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Is STEM for everyone? (The hidden STEM truths, unmasked!)

8 minute read

STEM vs Art

Occupational prestige, the promise of competitive salary, and innovation beyond measure.

These are some perks that STEM promises to those bold enough to pursue such a career. And with all developments we’ve achieved through it, STEM is undoubtedly monumental in its own right. 

No wonder previous administrations have made STEM the paramount focus in the country. And results from Microsoft’s study on STEM perceptions revealed that 93% of parents believe it should be a priority in the United States.

Sound good?

However, some oppositions believe that America’s obsession with STEM is dangerous. That STEM is not for everyone, and it shouldn’t be. And they have their arguments to support their claims.

It’s no debate that we should hold STEM in high esteem. But with all opposing perceptions, it begs the question: Is STEM for everyone?

Should STEM majors be the priority of all students?

Let’s find out.


The Problem With An All-Out STEM Focus

A person shaking a virtual hand

• It hurts more than it helps

Current legislation and policy prioritize STEM in the U.S. as we compete in the global market against other STEM giants like China. 

Internationally, the U.S. isn’t ranking within the top 10 countries for STEM education. As a matter of fact, we are pretty lagging behind even smaller nations despite reinforcing it in public school and homeschool curricula.

But that’s not the problem. 

The problem is how experts have perceived the solution to this trivial hitch — an increased emphasis on STEM education, among others.

In one of his columns for The Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria claimed that the US has always been one of the world’s leaders in economic vigor, innovation, and entrepreneurship. And STEM is not the only element to thank for that matter. According to him, the broad-based learning system (rather than STEM-centric learning) enabled Americans to thrive in such times.

In other words, a sudden pivot towards a STEM-focused education will narrow America’s vision, and in turn, will not have the best interests of the U.S. in mind. 


• It’s not as prestigious as people think

It’s not uncommon to hear people glorify STEM because of the decent salary that STEM jobs offer over non-STEM careers. 

According to Burning Glass’ insight on STEM careers, on average, people working STEM jobs earn around 26% annual median salary more than those working outside STEM. And data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ STEM employment status revealed that in 2020, STEM workers had a median salary of $89,780, compared to non-STEM occupations with only $40,020.

If we look at the data from a statistical perspective, STEM deserves commercial repute. And one might presume choosing a STEM major is more straightforward than daylight if profitability is what matters. 

However, David Deming believes that in the salary race, engineers sprint but English majors endure. That means the STEM salary boost typically works only during the first job, but prestige steadily declines after that. While other non-STEM-leaning degrees may encounter a few snags along the way, their income goes up and up.

Ultimately, by the age of 40, people who majored in STEM and those that took up arts and humanities would have almost similar, if not equal, annual salaries. 


• STEM is ever-evolving

Evolution is a fact of life. And experts believe it’s inevitable.

Don’t get me wrong, evolution is good. But unfortunately, it’s a double-edged sword for STEM majors.

Underscoring David Deming’s point in #2 is that STEM skills must be updated consistently. In Derek Newton’s “Studying STEM Isn’t The Career Boost We Think,” he said that what a computer science graduate learned in school 25 years ago is mainly obsolete and irrelevant nowadays.

For STEM majors to keep their jobs, they don’t have any choice but to learn and study continuously. And that's not ideal for kids who don't like school.

To thrive in STEM professions, never-ending love for science is imperative.


Having said all the points above, we’re not painting STEM as an unideal or a lousy profession. If anything, it’s even anticipated to be in demand in the coming years.

The BLS projects that STEM careers will grow by 8% in 2029, compared to other professions growing at a rate of 3.7%. And the U.S. will need to fill 3.5 million STEM jobs by 2025, as per the prediction of the Trump administration.

STEM has its perks, but it's not free of downsides. 

The point is we shouldn’t view STEM as a more dominant field than others. Likewise, neither should we mandatorily impose STEM as a path all students must take.


Why Isn’t STEM for Everyone?

Is STEM for Everyone? (The Hidden STEM Truths, Unmasked!) Article Banner

1. Not everyone excels in STEM

“You lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

Nicole Biagioni was stern in asserting that STEM isn’t for everyone in one of her columns for The Massachusetts Daily Collegian. 

According to her, science and maths weren’t her strongest suits, and no matter how long and hard she tried, these were concepts that seemed foreign to her ever since middle school up to college.

Although she said that the tertiary-level teaching of these core subjects made them more compelling and forgiving than those from lower years, still, STEM never clicked.

Her long monologue on the topic stressed one key idea: every student learns differently.

In Howard and Walsh’s 2011 research, they developed the Children’s Conception of Career Choice and Attainment model, which emphasizes that when choosing a future occupation, youths understand that their abilities and capacities greatly influence the lines of work accessible to their understanding. 

This self-perception enables people to distinguish between degrees appropriate to their skillset and those not. 

So why would one that struggles with STEM pursue career choices related to STEM? 


2. Varying Interests

In the same fashion how some students may excel in STEM subjects like math and science but suffer miserably in arts and humanities, others may have it in reverse.

During my discussion of the highest-paying STEM careers for microscope-loving kids, I’ve mentioned a quote that appears highly relevant to the matter at hand:

“Curiosity turns to interests, interests become passions, and passions greatly influence a person’s career path.”

A person’s proclivities are the principal drivers pushing one to tread a specific career path over others. 

Concerning the previous point, we may interpret a person’s inability to excel on a subject as disinterest. That said, if STEM doesn’t captivate one's attention or piques a person's interest, why pursue it?


3. Different Core Values

• Lack of regard for occupational prestige

As mentioned in the above texts, STEM careers have high occupational prestige. According to Howard and Walsh (2011), this factor plays a huge role in youth’s career decision-making.

However, some adolescents narrow their occupational options based on what they deem appropriate more than the bragging rights that STEM occupations impart.


• Financial remuneration is not their priority

A joint study of 5 researchers on factors that influence youth career choices showed that extrinsic factors like compensation, job security, and accessibility significantly impact a person’s career path.

On the other hand, individuals that lean towards more intrinsic values prioritize interest, enjoyment, curiosity, and learning experiences over the financial remuneration that some professions may offer, in this case, STEM careers.


4. Absence of Access to STEM Learning

Nancy Paley’s experience in conducting STEM enrichment programs provided elementary students equal access to information and foundational opportunity to learn STEM concepts, even before STEM became a thing.

Her exposure to various kids cemented her belief that STEM isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But teaching STEM to students with dissimilar preferences helped her determine who excels in what. 

However, admins and educators prioritized only the “gifted” to receive such enrichment lessons. As a result, only students that already excel in STEM benefited from the program. She added:

“I have come to accept that, when given the choice, some students choose not to explore STEM opportunities. What concerns me, though, is that far too often, this choice is being made for them.” 

Not every student receives the same top-of-the-line STEM exposure. Neither do all kids learns in a culture that prioritizes STEM over others. This reveals how limited access to information correlates to why STEM isn’t for everyone, simply because STEM doesn’t even make the cut in some students’ career choices.


Is STEM for Everyone?



Everyone’s career choice will always vary thanks to the plethora of interests, core values, and earlier experiences that form the bedrock of people’s career aspirations. 

STEM is a beautiful and noble field, so are all other degree programs out there. But it’s not for us to decide who would make excellent STEM professionals and not. 

Every student deserves to make their choice. And all we can do is offer our support and expose kids to opportunities to help mold their careers. 

If you're looking for alternative ways to cultivate scientific inquiry in kids, STEM toys are a great place to start.

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