Interested in a career in science, technology, engineering, or math?
You’re off to a good start if you enjoy solving problems and are curious about the world around you. But there’s much more that STEM students can do to prepare for college and career—even while still in high school.
Follow these steps to help pave the way:
1. Prep for College With Challenging Courses
Sign up for four full years of math and science classes while in high school, and consider taking honors, International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, or dual credit courses. You’ll get a taste for rigorous coursework and show colleges you are willing to challenge yourself.
Use electives to explore STEM-related subjects like computer programming, coding, or data analytics—but don’t neglect your other core courses. Strong writing and public speaking skills are highly valued by STEM programs and employers. Colleges tend to look favorably on STEM applicants who have taken challenging courses across the board.
2. Pursue Your Interests and Gain Experience
Look for ways to build on what you’re learning in the classroom. Maybe that means competing with a robotics club or joining the math team. Or maybe you’d rather work toward CPR certification, build a solar car, write code, or join an astronomy club. The possibilities are endless—whatever aspect of STEM interests you most, find a way to gain some hands-on experience.
Check out the STEM clubs and activities offered at your school and look for community or online programs that fit your interests. Look for ways to gain leadership experience and investigate research opportunities at local hospitals, STEM-related companies, and colleges. Many campuses offer STEM-related summer programs—check to see what’s available in your area.
3. Plan Ahead
Connect with your STEM teachers. You may need recommendation letters from them in the college admission and scholarship process. Save your projects, stories, PowerPoints, photos, and more to create a digital portfolio that highlights your skills and abilities. Your portfolio will help show prospective colleges what makes you stand out as a STEM student. It will also come in handy when applying for scholarships.
Ask admission reps about the requirements and deadlines for any college-specific scholarships or STEM programs (i.e., honors engineering). Search for other STEM-related scholarships on sites like Fastweb and Cappex. Keep in touch with your high school counselor for academic and college planning. And when you meet people connected to STEM, ask for contact information and follow up.
4. Explore and Make Connections
Check out colleges’ social media to learn more about majors and student life. Reach out and connect virtually and in person with colleges that offer STEM programs. Look for opportunities to attend college fairs, admission events, specialty STEM programs, and campus tours. When an admission rep from a college you’re interested in schedules a visit at your school, do your best to attend.
Also make sure to take time to learn about STEM careers, noting what you like and don’t like. Pursue a STEM-related job shadowing experience or internship during your high school years and find a mentor in one or two STEM careers. Be professional, follow up, and write a thank you. These connections could be valuable in your future career search.
Written by Debi Hudson, director of college counseling, St. Teresa's Academy (MO).