I'm an engineer by training, and I'm considering applying to a STEM designated MBA in the US as an international student.
What are the advantages of a STEM designated MBA, and what do admissions committees look for in STEM MBA applicants?
This week's Applicant Question was submitted by an anonymous reader.
This week's Applicant Question is answered by Frank Fletcher, senior director of MBA programs at the University of San Francisco.
One of the most significant trends in US-based business schools over the last three years has been the growth of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) designated MBA Program options.
What started off with less than a handful of schools (like Rochester and Duke) has exploded into what seems like a new STEM designated MBA entering the market every week.
What is driving this trend are really two factors: prospective student demand and response to industry market trends. Both speak to the advantages of the STEM designated MBA.
STEM MBA key advantages
The US has long been the destination of choice for international MBA applicants. However, over the last 20 years, there has been a proliferation of MBA program options in places like Canada, the UK, France, Spain, and Germany.
In addition to offering excellent educational alternatives, the programs in these locations are able to provide their students more favorable work visa options.
Students graduating an MBA Program in the US are afforded just 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT) upon completion of their program.
To maintain employment beyond those 12 months, MBA graduates and their employers would have to pursue that all elusive H-1b visa.
It is a risk and an expense many employers are unwilling to take, which has forced many international candidates in US-based MBA Programs to return to their home countries for post-MBA employment.
In 2016, the US Department of Homeland Security introduced a 24-month extension to the 12-month OPT for those students graduating from STEM programs and taking up employment in a field related to their degree.
This policy change contributed to the growth in graduate management specialty masters programs that fell within the traditional STEM category.
It was at this time that MBA Programs began introducing their own STEM options.
During a recent recruitment trip to India, the number one question I was asked by prospective students was, "what is the STEM solution for your MBA?"
Fortunately, I could respond by letting them know that the University of San Francisco is working on a very thoughtful whole program solution, which will tap into our strengths in business analytics, data science, marketing research and analytics, financial analysis, and decision sciences.
While the USF approach is a whole program option, other MBA programs have identified tracks or concentrations within their program that meet the STEM designation standards.
When researching which program format best suits your specific interests, you would want to align your needs with the model incorporated by the respective MBA Program.
STEM MBA and employability
Increasingly, employers are demanding strong technical proficiency and the ability to use the appropriate tools effectively to analyze large amounts of data.
Students demonstrating this ability, along with excellent communication and leadership qualities, are at a significant advantage in the job market.
In response, MBA programs are introducing more technical content in areas related to data acquisition, statistical modeling, and machine learning to their curriculum.
While this content contributes to the defense of an MBA STEM designation, it also positions students competitively in specific markets.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, MBA graduates are expected to have some level of proficiency in tools like R, Python, or SQL.
A STEM designated MBA degree gives employers a level of confidence that the graduate will be successful in roles that demand technical awareness and proficiency.
How to make your STEM MBA application stand out
As with any degree program, admissions committees (adcomms) are looking for alignment between the student and the program. Oftentimes you will hear adcomms refer to this as ‘fit.’ The STEM MBA is no different in this regard.
Admissions Committee will want to see a demonstration of academic potential, especially as it relates to more technical and quantitative areas.
To this effect, applicants with engineering backgrounds and strong quant scores on the GMAT or GRE will be reviewed more favorably than an applicant with weaker demonstrated quantitative ability and no exposure to STEM content in their undergraduate degree.
In addition to your academic profile, adcomms will be interested in hearing how your professional experience and ambitions align with the STEM designated MBA.
While it is recognized that the 24 month OPT extension is a desirable option for many international candidates, this cannot be the sole motivation for pursuing a STEM MBA program.
It is important to remember that the OPT extension can only be applied if the employment you seek is directly related to your STEM area of study.
If you hope to use the STEM MBA to pursue a career in a non-related area, then you will not be able to enjoy the visa extension benefits.
Therefore, in your statements of purpose and interviews, you want to be sure that you are identifying how the STEM MBA will position you for your short and long-term career objectives.
Finally, regardless of whether the MBA you seek is STEM certified or not, you want to demonstrate what you bring to the learning experience.
Adcomms are not only looking for great students, they are also looking for great teachers. What do you have to teach others? How will your educational, professional, and personal experiences impact the experiences of everyone else in your MBA community.
Best of luck to you as you pursue this incredible journey!
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Next week, you'll have the chance to ask Aude Theobald, head of internatinal admissions at EDHEC, anything you want about getting into business school.
Aude came to EDHEC after a diverse career in sales, working across different sectors with companies of all sizes. She has also ventured into entrepreneurial pursuits.
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