College & Career Guide for Minorities in STEM

The number of minorities in STEM continues to grow and many STEM fields are expected to expand. This guide explores resources for minorities interested in STEM, including minority serving institutions and scholarships.

STEM is a broad term referring to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM fields include things like IT (information technology), scientific studies, medicine, mechanics, and more. Because STEM fields include so many different areas of study and careers, you have seemingly unlimited choices when it comes to pursuing a STEM college degree and career.

If you're a minority, you are likely currently underrepresented in STEM fields. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the current population percentages in STEM field are:

  • 13.4% Black or African American
  • 5.9% Asian
  • 18.5% Latino or Hispanic
  • 1.3% Native American or Alaskan
  • 0.2% Native Hawaiian and/or other Pacific Islander

Individuals who are two or more races account for just under 3%, and white individuals with no other race make up about 60% of the population. In simple terms, minorities make up around 30% to 40% of the population.

However, minorities make up only about 32% of the tech industry. African Americans account for just 7% of tech positions, while Asian Americans make up 14% and Hispanics make up around 8%. There is clearly a discrepancy in diversity within the technology field, but this is true to a lesser degree in other areas of STEM. The technology field has the largest gap in population diversity within the professional sector as well as the academic sector.

The US has enabled more diversity in occupational fields through various measures, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Initiatives and groups like this one aim to create more diverse workplaces that better represent the population. Despite these activities, several fields within STEM still have gaps between populations. For example, Black or African American individuals account for just over 5% of electronics and electrical engineers.

Benefits of Diversity in STEM

Diversity in these fields is important because it can lead to increased knowledge, perspective, and innovation. Diverse workforces as well provide a slew of benefits to the employees as well as the organizations and, especially in STEM, the field as a whole. Organizations with more diverse workforces have access to more ideas, perspectives, cultures, backgrounds, and acceptance.

Marco Bizzarii once said that 'diversity and inclusion, which are the real grounds for creativity, must remain at the center of what we do.' In other words, diversity (both culturally and of thought) are vital components of creativity. Working and collaborating with people who are different from us enables us to develop a better understanding of our society and humanity and also enables personal and professional growth.

If everyone were the same, how would there be different ideas and innovations? Your one-of-a-kind perspective and background makes you uniquely capable of making a difference in any number of different STEM careers.

Why You Should Enter a STEM Career

Although as a minority you may face an uphill journey into a STEM career, you shouldn't let that stop you from chasing your STEM dream. For one, STEM careers are the fastest-growing careers in the US.

The table below shows the expected growth of STEM fields over the next several years, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Occupations Expected Jog Growth (2019-2029) Median Annual Wage (2020)
All Occupations 4% $41,950
Math Occupations 27% $93,170
Computer and Information Technology Occupations 11% $91,250
Architecture and Engineering Occupations 3% $83,160
Life, Physical and Social Science Occupations 5% $69,760

The people who work in these roles play a large role in much of the advancement that we see in medicine, technology, and so much more. In short, STEM is a vital component of the country's survival and growth, and opportunities to work within STEM continue to increase, which is the best reason to study a STEM field.

Ready to Get Started on Your STEM Journey?

If you are considering a job within the STEM field, the first step in your journey is deciding which type of STEM college program and degree you want to pursue. To help you make this important decision, this section includes tips for applying to and attending along with information about resources and opportunities for minorities in STEM college programs. We'll also discuss how you can pay for your STEM degree through different financial aid means, including different scholarships available to minorities studying in a STEM field.

STEM College Programs

STEM college programs include those in medicine & health sciences, astronomy, computer science, engineering, physics, information technology, and other related fields. There are dozens of different degree and certificate programs within the STEM field, both at the undergraduate and graduate level. Many of these programs can be completed online by earning an online degree, and there are numerous online degrees that you can earn in the STEM field. However, some STEM programs, even the online ones, (such as those involving medical practice) do require some level of in-person components so that you can gain practical, hands-on experience.

