STEM MBA: Programs, Cost, Careers & More
April 27, 2021
A STEM MBA can position you for a high-level management position with a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics business. Additionally, STEM MBA programs have special significance for international students.
At first glance, a STEM Master of Business Administration (MBA) may sound like an incongruity. MBAs are for upper-level business managers. STEM degrees are for nerds who know what makes computers work. Right?
Take a closer look and you'll understand why STEM MBA programs are not only compatible but also growing in popularity. According to one study, 30 percent of non-STEM MBA students are thinking about switching to a STEM concentration.
Two factors drive this trend. First, STEM-designated degrees of all types benefit international students by qualifying them for extended visas. According to Poets and Quants, international students comprise an average of 35.5 percent of the student body at top ten MBA programs. Due to tightening immigration laws, those numbers have been declining since 2016. STEM MBA programs can help schools attract more applicants.
Second, the demand for STEM professionals continues to grow. In its most recent projections, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects STEM to grow by 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, more than twice as fast as the projected growth rate (3.7 percent) for the job market as a whole.
STEM-designated MBA programs produce technically minded management professionals. According to a post on the Purdue University - Main Campus Krannert Master's Programs blog, "MBA-STEM graduates are being trained to bridge the gap between knowing how to make things work and how to make money off of making things work. They are armed with practical industrial skills a typical business graduate doesn't have —technical proficiency, analytics, procedural skills and so forth." As companies continue to expand their reliance on data and technology to advance business practices, the demand for this kind of professional will only increase.
If you're looking to learn more about STEM MBA programs, their cost, careers, and more, this ultra guide is the resource for you. If covers;
- What is a STEM-designated MBA?
- What MBA concentrations qualify as STEM disciplines?
- STEM-MBA Admissions
- Which top MBA programs qualify as STEM MBAs?
- Is a STEM MBA right for you?
What is a STEM-designated MBA?
STEM MBA programs are inextricably linked to international students. Earning a STEM-certified degree allows graduates to remain in the country for an additional two years, providing a direct path to an H-1B work visa and potentially leading to permanent residency. "In today's political landscape where our immigration policy is messy, this is just one more element that gives them security in the job market," Lisa Messaglia, an associate dean at University of Chicago Booth School of Business, told the Wall Street Journal.
STEM-certified programs are also great for colleges. Many rely heavily on international students to fill out their classrooms—importantly, international students are more likely to pay the full cost of tuition than domestic students. The number of international applicants has declined recently, according to a 2019 study from the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC). Adding this new designation can increase the number of international students.
Master of Business Administration
STEM MBAs are still business degrees at the core, meaning you can expect to learn subjects like:
- Business management
- Data analysis
MBA students typically accrue at least two or three years of work experience before applying to a program. Many have more, especially if they are working professionals applying to an online MBA or Executive MBA (EMBA) program. These degrees teach many of the same skills but attract more seasoned working professionals. EMBAs specifically target upper-level management professionals hoping to fine-tune their skillsets. They typically focus less on connections and networking, given that the students are already well into their careers.
What is a STEM designation?
Many MBA programs address STEM topics, such as analytics. STEM-designated programs meet specific requirements, including the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Extension, which allows international students to stay in the country after finishing their education.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the primary certifier of STEM programs. It utilizes a definition from the US Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics to decide which programs qualify for Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) codes, leading to an OPT extension.
How is a STEM MBA different from a traditional MBA?
STEM MBA programs typically include coursework like business analytics and data warehousing, in addition to traditional MBA classes. Depending on the program, you may even learn subjects like artificial intelligence and machine learning.
STEM MBAs are often a one-track option in a larger program. Students typically complete the same core business management courses then specialize. You could just as easily choose to pursue a real estate specialization as a STEM subject. In that case, you'd be pursuing courses in subjects like real estate law, capital management, and financial accounting.
Other common MBA specializations include:
It's possible to complete STEM courses in an MBA without earning a STEM degree. Southern Methodist University includes data analytics as a foundational pillar of its online MBA program. Students "learn how to analyze, interpret and extract key insights from data" and leverage them to "take decisive action and effectively communicate the big picture." This kind of program is more helpful for domestic students hoping to learn analytics skills than international students.
What MBA concentrations qualify as STEM disciplines?
While there are schools where the entire MBA program is STEM-certified, typically either full-time or EMBA, many only have a specific STEM concentration, specialization, track, or major. Options include:
- Business analytics
- Management science
- Supply chain operations
To complete a STEM track, you'll likely need to study subjects like:
- Business statistics
- Data modeling
- Data processing
- Data warehousing
- Management science
Remember, the STEM field is much larger than the subjects covered in MBA programs. ICE, an agency within the DHS, provides a list of all the STEM-recognized degree paths, which includes hard sciences like physics and chemistry.
