STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. From reading the comments, it’s clear that my reader base is biased in favor of these majors.
The children of the elite have no interest in majoring in STEM. At the University of Pennsylvania, the most prestigious majors were liberal arts, followed by social sciences (such as economics), followed by Wharton, and then at the bottom of the pack was STEM. This demonstrates the distaste that the elite have for vocational majors. Elite education is at its most pure when you are learning stuff with no direct pecuniary value. If you have to study something vocational, it should be done in graduate school. It’s for this reason that the Wharton MBA is a much more valuable credential than the Wharton B.S. in Economics. (Wharton doesn’t have undergraduate majors, because as an Ivy League school, Penn doesn’t wish to embarrass its graduates with degrees in low subjects such as Accounting.)
Is STEM more difficult than liberal arts? This answer depends on the quality of school you are attending for liberal arts and what grades you are trying to get. It’s very difficult to get top grades at a top school, regardless of the major, because you are competing against a lot of other very smart people who also want top grades. But if your goal is to merely get by with a gentleman’s B-, then it is my impression (based on taking both STEM and liberal arts classes) that the liberal arts classes are easier. STEM also has a higher minimum IQ level needed to understand the material, so at less prestigious state schools, STEM is definitely a much harder major than liberal arts.
Liberal arts classes were a lot more interesting than STEM classes, at least for me. I still fondly remember Art History and Roman History, but I don’t have any fond memories of Physics III or the third-semester math class which covered differential equations and imaginary numbers.
Another benefit of liberal arts classes is that they tend to be taught by white people who speak with American accents, and the same applies to the teaching assistants. In contrast, when taking STEM classes, I had to deal with a lot of TAs whom I could barely understand. Elite whites say they love diversity, but they mean they like to be among other elite whites with just the right number of token minorities. They don’t want to be in a classroom where Asians are in the majority and the teacher speaks with a thick foreign accent, which is what happens in STEM classes.
If there are any advantages to going to Harvard over a state school, one huge advantage is that you can study liberal arts at Harvard and still make as much money as you would studying some really boring STEM subject at a state school. Studying liberal arts at a state school is a huge waste of money if you are hoping that your degree will have some pecuniary payback.
I suspect that how much one likes or dislikes STEM relative to liberal arts depends on the ratio of your verbal SAT score to your math SAT score. My math and verbal scores were pretty comparable: 720 math and 690 verbal, if I remember correctly. There are some people who have cognitive profiles which are a lot more lopsided.
The elites tend to be more verbal than mathematical, because while mathematical IQ is good for value creation, verbal IQ is much better for value transference, and to get rich in the United States you need to be a value transferor. And because cognitive profiles are genetically influenced, the children of the elite inherit a verbal-oriented cognitive profile.
The value of STEM majors has been steadily declining, because STEM falls into the category of jobs that Americans don’t want to do. Technical jobs are full of immigrants who have lower salary expectations and who aren’t fun to hang out with after work. While liberal arts is even a more worthless major if from a non-elite school, I recommend majors such as accounting, nursing and dentistry over STEM.
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If I had a hopelessly nerdy kid who wanted to major in something STEM, I’d try to steer him into majoring in Physics at Princeton. Albert Einstein
taught worked there, so that sounds like a pretty prestigious degree.