What Does STEM Stand For? Definition, Degrees and More | University of Phoenix (2023)

By Michael Feder

At a glance

  • The National Science Foundation in 2001 introduced the term STEM, which stands for “science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”
  • STEM degree programs vary by discipline and can lead you down a number of different career paths.
  • Arts and humanities play an important role in STEM career, and thus the term “STEAM” was born, adding art into the disciplines.
  • University of Phoenix (UOPX) offers degrees in STEM and STEAM fields.

What is STEM?

If you’ve researched potential degrees or careers, chances are good you’ve come across “STEM.” This acronym covers a wide range of disciplines and curriculum, especially science and math.

If you’re asking yourself, “What does STEM stand for?” or “What does STEM mean for me and my education?” then you’ve come to the right article.

Here’s what we’ll be covering:

  • STEM and STEAM meaning
  • The main STEM disciplines
  • Common STEM majors
  • STEM and STEAM education and careers

What does STEM stand for?

As a term, STEM was introduced in 2001 by the National Science Foundation and has since grown into popular use. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. While each of these educational disciplines can be broken down into more specific areas and curricula, they have many aspects in common.

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For example, all four disciplines focus on analytical approaches to objective, real-world problem-solving. STEM education isn’t focused on poetry or the unanswerable quandaries of philosophy, but on concrete questions with right or wrong answers.

That’s not to say that each of these disciplines follows the same path. A mathematics curriculum might approach a given problem through the lens of equations while engineering uses a practical experiment to come to the same conclusion. Understanding which approach most appeals to you can be an important part of choosing your path in STEM.

What are STEM fields?

We’ll break down below the specifics of each STEM field, which should help answer the question, “What does STEM mean?”


In the context of STEM, science refers to disciplines that describe natural phenomena, also known as the natural sciences. This would include subjects like chemistry, biology, environmental science and physics. Social sciences, like psychology or economics, are not included in the STEM meaning of science.


Chances are you’re reading this blog on a computer, tablet or phone. This would not be possible without students of technology expanding what is possible through innovation.

In STEM, technology includes disciplines like computer science, web development, medical tech and a lot more. Technology also presents a number of security concerns, which is why students pursue a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity to address potential threats.


Engineering is the experimental work that goes into making technology possible. What does that mean exactly? A mechanical engineer probably designed the machinery inside of the car you drove to work, for example. Engineers are responsible for testing, analyzing and improving designs for technologies that we use every day.

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Math forms the basis for work in science, technology and engineering. It can be separated into “pure mathematics” and “applied mathematics.” Pure math focuses on the development of new mathematical concepts on the level of numbers and equations. This would include disciplines like algebra, calculus and geometry.

Applied mathematics, meanwhile, refers to math that’s developed for practical applications. Statistics, data science and theoretical physics, for instance, are mathematical fields that largely attempt to solve specific, real-world problems.

It’s important to remember that in any given discipline there’s a lot of crossover between STEM fields. Many curricula borrow aspects from each discipline to lesser or greater degrees. Together, however, they form the meaning of STEM!

What are STEM majors?

Though you may have a general interest in STEM fields, your choice of major will likely emphasize one or another STEM discipline. Pursuing aMaster of CybersecurityorMaster of Information Systems, for example, will likely put you in contact more with technology and engineering than mathematics or science.

Here are some common majors, broken down by discipline:


  • Materials science
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics


  • Software development
  • Database management
  • Computer programming


  • Computer engineering
  • Aerospace engineering
  • Petroleum engineering
  • Nuclear engineering


  • Statistics
  • Actuarial mathematics
  • General mathematics

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it makes for a good bird’s-eye view of the educational paths available in STEM.

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Why is STEM important?

We’ll answer this question in two parts. First, let’s cover what STEM means to the world at large.

Innovations made in STEM fields have defined nearly every aspect of modern life, from the cars you see on the road to the medical technology that saves lives every day. None of this would be possible without the committed study and effort of individuals in STEM disciplines.

Every innovation is built on one that came before it. Though it may be hard to see what one new discovery means in the grand scheme of things, it leads to and may even enable another discovery that completely upends the way our world works. It took several centuries of scientific study and experimentation for engineers like Thomas Edison to light up the world.

This speaks to how STEM disciplines affect and influence each other. It may take years of mathematical or scientific questioning to create a firm basis for a technological application. Understanding what STEM means helps us appreciate the intellectual determination that makes modern life possible.

Secondly, and maybe more importantly to you, let’s talk about why STEM is important in education.

STEM degrees can prepare you for a variety of jobs in the technology field. For example, wonderingwhat you can do with a Computer Science degree? Job options range from data analyst to software developer. Most business owners understand that cutting-edge IT skills can translate to a competitive edge. Such skills might mean the difference between a new product that blows away the competition and losing customers to another company’s superior offering.

Making new products isn’t even the half of it, however, when it comes to STEM’s usefulness in business. Just maintaining a proper data center to handle day-to-day business requires a lot of experience. (And this is only the beginning ofwhat you can do with an information technology degree!)

