STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is a fun and rewarding field to be in. Not only can it be lucrative, but you can also make a positive impact on the lives of those in your community. Today we will discuss 7 ways to identify whether STEM is the correct career path for you and, give you guidance on how to choose a major and field appropriate for your interests and skills. These include: Discovering what interests you, identifying your strengths, finding a mentor, leveraging your high school classes, Researching your potential field/career, Volunteering, and Preparation.
- Discovering Your Interest
It is always best to first discover what you find interesting. Which class in school do you most enjoy? And beyond that, what class do you pay the most attention in, ask the most questions, and enjoy doing the homework. This will help you identify what you are most interested in and what subject or field will keep you motivated to keep going even when things get tough.
- Identify Your Strengths
Ask yourself, what can I do well? Are you good with your hands? Maybe surgery is a good career for you. Are you good at math? Engineering, Physics, and even Chemistry would be a good fit. Do you have great people skills? Becoming a physician, nurse, or science professor could be a productive career path. Identifying what you do well can help narrow your focus so that you can research careers that will enhance your strengths and skills. It is also an excellent idea to ask other people what they think you are good at. Often, we either enhance those traits that we really want to be good at and downplay those that we are naturally good at. Asking someone will give you an unbiased point of view.
Also, you can discover what careers may be a good fit for you by taking a personality test. Most high school counselors have access to these tests. Request a meeting with your guidance counselor to ask them more information.
- Find a Mentor
Mentorship is a necessary and important endeavor when it comes to finding the right career for you. A mentor can help you set and achieve career goals, be a source of support and accountability, and help you learn new skills and navigate life. A mentor is a reservoir of knowledge. And, many STEM careers require that you have some sort of shadowing or internship experience so having a mentor can give you a jumpstart to gaining the experience you need.
You can find mentors through various school organizations, your community, and even though your parents. School organizations such as Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), Science Club, and 4H are wonderful places to start. Also, community organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club and Urban League have many mentors waiting to help you. And, one place that may be surprising is starting with your parents.
Your parents have a giant network of associates from friends, to colleagues, to co-workers who can mentor you. Just ask them if they know anyone who works in a field that you are interested in, and sees if they can connect you. Your parents will be more than happy to help you out not only because you’re their child, but because you showed initiative
- Leveraging your High School Courses
Taking Advanced Placement (AP) Courses will put you ahead of the game when it comes to college. Not only does it boost your application, it also gives you a preview of how college courses are typically structured and what you can expect. But probably the most important of them all is that AP classes can help you shorten your college years.
When you take an AP course, get the required grade and pass the exam, you no longer must take that class in college. It counts as college credits. However, make sure that the universities that you plan to apply to honor AP courses as the rules are not the same at all institutions.
- Researching Your Potential Career/Field
When many think of researching a certain career or field the first thing they look for is how much money they will make. While this is important, there are other aspects that should be considered. What will the lifestyle be like? Will you have weekends off, how many hours will you have to work, how much time will you be able to spend with your family?
Another area to research is how much education will be needed? Usually, in STEM careers, you must have a Master’s Degree or higher. But, how much higher will you have to go? Will you have to get a terminal degree such as an MD or Ph.D.? Will you have to complete a residency or postdoctoral training after receiving your terminal degree? These are very important areas to research.
In addition, what types of jobs will you be able to acquire in your chosen field? Teaching? Research? A mix of both? Or maybe even clinical work? It is important to know what you are getting into and what options are available to you.
No matter what field or career you decided to pursue, volunteering is always a great activity to participate in. Volunteering can improve your interpersonal skills, help you discover new interests, make an impact on your community, and boost your application. It is known that admissions committees highly favor candidates that have great track records of volunteering and community service.
You can start volunteering through school organizations or outside organizations such as Habitat for Humanity or your local Food Bank. If you’re interested in a career in healthcare, a great service organization is MedShare where you can help package medical supplies that are sent around the world.
If you do all the suggestions above, you will certainly be preparing yourself for a career in STEM. It is a known fact that STEM courses and majors are rigorous. More than often you must have excellent grades and test scores to get into certain schools and programs. So, start preparing now by not only getting good grades but also honing down on your study skills and learning style. Your guidance counselor should be able to also help you with this. So, while meeting with them about your personality test, also ask about how you can discover your learning style.
In addition, STEM can be very pricey. So, start looking for scholarships that may help you with your studies. There are many websites that can assist you with this and a simple Google search will lead you to them. Also, see if local organizations offer scholarships and as stated previously stay on top of your grades as many schools will give you academic scholarships if you do so.
So, there you have it. 7 Ways to not only decided if STEM is right for you but also how to improve your college application. I hope that this helps you on your journey to STEM and I hope to someday have the privilege of calling you my colleague in STEM.