Can I get into a STEM career with a non-STEM degree?

If you have studied a non-vocational, non-stem degree and now want to work within the STEM industry, you could be forgiven for wondering if the idea is plausible. Having typically chosen a degree subject at around 18 years old it is not uncommon for graduates to have a change of heart about their future career paths. Yet, what can be done when you have just gained a vocational degree in a non-STEM discipline, such as a degree in Teaching, but have decided you instead want to be an Engineer? Or if you have studied a non-vocational academic degree, such as History, Classics or Philosophy and have then decided you want to be a Bio-Scientist? Is it possible to find a job in Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths at graduate level without the related degree qualification?

The Right Skills

Yes. It is possible to change from a non-STEM-vocational or Humanities career direction to a STEM career, but it can take time and preparation. Firstly, you need to establish what direction you want to head in and what extra skills and qualifications you will need to get you there, if any. You can usually gain a feel for what would be required by looking at job adverts for graduate jobs in the industry you are considering. Before making any commitments I highly recommend gaining some insight first hand, such as a 2-week taster internship in your desired field. You need to establish if on-the-job training in your desired profession would be enough initially (some companies pay for you to study for relevant qualifications as part of your job).

Perhaps instead, a short course in your chosen field is what would be required to demonstrate your commitment and competency? Take a look at any relevant modules you took as part of your degree, including any useful elective modules; these be can often be used to exempt you from having to take similar modules in a short programme. For some professions however, you will need another Higher Education qualification.

Back to School

You may have to gain a related Masters or Bachelor’s degree to enter your chosen profession, such as an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in Medicine to become a Doctor. In order to be accepted onto some degree courses you could need to take some A-levels or equivalent for you to qualify. This can be a timely and expensive process and you need to do some research about the pros and cons. Chatting to an advisor in your Careers Department at University can be incredibly useful as they can guide you down the right path using their knowledge and training. For some students it is far easier to move into a different course within the same university as they are not required to go through the process of re-applying.

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

Once you have established what is required then the next step is to create a fully researched plan on how to attain it, ideally with the help of a Careers Advisor and after talking it through with friends and family. If you need to take a short course or get some on-the-job training I’d recommend gaining some advice on how to tailor your CV to apply for those types of roles, ensuring you focus on the relevant skills you already have. Your application will need to prove that although you are qualified in a different area, you are now committed to following this path. A great way to demonstrate this is by having relevant experience, such as a 2-week internship as we’ve mentioned earlier.

If it’s back to university, get in touch with the department you would be applying to and ask if they often receive applications from people with your academic background and if there is anything they can recommend you do to increase your chances of securing a position. If you are relying on existing qualifications, check that they’re still relevant and have not expired.

Funding wise, you have a couple of options. Aside from funding with your own savings or family support, the UK Government is now offering some student finance options for those considering postgraduate degrees as well as undergraduate courses. Check for scholarships in your field from universities, societies and official bodies as you could get full funding in a number of ways based on your background or your demonstrated academic ability and commitment. Alternatively, you can also arrange loans from the bank designed specifically for those going into Higher Education.

Plan your time, put deadline dates on your calendar and get your application in as soon as it’s ready. If you are studying a short part-time course or going back to night school, start thinking about funding. If you will need a part-time job, start putting together applications for those too. Be organised from the offset and it will save you stress in the long run.

Be Prepared for Change

Switching from studying or working in Humanities and other non-STEM disciplines into STEM will be something you need to adjust to. Your work will most likely be more technically based, with more emphasis on exams and with the marking more clearly cut between right and wrong. Some people will find the transition easier than others but the important thing to remember is that you can ask for support. Do as much preparation as you can in terms of suggested reading or perhaps brushing up on past syllabuses of A-levels on the topics you are going to be studying in order to give yourself a good foundation. With the right planning and support, you could be working in your dream STEM job before you know it.

Written by Sophie Chadwick