What Do Admissions Officers Look For In STEM Applicants?

Undergraduate enrollment numbers have plateaued, but the number of students enrolling in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) majors has continued to grow rapidly. That means that admission for STEM students at the nation's top institutions is becoming increasingly competitive,

So what exactly can make a student stand out among the thousands of other strong applicants to STEM programs?

Challenging Course Loads

Students interested in STEM majors should take the most rigorous courses that fit their schedule in high school—and do well in them. This is especially important for math and science courses, but showing a well-rounded course load is a plus.

Specifically, aspiring STEM students should take math courses all the way through Calculus, and they should have Biology, Chemistry, and Physics on their transcript. What's more, having honors, AP, IB, or upper-level versions of these courses can be a key factor in helping admission officers feel that a student can handle the rigor at their institution.

Involvement In STEM Activities

It's not enough to have a solid course load, great grades, and high test scores in STEM subjects. A student who wants to major in a STEM subject needs to show their interest outside of academics. Extracurricular activities are a great way for students to highlight their passion for STEM. That means taking initiative at their school and in their community to learn about the different STEM fields available. Here are a few examples:

  • A student could join the robotics team. If there's no robotics team at their school, they can advocate to start one.

  • A student could take courses at a local college or online in computer science, biological engineering, theoretical physics, or video game design.

  • A student could get involved with the Math and Science Olympiads.

  • A student could reach out to local college professors or STEM companies to find a research opportunity or internship.

Ability To Communicate Interest In The Major

It's one thing for a student to say they want to major in Electrical Engineering, but they need to be able to communicate that they understand what it actually means to study electrical engineering. To get that deep understanding, students can talk with adults in the field, ask about the major on college visits, or seek a teacher as a mentor. The more they learn about the major, the better they'll be able to communicate their interest on their application in a convincing way.

The field of STEM is broad: a student needs to do some research to know if they prefer theoretical physics or applied, or the difference between biological and biomedical sciences. Those nuances can go a long way in helping an admissions officer feel confident that a student is a good fit for the program to which they are applying.