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How to Pursue STEM Studies in the U.S.

Monday | November 12, 2018 | by Megan Whalen

stem education in the us

The 20th century saw the splitting of the atom, the decoding of the cell, and the accelerated development of the computer. The scientific innovations of the 21st century will be equally dynamic. At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, engineering, science, and technology are being harnessed to address increasingly complex challenges—energy demands, sustainability, and water scarcity, for example.

Colleges and universities play an important role in these advances.

To develop the next breakthrough innovations and inventions, as well as to educate the next generation of innovators and inventors who can address these challenges.

In the United States, interdisciplinary learning is fairly common. Interdisciplinary learning or study refers to the combining or integration of two or more academic disciplines.

Many colleges and universities have recognized that interdisciplinary learning is necessary in order to answer complex questions and solve complex problems—polytechnics and institutes of technology are no exception. In today’s world, computer science graduates need to know about business. Engineers need the ability to communicate effectively. Architects must be proficient in information technology.

Preparation for an education in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) field or program is key. Below are some tips to help you plan if you intend to pursue post-secondary STEM studies in the U.S.:

  • Take courses in math and science. Students who want to study science, technology, or both need a solid understanding of biology, chemistry, math, and physics.
  • Do your research. Deciding where to attend college or university can be both exciting and stressful. Research the schools you are interested in and talk to admissions counselors, current students, and faculty at these schools.
  • Get involved in extracurricular activities. Participate in activities that interest you apart from your formal coursework, including those related to science and technology.
  • Talk to professionals who work in science or technology fields. If you are interested in a career in a science or technology field, talk to or visit professionals about their career and educational background.

In the U.S., there are several types of post-secondary schools for science and technology study.

  • Institutes of technology: Polytechnics and institutes of technology primarily focus on engineering and the sciences and provide extensive research opportunities. They do not provide vocational education or training.
  • Liberal arts colleges: Liberal arts colleges are generally smaller four-year institutions where students take classes across disciplines and engage in a broad, well-rounded educational experience.
  • Universities: Typically, a university is a cluster of colleges or schools that operate under a central administration. Universities are generally larger and offer a wide range of undergraduate majors as well as graduate programs. They also emphasize research.

Keep in mind that these are basic definitions and generalizations. Polytechnics, institutes of technology, liberal arts colleges, and universities are all different and unique, so you should check with each school you are considering to find out what each can offer you.

Final Tips on Applying to STEM Schools

Academic preparedness and performance, extracurricular, volunteer, and work activities, essay(s), letter(s) of recommendation, standardized test scores, and interest in attending a particular college or university are all important to the admissions process, particularly when applying to STEM schools. The most important, however, is academic preparedness and performance.

To prepare yourself for study at a STEM institution, try to pursue the most rigorous university preparatory curriculum your school offers, particularly in math and the sciences. Students interested in pursuing a STEM education should be academically well prepared and intellectually curious. STEM students are often entrepreneurial and innovative and have a desire to “change the world” … for the better!

Related Reading

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Megan Whalen is the Director of Undergraduate International Recruitment at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.