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Students Set STEM Path Early

DNA

What prompts today’s undergraduates to pursue STEM majors rather than business, law, the arts, or other fields of study? Income? Job prospects? Passion?

Actually, their choice often is made long before they arrive on campus. According to a new study, most college students decide to concentrate in science, technology, engineering or math because they got turned on by a teacher or class they had in high school or before. However, only 20 percent say they feel that their education before college prepared them “extremely well” for those fields.

The STEM Perceptions survey, released this month by Microsoft and the polling organization Harris Interactive, found that nearly 4 in 5 STEM concentrators opted for that path in high school or earlier. One  in 5 make the decision in middle school.

MS.Harris STEM Perceptions chart

More than half the students said that before going to college, a teacher or class got them interested in STEM. That was particularly true for female STEM majors; 68 percent cited “a teacher or class” as their top reason for pursuing STEM, compared with 51 percent of males.

The study also asked STEM college students and the parents of K-12 students about attitudes toward STEM education. It found that male and female students enter the fields for different reasons. Females are more likely to want to make a difference, while males are more likely to say they’ve always enjoyed games, toys or clubs focused on the hard science.

The top reason given for pursuing engineering and science? Some 68 percent of respondents said “it’s intellectually interesting/challenging.” That’s the same percentage of males and pre-med students who cited  “good salary out of school” as their top reason for pursuing STEM.

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