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How to Choose a Major: Business vs. STEM

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Business and STEM are two practical majors with high earning potential. Both fields encompass a wide variety of topics and potential career paths. But which one is right for you? Here’s how to choose between these two majors.


Business vs. STEM Major


Business is a fairly interdisciplinary field of study—in addition to business-focused coursework such as classes in entrepreneurship, management, and marketing, students are also exposed to classes that build real-world skills, including writing, communication, and critical thinking. Consequently, students graduating with a degree in business possess a wide range of skills that make them versatile candidates in the job market. 


STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is a much more focused educational path than business. No matter what STEM field a student pursues, their coursework will be light on the humanities; rather, students will focus on building skills like scientific literacy, innovative thought, problem-solving, and analytical thinking. STEM skills are in high demand and students with a STEM degree are some of the most coveted graduates by employers.  


Because STEM is playing an increasingly important role in the world, some schools are incorporating STEM into their business programs. For example, in March 2020, George Washington University announced two new business/STEM degree programs—a Bachelor of Science in Business Analytics and a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems.


Business and STEM Career Paths


There has been some debate in recent years about the value of a STEM degree. A September 2019 New York Times article highlights the strong prospects of STEM students leaving college: 


  • In 2017, computer science and engineering majors (ages 23 to 25) working full time earned an average of $61,744 annually—37% higher than the average starting salary of those who majored in history or the social sciences. 
  • Men majoring in computer science or engineering roughly doubled their starting salaries by age 40, to an average of $124,458.
  • Women with STEM majors also earned nearly 50% more than social science and history majors at ages 23 to 25. 


However, by age 40 other majors have caught up to the earnings of STEM majors. By age 40:


  • The average salary of male college graduates was $111,870—social science and history majors earned $131,154.
  • Between ages 38 and 40, women with STEM majors only earn 10% more than women who were social science and history majors. 


There are a lot of theories and reasons for why STEM majors pay off in the short term but other majors catch up in the long run. Most notably is that STEM careers, along with the skills needed to flourish in them, are rapidly changing, while skills like management, communication, and leadership learned in a more multidisciplinary field like business have staying power. 


Preparing for Business or STEM In High School 


No matter your major, your time in high school offers an opportunity to begin building the skills you’ll need to succeed in college, and lays the groundwork for a successful career. 




Students planning on majoring in business in college should try to take any business-related classes that are offered at their high school. Common classes include: 


  • Accounting
  • Business law
  • Business management
  • Economics 
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Marketing  


They should also seek out business-focused clubs. DECA and the FBLA are two popular options for business-minded high schoolers that help instill important skills like decision-making, leadership, teamwork, and time management while also building a network of peers with similar interests and aspirations. Students can gain firsthand business experience by starting a company or a non-profit. 


We also have a whole post on extracurriculars for high schoolers interested business.




Students preparing for a STEM major should begin tackling challenging STEM-focused coursework in high school. Classes like AP Calculus, AP Physics, AP Chemistry, AP Computer Science, and AP Statistics all are excellent for building a base of STEM knowledge and showing colleges that you’re a serious student. 


There is no shortage of STEM clubs for active high schoolers looking to add extracurricular activities. Popular options include: 


  • Chemistry clubs
  • Coding clubs
  • Engineering clubs
  • Math Olympiad
  • Physics club
  • Robotics team 
  • Science fairs
  • Science Olympiad


Students can also express their interest in STEM by volunteering their time to tutor other students or entering a STEM competition such as the Regeneron Science Talent Search: College Scholarship


Best Colleges for Business and STEM Majors

Below are lists of the 10 best schools for business and STEM majors in the U.S. Simply click the school to learn more about its majors, cost, and admissions standards. 


You can also see your chances of acceptance using CollegeVine’s free chancing calculator. It takes into account a variety of factors like GPA, standardized test scores, and extracurricular activities to provide you with an accurate assessment of your odds of admission at over 500 colleges. 


Best Colleges for Business Majors


  1. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton School)
  2. Cornell University
  3. California Institute of Technology
  4. Washington University in St. Louis
  5. Carnegie Mellon University
  6. Brown University
  7. University of Notre Dame
  8. Georgetown University
  9. University of Virginia (main campus)
  10. University of Michigan–Ann Arbor


Best Colleges for STEM Majors 


  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  2. Stanford University
  3. University of CaliforniaBerkeley
  4. Georgia Institute of Technology
  5. California Institute of Technology
  6. Carnegie Mellon University
  7. University of IllinoisUrbana-Champaign
  8. University of Michigan–Ann Arbor
  9. Cornell University
  10. Purdue UniversityWest Lafayette

Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.

Business vs. STEM In College 


The coursework of business and STEM majors differs in college; however, one characteristic that the two majors share is that students are exposed to more general classes in the early years, with coursework becoming more focused as they progress through their college careers. 


