women in stem

Women in STEM: Inspiring College and Career Paths

If you’re a woman and thinking about studying science, math, technology, or engineering—congrats! You’re a woman in STEM. In this article about the best college and career paths for women in STEM, we’ll go over some advice and tips for how to make the most of your college experience.

Sometimes, women in STEM face additional barriers due to being underrepresented in their fields. We want to make it as easy as possible for more women in STEM to succeed in their education and their careers. That’s why we’re going to provide plenty of tips on how to plan your college admissions process as women in STEM.

In this article on women in STEM, we’ll cover:

Overview of Women in STEM

  • Meaning of STEM
  • History of women in STEM
  • Famous women in STEM
  • Women in STEM statistics
  • Best college majors and top STEM schools for women
  • How to seek support as women in STEM, including
    • Finding female STEM role models 
    • Seeking women in STEM scholarships
  • Advice for how to ace the college admissions process as women in STEM
  • And more!

But first, let’s look deeper into the meaning of STEM. 

What does STEM stand for?

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Before we get into more specific advice for women in STEM, let’s start at the beginning. What does STEM stand for?

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Women in STEM means that you are a woman who has decided to study or work in a STEM field. There are lots of majors that women in STEM can pursue.

Some of the top STEM majors include computer science, engineering, and math. But women in STEM have a broader range of majors to choose from than simply science, technology, engineering, and math—statistics, economics, biology, chemical engineering, psychology, and pre-med tracks are all viable paths for women in STEM. 

Additionally, some non-STEM programs have STEM designations, like a STEM-designated business program at USC. This speaks to the strong quantitative and technical qualities of these majors. 

A History of Women in STEM

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There have been women in STEM since STEM was a thing. Women have always been present in science, math, engineering, and technological fields. However, their achievements and contributions have historically been overlooked and undervalued. This isn’t just the case for women in STEM—according to the Representation Project, women only represent 0.5% of all recorded history. 

From Italian physicians in the 13th century like Jacobina Felice to a woman known as the world’s first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace, women in STEM have been making discoveries, pushing forward innovation, and serving their communities for thousands of years. However, since we don’t learn as much about the history of women in STEM as we do about men’s achievements in STEM fields, negative stereotypes about women’s abilities persist. 

Starting as early as childhood, it’s important to convey to girls that they are equally capable in mathematical fields as boys. One way to do that is by learning about the history of women in STEM. Combating biases that place women in more linguistic fields and men in more quantitative fields must begin early since these biases can affect women and girls’ beliefs in their abilities, which can then impact their career decisions. 

Learning about the history of women in STEM can help instill confidence in young women in STEM. In the next section, we’ll talk about some of the most famous women in STEM. 

Famous Women in STEM

Despite being overlooked by history, there are many famous women in STEM. These pioneering women should serve as female STEM role models for any girl who wants to pursue a career in a STEM field. 

Famous Women in STEM

Ada Lovelace

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The first of our famous women in science is Ada Lovelace. Born in 1815 to Lord Byron, a famous British poet, Ada Lovelace is known as the first computer programmer. She was a mathematician who created a program for the first digital computer alongside Charles Babbage. She was the first to express the idea that the computer could have potential outside of just computing numbers for mathematics purposes. 

Elizabeth Blackwell

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The next of our famous women in STEM is Elizabeth Blackwell. Born in 1821, Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman in the US to receive an MD. Blackwell went on to establish the New York Infirmary for Women and Children in 1857. She also spent her career studying and emphasizing the potential for women in the medical profession. She published multiple books to inspire future women in STEM and women in the medical field.

Ana Roqué de Duprey

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The next on our list of famous women in science is Ana Roqué de Duprey. Born in Puerto Rico in 1853, Ana Roqué de Duprey started her own school in her living room at only 13 years old. She even wrote a geography textbook for her students. This was only the first school that she founded, and she eventually created the College of Mayagüez, which later became the Mayagüez Campus of the University of Puerto Rico. She was an accomplished botanist, who spent 30 years writing a book on Caribbean plants, which despite being the most comprehensive study at the time, was not accepted by the largely male field of botany. 