Below are the STEM degree pathways that are available to you.

  • Associate STEM Degrees: Associate's degree programs enable you to develop a solid foundation of knowledge relating to a particular field. Some of the most commonly offered associate's degrees in STEM fields are those in computer science and information technology. Some of the careers available to graduates of these programs are computer support specialist positions as well as web developers and digital designers. As you develop more experience, you may be able to move into other careers with higher earnings and more responsibility. From a high school diploma or GED, it takes 1.5 to 2 years to complete an associate's degree.

  • Bachelor STEM Degrees: Bachelor's programs give you a deeper understanding of your area of study as well as related subjects that you may encounter in various positions. Bachelor's degrees are more commonly preferred in a lot of STEM fields. Some of the most common bachelor's programs within STEM are those in mathematics, information technology, and computer science. A degree in computer science or IT can open doors in careers such as a software developer, database administrator, computer network architect, or computer systems administrator. A bachelor's degree takes 3-4 years from high school to earn.

  • Master's STEM Degrees: Master's degrees are graduate degrees that take around 1.5 to 2 years to obtain after completing a bachelor's degree. They provide you with a more concentrated and in-depth understanding of specific subject areas. Common STEM degrees at the master's level include those in information technology and data analytics. Earning a master's degree in one of these fields can help you to meet the requirements for higher-level positions as well as work as a computer and information research scientist. Some medical-focused STEM careers also require a master's. For example, if you would like to become a nurse practitioner, then you would need to (ultimately) earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

Choosing a College & Applying

Whether you want to work on an undergraduate STEM degree or graduate STEM degree or take courses in-person, remotely, or a combination of the two, there are plenty of colleges to choose from. Minority serving institutions (MSIs) are those that are focused on educating minority students and have a specific percentage of minorities within their student body. There are hundreds of postsecondary schools across the country that have MSI status (see Minority Serving Institutions Program from the U.S. Department of the Interior). While these schools are especially diverse and dedicated to advancing minorities, schools without this status may still offer a large number of services and resources to minority students.

In choosing a school, there are a few things that you should consider. It might be helpful to make a list of the things that are important to you in your school search. While having one preferred school is normal, it can be a good idea to ultimately apply to a few schools. This way, you can choose from those that you are accepted into and compare more specific characteristics of those schools and their programs.

Some of the things that you should keep in mind when making your list of candidate schools are listed below.

STEM Program Availability and Format

At the beginning of your search, decide what STEM field you would like to enter into. You don't necessarily need to know the exact program unless there is a particular pathway to the career you are interested in.

Once you have a general idea of what field you want to pursue, determine what types of degrees would be the best preparation for it. You can find some information about the requirements for different jobs in the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook. We also have a guide to help students determine what they should major in. You can find information about job requirements by looking at job postings online for positions that are similar to what you would like to do after graduation.

Now that you know what type of degree you would like to pursue or the subject area that your degree will be in, start looking online for that type of program in the format that you prefer. By format, we mean online, on-campus, or a combination of the two.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I prefer to commute to a college?
  • Do I want to live on campus?
  • Do I want to study remotely and complete all (or most) of my coursework online?
  • Do I want to do a mix of in-person and online classes?

Both types of formats (online and on-campus) have their own pros and cons. Some people learn better when they take courses in-person, but on-campus courses do require scheduled classes and commuting (or walking if on campus).

Online courses give you more flexibility with time and location, but they do require time management and dedication. If you are considering an online course, you might consider these success tips for online classes to see if you think online programs are doable for you and the way you learn and study.

STEM Admissions Requirements

By now, you may have a couple of colleges on your list offering your program in the format you want. It's time to dig a little deeper and review the admissions requirements for each program to see if you qualify or might need to complete some courses before applying or declaring that STEM major.