Business Majors 


Business is a versatile degree and the core curriculum exposes students to a variety of business specialities, in addition to providing foundational knowledge that makes students versatile candidates in the workforce. Typical core business classes include: 


  • Accounting and Financial Management
  • Business Administration
  • Business Ethics
  • Business Law
  • Business Management
  • Human Resource Management
  • Intro to Economics
  • Management and Organization 
  • Marketing


With the core curriculum covered, a business student’s coursework becomes more focused—allowing students to keep taking “general business” classes or pursue a concentration, like:  


  • Accounting 
  • Business Analytics
  • Financial 
  • Financial Planning and Wealth Management 
  • Management 
  • Marketing 
  • Operations and Supply Chain Management 


Internships are a great way for business students to build their professional networks and gain real-life experience—they also allow business students to explore different career paths and fields of interest. Another excellent opportunity outside of the classroom for business students to explore are clubs like the Future Business Leaders of America, Beta Alpha Psi (the International Honor Organization for Financial Information Students and Professionals), or Beta Gamma Sigma (an academic honor society for top business school students), all of which provide networking opportunities and cultivate in-demand skills like leadership. 


STEM Majors


A STEM major’s coursework will vary depending on the field they’re enrolled in; popular STEM majors include: 


  • Architecture 
  • Astronomy
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Engineering
  • Earth Sciences
  • Health Sciences
  • Information Technology
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Software Development 
  • Statistics 


Much like business majors, STEM majors develop foundational skills in their field before moving on to tackle more specific coursework. For example, engineering majors will take foundational classes in math, science, and engineering concepts early on before moving on to fields of interest such as:


  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Civil Engineering
  • Computer Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Geological Engineering
  • Industrial Engineering
  • Marine Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Petroleum Engineering


Internships provide STEM students the chance to explore the vast number of careers encompassed in the field of STEM—they also provide an opportunity to apply lessons learned in the classroom and lab in the real world. Professionally, internships build resumes and connections, and pave the way to a career after college. 


Clubs are another extracurricular activity afforded to STEM students; there is seemingly a club on college campuses for every discipline. STEM clubs are great for furthering knowledge, applying skills, building teamwork, instilling leadership, and growing a network of like-minded peers.  


Business vs. STEM College Graduates


In general, students graduating from college with a business degree possess a wide range of skills that makes them well-suited for a variety of jobs in the business world. Consequently, their career path is less defined than that of most STEM majors. STEM majors leave college with a distinct skill and a clear pathway into a particular field. 


There is some debate about which degree is preferable for long-term career success. A STEM education leads to early-career employability and high salaries, but more multidisciplinary fields close the gap over the course of time. This is in part because STEM encompasses ever-evolving fields, and skills erode or evolve as time passes, while soft skills, such as leadership and communication, remain constant. 


After College 


Both business and STEM majors have numerous opportunities available to them after graduating college. The broad skill set possessed by business degree holders makes them an easy fit in any number of positions—from accounting to research analysts—while the in-demand skills possessed by STEM graduates make them sought after in the workforce.  




There are many career paths for a business degree holder to take—often an internship, concentration, or connection will lead them in a particular direction. Common entry-level jobs for business majors include: 


  • Assistant buyer
  • Financial analyst 
  • Human resource assistant 
  • Marketing assistant 
  • Research analyst 
  • Sales rep 
  • Social media manager


It’s also common for business majors to pursue an MBA after completing their undergraduate work—some choose to enter an MPA program directly after college while others prefer to pursue an MBA after accumulating a few years of work experience. An MBA can speed advancement, open doors to new opportunities, and lead to higher salaries. Because of the enormous influence that an MBA has on a career trajectory, many colleges offer a five-year MBA program (or 4+1 programs) where students complete a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years.  




Since STEM encompasses such a large number of fields, the job possibilities are only limited to the area of study. In general, STEM graduates are in demand, easily employed, and well-compensated. According to U.S. News, the 10 Best STEM Jobs are: 


  1. Software developer 
  2. Dentist 
  3. Physician assistant 
  4. Orthodontist 
  5. Nurse practitioner 
  6. Statistician 
  7. Medial and Health Services Manager 
  8. IT Manager
  9. Mathematician 
  10. Operations Research Analyst 


Many STEM students will also choose to pursue an advanced degree, some for the boost in employability and pay, while others will need one for consideration for particular positions. STEM jobs that typically require an advanced degree include: 


  • Astronomers
  • Biochemists
  • Computer research scientist
  • Epidemiologist
  • Genetic counselor
  • Mathematician
  • Medical scientist 
  • Phycologist 
  • Physicist 


Even STEM degree holders who don’t plan on pursuing an advanced degree might find themselves back in school. In general, STEM skills require updating over the course of a career, especially as new technologies are developed and discoveries are made.

Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.