Popular STEM careers

Wondering how else that STEM degree can be put to use? Check out these popular STEM careers, based on information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Job National median salary range Education requirements 2020 Employment

Energy engineer

Energy engineer

Energy engineer


Energy engineer

Bachelor's degree

Energy engineer


Biological scientist

Biological scientist

Biological scientist


Biological scientist

Bachelor's degree

Biological scientist


Civil engineer

Civil engineer

Civil engineer


Civil engineer

Bachelor's degree

Civil engineer


Computer programmer

Computer programmer

Computer programmer


Computer programmer

Bachelor's degree

Computer programmer







Doctorate, post-doc



Data scientist

Data scientist

Data scientist


Data scientist

Bachelor's degree

Data scientist







Master's degree



Fuel cell engineer

Fuel cell engineer

Fuel cell engineer


Fuel cell engineer

Bachelor's/master's degree

Fuel cell engineer


The salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

How can I get started in my STEM career?

If all this sounds exciting to you, and you feel ready to start your career in STEM, then the best course of action is to pursue a STEM education. Degree programs prove to potential employers that you have the essential STEM knowledge that is a prerequisite in STEM-related fields.

What certificate or degree program you choose will depend on your interests and skill sets. A Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity, for instance, is perfect for anyone looking for an exciting career where you can learn ways to protect data from cyberthreats. Looking to learn about how to save the planet and reverse ecological harm? Then a program in Environmental Science may be more your speed.

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People want different things from their education, which is why many schools offer certificate programs, in addition to traditional degrees. These programs are often shorter and focus on a specific interest but can cost less in tuition and be completed in a shorter time.

Earning your Cloud Computing Certificate, for instance, is a great supplement to education you might have already achieved. These programs demonstrate your knowledge of a specific skill set. Just the thing to help stand out from the rest!

If you’re interested in a STEM career, UOPX offers associate degree, bachelor’s degree and certificate offerings in a variety of technology fields, as well as programs that incorporate STEM into their curriculum. Visit phoenix.edu to learn more!

What about the humanities?

Just because you have an interest in STEM (we assume you do since you’re this far into the article), does that mean you have to give up on other pursuits? The humanities, which include everything from philosophy to anthropology to literature, might be an important part of who you are as a person too.

That’s why many in education have advocated for the inclusion of the arts in STEM education. And so the acronym STEAM was born!

Arts and humanities play an important part in many STEM careers. It’s one thing, for instance, to design a phone that’s more functional than the rest. Yet that phone may not sell as well without an attractive design that resonates with potential customers.

STEM fields help us find concrete answers to difficult questions; yet many problems do not have clear-cut solutions. Engineers working with self-driving cars, for example, have to reckon with difficult philosophical decision-making when designing these vehicles. If a self-driving car is about to hit a pedestrian, should it steer off the road, harming the driver but sparing the pedestrian? It’s not a question that can be answered through mathematical equations or clever engineering.

It’s to address problems like these that the humanities have been integrated into STEM education. The arts help workers in STEM fields figure out issues of subjectivity when objectivity won’t cut it.

Understanding what STEM means, and how it figures into your education, can help you figure out the educational path that’s right for you. Do you like working with computers to solve day-to-day business problems? Then an online IT degree might be a great choice. Maybe you’d rather work out complex theoretical equations and discover the secrets of the universe. Get started with an introductory course in calculus.

Wherever you are in your educational journey, and wherever your interests lie, there’s a STEM path for you!

Women have their own take on STEM. Check out how women working in tech overcome challenges to succeed.

Get started in your STEM journey with a technology degree from University of Phoenix!

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What Does STEM Stand For? Definition, Degrees and More | University of Phoenix? ›

STEM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

What does STEM mean in degrees? ›

Find a STEM Degree. If you're majoring in a STEM field, that means your degree program falls under the umbrella of science, technology, engineering or mathematics. While you can't major in STEM itself, programs in this category include ones that emphasize research, innovation or the development of new technologies.

What is the acronym STEM stand for? ›

STEM is an acronym for the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Discussion of STEM-related programs has become a presidential priority because too few college students are pursuing degrees in these fields.

How many degrees are STEM degrees? ›

STEM degrees are college programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM degrees have seen increasing demand in jobs for the last decade.

What's considered STEM majors? ›

For those asking, “What is a STEM major?” the answer includes, among others:
  • Computer Science.
  • Engineering.
  • Health Science.
  • Information Technology.
  • Mathematics.
  • Physics.
Nov 23, 2021

Are STEM degrees worth it? ›

Occupations in STEM fields are projected to grow by 8 percent by 2029, compared with 3.7 percent for all occupations, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics [1]. By earning a degree in one of these disciplines, you could enter the workforce prepared for a variety of in-demand and high-paying careers.

What are three common careers in STEM? ›

Some common careers in STEM include the following:
  • Zoologist and wildlife biologist.
  • Microbiologist.
  • Network and computer systems administrator.
  • Computer network architects.
  • Health and safety engineers.

