Are STEM Students Smarter?

STEM fields seem more highly valued by society than creative and artistic fields that a mythos has arisen that STEM students are smarter. There is an abundance of scholarships for STEM students these days compared with scholarships for other disciplines, so the former have a distinct financial advantage. The brainy scientist stereotype is pervasive around the world, but is it true? Are STEM students smarter?

There is no evidence that STEM students are smarter than other students. However, they have numerous advantages in higher education, career choice, the job market, and quality of life. STEM subjects promote innovation, resilience, critical thinking, and cognitive skills that other subjects don’t.

Are STEM Students Smarter?

STEM subjects, i.e., Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, promote and encourage particular cognitive skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. They teach a more questioning approach to accepted knowledge and general curiosity. If children are taught STEM subjects while still young, their growing brains adapt to the mental effort, and new neural pathways for analytical thought are forged early.

Related Post: STEM and Early Childhood Education

The Myths About STEM Fields

The scientific genius is a trope that public media and society have long promoted. The result is that many students and parents believe that to study STEM subjects, one has to be a genius. This is unfortunate because STEM subjects have many practical, non-academic applications from which all students can benefit regardless of where they are starting from.

STEM subjects are helpful in various fields such as economics, accountancy, medicine, sound engineering, photography, applied mechanics, information technology and communications, electronics, architecture, and many more. Both male and female students benefit from studying STEM, and they are equally capable of course.

A person does not have to be a science nerd or a straight-A student to learn STEM disciplines. These subjects teach critical thinking skills valuable in a vast array of fields, including social sciences, law, and philosophy. Science can teach young artists about color composition, graphic design, the best angles for sculpture or photography, perspective, and depth. Math can help budding musicians understand scales and music theory.

Related Post: How does music fit into a STEM program?

There is a myth that STEM education should be reserved for high school or college students and that young children find these subjects too difficult. However, STEM subjects can benefit even very young learners if they are incorporated into age-appropriate teaching programs.

STEM Students Have A More Research Oriented Approach

One of the most essential skills a child can acquire is knowing how to learn. STEM subjects inculcate a spirit of inquiry and active learning, leading them to actively search out information in various media and apply it to everyday life. The humanities and artistic subjects encourage self-expression and creativity rather than active knowledge acquisition and curiosity about how the world works.

STEM learning teaches a more hands-on, experimental approach and the application of knowledge to real-world problems. This can serve people well in dealing with life’s challenges and boosts their confidence. Research has shown that mathematically capable students with only moderate verbal skills tend to choose careers in STEM fields, while those with high math and verbal skills were less likely to go for STEM careers than their fellow students.

Academic-Self Concept In STEM Students Is Usually Higher

Influenced by societal stereotypes, many students believe that only the brightest and the best can make it in STEM fields. Combined with a poor academic self-concept, this causes many STEM-capable students to choose other areas of study. Academic self-concept is a student’s perception of their own ability in a particular academic domain.

Academic self-concept can influence a student’s motivation to learn and their level of class participation. One study has shown STEM students, especially males and native English speakers, have a better academic self-concept than others. Female high school students studying chemistry and physics have been found to have a lower academic self-concept than males.

This means that male and native English-speaking STEM students may have more confidence and are more engaged in their education than non-STEM students. This could be one reason why males dominate STEM careers. However, male STEM students are not necessarily smarter than their female counterparts.

STEM Subjects Foster Ingenuity And Build Resilience

Experimentation and innovation are the cornerstones of most STEM subjects. This leads to a more thoughtful and inventive approach to life in general. STEM students are taught to experiment to see whether something will work and are more resilient in dealing with failure. They are aware of various approaches to a single problem and prepared to take risks in learning and life.

The ability to deliberately acquire knowledge and then apply it is more evident in STEM students. These youngsters are also more open to various technologies and readily embrace new ones, while students of other subjects may be hesitant or even fearful. Because we live in a tech-centered world, this can give students with STEM skills a considerable advantage.

Non-STEM subjects do not foster a problem-solving, can-do approach to life’s challenges as they usually require more rote learning and memorization than critical thinking. For this reason, STEM students can think more practically about solutions to problems encountered in daily life.

At higher educational levels, these students become accustomed to working in a team to solve complex problems. Groundbreaking papers in economics, physics, biology, astronomy, and chemistry often have several different authors.

STEM Students Are Better At Critical Thinking

Since STEM subjects encourage a thoughtful, questioning approach, students are more likely to apply critical thinking skills in daily life. This may reduce their gullibility and vulnerability to the con-artists of the world as they are encouraged to think independently for themselves. These people are more likely to compare what someone is telling them against their personal knowledge base and draw their own conclusions.

If they don’t have enough information to make an informed decision, they will do the necessary research to acquire it. Rational skepticism can be a healthy mindset in a world populated with social media influencers and fake news. STEM subjects encourage a more skeptical approach to public information, and STEM students are more likely to distinguish between hard facts and the polarizing opinions of various public figures.

Other skills provided by a STEM education include problem-solving, curiosity, decision-making, analytical skills, leadership, overcoming failure, and entrepreneurship. Early STEM education can promote later academic success, even in other subjects. Research has demonstrated a clear link between science education and improvements in executive functioning, literacy, and language learning.

STEM education is a reliable predictor of future academic achievement and also career success and competitiveness in the job market. However, it is essential to understand that the various disciplines represented by STEM should all be integrated within the basic education of young children. Traditionally the emphasis has been on science and mathematics, but there is now an urgent need to include technology and engineering in the array.

STEM Subjects Are More Likely To Provide Solid Career Opportunities

The demand for engineers, technologists, and scientists in various fields of endeavor is at an all-time high, particularly in developing countries where skilled workers are in short supply. Many trades and artisanal occupations also require STEM knowledge. It is helpful in areas such as agriculture, hygiene, occupational health and safety, finance, and information technology.

In a world where jobs for the unskilled are scarce, ensuring a child is educated in STEM subjects can give them a lifelong advantage in the job market. Innovation and inventiveness can earn high rewards in developed economies that promote and encourage entrepreneurship. The study of STEM subjects in school can grant access to multiple fields of higher education that would otherwise be closed.

While many people have university degrees these days, not all of them are useful or equally valued by broader society or employers. STEM education plays an essential role in a nation’s economic development. There is compelling evidence that mathematical skills obtained in high school have a significant causal effect on earnings into middle age. 

The majority of Research and Development expenditure goes to the salaries of scientific staff.

How Can STEM Activities for Large Groups Benefit Students in Their Academic Development?

Groupfriendly STEM projects can benefit students in their academic development by promoting teamwork, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking. By engaging in hands-on activities in a large group setting, students can learn to collaborate effectively and apply STEM concepts in real-world scenarios, enhancing their overall academic performance.

Wrap up: Are STEM students smarter?

STEM students are not necessarily smarter, but they do have a range of skills that equip them well for life in general and a wide range of vocations. STEM subjects open up many different fields of higher education, even in artistic disciplines such as architecture, sound engineering, or graphic design.

STEM programs also expose students to various technologies in ways that enhance lifelong learning ability and adaptability in a rapidly changing world.  For more, check out our article STEM 101: What Every Parent Should Know.

Related Post: When considering a field of study or STEM major, think ahead to what career path this may lead to.  We took a look at top STEM careers, as well as STEM careers that don’t require a college degree.


Howie Miller is as dedicated to fatherhood as he is to life long learning. Musician, Photographer, Educator, Consultant, Entrepreneur, Blogger, and founder of STEMtropolis, where you can share his adventures in STEM and STEAM with his family.

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