Many students decide to study science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) early in their high school careers, according to a new survey released earlier this month by Microsoft.
Almost four in five college students who are pursuing a STEM-related degree say they decided to go into their field in high school or earlier; about one in five say they decided in middle school or earlier.
[See rankings of the best high schools for math and science.]
More than half of male students surveyed say that games and toys they played with as a child and the school clubs they joined initially sparked their interest in the field. For 35 percent of females, games and toys were also significant, but about half of female students surveyed say they are pursuing STEM because they want to "make a difference." A third of male students say that was the reason they're studying the field.
About two thirds of students surveyed say they are pursuing a career in STEM because high-salaried jobs are plentiful in the field and the subjects are intellectually stimulating. Microsoft estimates that there will be more than 1.8 million job openings in STEM-related fields by 2018.
"If our students are to compete successfully for the jobs of the future, we must better prepare them to be lifelong learners and give them a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering and math," Brad Smith, a senior vice president at Microsoft, said in a statement.
[Learn more about STEM initiatives in the STEM Education Center.]
The survey sheds light on the job K-12 schools are doing to prepare students for STEM careers: Just one in five students pursuing a STEM degree say that their K-12 education prepared them extremely well for college courses in STEM subjects. The most common complaint was that their middle and high schools did not offer enough science and math courses.