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The Student News Site of The Bishop's School

The Tower

The Student News Site of The Bishop's School

The Tower

The Student News Site of The Bishop's School

The Tower

It’s Not Rocket Science

Why valuing STEM over humanities is a harmful and inaccurate assumption
Cathy Morrison
Even within a broader trend towards popularity in STEM subjects, Bishop’s is especially STEM focused. Director of College Counseling Ms. Wendy Chang, who worked at a school in New York prior to Bishop’s explained, “For me personally here [at Bishop’s], compared to some of the other schools where I’ve worked, I will definitely see more kids leaning towards STEM.”

Doctor, engineer, computer programmer, chemist. What do these jobs have in common? They’re some of the first careers that come to mind when someone thinks: What’s a prestigious job? What’s a job that will make me a lot of money? 

Though jobs in STEM fields are vital to the world’s development, many students are influenced into believing the false assumption that STEM careers are the only way they can become successful, both economically and intellectually. 

STEM, or science, engineering, technology, and mathematics, has increased in popularity in recent years. According to a 2018 Pew Research survey, about 71% of Americans “believe that jobs in STEM have higher salaries than those in other fields.” Another Pew Research survey from 2017 found that “34% of adults recommended kids to pursue careers in STEM,” compared to 11% for non-STEM subjects. 

Many Bishop’s students have observed similar themes. As Mira Singh (‘25), whose academic interests lie more in English and the arts, said, “I feel like STEM has more of a focus [in school], because oftentimes those [subjects] are seen as the harder jobs.” She added that in terms of money, STEM jobs are seen as “more successful” compared to other fields. Ava Bradley (‘24), who is passionate about English, mentioned, “I think [STEM] is viewed as more important to the future.”

Mira and Ava’s observations track with larger scale opinions at Bishop’s. As College Counselor Ms. Marsha Setzer said, “There’s been a trend that STEM is king.” She added, “I’ve worked at a couple different schools, I’ve worked in a few different countries and I think there is a perception that strong STEM students are the really smart students and so to be a top student, you’re going to push yourself in those areas.” She said, “I think ultimately the push is coming from this idea that those are the employable skills to have.”  

Director of College Counseling Ms. Wendy Chang similarly said,  “In this day and age, college is so expensive, and I think there are a lot of people who see STEM fields as having better job security later.” However, she also suggested that there are other reasons for the popularity of STEM majors at Bishop’s. She mentioned that she has observed a “STEM culture” in California, especially here in San Diego where many students’ parents work in the biotech industry. She added that “there are a lot of classes [at Bishop’s] that kids take that fuel their interest in STEM, and it might be easy for them to see clearer career paths from those classes.”

The same trend in STEM popularity is visible on a broader scale, including the college majors students have pursued in recent years. As stated by the Public Policy Institute of California, between the 2010-11 school year and the 2016-17 school year, there was a 55% increase in the number of bachelor STEM degrees earned at California colleges, compared to a 17% increase in all other subjects’ degrees. 

In addition, the National Center for Education Statistics’s calculation of most popular majors in the US shows a trend towards more STEM subjects in recent years. While certain subjects like economics have consistently remained popular, there has been an increase in STEM majors and a decrease in many humanities majors in the past twenty years (humanities includes the majority of non-STEM subjects, such as economics, psychology, English, and the arts).

 In the 2020-21 school year, health professions, biology, engineering, and computer science were all in the top seven college majors, at second, fourth, six, and seventh respectively. In the 2000-01 school year, only health professions and biology were, at fourth and seventh respectively.

College counselors’ observations of Bishop’s students’ prospective majors track with these statistics. “It’s always going to be STEM and business that kind of will tend to be really, really dominant,” explained Ms. Chang. She added, “[There are] lots of kids wanting to be pre-med, engineering, computer science, [and] business. I really don’t see as many kids wanting to do philosophy, humanities, or even social sciences quite as much.” Ms. Marsha Setzer agreed that “engineering, business, and some type of biological [or] chemical science…[are] what the majority of the students are looking to study.”

Therefore unsurprisingly, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that employment in STEM occupations is projected to grow by 10.8 % by 2032.  