Lise Mietner

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Next on our list of famous women in STEM is Lise Mietner who was born in 1878.  Mietner is known as the “mother of nuclear power.” She worked with chemist Otto Hahn, and the pair discovered nuclear fission. Though Hahn went on to win the Nobel Prize for their discovery in 1944, Mietner received no recognition. Because of this snub, many called this prize “the Nobel Mistake.”

Florence Seibert

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File:Florence Seibert Historical Marker.jpg” by DrKathyShaginaw | CC BY-SA 4.0.

Number five on our list of famous women in STEM is Florence Seibert. Born in 1897, Florence Seibert was a biochemist and a professor. Seibert developed a sySTEM that became the basis of the test for Tuberculosis. The test is still in use today.

Grace Hopper

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The next of our famous women in science is Grace Hopper. Born in 1906, Hopper is known as the “Queen of Code.” After studying mathematics, and earning a Master’s and Doctorate at Yale, Hopper joined the Navy during WWII. She helped build Mark I, one of the earliest computers used during the war. 

Rachel Carson

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Next on our list of famous women in science is Rachel Carson. Born in 1907, Rachel Carson was a marine biologist and environmentalist. Her groundbreaking book Silent Spring is credited with starting the modern environmentalism movement and waking Americans up to how man-made climate change was affecting the planet.

Chien-Shiung Wu

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The next famous woman in science is Chien-Shiung Wu. Born in 1912, Wu is called the First Lady of Physics. Wu was born in China and later pursued graduate studies in the US. She worked on the Manhattan Project at Columbia, and after WWII went on to disprove a law of symmetry in physics. This was a major discovery. However, when the work was recognized with a Nobel Prize in 1957, her two male colleagues were awarded the prize—and her work went unrecognized. Sound familiar? 

Mollie Orshansky

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Next on our list of famous women in STEM is Mollie Orshansky. Born in 1915 in the Bronx, NY, Orshanksy was a food economist and statistician. With the statistical guidelines she developed, Orshanksy changed the way that the US government defines and assesses poverty. This work allowed the government to evaluate how new policies were affecting poor populations. 

Katherine Johnson

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Katherine G. Johnson: A NASA Trailblazer” by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center | CC BY-NC 2.0.

The last famous woman in STEM on our list is Katherine Johnson. Born in 1918, Katherine Johnson was the first African-American space scientist and mathematician. Johnson worked at NASA and was invaluable in the Space Race. She calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepherd, the first American in space.

These are only a few of the pioneering famous women in STEM who we can look up to as female STEM role models. If you’re ever faced with a negative stereotype as a woman in STEM, remember these famous women in science whose persistence in the face of sexism led to life-changing discoveries. 

What percentage of women go into STEM fields?

These days, there are more women in STEM than ever before. In the past 50 years, women in STEM have risen from just 8% to 27%. This trend is similar in other countries like the UK. However, women in STEM are still underrepresented. According to women in STEM statistics, despite women making up nearly half of the workforce, women in STEM comprise less than a third of the entire STEM field. What’s more, women in STEM statistics show that there is little representation for women of color

The gender discrepancies between representation for women in STEM vs men go deeper than just numbers. According to women in STEM statistics, women in STEM are typically given smaller research grants than their male counterparts, and women in STEM have shorter, less well-paid careers. In addition, women in STEM statistics show that women only make up 28% of engineering graduates and 40% of computer science graduates. 

Additionally, women in STEM statistics show that women make up only 16.5% of engineers and 25% of computer and mathematical occupations. This means that despite higher rates of women in STEM majoring in engineering and computer science, these women don’t always go on to pursue a career in that STEM field. Alternatively, some fields where women are more prevalent, like teaching STEM subjects, are some of the lowest-paying job markets.

Emerging STEM Fields for Women

The women in STEM statistics can be disheartening, but don’t let that get you down. There are still many lucrative, rewarding career paths for women in STEM—including some where women in STEM make up the majority of the workforce. Here are some of the top fields right now for women in STEM:

STEM Fields for Women

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Social science occupations

Unlike other STEM fields, women in STEM make up a majority of people working in social sciences—64%. These occupations include roles like clinical and counseling psychologists, school psychologists, and sociologists. All of these roles require another degree in addition to a Bachelor’s.

