Did you know about 1/3 of college students change their majors at least once? Picking a major is tough, and I get it! There are so many interesting fields of study, and it can be really difficult to settle down on one. I was in this exact position in high school – I was really good at English and History, but I also wanted to be a scientist. Thankfully, I managed to decide what I wanted to do. If you can’t before you come to college, that’s totally fine!
This blog post is mainly for those of you who are considering going into STEM. To clarify, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. I’m an Astronomy major, and I love what I’m doing. However, I did consider a few things before making the decision to study Astronomy. I’ll walk you through my thought process, and I hope it’s helpful to those of you who don’t know what to major in!
Who can be a STEM major?
When you think of someone who’s majoring in STEM, your first thought is probably of a math prodigy who’s won several Science Olympiads. They’re most likely the smartest people in your class, and are years ahead of you in terms of understanding class material.
If that was your first thought, get it out of your head right now! Anyone can be a STEM major, if you’re willing to work hard enough! I wasn’t super talented in high school, nor was I near the top of class (especially in classes like Physics and Math). However, I did know that I really enjoyed science, and having a career in it would make me really happy. If you tell yourself you can do something and believe in yourself, anything is possible!
However, that doesn’t mean STEM is easy – every major, STEM or not, is challenging in its own way. What’s important is that you’re willing to work hard, and you’re happy with what you’re doing.
What are classes like for STEM majors?
You’ve probably seen jokes on Instagram or TikTok where college students complain about how much work they have to do. Although most of these are exaggerated, there is an element of truth to it. I’m in my third year at Illinois, and I’m taking 300 and 400 level Astronomy and Physics classes. All of them are pretty difficult, and I need to dedicate quite a few hours per week to study.
Classes in STEM are very quantitative – be prepared to learn a lot of theorems, do a lot of math, and solve a lot of equations. The content of your coursework will vary depending on what you major in, but the concept behind mastering your field is the same: practice, practice, practice! All STEM majors require you to be pretty good with numbers, and you need to be willing to spend a lot of time familiarizing yourself with them.
What kinds of jobs will I get as a STEM major?
One thing I love about being a STEM major is the flexibility it gives me after I graduate college. One of the most important things all STEM majors teaches you is how to analyze and interpret data – this is a super useful skill to have in a wide variety of careers!
I personally want to go into research. My dream is to be on the frontline of scientific knowledge and be that person who discovers new things. Because of this, I need to go to graduate school and obtain a PhD. If you want to conduct research specifically in biology, chemistry, or any hard science, a PhD is almost always essential.
However, you don’t have to go into research as a STEM major. There are plenty of other career paths, like medicine, industry, or even law! The amazing thing about majoring in STEM is that you’re not just learning about covalent bonds or the powerhouses of cells – you’re obtaining a very useful skillset that can be applied to an endless range of careers.
I’m not going to lie and tell you that STEM is just sunshine and rainbows – there are times where really tough classes will beat you down and make you feel hopeless. However, this is true of any major – there is no ‘easy’ field, and every major at the University of Illinois will challenge you. Pick what best suits you, and what will make you the happiest. If you’re happy, things will come easy.