First, you will need to have a high school diploma or an equivalent at minimum to begin an undergraduate program. If you have not completed a high school diploma, you can opt to earn your GED or take a high school equivalency exam. In addition, you may need to meet some other requirements for an undergraduate program, such as a specific GPA.

Many schools will also want you to submit references and/or letters of recommendation from people like school counselors, teachers, or work supervisors. You will also likely need to write a personal essay and submit transcripts.

Some STEM programs will also require that you have completed prerequisite coursework or have taken specific STEM-focused courses in high school. That means as soon as you know you want to earn a STEM degree, start taking advanced classes in everything STEM that you can.

Diverse Faculty

In addition to items already discussed, your college's faculty can make a huge difference in your journey, especially as a minority. If you haven't already reached out to your candidate schools, now is a good time to do so. Ask the admissions representatives about the faculty for your program. You can also check the US Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (or NCES) website to see statistics about the diversity of a school's faculty. A more diverse faculty can mean your school is devoted to ensuring minorities succeed and have the means to do so.

Graduation, Retention, and Diversity Rates

You can also find information about graduation and retention rates on each school NCES page. This data can give you an idea of what the diversity rates are for each of your candidate schools and what those rates are for graduating students and returning students. While a low graduation or retention rate for minorities doesn't necessarily mean a school doesn't offer minority resources, it can at least give you an idea of how other minorities have done in their own programs. A school with higher graduation and retention rates for minorities may very well prove to have a more inclusive and supportive environment.

Minority-Focused Resources

If you are on-campus, the college resources could include support and study groups, student minority groups, guidance counselors, and other services/resources. If you are taking online courses, many of these services are still offered by a lot of schools and can really be a blessing during your program. Connecting with other students, teachers and groups can give you support and encouragement while you are earning your degree. Along with groups and clubs, also check our you're schools calendar of events to see what types of events and activities are offered in the realm of diversity.

Cost

While cost shouldn't be the most important factor, it is still an important consideration in your school selection process. There are different costs that you will encounter when you enter into your program. Tuition is the primary expense and the largest portion of your college program cost, but other fees also tie into programs (such as distance learning fees, student association fees, technology fees, etc.). If you plan to live on campus, you will also have expenses for your living space or dorm.

If you contact the admissions counselors for each of your candidate schools, they should be able to give you a ballpark figure on the total cost of your program. Although they likely won't be able to have a specific amount, they should be able to estimate a price range based on the number of courses that you will need and how many classes that you plan to take each semester.

How to Prepare for Your STEM Program

There are several different things that you can do to help you prepare for your college STEM program. If you haven't yet reviewed and applied to colleges, go ahead and make your list of important items for your program. Some of the actions that you can take to help prepare you for your STEM program are noted below.

Get Studying Earlier: You can better prepare for some parts of your program by studying some subjects ahead of time. You will have access to a list of courses that are part of your program. Look over the list and consider brushing up on topics that you aren't familiar with. For example, Chemistry 101 and Biology 101 are great for introducing those subjects and developing a foundation. For more subject overviews, classes, and test preparation, see the Study Academy (some courses can be transferred into your new program).

Ask for Social Support: You should also let your family and friends know that you will be starting a college program, as well as your employer if you are working. They may be able to offer you some support and/or flexibility if they know that it is appropriate. For example, a family member may offer to watch your children once per week so that you have study time, or maybe your employer makes some schedule adjustments so that you can attend class.

Apply for Financial Aid: There are so many different resources available to help pay for your college program. It's a good idea to look for aid before you begin your program, as some aid will have cutoff dates and, as they say, the early bird gets the worm! The section below further explores resources for how to fund your STEM program.

Paying for a STEM Degree

The total cost for a STEM degree can vary drastically by school and program. Fear not, for there are plenty of options for funding your STEM degree! The first thing that you should do is fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). When you fill out the FAFSA, you can add your candidate schools to the application so that they will be notified of your eligibility. The FAFSA will determine your eligibility for different types of aid, such as federal grants.

