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What is a STEM degree?

Find out what the different STEM subjects are and what you can do with a STEM degree in the UK.


What are STEM subjects?

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. A STEM subject can be in any related area, such as:

  • Agricultural science
  • Astronomy
  • Biomedical science
  • Civil engineering
  • Food science
  • Information technology
  • Materials technology
  • Medicine
  • Robotics
  • Statistics

Study a STEM subject at university and you’ll build skills needed by employers across many industries and sectors. You learn how to be creative yet technical while solving complex problems and considering ethical issues.

A degree can lead to countless career opportunities. Graduates have gone on to find medical discoveries, improve our infrastructures, protect endangered species, and develop better ways of living.

Examples of postgraduate STEM degrees include MSc in Mathematics, MSc in Medical Technology and PhD in Computer Science.



Generally, science (including natural sciences) can be split into three branches: biology, chemistry and physics. Courses usually include lots of practical work, such as conducting experiments in labs. Many are specific courses and vocational in nature (like physiotherapy). Careers that lead on from science degrees include:

  • Doctor
  • Dentist
  • Geologist
  • Forensic investigator
  • Environmental scientist



A technology-based course covers areas of computer science, robotics, gaming, software development and more. They can be practical and creative where you might use and develop complex digital systems. Degrees lead to careers such as:

  • Data scientist
  • Computer programmer
  • Website designer
  • Information security analyst
  • Games developer



Engineering courses involve the creation and maintenance of machines and structures. They can be general or in more specific areas, such as mechanical, aeronautics or electrical engineering. Graduates with engineering degrees are usually in high demand by employers. They go into careers like:

  • Civil engineer
  • Nuclear engineer
  • Biomedical engineer
  • Automotive engineer
  • CAD technician



Maths courses help you develop your logical and problem-solving skills, which are useful to a wide variety of industries. Graduates go into successful careers in areas such as banking, business, computing and science. Specific job roles include:

  • Accountant
  • Data analyst
  • Statistician
  • Financial manager
  • Maths teacher


What are not STEM subjects?

Subject areas that aren’t classified as STEM include those in the arts, humanities and social sciences.

Economics is generally not considered a STEM subject as it’s usually studied as a social science. But several universities do recognise it as one and offer courses with more of a mathematical focus.

Psychology is a STEM subject. However, some psychology courses on offer are classified as arts degrees, as they focus on the social science aspects.


Why have a career in STEM

Graduates from STEM degrees often have high salaries and opportunities to be involved in groundbreaking developments.

As technology continues to rapidly advance, the demand for those with certain skills is constantly growing, and so are the job opportunities. According to an Engineering UK report, the UK needs 1.8 million more engineers and technicians by 2025.

Career options aren’t limited to STEM-related areas. During a degree course, you gain transferable skills such as problem-solving and teamwork. These are invaluable to a range of other professional roles.



Many governments around the world are investing in encouraging more people to study STEM subjects at university. Numerous industry employers are also addressing the lack of diversity in the workplace.

This has provided wider opportunities and extra financial support for more diverse groups of people, such as BAME students and women, who are underrepresented in STEM-related jobs.


What’s it like to study for a STEM postgraduate degree?

There’s a large number of STEM-based postgraduate courses available to study at universities across the UK. They develop your skills at an even greater depth than at undergraduate level and help you prepare for high-level roles in organisations of all kinds.

STEM master’s courses can improve your career prospects or bridge the gap between undergraduate and doctoral study. They usually have fewer teaching hours but more opportunities for original research.


What do you need for a postgraduate STEM course?

Depending on the course and university, you may not need an undergraduate qualification in a STEM subject to study at postgraduate level. Conversion courses are available for some areas, such as psychology. Relevant work experience may be required. Some courses may ask for a related undergraduate degree and relevant experience.

The cost of a postgraduate STEM degree varies widely between courses, universities and qualifications. Master’s tuition fees are usually £9,250 per year but can be higher. International students can expect to pay more.

Scholarships and bursaries are often available for STEM students, typically from universities or industry employers.



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