Life science occupations

While working in life sciences, women in STEM are more likely to find other women coworkers. For two life sciences occupations, natural science managers and medical scientists, women make up over 50% of the workforce. 

Mathematical science occupations

Almost 47% of professionals working in mathematical science occupations are women. In two fields, women comprise over 40% of the employees: operations research analysts, who work in many fields like health care, logistics, or business, and statisticians. Both of these roles apply to many different contexts, and statisticians generally require at least a master level education. 

Physical science occupations

In the physical sciences, women in STEM make up 41% of the workforce. If you’re looking for a job where you might be more likely to find a woman coworker, note that chemists and materials scientists are 49% women, and environmental scientists and specialists are 41% women. However, women in STEM are still underrepresented in the physical sciences. 

Computer occupations

In computer occupations, women in STEM only account for 27% of the workforce. However, there are some jobs within this field where you’re more likely to find other women in STEM: computer sySTEMs analysts (also known as sySTEMs architects), software quality assurance analysts, and web and interface design. 

Engineering occupations

Engineering has the lowest rates of women in STEM, with only 15% of professionals in the engineering field being women. Among engineers, there is one job that has the highest rate of women in STEM: environmental engineering. These engineers address problems of sustainability, like water and air quality, pollution, and waste disposal.

There are also some fields for women in STEM that are predicted to have significant growth over the next ten years: quality assurance testers. Software quality assurance analysts and testers design and then test computer programs. Women make up only 20% of software developers, but nearly half of the quality assurance testers. This particular field is projected to grow much faster than average, so it will have more and more jobs available for women in STEM. 

Operations research analysts and statisticians are also fast-growing sectors. Women make up 51% (!) of operations research analysts who apply advanced mathematical and analytical methods to come up with solutions to complicated problems. If you’re a woman in STEM, majoring in math, and looking for a fast-growing field where women are adequately represented, look no further than operations research analytics.

Contemporary female STEM role models

For many women in STEM fields, a challenge that they face is a lack of mentors and role models. Because women in STEM fields are underrepresented, most girls don’t grow up seeing female STEM role models. Studies show that one of the best ways to encourage girls to pursue science majors and other mathematical and technical fields is to expose them to other women working in those fields. 

Female STEM role models can be hard to find. Here are 5 contemporary female STEM role models that you can look up to:

5 Contemporary Female STEM Role Models

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Brittany Wenger

As a high school student, Brittany Wenger created an AI software that detected and diagnosed breast cancer. The software is called Cloud4Cancer and was tested in hospitals nationwide. She then studied at Duke and was on the Times 30 under 30 list in 2013. Wenger is now a pediatrician. 

Koral Singh

Singh is an engineer at Google and was shocked when her young daughter told her that only boys were engineers. Singh teamed up with fellow female engineers at Google to write a picture book to inspire young girls and children of color to become engineers. The book profits will be donated to charities aimed at increasing the rates of women in STEM fields.

Xyla Foxlin

After years of being the only person in a dress at her robotics competitions, Xyla started a YouTube channel as a college student originally called “Beauty and the Bolt.” She started the channel by teaching people how to use power tools and explaining to viewers how they can be “makers.” According to Xyla, she’s trying to be the female STEM role model she never had growing up, who can embrace her femininity and also pursue a scientific career.

Emily Calandrelli

The host and executive producer for a scientific-education television network and correspondent on Bill Nye Saves the World, Calandrelli is dedicated to ushering in the next generation of women in STEM fields. She’s also writing a chapter book series about an 8-year-old girl who uses science to solve problems.

Tarika Barret

Tamika Barret is the CEO of Girls Who Code, an organization aiming to close the gender gap in tech. According to Girls Who Code, they’re “building the world’s largest pipeline of future female engineers.” Barret began her career as a community organizer and educator. She is a testament to how many different paths there are for women in STEM.