What is the meaning of STEM courses in USA? ›

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics and refers to any subjects that fall under these four disciplines. Because these things are never straightforward, there are also dozens of alternative versions of STEM (including STEAM, STREAM and METALS) but STEM is by far the most widely-used.

What is STEM education and why is it important? ›

K–12 STEM education encompasses the processes of critical thinking, analysis, and collaboration in which students integrate the processes and concepts in real world contexts of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, fostering the development of STEM skills and competencies for college, career, and life.

What does STEM stand for in special education? ›

When people think about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) they tend to think of subjects that are academic or require adult-directed formal instruction. However, STEM can and should be integrated in intentional ways throughout a young child's typical routines and daily activities.

Is STEM a hard major? ›

STEM faculty are among the toughest graders, even if they do not teach the classes that have the most demanding workloads. Grade inflation is less prevalent in the STEM majors than in any other majors on campus. Grading on a curve is more common in STEM classes than in non-STEM classes.

Who has the most STEM degrees? ›

Pennsylvania State University awarded the most undergraduate degrees in STEM fields (6,473) in 2019-20, the latest year for which relatively complete data are available.

How do I know if I have a STEM degree? ›

Is My Degree a STEM-Designated Degree Program? The first step is to find the classification number of your degree. The Classification of Educational Programs, a database provided by the Department of Education is helpful in looking up the CIP code for a specific degree.

What is the hardest STEM major? ›

Geological engineering is considered one of the hardest STEM majors because it combines elements of various disciplines, including geology, geophysics, geochemistry, hydrology, and engineering. It also requires a strong understanding of math and physics and the ability to analyze and interpret complex data sets.

What major is not STEM? ›

A non-STEM major is a major that isn't in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. This means non-STEM majors include those in business, literature, education, arts, and humanities.

Is nursing a STEM degree? ›

The U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics includes nursing as a STEM field and STEM adjacent, recognizing practitioner occupations as STEM professions. Higher education has also embraced nursing as a STEM profession, with several universities including nursing in their science programs.

What are the disadvantages of STEM education? ›

However, the problem with the push towards STEM education is that the increased focus on analytical reasoning might leave students lacking in other areas of schooling primarily influenced by art and humanities. These areas include creative thinking, the development of humor, and even emotional regulation.

Do STEM majors make a lot of money? ›

Of all fields, STEM majors have the highest starting salary at $57,900 per year, as well as the highest mid-career salary at $108,300 per year. Prominent among the STEM majors with the highest starting salary is engineering, with 7 of the top 10 majors in the engineering field.

Why are STEM majors paid more? ›

And that, the researchers argue, means that most of the salary advantage comes from having expertise in a valuable new technology. As others catch up in knowledge of that technology, the salary advantage shrinks.

What is the highest paying job in STEM? ›

Top STEM jobs with high salaries
  • Nuclear engineer. ...
  • Materials engineer. ...
  • IT manager. ...
  • Computer scientist. ...
  • Software engineer. ...
  • Network security engineer. National average salary: $115,349 per year. ...
  • Network architect. National average salary: $136,251 per year. ...
  • Radiologist. National average salary: $197,260 per year.
Jul 21, 2022

What is the top STEM job? ›

Here are the best STEM careers:
  • Software Developer.
  • Nurse Practitioner.
  • Medical and Health Services Manager.
  • Physician Assistant.
  • Information Security Analyst.
  • IT Manager.
  • Web Developer.

Are doctors considered STEM? ›

You may be left wondering what STEM jobs you can pursue. STEM careers go beyond just being a doctor or an engineer – the opportunities are endless!

What is STEM degree in USA? ›

The term STEM is used to refer to programmes in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics Under these 4 general subject areas, there are numerous specialities that you can choose from based on your preferences.

Are STEM degrees more difficult? ›

STEM faculty are among the toughest graders, even if they do not teach the classes that have the most demanding workloads. Grade inflation is less prevalent in the STEM majors than in any other majors on campus. Grading on a curve is more common in STEM classes than in non-STEM classes.

Is a doctor considered STEM? ›

You may be left wondering what STEM jobs you can pursue. STEM careers go beyond just being a doctor or an engineer – the opportunities are endless! So what are some of the major STEM careers you should be exploring?

Is the medical field considered STEM? ›

It includes disciplines in the life sciences, physical sciences, engineering, mathematics, computer science, and the health sciences.

Is psychology considered STEM? ›

Psychology is a core STEM discipline because of its direct scientific and technological innovations, as well as its indirect contributions to education and learning in science and technology.

What is an example of a STEM? ›

Examples of food-storing stems include such specialized forms as tubers, rhizomes, and corms and the woody stems of trees and shrubs. Water storage is developed to a high degree in the stems of cacti, and all green stems are capable of photosynthesis.

What type of education is STEM? ›

These are the kinds of skills that students develop in science, technology, engineering, and math, including computer science—disciplines collectively known as STEM/CS.

How much does a STEM degree cost? ›

Although degree costs in most STEM fields range between $65,000 and $80,000, engineering degree costs are significantly higher.


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