Should You Do A STEM MBA?
The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) MBA focuses on management with an emphasis on science and tech applications. Many MBA programs offer either STEM designated MBA programs or specific STEM tracks for candidates who want to cultivate a broad skill set.
Some excellent schools such as Cornell Johnson, Berkeley Haas, CMU Tepper, and Rochester Simon, offer special STEM designated MBA programs.
Other schools like Duke Fuqua, Harvard Business School, and Wharton offer STEM tracks that don’t apply to all MBA students. In these, you must choose to take specific courses for your degree to be certified as a STEM MBA.
Why STEM designated MBA programs are popular
The popular reason: tech’s role in the business landscape is increasing and companies want MBA graduates who can leverage both their business and analytical skills. STEM MBA programs enable new generations of business leaders to fluently work with finance, economics, statistics, analytics, and data, alongside traditional core MBA courses, to make forward-thinking business decisions.
Then there’s also the equally-valid, but less discussed reason: The US allows a 36-month Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension of the F1 visa for STEM students as opposed to the 12-month extension for non-STEM students, which increases the flow of international applicants to these programs.
Advantages of a STEM-Designated MBA
In the United States, there is a huge need for such highly-skilled tech workers, given its leading role in global tech innovation. However, there are relatively fewer people pursuing STEM degrees in the US. With the US looking to import an increasing number of STEM graduates and business schools vying for more diverse, international applicants to their programs, a STEM MBA can be a great career opportunity.
Schools such as Cornell are already seeing double-digit increases in international applicants year-over-year (2021 to 2022) by making their MBA program STEM-certified, as these degrees provide better working options after the program ends.
Is a STEM MBA right for you?
Some STEM MBA programs are tailored specifically to people who come from a STEM undergrad or a STEM-based job. Other schools, such as Duke Fuqua, offer the STEM program to any student interested in tech, regardless of background.
Duke claims that having non-STEM students in the cohort increases the range of discussion and innovation within the classroom and helps improve analytical skills in candidates who may not have had the opportunity to experience these.
If you’re considering a STEM MBA, it is important to assess your background and determine whether you meet the specific requirements for the programs you are interested in.
When a STEM MBA Might Not Be Right
That said, if your career goals after the MBA program do not include STEM subjects, consider pursuing a regular MBA. Pursuing a STEM-track MBA might not be the best idea if you aren’t particularly interested in a tech oriented curriculum, or if your ideal position is something less tech-oriented such as product management, HR, or marketing.
This is especially true if the school thinks you’re pursuing the STEM track only for the Visa extension; if this seems to be a legitimate concern, it may come up in the interview.
Finally, there is the “rupees vs. dollars” angle: those who are coming from countries with wages lower than those in the US will feel the sting of tuition and living costs of these programs; programs that were, of course, designed to be offset by post-MBA jobs paid in dollars. The extra time afforded by the STEM MBA will provide graduates with more time to land a great job and, ideally, a way to stay and settle down.
What are the US Visa advantages of a STEM MBA?
The US Visa system has changed dramatically in the past few years, little of it to the advantage of international MBA graduates who wish to remain in the US.
Regardless of the H-1B changes, however, the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program remains intact. For normal degrees, the OPT gives international students 12 months after graduation to stay in the US and pursue work. The OPT is particularly useful because unlike the H1-B visa, the employer is not responsible for sponsoring the applicant’s Visa.
If your MBA is an official STEM-designated program, you can apply for a 24-month extension to the OPT. This amounts to a total of 36 months that you are allowed to remain in the US for after your MBA.
This means you look like a better prospect to employers who may not be happy about losing you after 12 months, and further provides you with the chance to build a network and seek sponsorship on a more permanent basis.
As a quick aside, there are 12-month MBA programs that are STEM-designated, including the Cornell Tech MBA and Kellogg’s Accelerated MBA program. Nevertheless, if part of the advantage of a STEM designation is to spend more time in the US, then it would make sense to pursue a two-year MBA and research post-MBA jobs during the program.
What are the career prospects for a STEM MBA?
This can vary from program to program, but the first step will be to research your prospective schools and see which companies recruit most heavily from their pool of MBAs. Remember, there are several STEM-related roles in companies or sectors that aren’t traditionally “tech,” so the STEM MBA certainly doesn’t limit your options for employment or career growth.
In fact, many schools consider their STEM tracks to provide complementary skills to their core MBA curriculum. So, a STEM MBA prepares you for both usual MBA-based positions as well as more specialized, tech-oriented roles.
Practical experience in tech can inform many different outlooks, and skills such as data-driven decision making are in high demand. A few examples of post STEM-MBA industries that leverage these skills are ESG and renewables, Cyber Security, Data Analysis and Data Science, other Data-Driven Technology, and Smart Technology.
Which schools offer a STEM MBA?
Here is a non-exhaustive list of STEM-designated MBA programs:
MBA, Tech MBA
Here is a non-exhaustive list of schools that offer specific MBA specializations with a STEM designation:
Management Science MBA, Tech MBA
Management Science and Technology Management (MSTeM), a second major
Management Science Track
Select concentrations within full-time MBA
Business Economics and Public Policy
Business, Energy, Environment, and Sustainability
Operations, Information, and Decisions
The US is still hungry for workers with tech-related skills. STEM designations for MBA programs have opened a playing field that has historically been restricted by US Visa regulations.
You can use this to your advantage by pursuing a STEM-designated MBA program or a STEM-track MBA in the US.
However, as always, you should do your research. If you already have a background in STEM, great. If not, make sure that you identify programs that match your goals in addition to their STEM designation.
I help determined applicants get into top business schools. If you want to know more about whether you’re a good fit for a STEM MBA or a STEM-track MBA program, register here for a free 20-minute consultation.