The admissions process is typically the same for STEM and traditional MBA programs at schools that offer both.
Though requirements differ by program, you'll likely need to:
- Submit Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores. Scores at top programs typically hover around 700.
- Interview: The opportunity to state your case in person (or over Zoom) and discuss things like work history, goals, interests, and professional experience.
- Letters of recommendation: Schools typically ask for three, usually from previous or current employers and professors.
- Personal Essay: A chance to discuss your personality and abilities outside of your resume. Also, a chance to argue why the program is a perfect fit for your skills and career goals and how you'll contribute to class discussions.
- Resume: Clear statement of your work history, professional and academic accomplishments, and leadership qualities.
- Transcripts: From any undergraduate or graduate program you've completed.
Online and EMBA programs have variations of this process. Both, but especially EMBAs, emphasize work experience as an admissions requirement.
Which top MBA programs qualify as STEM MBAs?
The cost of a STEM MBA is no different from the cost of a traditional program. Unfortunately, MBAs are expensive. Top programs can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. According to Poets and Quants, 13 MBA programs cost at least $200,000 in 2020, including tuition and living costs. The typical EMBA program costs around $80,000, though top degrees can run about $150,000.
There are online MBA programs that cost around $250 per credit, a significant saving. However, paying more for the degree may not be bad, especially from a top school with a strong alumni network. Great connections can help you earn better jobs after graduation than students from second-tier programs.
STEM MBA degrees prepare graduates for similar roles as traditional programs. According to 2020 employment statistics from the Duke University Fuqua School of Business, graduates from the Daytime MBA (including STEM track students) take positions in:
- Consulting: 33 percent of all graduates pursue consulting roles. Of those students, 63 percent work in general consulting and 21 percent in consulting management. These professionals earned an average annual salary of $154,423.
- Finance: 22 percent of graduates work in finance. Most (43 percent) went into investment banking or corporate finance (33 percent). The median annual salary for finance professionals was $139,354.
- General management: 18 percent of graduates took general management positions. Of these professionals, 36 percent work in leadership development, and 15 percent work in internal consulting. The average salary was $125,609.
Though percentages differ, graduates from the Chicago Booth full-time MBA, which is entirely STEM-designated, take similar positions. Top fields and the percentage of graduates that enter them include:
- Consulting: 38.7 percent
- Corporate strategy and strategic planning: 6.2%
- General management: 5.9%
- Investment banking: 13.4 percent
- Product management (tech): 6.6 percent
The University of Chicago does not provide salary statistics for each job function, but the median salary for all graduates is $150,000 per year.
Though not exact, these figures are generally representative of the types of careers and earnings graduates from top schools can expect. However, Duke and the University of Chicago are not the only schools with great STEM-designated MBAs. Other top programs, according to Poets and Quants and US News & World Report, include:
_Carnegie Mellon University_
The entire Carnegie Mellon full-time MBA program is STEM-certified. The curriculum focuses on building data- and analytics-based decision-making skills. Coursework revolves around developing and utilizing predictive and prescriptive modeling and optimization to identify quality business solutions.
This degree program spans two academic years and includes courses like Statistical Decision Making and Probability and Statistics. Track options include:
- Business analytics and technology strategy
- product management
_Case Western Reserve University_
Case Western students complete the customary analytics and statistics courses, plus coursework in:
- Artificial Intelligence: The process of teaching computers to make decisions
- Blockchain: A decentralized information sharing system common to cryptocurrencies
- FinTech: The use of disruptive technology to provide financial services
The 60-credit program takes 21 months to complete across two academic years. In the first, students complete core curriculum classes like:
- Economics for Managers
- Probability & Quantitative Methods
- Statistics & Decision Making (STEM Approved)
In the second year, students work with advisors to select STEM electives that correlate to their career goals in one of seven core competencies:
- Business Analytics
- Design and Innovation and Entrepreneurship
- Healthcare Management
- Organizational Leadership
Columbia, the seventh-ranked MBA program by US News & World Report, offers two STEM-designated MBA programs: full-time and EMBA.
Columbia does not have as many STEM-focused MBA course options as other programs, though it's still an officially recognized program. It received a STEM designation in 2020 after incorporating coursework focused on technology and analytics.
Both full-time and EMBA students complete 60 credit hours of coursework—full-time MBA students have more options for elective courses. Core coursework in both programs addresses business analytics, operations management, and global economics.
There are three STEM-designated MBA options at Cornell:
- Johnson Cornell Tech MBA
- One-Year Management Science MBA
- Two-Year Management Science MBA
According to dean Mark W. Nelson, "Johnson's curriculum has always included a strong analytical foundation, as well as many opportunities to build STEM-related knowledge and skills."
