.asu.edu), because teaching method is the most important factor in student learning (Stigler and Hiebert, The Teaching Gap, 1999).

    Will Tyson, Reginald Lee, Kathryn M. Borman and Mary Ann Hanson (2007). Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Pathways: High School Science and Math Coursework and Postsecondary Degree Attainment, Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp.243-270.

    TIMSS Physics Achievement Comparison Study, by Eugenio Gonzalez (April 2000). Conducted for the National Science Foundation by TIMSS International Study Center, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA.
    At http://modeling.asu.edu/Evaluations/TIMSS_NSFphysicsStudy99.pdf

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