What's the first step toward building a strong STEM application? What tips can you offer for STEM extracurriculars? These are questions we receive as counselors every year and the very questions we will be answering in this post!
What is STEM?
STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math. If your student excels in math and science or they are always wanting to learn how and why things work the way they do. Then perhaps pursuing a major in one of the STEM fields is in their future!
My name is Charlie Duffy, and I have been counseling students who are interested in pursuing STEM majors for many years. Some of the most popular STEM majors include engineering, computer science, mathematics & statistics, as well as biological and agricultural sciences. In this blog post, we will explore what it takes for students to position themselves as competitive STEM students as they prepare for college applications.
Schools with Great STEM Programs
There are many school options to consider when your student is thinking about going into a STEM major. Some schools are well-known for their STEM majors and there are others, while perhaps less well-known, that can offer an equally fantastic opportunity to pursue STEM. STEM majors can often be the most competitive majors to gain admission into, which is why students should consider all of their options.
While schools like MIT, Cal Tech, Stanford, and Carnegie Mellon are all well-known for their strong STEM majors, there are other schools students wishing to pursue STEM should consider. Schools such as the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Michigan Technological University, and Stevens Institute of Technology have a long history of offering some of the most innovative STEM and tech majors offered in higher education today. Students should also consider Case Western Reserve University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as well as Lafayette College. These schools are able to offer smaller class sizes and more access to research opportunities. STEM schools come in many shapes and sizes, and it’s important for your student to consider the school that has the resources to help your student achieve their goals.
How to Maximize your STEM Application
- Admissions offices will review a student’s entire transcripts when reviewing an applicant for admissions.
- However, if applying into a STEM field, they will pay special attention to what math and science courses a student has pursued.
- It’s important for STEM students to have a strong math and science background and show that they have challenged themselves in high school.
- A student’s coursework should reflect the student’s interest in STEM. It’s important for future STEM majors to go above and beyond the standard high school math and science and take more advanced classes and electives.
- Demonstrating a strong math and science background will help the admissions office see the student’s potential within a STEM major at their institution.
- Pursuing STEM-related extracurriculars (ECs) can add value to a student’s college application.
- A school’s robotics team or “ethical hackers” club could be a good first step for student’s wishing to pursue computer science as a major. Also, competing in a hack-a-thon is another great way to demonstrate their interest in computer science.
- A research opportunity is a great extracurricular activity for a student pursuing a chemistry or biology degree. There are many opportunities for high school students to pursue and contribute to scientific research.
- Students can also consider joining math competitions or joining one of the STEM-related Olympiads. For example, USA Computing Olympiad, or USA Physics Olympiad.
- There are many STEM-related ECs available to students both in and out of the classroom.
An Example of a Successful STEM Applicant
Let’s look at an example of a student I worked with who knew they leaned toward math and sciences but were not sure if they wanted to go into computer science or engineering.
I began working with this student in the Fall of their sophomore (10th Gr.) year. The student was fresh out of a summer camp for engineering, where he helped build out a hand-washing timer that used a touchless sensor to trigger a 20-second timer to wash your hands.
The student enjoyed working with his hands, but also enjoyed gaming and wanted to know the “behind the scenes” in game creation. The quickest and easiest way to decide if game creation was a field he could see himself pursuing was to see how he liked coding and programming.
Since the student had minimal coding and programming background, we decided that he should learn the basics of web development and learn how to write code to build a website.
The student took several online courses in programming and coding. He liked the creative aspect of designing and building a website. He kept building on the programming languages he was learning and created many different websites and apps over the months and years. By the Fall of 12th grade, he had created a “portfolio” of projects he had worked on over several years.
While the student initially wanted to be an engineer, he decided computer science is what had resonated with him the most, and thus applied to universities as a computer science major. The student gained admission into UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, UC Berkeley, Purdue, Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Tech, and NYU!
General Tips for Students Unsure of Which STEM Field to PursueA student who is unsure of what STEM field they wish to go into should give themselves opportunities to learn about several different fields. If a student is interested in biology or a pre-med major, the student's aim should be to take AP Biology and utilize free resources online that allow the student to get a better feel of what a biology major does. They should look to see if there are any areas of research they could take part in. Or if a student may be interested in engineering or computer science, the student should be proactive in their approach to learn more about the topic they may be interested in. Whether a student takes an online course, takes a community college course, or participates in a hack-a-thon, or science competition, universities want to see students “taking ownership” of their education. Some other ways students can decide which STEM field is right for them:
- Read course descriptions of the courses they would be required to take if they pursued a specific STEM major.
- Check out a school’s career services office to see what their STEM graduates go on to do.
- Take a STEM elective- From robotics to programming to animation and graphic design, many high schools offer electives that will allow your student to explore a particular field.
Even if a student changes their mind and discovers that a STEM area they thought they were interested in is no longer an option for them, it is far better (and less expensive) for the student to discover that in high school than in their 2nd or 3rd year at college.
Final Application Considerations
Working with a college counselor who can steer your student’s journey can help ensure your student gets the guidance they need. A college counselor can broaden a student’s exposure to STEM and help students realize how their interests are aligned with STEM fields.
A college counselor can also guide students in course selection and help them choose STEM courses that fit with your student’s high school graduation requirements.
When a student applies to a STEM major, I always encourage students to have a diverse list of schools to apply to.
Being that STEM majors can often be more competitive to gain admission into, it’s important for students to realize that having a background in STEM can help them stand out from the crowd.
A background in STEM can include:
- Rigorous high school curriculum, getting to higher level math and science classes.
- Extracurricular activities that demonstrate the student’s interest in STEM. I.e. Math competitions, scientific research opportunities, robotics club, participating in hack-a-thons, and personal projects they have worked on in their own time honing their STEM skills.
Regardless of which STEM field your student ultimately chooses, these “five qualities” will ensure success in any STEM major.
- Tolerance for Ambiguity
About Us: With more than 23 of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications, or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools includes counseling, test prep, academic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to 4x higher than average admissions rates.