When you look past the history of women in STEM and the many famous women in science to present female STEM role models, you’ll find an incredible number of women in STEM fields who are breaking barriers daily. 

Top STEM majors for women

During the college admissions process, you may be thinking about the best college majors and science majors for you. 

For women in STEM fields, here are the top four majors: 

Top 4 Majors for Women in STEM

1. Psychology

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Psychology is a social science and can lead to many careers such as  becoming a clinical or a research psychologist. Women make up at least 70% of graduates in all psychology degrees. 

2. Biological Science

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Women receive over 60% of bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biological science. Majoring in biology can prepare you for various careers, including medicine–it can even be part of a pre-med track. 

3. Engineering

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As we’ve discussed, unfortunately, women do not make up a high percentage of engineers. Indeed women make up only around 20% of engineering graduates. But, engineering is one of the best college majors for future earning, so don’t be afraid to pursue an engineering degree.

4. Math

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The percentage of women in math is around 40%, which isn’t too bad! There are many fields within math, like applied mathematics and statistics, that women in STEM can choose to pursue.

When choosing among science majors, get advice from any friends and classmates who study that major. If you don’t know anyone pursuing science majors, watch a few of our webinars and hear from students currently studying science majors who can explain why they are some of the best college majors you can study. At CollegeAdvisor, we also offer free essay examples for students looking to pursue science majors. 

Choosing your major can seem stressful, but focus on the subjects that interest you and the careers you’re drawn to pursue. If you’re set on a STEM field, that narrows your options down to some science majors, but the best college majors for every person are different. Start by simply researching science majors, and other majors, to see if the curriculum excites you.  

Top STEM Schools for Women

As part of the college admissions process, you’ll want to think about what school you want to go to. Make sure to take into account the best college majors, available science majors, women in STEM statistics at the school, and women in STEM scholarships available. 

This Best STEM Schools for Women list from Forbes was created by comparing the colleges that have the highest ranking for research activity with colleges that have the highest graduation rates for women. You can use this list as a jumping-off point when making your college list, alongside considerations like women in STEM scholarships, available science majors, and other resources. 

Best STEM Schools for Women

1. Yale University

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Located in New Haven, Connecticut, Yale is an Ivy League School ranked #5 among national universities. Yale offers women in STEM scholarships such as the Yale College First-Year Summer Research Fellowship in the Sciences & Engineering, which funds a student to conduct a research project over the summer. 

2. Harvard University

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Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard is ranked #3 nationally. Harvard is also ranked #1 for biological sciences, a strong field for women in STEM, as well as biochemistry and cell biology. If you’re already thinking about postgrad plans during your college admissions process, Boston is a great city to pursue biotech. So, if you want to study anything biotech-related, some of the best college majors and best career opportunities are at Harvard.

3. Princeton University

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Located in Princeton, NJ, Princeton University is ranked #1 nationally. The Princeton Association of Women in STEM offers mentorship to women in STEM transitioning from high school to college—especially in their STEM courses, which are known to be very challenging. Princeton is also on our list of the best colleges for computer science, which is one of the best college majors at Princeton.

4. University of Pennsylvania

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Located in Philadelphia, PA, UPenn is ranked #6 nationally. UPenn is also ranked #1 in business programs, some of which can have STEM elements, and #1 for nursing, which is a major and a career with a high percentage of women. Penn’s engineering school is 39% women, higher than the national average.

5. Duke University

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Ranked #7 in National Universities and located in Durham, North Carolina, Duke is known as an honorary Ivy. Computer science is Duke’s fastest-growing major, while enrollment in humanities majors has declined. Duke has a number of clubs for women in STEM, including Sisters in STEM, a group for Black women in STEM at the graduate level.

If you want to attend a women-only college, you can still study STEM! Here are some women’s colleges to choose from:

Top STEM Women’s Colleges

Barnard College

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Located in NYC, Barnard is part of Columbia University, offering students the best of both worlds. With access to Columbia’s research facilities, Barnard students can live and study with other women while also having access to the STEM offerings of a larger research institution. 