The main types of financial aid are scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study programs. Each of these is briefly described below.

Scholarships: Scholarships are offered by non-profits, individuals, schools, city/community groups and private companies, often based on a particular trait, talent or academic merit and don't need to be repaid.

Grants: Grants are typically offered by government programs, public and private trusts, foundations or private businesses and don't need to be repaid.

Loans: Loans are sums of money offered by the government and private organizations that must be paid off on schedule and at a predetermined interest rate.

Work-study programs: Work-study programs are typically federally- or state-funded jobs on campus or in community service that are given to students with financial need.

Earning Money for Your STEM Program

There are different ways that you can earn money for your STEM program. Typically, students apply any scholarships that they have to their program first, followed by work-study and similar opportunities. Loans are used lastly, as they usually need to be paid back (there are some federal loan forgiveness programs through the government, however). These options can be perfect if you are open to earning some of the funds that will be applied to your program, as well as some to apply to your other expenses.

  • The Federal Work Study Program: This program is backed by the government and offered at participating schools. It involves students working part-time while in school, regardless of their degree level and how many courses that they are taking. Whenever possible, students can work in positions related to their field of study. The money that you earn is paid to you and/or your student account, depending on your status and preferences.

  • Employer Tuition Assistance: There are more and more companies that are offering tuition assistance and tuition reimbursement, including companies with STEM positions. For example, Amazon offers tuition assistance to employees for associate's degrees in fields like information technology and Boeing will pay 100% of tuition costs for employees who pursue STEM programs. Other companies that offer tuition assistance to STEM students include Papa John's, Walmart, and Starbucks (just to name a few).

STEM Scholarships

There are thousands of scholarships offered throughout the US with each having different eligibility requirements, such as program of study, student demographic, and grade point average. Scholarships are offered by countless organizations, including non-profits and corporations. Locating scholarships isn't as quick and cut-and-dry as filling out the FAFSA and applying for loans.

You can find scholarships through all types of sources. Our Comprehensive Scholarship Guide offers a deeper exploration of scholarships with more general requirements, while you can also find more information on minority and scholarships (not specifically STEM) in our Minority Scholarships for College Students Guide and our Women's Scholarship Guide.

You may also find scholarships from organizations in your local area, and these are often great to apply for as there will likely be fewer candidates. Your school will offer scholarships as well, some you have to apply for and some you don't. It's always a great idea to ask the program you are applying to what types of scholarships are open to you.

To help you understand what types of scholarships are out there, we've put together this list (which is only a tiny sampling) of scholarships that are especially for different minority students.


STEM Scholarships for All Minorities


STEM Scholarships for Asian American & Pacific Islander Students

  • APIASF Scholarships in the amounts of $2,500 and $20,500 are awarded to students who are Asian and/or Pacific Islander.

  • USPAACC Scholarships of $3,000 to $5,000 are awarded to around 15 to 20 students each year who are Asian American.

  • Our Scholarship Guide for Asian American & Pacific Islander Students offers more in-depth information on the different types of scholarship out there for AAPI students.


STEM Scholarships for Black Students

  • The NAACP offers several different, including a $12,500 award for STEM students.

  • Microsoft will award 27 scholarships for the upcoming academic year to students studying technology, ranging from $1,000 to $20,000.

  • The Financial Aid & Scholarship Guide for Black Students can provide you even more information on scholarships and financial aid that is available to you.

STEM Scholarships for Hispanic and Latino Students


STEM Scholarships for Alaskan Natives and Native Americans

  • The American Indian Education Fund has over 200 scholarships that are awarded each year to Native American and Alaskan Native students.

  • Ford Motors hosts STEAM programs and offers $50,000 in scholarships to some participants who have tribal affiliations.

  • AISES Oracle Academy has scholarshipsranging from $2,500 to $10,000 are available to students pursuing computer science degrees.