But despite this common desire to pursue STEM, humanities subjects, in reality, can lead to very successful careers as well.

One common misconception about humanities is that they lead to lower-paying careers. While money is not the only important factor to pick a career, it is important to be fully informed about how much money a job will earn long term. 

STEM majors undeniably have higher entry-level salaries. According to a 2017 U.S. census survey, computer science and engineering majors between the ages of 23 and 25 made around $61,744, 37% higher than the average starting salary for history and social science majors, $45,032. 

And yet, as time goes on, this difference decreases. The same survey recorded that when men who majored in computer science or engineering were 40 years old, their salaries were around double their initial pay, or $124,458. By age 40 the salaries of men who majored in history and social science majors had almost tripled to $131,154. Women follow a similar trend. In the 23-25 age range, women with STEM majors earned nearly 50% more than their humanities counterparts. At age 38-40, the difference in salary was only 10%. 

So why does this happen? The answer points to an advantage in studying humanities subjects. While many STEM-focused majors focus primarily on technical skills, humanities subjects tend to emphasize  “soft skills” — non-technical skills related to human interaction. Examples include communication, leadership, adaptability, and problem-solving. “In the liberal arts tradition, these skills are built through dialogue between instructors and students, and through close reading and analysis of a broad range of subjects and texts,” explained David Deming in a New York Times article. Though these kinds of skills may not help land a prestigious job right off the bat like someone with very technical knowledge, they have immense value in the long run. 

A 2018 National Association of Colleges and Employers survey found that around
80% of employers see “written communication, problem-solving and the ability to work in a team” (all soft skills) as some of the most important attributes when hiring.

Mira stressed the value of the skills she has gained through humanities classes. “I am able to articulate my thoughts in more effective and thoughtful ways, both orally and in writing, and it has also helped me develop more creative ideas,” she explained. 

Ava also mentioned the importance of a humanities skillset. “You read on a day to day basis, you’re meant to discern information,” she said. “You become an adult, you become a voting citizen, you need to know what’s true and what’s not to make respectable decisions.” She added, “Even in STEM fields, you read a research paper, [and] you have to have the abilities to properly decipher it.”

These less tangible skills that many non-technical majors focus on are extremely relevant to the work world and to the world in general. How you work with other people, your ability to lead, organization, effective problem solving—these are skills that create well rounded employees. As author and journalist George Anders explained in a New York Times article, “The long-held belief by parents and students that liberal arts graduates are unemployable ignores the reality of the modern economy, where jobs require a mix of skills not easily packaged in a college major.”  

This isn’t to say that STEM majors cannot learn these soft skills, or work in jobs that require them. In fact, many students who majored in STEM initially end up working in a non-technical job later on. A Census Bureau survey, for example, found that in 2019, of the 37% of Americans (age 25-64) who earned an undergraduate degree in science or engineering, only 14% had jobs in the STEM field—which translates to only around 28%. About two-thirds of STEM major graduates ended up working in other fields, such as “non-STEM management, law, education, social work, accounting or counseling,” as stated by a 2021 U.S. Census article.

Recent innovations in science, engineering, technology, and math have been unprecedented and insurmountable. The world needs scientists and engineers and doctors. However, the world also needs people who have been taught to effectively manage and work with others, who can write at a complex level, and wield a wide variety of other skills often demonstrated by humanities and social science-educated adults. 

As Ms. Setzer said, “I do wonder how many students really want to study some of these [STEM] subjects and how many of them [it’s]  just that’s the message that they’ve been telling themselves and that they’ve been hearing for so long.” She added, “They haven’t been able to separate messages from what they really want.”

No one, especially students, should feel as though they must pursue STEM to have a successful and fulfilling career. 


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About the Contributor
Nora Bitar
Nora Bitar, Content Editor
Nora Bitar is a junior and a story editor for The Tower. Her favorite type of articles to write are music reviews — which she can’t wait to do more of this year. In school, she loves English and she has been enjoying her French class. Outside of school, she enjoys listening to Taylor Swift, binge-watching shows (one of her favorites is The Good Place), and watching soccer with her family. She is also a big foodie, and adores Italian, Japanese, and Mexican food, among a wide variety of other cuisines. Nora can’t wait for a great year! 

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