Bryn Mawr College

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Ranked #30 among liberal arts colleges, Bryn Mawr is located in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Bryn Mawr has a history of STEM excellence, especially in Physics. It is also invested in women in STEM scholarships and programs like STEMLA, which selects limited-income fellows for a pre-college program and continued mentorship during their four years at Bryn Mawr.

Smith College

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Ranked #16 in liberal arts universities, Smith is located in Northampton, MA. Nearly half of all Smith graduates pursue science majors and STEM majors, which is slightly higher than the national average of 42%. 

Spelman College

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An HCBU, Spelman offers a fulfilling experience for Black women in STEM. For women looking for diverse female STEM role models, Spelman provides a look into excellence in STEM fields for historically underrepresented populations. Spelman is ranked #39 in liberal arts colleges and is located in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Wellesley College

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Located in a suburb of Boston, Wellesley, MA, Wellesley just opened a new science center to promote STEM studies at the college. According to the school’s president, compared to other liberal arts colleges, Wellesley educates the highest number of women who go on to receive PhDs in STEM fields. Wellesley is ranked #4 in liberal arts colleges.

To get into these colleges, start working on your college application well in advance. For free college essay examples and other resources, CollegeAdvisor has plenty of options. For Ivy League schools, essays are very important to distinguish yourself from other applicants, so check out our free college essay examples to learn how to impress the admissions committee.

Scholarships for Women in STEM

Women in STEM scholarships are an important part of the college admissions process. When beginning the college admissions process, be sure to research women in STEM scholarships. As with other scholarships, each will have different deadlines and require different applications. 

Here are 5 women in STEM scholarships for you to consider:

5 Scholarships for Women in STEM

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1. Women in Technology Scholarship

These women in STEM scholarships award $2,500 to women going into computer science or a related field. You must be enrolled in or accepted to a school at the time of the award. The deadline for applications is March 31.

2. Zonta International Women in STEM Scholarships

These women in STEM scholarships award $5,000 to women pursuing a STEM degree around the world. You can apply for these women in STEM scholarships any time after your sophomore year of college, including in graduate school.

3. Society of Women Engineers Scholarships

The Society of Women Engineers has offered women in STEM scholarships totaling 1.5M to women around the globe. You only have to fill out one application and are considered for all eligible scholarships. 

4. Microsoft Women Scholarship

Microsoft’s women in STEM scholarships are open to women and non-binary high school students looking to pursue a STEM career. Microsoft women in STEM scholarships applications are open from January until March 13.

5. Palantir Women in Technology Scholarship

Palantir offers two women in STEM scholarships, one for global applicants and one for North American applicants. They offer a grant of $7,000. You must be currently enrolled in college to apply for this scholarship.

If you’re looking for more women in STEM scholarships, try lists like this one. There are also school-specific women in STEM scholarships, so check your school’s website for any women in STEM scholarships available. Many women in STEM scholarships are based on your major, location, school, or even your specific grade—make sure to do your research! It’s never too late to apply to women in STEM scholarships.

For help with any scholarship essays, CollegeAdvisor provides free college essay examples. Both for scholarships and supplemental essays, free college essay examples can help you tell your story to the admissions committee in a convincing way. 

By taking a role in a growing industry, women in STEM fields can position themselves well for future earnings and job opportunities. Plus, a bigger workforce (hopefully) means more women! 

Here are 5 jobs for women in STEM fields that are currently growing: 

5 Growing STEM Fields for Women

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1. Information security analyst

Information security analysts plan measures to secure computer sySTEMs and make $103,590 per year with only a bachelor’s degree! Women make up 18% of current information security analysts.

2. Software developers and software quality assurance analysts and testers

Developers design computer programs and analysts and testers test these programs. Though women are only 20% of software developers, they are 47% of the testers. Median pay is $110,140 per year, and you only need a bachelor’s degree.

3. Operations research analysts

Operations research analysts make $86,200 per year, and women make up 51% of the field. You can do this job with a bachelor’s degree.

4. Industrial engineers, including health and safety

These engineers create sySTEMs to integrate workers, machines, materials, information, and energy to produce products or provide services. They make around $90,000 per year and only need a bachelor’s degree. 

