When it comes to university majors and careers, STEM subjects have become a buzzword in the last 20 years. STEM forms many essential aspects of modern societies and economies. They cover a vast range of qualifications and facilitate various career disciplines from civil engineering, neuroscience to artificial intelligence. Studying STEM at university is not only intellectually stimulating but also enables graduates to develop highly rewarding careers. Due to their extensive coverage, there is undoubtedly confusion among young people and parents when it comes to choosing which STEM subjects to study, what preparation you need to excel at them. I have collaborated with Ashbourne College, one of London’s best sixth form colleges, to put together a comprehensive guide on this topic.
What is STEM?
The term STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. In recent years, university teaching has developed a more skill-based and industry-focused curriculum across these disciplines. For instance, an Engineering undergraduate will also acquire knowledge from other disciplines during the course of his study.
There continues to be a high demand for graduates with STEM skills in numerous sectors and the number of graduates is falling short. According to the UK study “Jobs of the Future”, STEM jobs will grow at almost double the rate of other occupations. It is expected to create 142,000 extra jobs in the UK only between now and 2023.
Why are STEM skills so in demand?
The exponential development of technology has been the main driver for this. A report from Engineering UK highlighted that the country would need 1.8 million new engineers and technicians by 2025. Jobs in technology requires technical expertise and highly specialised skills, which makes them unsuitable for graduates from a non-STEM major. Meanwhile, many STEM graduates can secure employment in other industries thanks to their transferable skillset.
STEM studies and careers put graduates at the forefront of innovation with exposure to cutting-edge research projects. These projects aim to solve pressing problems in various industries and foster our technological developments.
Teamwork and problem-solving skills are at the centre of any STEM degree. STEM curriculum emphasises practical learning and application of theories in solving real-life problems. For instance, a Biomedicine graduate will practise laboratory testing and medical diagnostics as part of his study.
What STEM degrees can you study at university?
There is a wide range of subjects that can match young people’ interests, skills and career aspirations.
- Biomedical Science
- Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence
- Computing for Digital Media
- Games and Multimedia Environments
- Civil engineering
- Electrical engineering
- Mechanical engineering
- Accounting and Finance
- Economics and Finance
- Mathematics with Economics
- Mathematics with Finance.
What do I need to study STEM at university?
Below are the most common subjects to study in A levels to progress to a STEM-related degree at university:
- A-level Biology
8.9% go on to study Biology at degree level
- A-level Chemistry
8.1% go on to study Chemistry at degree level
- A-level Physics
10.9% go on to study Mechanical Engineering at degree level
- A-level Design & Technology
23.5% go on to study Design Studies at degree level
- A-level Maths
9.5% go on to study Mathematics at degree level
- A-level Information Technology (IT)
14.8% go on to study Computer Science at degree level
- A-level Computing
46.3% go on to study Computer Science at degree level
- A-level Economics
25.5% go on to study Economics at degree level
- A-level Geography
9.9% go on to study Physical Geographical Sciences at degree level
Data from Pathways for entry into HE 2016/17
The skills that are most commonly used in STEM studies are:
- Analytical and problem-solving skills
- Some technical/mathematical/scientific understanding (depending on the degree)
- The ability to breakdown and understand complex ideas.
- Accuracy and attention to detail.
Most UK universities require A-level/ IB grades and usually at least one of those in a STEM-related subject such as Mathemtics or Sciences. BTEC qualifications, various Baccalaureates or equivalent international qualifications are also accepted by some universities.
Like with other subjects, the UK university application (UCAS) requires a personal statement that demonstrates the applicant’s interest in the subject and their potential to pursue the degree. Therefore, A-level students are encouraged to expand their reading beyond the syllabuses, take on related work experience and volunteering. This not only helps them decide on which STEM discipline or degree they want to study at university but also enriches their application.
It is important that students must spend time researching on university websites, study blogs, reaching out to alumni and making the most out of the university application support at their current college to make an informed decision.