80% of students put off STEM saying “it’s only for extremely clever people”

Aston University case study

Students lack in confidence as 80% believe a career in STEM is only for the brightest people with over half saying they think STEM would be too difficult for them.

The research by the world’s largest online student community, The Student Room and recruitment communications agency AIA Worldwide surveyed 2,000 students about their perception of STEM subjects and careers. It revealed over a third were confused about STEM career paths, receiving very little information. 17% said they have had no guidance at all on careers and opportunities within the sector.

Students are put off STEM subjects because they believe they’re only for the brightest students (80%), they aren’t capable of succeeding because they’re too difficult (52%) and they have a lack of knowledge around STEM options (44%).

Jack Wallington community director at The Student Room says “There’s an obvious lack of confidence among students and more needs to be done to educate and encourage students about STEM courses and the various pathway options. Schools, colleges and employers have a responsibility to provide students with the personalised knowledge and – vitally – the encouragement to make well informed decisions about their futures. Students lacking confidence need support from someone with a ‘can do’ attitude to inspire them about the wonderful opportunities that are out there for them.”

The report also revealed over a third of students said they would have been more likely to choose a STEM career if their teachers had supported it. A further third of students didn’t feel supported by their parents to pursue a STEM career and would’ve been more likely to pursue a STEM pathway if they had encouraged it. Friends were revealed to be the least influential in their decision making process around careers and subject choices with 52% saying it wouldn’t matter if their friends had encouraged them.

Jack Wallington continues “Students claim that their friends have little impact on their subject and career decision making, but peer influence is often more subliminal than the direct advice from parents and teachers. On The Student Room we see peer to peer discussion around subject and career choices, particularly in relation to STEM, every single day, so I definitely think their peers have a bigger impact on them than they let on here.”

Alex Parkes, Future Talent Strategist at AIA Worldwide, adds: “For employers, the stats tell an interesting story. In order for students to be attracted into STEM roles, the first challenge is to build their confidence and convince them that they have the ability to succeed in these disciplines. As a result, the ‘show, don’t tell’ approach is crucial. We need to demonstrate to young people that they have the skillsets required for these roles and make it relatable to their everyday life, as opposed to ‘selling’ an organisation in a corporate sense. Leveraging user generated content, interactive video and/or gamifying the assessment process, for example, are all methods that can convey these relevant everyday skills and highlight the opportunities available to students.”


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