5. Medical scientists

Medical scientists research medical topics to improve health. They are not clinical practitioners like doctors, though you may need a doctorate degree. In this profession, you make $91,510 per year, and women make up 50% of the field.

Average Salary for Women in STEM

Generally, women in STEM make more money than women who do not pursue STEM fields. The median salary for women in STEM is $59,931, whereas women in non-STEM occupations average $35,973 yearly. 

However, women in STEM make less than their male counterparts. The median income for men in STEM is $64,998, higher than salaries for women in STEM and both women and men in non-STEM jobs. 

Unfortunately, the gender pay gap exists in all industries, so don’t let these women in STEM statistics be a reason not to pursue a STEM career. Plus, there are lots of organizations that support women in STEM—read on to learn more about them.

Organizations Supporting Women in STEM

Many organizations support women in STEM fields so they can become influential, famous women in science. 

Women in STEM Organizations

  1. Women in STEM (WiSTEM) is an organization run by high school student ambassadors aiming to empower other young women in STEM. If you want to add some more leadership extracurriculars to your college admissions process, apply to be an ambassador! 
  2. Stem for Her aims to create “awareness, excitement, and opportunities” for girls to pursue STEM careers. They do this through educational programming, mentorship, and hands-on opportunities. Their focus is on the metropolitan DC area.
  3. Association for Women in Science (AWIS) supports women in STEM in all points of their careers through advocacy, mentorship, and networking. 
  4. National Girls Collaborative Project is a “network of networks” that brings together organizations supporting girls in STEM.
  5. Women in Engineering Proactive Network is a nonprofit aiming to increase diversity and inclusion in engineering education and professions. 
  6. Million Women Mentors is an organization that connects local groups with state leaders and corporate institutions in order to support women in STEM. 
  7. American Association of University Women is an organization founded in 1881 that fights for equal pay, educational equality, and women in leadership.
  8. The Scientista Foundation is a national organization dedicated to supporting college and graduate women in science. 
  9. Black Girls Code supports girls of color in learning how to code and offers online programs for ages 7-25.
  10. Girls Who Code aims to close the gender gap in tech and empower girls to code and envision themselves as engineers.
  11. The Society of Women Engineers has been a “champion” of women engineers for over 70 years and boasts conferences, membership, and scholarships.

Challenges Facing Women in STEM

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Unfortunately, women in STEM still face challenges today. Women are underrepresented in STEM fields. The challenge is sometimes called a “leaky pipe,” which means women interested in STEM often end up not making it to college or graduate-level STEM study. The statistics prove it: 74% of middle school girls express an interest in STEM topics, but only 0.4% of high school girls choose computer science as a college major, despite it being one of most popular and best college majors.

One challenge women face is bias, both conscious and unconscious. Some stereotypes present women as less capable than men which subconsciously affect hiring decisions and even women’s beliefs about themselves. For example, women with more experience describe their skills at the same level as men with less experience. The more we are conscious of these biases, the more we can work to counteract them. 

There are also fewer female leaders to look up to in STEM fields because there are fewer women in the workplace. This is why it’s important to find mentorship programs and female role models. 

Women in STEM – Final Thoughts

Throughout the history of women in STEM, there have been many famous women in science. While the history of women in STEM isn’t talked about enough, these women’s accomplishments are undeniable

Though women in STEM face challenges, pursuing a STEM career can be incredibly rewarding. Whether you want to be an engineer or a surgeon, know that women are just as capable as men of doing these jobs. They just face more intense challenges to get there. Therefore we at CollegeAdvisor want to support women through the college admissions process and onwards.

If you want to gain admission to the top STEM programs, CollegeAdvisor can help. With free college essay examples, one-on-one counseling, and other resources, we can prepare you to create the best possible application. Free college essay examples help you learn how to tell your story, and we have many free college essay examples on our website. Especially for students who want to study STEM, sometimes writing can feel daunting, so free college essay examples are a great way to see what works. However, if free college essay examples aren’t giving you enough guidance, reach out for personalized attention. CollegeAdvisor has experts to help you every step of the way!

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This article was written by advisor, Rachel Kahn. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.