If you’re trying to figure out your major, you could do very well by choosing a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). After health care, the National Science Foundation has shown that science-oriented professions that depend heavily on analytical and technical skills are the second-fastest growing occupational group in America today. Science degrees are among the most valuable investments in higher education because learned knowledge can be applied to many high-paying professions in manufacturing, transportation, energy, mining, engineering, management, and technology. In fact, 65% of graduates with a bachelor’s degree in a scientific field earn more than those with a master’s degree in other non-scientific areas. Below we’ll look at how you can invest in a quality education in science or engineering and receive a high ROI.
Types of Science Degrees
In higher education, there are virtually endless degree options available across all academic levels for students seeking training in science and engineering fields. Community colleges offer two-year Associate of Science (A.S.) and Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degrees to individuals seeking to enter a scientific career immediately or transfer to a senior college. Though some Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) programs may be found in scientific-related fields from a humanities perspective, most will lead to a four-year Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or Bachelor of Engineering (B.S.E.). Students can choose to major in various fields, including mathematics, biology, physics, calculus, chemistry, geology, astronomy, statistics, or engineering.
Graduate students also have their fair share of options to earn a science or engineering degree at the master’s level. Master of Science (M.S.) programs often take two to three years of full-time study based around scientific learning with a culminating research project. Master’s programs tend to be highly specialized in concentrations like mechanical engineering, organic chemistry, aerospace engineering, construction management, architecture, environmental science, ecology, marine biology, etc. Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) programs are also popular. For students seeking advanced leadership roles or faculty teaching positions at the university level, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.), and Doctor of Engineering (D.Eng.) programs are available in many scientific areas.
Online vs. On-Campus Learning
Thanks to the advent of online education, it’s become even more convenient for students to earn a degree within their own schedule from anywhere with an Internet connection. While programs in areas like mathematics, information science, and health science are increasingly available online, it’s more difficult to find online learning options in the hard sciences. Since highly scientific fields often require physical lab work, programs in chemistry, engineering, and biology may be offered in a hybrid format to blend learning styles.
Resource: The 30 Best Affordable Online Colleges
If you’re extremely organized and have the discipline to complete assigned tasks on time, you may find that an online format for your science or engineering degree is ideal. Others may find that the structure of traditional on-campus courses will provide more motivation to stay on task without becoming distracted. Since online science classes will require a higher degree of technology savvy, this format can be wise for students preparing for high-tech careers in science or engineering. On the flip side, on-campus learning offers more personalized interaction with others for sharing innovative ideas and working on team-based projects. Online programs often come with lower tuition and transportation costs, but it’s best to choose a format based on your educational needs. For more about evaluating whether or not online learning would be wise for you to consider, see What are the Pros and Cons of Earning a College Degree Online?.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) maintains a lengthy list of STEM degree programs that make graduates studying in the U.S. on student visas eligible to stay in the U.S. for up to 17 additional months after graduation as part of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Program. While the main focus of this article is Science & Engineering degrees, below we’ve taken the liberty to highlight all of the online STEM degree programs that we’ve ranked on Best Value Schools. Read on to learn about the most affordable online options for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math degrees.
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Financial Aid Opportunities
During the application process, it’s essential that you start considering your options for covering the tuition expenses for your science or engineering degree. First of all, remember to fill out the FAFSA form with your financial and tax information to see what financial aid opportunities you qualify for. You’ll likely be eligible for taking out Federal Perkins Loans, Direct Loans, Subsidized or Unsubsidized Stafford Loans, or Parents PLUS Loans. Since student loan debt has grown into a major American concern, borrow carefully based on your financial needs and remain aware that the funds needed to finance your four years must be repaid with interest upon graduation.
Resource: The Ultimate Guide to Affording College
Our federal government also offers free money in the form of grants to financially needy students. Depending on your EFC, you may qualify for receiving a Pell or FSEOG Grant. While working on your science or engineering degree, it’s also a good idea to follow a work-study program in which you’ll receive tuition assistance in exchange for part-time work on or off-campus. If you’re in graduate school, make sure you also apply for graduate or research assistantships to earn cash while gaining valuable experience.
Money-Saving Scholarship Options
Another great non-repayment option for reducing your financial burden is scholarship funding from local, state, and national organizations as well as your university. Due to the fact that STEM-related professions are in very high demand, it’s no surprise that money-saving scholarships can be easy to find for those knowing where to look. It’s highly recommended that you stop into your financial aid office, meet with your departmental advisor, and research online to find scholarships that align with your specific interests and background. Some excellent sources of national funding in science and engineering include:
• American Indian Science and Engineering Scholarships – Each year, the AISES offers up to $10,000 for Native American and Alaskan Native students who are starting an educational journey to acquire skills that meet our world’s ever-changing STEM needs.
• NSF Scholarships in Science – Through the National Science Foundation (NSF), funding is provided to undergraduate students in accredited U.S. higher learning institutions who are completing associate or baccalaureate degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics disciplines with significant financial need.
• Society of Women Engineers Scholarships – Totaling more than $700,000 in annual scholarship funds, the SWE supports women pursuing ABET-accredited bachelor’s or master’s degrees in preparation for in-demand careers in engineering, engineering technology, or computer science in America.
And of course, don’t miss our very own STEM Scholarship for Women, offered bi-annually by Best Value Schools.
For additional scholarship opportunities by specific subject area, see:
- Health Science Scholarships
- Math Education Scholarships
- Health Education Scholarships
- Forensic Science Scholarships
- Game Design Scholarships
- Software Engineering Scholarships
- Aeuronautics Scholarships
- Engineering Scholarships
- Science Education Scholarships
- Biology Scholarships
- Scholarships for Women
Career Paths in Science and Engineering
Career paths are virtually endless with a science-oriented degree from an accredited institution and the payoff will be favorable. If you’re interested in earth sciences, you could become a geographer, environmental scientist, geologist, hydrologist, climate change analyst, soil scientist, or surveyor. Physical science degrees lead to careers like chemist, electrician, astronomer, forensic science technician, physics teacher, and power plant operator. Careers in natural sciences can transform to rewarding positions as an ecologist, marine biologist, radiation technician, microbiologist, or food scientist.
Skilled engineers can also find numerous opportunities in rapidly growing specialties that provide lucrative annual salaries. Petroleum engineers are often the highest paid engineering profession for earning around $166,400 a year for extracting oil and gas from Earth. Other top-paying engineering positions include nuclear engineer, engineering manager, software engineer, chemical engineer, biomedical engineer, and electrical engineer. With any of these career paths, you’ll be putting your degree to good use and earning some of the highest possible starting salaries.