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STEM MBA in the US- What, Why, and How?

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Over the last few years, there is an increasing focus on getting into STEM MBA programs and graduating with a STEM-designated MBA. What does a STEM MBA mean and how does it matter to an MBA applicant? Let us answer all your questions in this blog.

What is a STEM-MBA?

A discussion on STEM MBAs centers on business schools in the US. Why? Because this designation is offered only in the US., specifically by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of the US Government. As international students, think of the STEM MBA not so much as a type of MBA but rather as a type of visa facilitator. For the most part, the impact of designating a program as a STEM MBA can be seen after graduation – in your work and in your ability to get an H1B visa.

Again, what is a STEM MBA?

STEM stands for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. Any program of study in these four broad STEM fields gets designated as a STEM program by the US government. Let’s say you are going for an undergraduate degree in mining sciences or a master’s research in applied mathematics – your program of study in an accredited university in the United States is a STEM program.

What are the Visa differences for a STEM program?

If you are an international student planning to study in the US, the student visa or the F1 visa allows you to stay in the country during the period of study and also allows you to complete something called Optional Practical Training (OPT) after graduation. Typically, you can be in the OPT period for 12 months and during these 12 months, you can be gainfully employed, getting some practical experience in your field. To get your OPT approval, you have to show to the US government that your job is related to your field of study – so you cannot do a Masters in English Literature and work as an accountant.

The US government is keen on fostering STEM education in the country. There is research showing that STEM education is vital for the US economy to stay globally competitive.  Therefore, the government is taking several initiatives – some for domestic students such as promoting minorities and women in STEM fields, and some for international students, such as giving certain advantages in the visa process.

If an MBA student can demonstrate an interest in a STEM career – by choosing STEM electives during the program of study and then choosing to work in a job that has at least some STEM components to it, then such a STEM MBA graduate can apply for a two-year extension on the OPT period. This gives the student a total of 3 years on OPT.

How is a 3-year OPT period helpful?

After graduating from the MBA program, if you want to continue working in the US, then you have to get a work visa, also called the H1b visa. The H1b visa is only awarded once a year and on a lottery basis. There are about 85,000 visas awarded each year, with over 3x the number of applicants. As a master’s student, your chances are better than 1 out of 3 because 20,000 of these visas are reserved for those who are getting their master’s or doctorate degree in the US. However, there are still more applicants than visas and you may have to face the chance that you did not get the H1b visa in the lottery during the first year of application.

If you have only one year of OPT, then you get only one chance at the lottery, but with a 3-year OPT, you get 3 chances. This means that you are better guaranteed a work visa and you can be more confident about your ROI from the MBA program. Companies can also be more confident about recruiting you because they do not have to worry about relocating you to a non-US location or about recruiting a replacement for you within less than a year of recruiting you. This increases the willingness of firms to recruit international students and opens more doors and opportunities for international MBA students.

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How can an MBA graduate have a STEM career?

You might wonder how an MBA is tied to STEM and whether you need to work in the tech industry to have a STEM career. Not really. We perceive the MBA as a business, maybe even an arts program (the art of management!) but there is a lot of science and data analysis involved in decision-making. Irrespective of the function or industry you choose to work in, you are going to be relying on analytics to help you make effective business decisions.

An investment banker has to quantitatively study the financial markets, a marketer has to quantitatively evaluate customer buying patterns and behavior, a supply chain manager has to quantitatively measure efficiency in logistics, and an HR manager has to quantitatively assess employee satisfaction, attrition, and costs to the company. During the MBA program, if you can learn to read and interpret the kinds of analysis you will be presented in your field and learn to combine that with the qualitative skills of leadership, negotiation, and other people skills, then you are better equipped to be an effective manager who can make well-reasoned decisions for the benefit of the company.

Voila, because of these business factors, business schools in the US are able to show the quantitative training they provide to the US government as justification for the government to grant a STEM designation to their MBA programs. Quite successfully, I might add.

Which US business schools offer a STEM MBA?

Most of the top business schools in the US now offer a STEM MBA, in some fashion or the other. In some schools, the regular full-time MBA is automatically considered a STEM MBA and if you graduate from the program and have a STEM-related job, you may be eligible for the two-year OPT extension. With several other schools, you have to choose a certain number of management science/data analytics electives in order to qualify as a STEM MBA graduate.

