Studying abroad as a STEM Major – Miriam Jaffe

So you want to study abroad as a STEM major… awesome! I myself was a STEM major (human biology, not too sciency but I’m still under that umbrella), and study abroad was 100% possible with my major, AND my minor (which is theatre, so not applicable to this post, but still). While at Queen Mary, I took six modules for my major: four psychology courses, and two genetics courses. I was able to count the psych courses towards my social science requirement, and my genetics courses towards my upper division bio class requirements. Now, I know that every individual is different, and their majors have different requirements, but as a general statement, I am here to tell you that studying abroad as a STEM major is not only possible, but absolutely great.

“I am here to tell you that studying abroad as a STEM major is not only possible, but absolutely great.”

Earlier in the semester, I chatted with some prospective study abroad students at Scripps, and a lot of them mentioned some “rumors” associated with studying abroad as a STEM major. Number one being that it isn’t possible. Number two being that you can’t bring back any science credits. All I can say to both of these is: NOT AT ALL. Many, many STEM majors study abroad. In 2014-2015, Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, found that approximately 78,250 students majoring in STEM fields successfully brought back credits from studying abroad 1. Programs where students can take STEM courses relevant to their majors are increasing in popularity and prevalence, due to the fact that so many STEM majors want to study abroad. Therefore, yes, it IS possible, and YES, you should do it!

Bringing back credits is a rumor I can’t entirely dispel. Every school is different, and some are more strict than others. Some will allow you to bring back a full semester’s worth of credits towards your major, while others will have a cap under a semester’s worth of credits. As long as you research your school’s policy and have that knowledge as you apply for study abroad, you’re golden. I think the most important part of this is to plan ahead. I can’t recommend doing a four-year plan enough, and charting out all your courses, including the ones you want to take abroad. This will tell you not only how many courses you’ll need to take abroad, but how many credits you need to bring back, if any. I know that I lucked out in being able to bring so many credits back for my major, but I know of people who focused on bringing back credits towards their minor, or other various credits they needed to graduate. Maybe you can bring back some elective, or GE credits while abroad. The possibilities are limitless. As long as you’ll still be able to graduate when you want to graduate, studying abroad is so worth it.

“Queen Mary has loads of different science course options, covering not only natural science, but social science as well.”

Queen Mary has loads of different science course options, covering not only natural science, but social science as well. During my year abroad, I took two natural science courses, and four social science courses. I was able to count all of those towards my major, but it is important to note that I wasn’t able to count my classes with labs as “lab courses” since QM does fewer lab hours that I would typically do at my home institution. I focused on genetic courses while abroad, so I took evolutionary genetics, and transmission genetics. It’s safe to say that these courses demonstrated to me that I don’t want to pursue any career that is lab oriented, but I learned a lot of new things in each class. These were able to count as upper division, non lab classes for my major. My social science classes, on the other hand, focused on the realm of psychology. Over my year I took positive psychology, social psychology, occupational psychology, and abnormal and clinical psychology. Queen Mary offers a decent variety of science classes, so it’s pretty sure that if you’re a STEM major, they’ll have at least one course that will pertain to your major, and if not, at least your interests. Make sure to check out their course listings to see what’s available, and check with your school to see which classes can count for which credits before choosing courses, though!

Overall, studying abroad was one of the best decisions I made in my college experience. If it’s something you’re thinking about, I cannot recommend it highly enough. The most important things to do before you definitively decide on your program and courses is to make a four-year plan, and talk to your advisors to see what classes will help you best fulfill that four-year plan. It can get frustrating talking to all your advisors and your study abroad office at school about all the little details of studying abroad, but the more prepared you are, the easier the process will be. Not to mention, your time abroad will be less stressful too! Good luck, and know that being a STEM major absolutely does not mean you won’t be able to study abroad! With the right program and planning, you’ll be good to go! 🙂


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