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Why It’s Important to Think Beyond Gender Stereotypes in College Majors

Even today, there are jobs 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 caring 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 the added benefit of physical strength when 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 specific 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 is considering 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 high school educators. 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 people are trying to change these demographics by “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 Passions as a Student

Companies and schools breaking the gender norms

Within lucrative industries, more and more companies such as Lockheed Martin are providing opportunities for teachers to visit and learn in their facilities in order to bring hands-on experience to classrooms using 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 students to the engineering community and helping to direct their career paths based on class interests.  General scholarships are 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. 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 to fulfill their diversity requirements.

Specific scholarship and networking opportunities

Remember, the only way to benefit from this important information is to be proactive. Search for networking and 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 Expand Your Reach and Find Scholarships in Hidden Places

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

Did you know you can use our College Search tool 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 working as an independent admission consultant. As Time magazine's go-to college admission expert, she has appeared on regional and national television.

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. 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.

 

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