America, and to a lesser extent the world, is obsessed with STEM. It stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics if you haven’t heard the term before.
Well-meaning parents and ill-advised school counselors are pushing kids into STEM major left and right, and many consider a degree not even worth having if you didn’t choose the STEM route.
But don’t be fooled by the big paychecks and prestige of such degrees… if you’re not choosing STEM for the right reasons, you could end up wasting your time, and a lot of money.
Dropout Rates are Sky High
A federal study done several years ago shows that about half of the college students that are getting a degree in a science or technology field either leave the field or simply drop out of school entirely. Burnout rates for students and graduates in fields they ultimately don’t enjoy are insane, something people simply don’t talk about.
If you drop out of an engineering degree, most people assume you’re ‘too dumb’ to finish. But this is a toxic mindset. It’s true that STEM degrees are hard – very hard, in fact – but high rates of dropout are also because students feel that is what they ‘should’ be majoring in, instead of something they are actually interested in.
Considering Switching Careers? Think Long and Hard
Rates of adults that swap to a STEM career later in life dropping the field are lower but still exist. As an adult, you are more aware of your limitations and have a more realistic expectation of what a career in STEM is going to be like, but even then, you can be fooled by a six-figure salary or high work flexibility.
To evaluate if swapping to a STEM degree or career is right for you, there are several major things to consider.
How are you at difficult problems, finding complex solutions, and dealing with math? That sounds silly, but many people think it can’t be ‘that hard’ and jump into a STEM career without realizing they are the type of person that gives up easily when a puzzle gets complex.
Many STEM careers are all about finding solutions, and if you don’t have the patience to work on a single issue for a long time, you might not be cut out for it.
Another big factor is the barrier to entry. Are you considering a four-year degree, a two-year degree, or a six to ten-month certification? The lower the barrier to enter the field, the easier it will be to ‘get out’ if you end up hating it.
Going through 4 years of school and finding out at the end that you spent $80k on a degree for a field you hate is crushing. You will also feel ‘trapped’ and obligated to stay in that field for longer than you should, just because you made that dedication.
There Are Other Options
Don’t let anyone tell you that STEM is the only place to find good paying jobs. There are jobs in writing, a creative field, trades, and more. If you’re looking for a career jump or you are trying to make the decision for the rest of your life, really think hard before you jump into a major like STEM.
Just because the pay is good doesn’t mean you will be good at it. And even if you are, you still might hate it!