What is a STEM-designated MBA?

The skills required for a STEM career and those required for an MBA may seem somewhat dissimilar; however, in today’s world, business skills and tech skills are finding themselves in an increasingly symbiotic relationship.

There are a few catalysts that led to this recent surge in STEM MBA programs at business schools across the country, including the top 10 — Harvard, Stanford, Penn, Chicago, MIT, Northwestern, Columbia, UC-Berkeley, Dartmouth and Yale. However, it was the University of Wisconsin School of Business that pioneered the STEM MBA in 2016, and in 2018 the University of Rochester was the first business school to designate all of its MBA programs as STEM should the student choose to take that path. Many other business schools have followed suit since then with some or all of their MBAs having STEM designations.

STEM designations help rebounding MBA applications

The recent slump in MBA applications and surge in STEM careers and salaries has created an appealing landscape for these two disciplines to combine forces, and it seems to be working. Graduate applications at business schools in the United States are on the rise, but not just with domestic students. The STEM MBA has great allure for international students, a segment of the graduate population that has seen a significant drop in applications due to immigration rhetoric, student visa restrictions and, more recently, travel limits due to the pandemic.

Previously, international students were limited to one year of employment immediately following graduation before applying for a visa, and extensions were often challenging. However, with the STEM designation to MBA programs, there is an extended optional practical training program that allows nonresident students to work in the U.S. an additional 24 months, for a total of 36 months.

Another appeal to the STEM MBA is salary and opportunity. STEM salaries and job growth typically are higher than those in the business industry, so designating an MBA program as STEM should translate into more diverse job opportunities with higher pay. At least that’s the hope.

What makes the STEM MBA different than a traditional one?

It’s important to understand some of the crucial differences between a traditional MBA and a STEM designated MBA. While both degrees focus on business management skills, the traditional one focuses on just business skills including marketing, sales, human resources and management skills. In addition to those, the STEM MBA brings in the technical side of business management, such as statistics, analytics, finance, management of information systems, mathematics and digital marketing. The STEM MBA often attracts those with a science-based undergrad degree and background, whereas the traditional MBA student usually has a straight business or liberal arts background.

Gaining real-world skills

STEM occupations include fields like statistician, cybersecurity, engineering, data analyst and computer science, all skills that are essential in the business world. This is especially true in the tech business world, where these skills are not only invaluable but essential to its survival.

The rapidly developing technology in the world today has businesses that create, develop and market that technology. Someone with the combined skills of business management and STEM is an invaluable asset to these types of companies. Even companies that aren’t technology based have a need for someone with this combination skillset simply due to the highly technical nature of running any business today, tech based or not.

Finding the best STEM MBA programs

Even if you’re in the exploring and pondering phase of grad school, there are some things you can do to make the process less stressful. Schedule your entrance exam, such as the GRE® test, so that when you do decide to apply, your test scores will be available. Even if you’re applying to a test optional school, there are plenty of good reasons to still take a grad school test.

Bottom line: While MBA applications are slowly coming out of their slump, STEM careers are on the rise, especially as international applications begin to rebound. Combining these two fields makes sense for potential applicants and their future job prospects, as well as benefiting companies across all industries. Call it a win-win, two-for-one kind of deal for students, universities and the business industry.