Defying Gender Stereotypes With Nontraditional Majors

Even today, there are jobs that are often stereotyped by gender. But you can break the norm and pursue whatever career path you dream of. Here's what to know.

Here’s a quick exercise to find the short way to a simple truth: Picture a nurse caring for a patient. Now envision an engineer preparing blueprints. Chances are you pictured a female nurse and a male engineer—and in the real world, chances are you’d be right. It’s not a stereotypical misperception that men tend to be the engineers and women the nurses of our nation; rather, it’s a fact. An overwhelming majority of men make up the engineers, architects, physicists, theologians, and computer scientists of American society, while women dominate the fields of education and health care. Although popular belief asserts that women are better at nurturing and care while men are better at theory and technical methodology, these are broad, inaccurate, and potentially dangerous generalizations. Imagine all the talented men and women whose ideal path is blocked by such limiting beliefs.

The good news is that more men are becoming nurses, finding their compassion while providing an added benefit of physical strength when it comes to lifting patients. In architecture, women often express an artistic nature while demonstrating their mastery of technical aptitude. So here’s the question: what do gender discrepancies in different industries have to do with college-bound teens?

Filling the gender gaps in certain majors

Firstly, most teens are encouraged to choose a major when they apply to college, and oftentimes, their choice will propel them into a specific career field upon graduation. Consequently, knowing that these gender discrepancies exist can help teens target a major with potentially more tuition funding. Maybe a young woman interested in science is thinking about choosing pre-health to become a nurse, or a young man interested in mathematics considers engineering. These are great options, but there are other opportunities that could also save thousands of dollars or offer more financial incentives from the school. For example, teen girls interested in science could pursue an engineering degree and teen boys interested in math could teach math as a high school educator. If your calling isn’t as specific as a pediatric neuro-ophthalmologist or an environmental geotechnical engineer, maybe it’s time to step outside the box and weigh some pros and cons.

The important takeaway from knowing that certain college majors are disproportionately female or male is that there are people trying to change these demographics through “showing you the money,” and you, as a college-bound teen, could be just the person they’re looking for. Even more important, it’s not solely high schools and universities that are increasing efforts to even the playing field, but also the industries themselves. The incentives for choosing an engineering major as a female, for example, are both numerous and diverse.

Related: How to Discover and Pursue Your Passion

Companies and schools breaking the gender norms

Within lucrative industries, more and more companies such as Lockheed Martin often provide opportunities for teachers to visit and learn in their facilities in order to bring hands-on experience to classrooms using the STEM. Colleges such as Washington State University have created mentorship programs that match freshman students with practicing female engineers in the field, simultaneously connecting the student to the engineering community and helping to direct their career paths based on class interests.  There are also general scholarships available from universities, grants from the federal government, and fellowships awarded by various associations, such as the American Association of University Women.

For young men, similar opportunities in high-female industries are available. In education, a field with the greatest female-dominated gender discrepancy, universities are creating programs to encourage male teachers. The University of Missouri–Columbia, for example, has founded Men for Excellence in Elementary Teaching, in which participants learn “through rich discussion, through the experience and advice of veteran men teachers; through selected research publications and informative websites, videos, and other media; and through experimenting with their own classes.” For men in nursing, Duke University received special national recognition for high quality research and instruction that included several male nursing professors. More specific information for teens interested in these fields can be found in the table below.

While it may seem daunting to be one of a few women in a classroom amidst a sea of men (or vice versa), reaching outside one’s comfort zone while staying with a passion could present a truly fantastic opportunity. Choosing the right major using this tip could not only bring tuition incentives to your doorstep, but also usher in a high-paying career right out of college. Companies often compete for nontraditional applicants simply to fulfill their diversity requirements.

Specific scholarship opportunities

Remember, the only way to benefit from this important information is to be proactive. Search for scholarship opportunities inside and outside the universities you’re applying to, and take a look at some of the ones listed below. Start now and stay on it—nonconformity pays!

Related: How to Find Scholarships in Hidden Places

You have the ability to become whatever you want to be in life—so don’t like gender norms and dominance in certain careers prevent you from chasing your dreams. We need all kinds of people in all kinds of career—male, female, nonbinary, etc.—to bring a breath of perspective and innovations all the important professional fields of our society. So get out there and break the norms by following your passion into whatever major you wish!

Did you know you can use our College Search to find colleges based on your desired major? Try it out!

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About Pamela Donnelly

Pamela Donnelly

Pamela Donnelly is a #1 bestselling author (SWAT Team Tactics for Getting Your Teen Into College), speaker, and educational expert whose work can be viewed at As Time magazine's go-to college admission expert, she has appeared on regional and national television, and Larry King has endorsed her recently published book, 4 Keys to College Admissions Success.

Donnelly is a frequent speaker at live events throughout the greater Los Angeles region and a passionate advocate for education reform. She graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University with degrees in literature/writing and secondary education, and she has been called "the Suze Orman of education." A professional educator for more than 20 years and a former on-camera talent under contract to ABC-TV, she is the academic expert trusted by some of the most discerning and notable parents in Los Angeles.

A mother of three, Donnelly leads a team of Ivy League educators, helping parents go the extra mile to ensure their teens' transition to colleges of their dreams.

Her brick-and-mortar business, Valley Prep Tutoring Services, Inc., is the hub from which all of Donnelly's brand-related products and services flow. You can visit and for more information.


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