Resources for Minorities in STEM Programs

Although the percentage of minorities in STEM fields is small, their numbers are growing. As these fields continue to expand, more programs are being offered by schools and more resources have been created for minorities to succeed in them. You can find various types of support and resources during your program, whether it is academic, social, or institutional.

Support from Your School: During your STEM program, you may have access to several different types of resources from within and outside of your school. A great place to start is your school's diversity office or office of multicultural affairs. Many schools offer these offices, which can provide various services like one-on-one guidance for minority students. In addition, read through your student handbook to better understand your school's policies on diversity and anti-discrimination.

Support from Peers: Depending on your school, and whether you're on-campus or online, you might also have opportunities to connect with other STEM students and/or minorities. You can ask a representative from your school (or check on the school website) if there are any multicultural groups and/or STEM groups. For example, some schools have groups for specific minority populations like groups for women in STEM. Even if you are an online student, you may still be able to connect with these groups virtually and access support and friendships.

Academic Support: If you find yourself struggling with a subject or even a specific topic within a class, do not hesitate to get support. Each college offers its own set of academic support services, such as tutoring and study groups. If you are an online student, you will still have access to services. You should also let your instructors know if you are struggling. They are teachers because they want to see you learn and succeed, so give them the opportunity to do just that!

Working in STEM as a Minority

Now that you have finished your program and are ready to enter the workforce (or already have), remember that there are a substantial number of opportunities for you within STEM and multiple types of support available. The sections below highlight some of the jobs available in STEM fields as well as professional resources for minorities in STEM.

Jobs in STEM

The table below does not reflect all positions within STEM fields but serves as an example of some of the positions that are available. The data is provided by BLS and shows the typical education for someone entering the occupation as well as the median pay for the occupation in 2020.

Job Title Education Median Pay
Actuaries Bachelor's degree $111,030
Aerospace Engineers Bachelor's degree $118,610
Agricultural and Food Science Technicians Associate's degree $41,970
Agricultural and Food Scientists Bachelor's degree $68,830
Bioengineers and Biomedical Engineers Bachelor's degree $92,620
Biological Technicians Bachelor's degree $46,340
Computer and Information Research Scientists Master's degree $126,830
Computer Hardware Engineers Bachelor's degree $119,560
Computer Network Architects Bachelor's degree $116,780
Database Administrators Bachelor's degree $98,860
Environmental Scientists and Specialists Bachelor's degree $72,230
Industrial Engineers Bachelor's degree $88,950
Information Security Analysts Bachelor's degree $103,590
Mathematicians and Statisticians Master's degree $93,290
Mechanical Engineers Bachelor's degree $90,160
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives & Nurse Practitioners Master's degree $117,670
Operations Research Analysts Bachelor's degree $86,200

Be sure to check out the certification requirements for your desired career path since these are oftentimes required in STEM areas - especially in the medical field. For example to become a registered nurse practitioner, you will need to pass the NCLEX exam|https://study.com/nclex/index.html in order to become licensed to practice nursing in any state.


Resources for Minorities in STEM Careers

There are several types of resources and support that you have access to in your career. For starters, see if you can befriend a coworker or two. Having a professional relationship with a coworker can strengthen your job satisfaction and lead to more productive collaboration and innovation. In addition, consider joining a professional organization.

  • National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering: NACME is open to underrepresented groups in STEM, offering scholarships, networking, and career placement assistance.

  • The American Indian Science & Engineering Society: AISES offers networking opportunities as well as professional development and other services to Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, Native Hawaiians, and other individuals with native heritage.

  • Blacks in Technology: BIT for short, this organization aims to bridge the gap of black people working in tech and offers more than a dozen local chapters across the country.

  • Black Data Processing Associates: BDPA is dedicated to improving the careers of people of color in tech. The organization offers professional development, networking, and outreach programs for minority youth.

  • CODE2040: CODE2040 works to balance the racial divide in tech leadership by providing training, mentorship, network, and other support services.