In the table below, we have discussed the top business schools in the US and what programs in each school is designated as a STEM program.

  1. Harvard Business School – Management Science Track in Full-Time MBA
  2. Stanford GSB – Entire Full-Time MBA, MSx Degrees
  3. UPenn (Wharton) – Majors in Full-Time MBA: Actuarial Science; Business Analytics; Business Economics & Public Policy; Business, Energy, Environment & Sustainability; Operations, Information & Decisions; Statistics
  4. Chicago (Booth) – Entire Full-Time MBA
  5. MIT (Sloan) – Entire Full-Time MBA, Sloan Fellows MBA, Sloan Executive MBA
  6. Northwestern (Kellogg) – Management Science Major in Full-Time MBA
  7. Columbia Business School – Entire Full-Time MBA; Executive MBA
  8. UC-Berkeley (Haas) – Entire Full-Time MBA, Evening & Weekend MBA, Executive MBA
  9. Dartmouth (Tuck) – Management Science & Quantitative Analysis Track in Full-Time MBA
  10. Yale SOM – Management Science Concentration in MBA, Master of Advanced Management; Entire Master of Asset Management
  11. Michigan (Ross) – Business Analytics Track in Full-Time MBA
  12. Virginia (Darden) – Specialization in Management Science in Full-Time MBA
  13. NYU (Stern) – Entire Full-Time MBA, 1-Year Andre Koo Technology and Entrepreneurship MBA
  14. Cornell (Johnson) – One- and Two-Year Management Science MBAs
  15. Duke (Fuqua) – MBA With Track Credential in Management Science and Technology Management (MSTeM)
  16. UCLA (Anderson) – Full-Time, Fully-Employed, and Executive MBAs
  17. Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) – Entire Full-Time MBA
  18. USC (Marshall) – Entire Full-Time MBA
  19. UNC (Kenan-Flagler) – Business Analytics & Management Science Concentration in Full-Time MBA
  20. Washington (Foster) – Technology Management MBA, MS in Business Analytics
  21. Emory (Goizueta) – MS in Business Analytics
  22. Georgetown (McDonough) – Management Science Major in Full-Time MBA
  23. Indiana (Kelley) – Five Majors In Full-Time MBA: Accounting, Business Analytics, Finance, Marketing, and Supply Chain & Operations
  24. Rice (Jones) – All Master’s Programs
  25. Texas-Austin (McCombs) – MS in Finance, MS in Marketing, MS in Energy Management
  26. Minnesota (Carlson) – Management Science MBA
  27. Ohio State (Fisher) – Entire Full-Time MBA
  28. UNC (Kenan-Flagler) – Entire Full-Time MBA
  29. Notre Dame (Mendoza) – Entire Full-Time MBA, MS in Business Analytics
  30. Olin Business School – Entire Full-Time MBA
  31. Rochester (Simon) – MBA with tracks in Finance, Consulting, Marketing, and General Management
  32. UC Davis – Master of Science in Business Analytics
  33. UC Irvine (Merage) – Entire Full-Time MBA
  34. Wisconsin (Madison) – MS in Supply Chain Management, MS in Business Analytics, Master of Science in Financial Economics
  35. ASU (W.P. Carey) – Entire Full-Time MBA, Executive MBA
  36. Vanderbilt (Owen) – MBA in Finance Concentration

How should you apply for a STEM MBA program?

The application process for a STEM MBA program is not any different – in fact, your MBA program is not any different from a regular full-time MBA program. You will be applying and studying as part of the regular Full-time MBA cohort and taking some of the core or mandatory classes together. And then, when it comes to choosing electives, you will focus more on choosing programs in analytics and not just in finance or marketing, or operations.

Therefore, do your research. Look into each of these schools and see whether the electives they offer make sense for you, in terms of your interests and career goals. If they do not, then do not apply to that program JUST BECAUSE they have a STEM program. You may end up either not doing the STEM electives or not taking a STEM-related job and may not get your 2-year OPT extension. Hence, if you apply to such schools, do so knowing that you may get only one chance at the H1b lottery and knowing that the program has other value-adds to offer you beyond just the potential to work for 3 years on a student visa.

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