College Prep 101: How to Develop Your STEM Interest
By Kate, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor
You’re great at math, you love your science class, or that java course you took really clicked with you, so naturally everyone is suggesting you look at STEM majors in college, right? Science, technology, engineering, and math programs and course offerings have taken off at high schools as the world and job market continue to evolve and advance technologically. As students and parents start to think about the future, STEM majors seem like a secure and stimulating job path. But “STEM” is a big umbrella under which many majors and fields exist. It is important to narrow down your interests in high school to make an informed choice about your college path.
So, what can you do now to explore your interest in STEM and help yourself stand out when it comes time to apply to college?
Taking advantage of the courses that your school offers is the first and best place to start. Look at your school’s profile to see what courses are typically offered in their STEM stream and talk with your college counselor early to begin planning an academic track that will carry you through senior year. Taking the most rigorous courses available to you—AP or IB—and doing well in them is key to deepening your STEM interest and preparing for future applications.
- Do the math. Students who are interested in pursuing any STEM major will need to have a strong academic background in math. Understand your school’s math offerings and tracking to allow you to reach calculus. You should also plan to take biology, physics, or chemistry. Taking a rigorous STEM course load shows admissions officers demonstrates your aptitude in the area and that you can handle the academic challenges of their classrooms.
- Explore electives. Explore your schools STEM electives and enroll in classes like genetics, mechanical engineering, or computer science, if offered. STEM electives allow you to get a taste of specific fields and make a more informed decision about which academic programs you’ll be interested at the college level. Challenging yourself to maximize your learning opportunities within your school is also your first chance to demonstrate to admissions officers how you will maximize learning opportunities on their campuses.
Clubs and Organizations
Your school’s clubs are a great way to connect with fellow students who share your interests and apply what you’ve learned in your STEM coursework.
- Join a club related to your favorite class. Loving those engineering and physics classes? Try out your school’s robotics club. Math really speaking to you as a language? Start exploring more complex topics with Mu Alpha Theta or competing in American Regions Mathematics League. Can’t wait to learn your next programming language and want to support women in computer science? Look for a Girls Who Code chapter! There are so many great organizations out there that will help you dive into projects and have a ton of fun doing it.
- Make your membership count. The way to get the most out of these experiences is to be an active member, work your way up to a leadership role, or organize a project committee. STEM clubs are not only a great way to explore your interests but will help you build a strong case around your academic interests in your college applications.
- If you can’t find one, start one! If your school doesn’t offer a club that you are interested in, gather up some of your classmates and start one! Leading the charge to bring a club to your school can be a development opportunity and way to leave your mark on your school community. It also demonstrates leadership and initiative—qualities that many colleges are looking for in their applicants.
The fields that make up science, technology, engineering, and math never stop evolving and neither should you. Take your learning beyond the classroom by exploring academic topics in the real world.
- Find local companies and apply for or propose an internship or connect with faculty at nearby institutions and inquire about opportunities in their labs. These applied experiences make you a stronger applicant and help you begin to develop a professional network. Strong recommendation letters from your internship coordinator or principal investigator can also be a great way to make your college applications stand out.
- Explore summer program opportunities at colleges and universities. There are many summer opportunities in areas like engineering, medicine, computer science. Programs like these give you STEM experience, and spending time studying and living on a college campus will help you when building your college list.
- Be informed about your field of interest. Find books that delve into quantum physics or theoretical math. Stay current on the latest in materials science or cyber security practices by regularly reading scientific journals. Watch TED talks by notable researchers or professionals in biomedical engineering or take courses through Coursera in robotics. Colleges often ask what students are reading on applications, so not only will staying informed help you develop your specialty, but it can also help you present a more compelling application.
STEM majors can be an exciting path for many students and lead to rewarding careers. Through developing your interests early and participating in the field as a high school student, you can prepare yourself for the competitive college application process and a rewarding career.
The IvyWise team of expert counselors is made up for former deans and directors of admission from some of the top schools in the US, any many specialize in helping STEM students develop their interests, build balanced college lists, and apply to best-fit STEM programs. For more information on how IvyWise can help guide you through the college prep and admissions process, contact us today for more information on our college counseling programs!
To learn more about Kate and her admissions experience, check out her bio here!