What is a STEM Degree?

Posted by Frank Gogol

Studying overseas in pursuit of your bachelor’s or master’s degree is always exciting. While there are many streams to choose from, STEM stands out from the rest. You might have already heard about it and are confused as to what it actually means. Many international students have trouble deciphering the term (which is actually an abbreviation). In this article, we’ll explain what STEM stands for and what options you can pursue in the United States.

What is STEM?

 STEM stands for Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics. Colleges and universities that award degrees in these domains are called STEM degrees. This is a broader term used in the academic community. You’ll mainly hear the term in educational policies and curriculum decision making. This shows the importance of STEM.

There are variants to it like STEAM, STREAM, eSTEM (which we have discussed below), but STEM encompasses them all. In the United States, STEM was promoted because of a lack of qualified professionals.

The idea behind the formation of STEM is to promote scientific education, especially among backward communities. Not only among communities, but STEM also promotes scientific studies among women. The National Science Foundation was set up to achieve a wide gap between talent and demand in the scientific field, and immigration policies were modified.

Now the US accepts more and more international students into its universities who want to pursue STEM studies.

4 Types of STEM Degrees

As already mentioned, STEM is an umbrella term used to encompass a wide range of subjects related to science. Therefore, it’s worth breaking down and exploring STEM in brief.


The S in STEM stands for Science. This covers natural sciences and the formal sciences subject domain. The natural sciences include biology, physics, chemistry, and environmental studies. The formal sciences include mathematics and statistics.

The science domain also includes:

  • Anatomy
  • Geology
  • Astronomy
  • Earth Sciences
  • Ecology
  • Medicine
  • Biochemistry
  • Biophysics
  • Geoscience

With science studies, you’ll be equipped with a deeper understanding of a specific field. Science degrees are particularly useful if you want to pursue higher studies and move into research and development. If we can generalize, then most of the subjects are traditional ones that have been in existence for centuries. So if you’re interested in how the ancient scientists and philosophers perceived the world, then you should opt for science subjects.


The technology field represents technological studies. While you may think science and technology refer to the same thing, there’s a stark difference. As a student, you must be aware of the differences.

Science subjects aim for the methodological approach to experimentation and gaining new knowledge about a thing or event. On the other hand, technology alludes to the practicality of that thing or event in real life. In other words, scientists discover new things, while technologists focus on applying those new findings. Both are equally important to the scientific community.

As a technologist, you’ll mostly be dealing with real-life problems while staying up to date on the latest discoveries.

The technology field in STEM includes the following domains:

  • Computer science
  • Industrial design
  • Automotive
  • Marine architecture
  • Information technology
  • Mobile technology
  • Nanotechnology
  • Cybersecurity

Generally, any domain that has technology attached to it is more likely a technological domain. So if your passion is in making new things instead of discovering, then you should opt for the technological field.


Engineering is currently the most popular domain of all the STEM domains. This is because of two reasons. The first is growth. The world now needs more engineers who can make things than scientists. Especially in the developing and under-developed parts of the world, engineers with the current technology in hand can uplift their countries.

Second is money and career growth. Engineers are some of the most highly paid individuals in the workforce. And steadily over time, after gaining work experience, they can expect to make even more than scientists. Some engineers go on to establish their own companies and make fortunes.

The engineering field in STEM includes the following domains:

  • Computer engineering
  • Electrical engineering
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Civil engineering
  • Robotics
  • Chemical engineering
  • Biomedical engineering
  • Materials engineering

Generally, anything that has “engineering” attached to it is an engineering domain. If you’re looking to join the workforce as quickly as possible, then it’s best to go for engineering degrees.


While the mathematics subject is already covered in science, it has a separate identity in STEM. Because mathematics is foundational and finds its use in every other subject, policymakers and the scientific community alike want to propel development in this field.

Scholars involved in mathematics work with the complex process of both theoretical and practical problems.

The following domains are included in mathematics:

  • Applied mathematics
  • Algebra and geometry
  • Cryptography
  • Biomathematics
  • Statistics
  • Financial modeling
  • Mathematical modeling

Difference Between STEM, STEAM, and STREAM

Despite its popularity, STEM is a relatively newer initiative. But there have been two similar initiatives in the past that are quite popular. Those are:


 STEAM has the same subjects as STEM but with the addition of Arts. Therefore, STEAM stands for Science-Technology-Engineering-Arts-Mathematics. With the addition of arts, scholars will get exposed to creativity that will help them solve technical problems better. In other words, you gain a new perspective to look at scientific and technological problems.


STREAM takes the creativity part to the next level and incorporates Robotics and Writing. So STREAM stands for Science-Technology-Robotics-Engineering-Arts-Mathematics. The curriculum encourages scholars to be creative and self-expressive.

What Makes a Good STEM Program?

A good STEM program is the one that touches on various parts of a particular subject and equips students with a deep understanding of it. But since STEM is a broad term, it also depends on the aspiration and desire. If they want to pursue STEM programs for securing a high paying job, then engineering domains are better suited for them. The program should make the student job-ready.

 If the aspiration is to discover new things, then science and mathematics programs are ideal. Therefore, before you rate a STEM program, it’s important to consider your own goals and expectations.

How Much Do STEM Degrees Cost?

 In the United States, STEM degrees cost vary from college to college and university to university. If you’re studying at a public-funded institution, you can expect to pay less. If you choose a reputed private university, then you should be paying more for your tuition. 

But some scholarships pay a certain portion of your fees. This can be 20% to complete 100% of the cost of the program. The National Science Foundation grants mainly to American students, but international students are also covered for selected programs.

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As we move into the future and expect a rapid rise and adoption in technology, we’ll see greater demand for qualified STEM professionals. We can also expect the expansion of the STEM domain and the inclusion of newer fields. But before making this career-defining decision, it’s always wise to conduct thorough research and consult with educational consultants.

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