The one-year program is essentially an accelerated version of the two-year curriculum. Students complete foundational business leadership and management coursework and electives and participate in an immersion experience in their industry. The one-year program also includes a management practicum where students utilize data analytics and interview techniques to consult for a company.
The Johnson Tech MBA is a year-long program that takes place primarily at the New York City campus. MBA students interact with those in other Cornell degree programs (like computer science) on projects that put STEM-focused learning to use.
Each track includes data analytics core coursework; students can focus more on STEM education through electives. They may even take courses through Cornell's other colleges, including the College of Engineering.
Duke's daytime MBA has one STEM track: the Management Science and Technology Management (MSTeM), which takes 22 months to complete. Students are divided into cohorts, meaning you'll work with the same group of classmates in a small group setting.
The program "helps you understand the tools and models that should be utilized to inform and improve decisions." Graduates can "both lead and direct analysis."
Concentration options include:
- Decision Sciences
- Energy and Environment
- Energy Finance
These concentrations help students develop analytics skills in their field of choice. Students can also earn a certificate in finance or health science management.
Emory offers a STEM-designated business analytics track for its one- and two-year MBA students. The program "emphasizes the use of quantitative modeling, data analytics, technological applications, and operations analysis to effectively manage and deploy resources to enhance organizational performance."
Students can select from concentrations:
- Information systems and operations management
- Organization and management
Students complete the concentration through electives. Potential coursework includes:
- Coding for business insight
- Data visualization
- Decision modeling
- Forecasting and predictive analytics
- Managerial accounting
- Market analysis in excel
Harvard offers a unique MBA program. Based on the case method, HBS teaches by working through 500 cases throughout the two-year program. The process involves reading documents and discussing them with classmates; it's a chance to gain hands-on experience working through realistic business scenarios and network with classmates.
In tandem with examining cases, students also get to put their ideas to work through the Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development (FIELD) method. Students partner with companies and work with classmates to implement their ideas. The program also includes a week-long immersion program at the business.
Students who complete the management science track at Harvard graduate with a STEM MBA. According to the school's elective curriculum, management science courses include:
- Business Analysis and Valuation Using Financial Statements
- Creating Value Through Corporate Restructuring
- Data Science for Managers
_Massachusetts Institute of Technology_
MIT, unsurprisingly, offers more STEM options than most of its competitors, including crosstown Harvard. According to Poets and Quants, three MIT programs qualify for STEM designation, including:
- Full-Time MBA: two-year program with multiple track options
- Sloan Fellows MBA: one-year immersive program that mixes group projects with core and elective courses
- Sloan Executive MBA: a 20 month program designed for mid-career professionals
Students in the two-year MBA program take one year of core courses, including:
- Data, Models, and Decisions
- Economic Analysis for Business Decisions
- Organizational Processes
Second-year students choose electives to focus their education, completing 144 units in total. In addition to graduate tracks like finance or enterprise management, students can also opt to earn a certificate in business analytics.
MIT MBA graduates are highly sought after; 95.5 percent earned full-time job offers within three months of graduation. The median base salary was $150,000.
_New York University_
NYU offers two STEM options to MBA students:
- Full-Time MBA
- One-Year Andre Koo Technology and Entrepreneurship MBA
Students in the two-year full-time program enjoy excellent flexibility in designing their education. They can choose from over 20 specialty options, mixing and matching over 200 electives to create their degree.
The year-long technically minded MBA consists of four components, according to the school website:
- Elective courses
- Stern Solutions (Experiential Learning)
- The Business core
- The Technology core
Interestingly, the tech core goes through the computer science department and provides one of the most data science-oriented STEM MBA experiences. Students take courses like:
- Dealing with Data
- DevOps and Software Engineering
- Emerging Technologies
- Tech Evolution & Economics
Northwestern MBA students who want a STEM experience can opt for the Management Science Major as part of the full-time MBA option. According to the program website, "The Management Science major focuses on the application of analytical techniques, tools, and models across the school's academic disciplines." Students learn the skills to both conduct and direct analytics operations.
Students take courses like:
- Customer Analytics and AI
- People Analytics and Strategy
- Supply Chain Management
Kellog offers an extensive alumni network (more than 58,000) and career resources to help students develop their career goals and analyze potential opportunities. Students conduct market research and analyze industry trends. Graduates commonly pursue careers in entrepreneurship, traditional consulting, finance, or technology roles.
Stanford's full-time MBA and Master of Science in Management (MSx) degree paths both qualify as STEM MBA programs, according to Poets and Quants. The MSx program is shorter (one year instead of two) and attracts more experienced professionals—an average of 12.9 years of experience instead of 4.6. Students in the MSx program also need at least eight years of leadership experience. Both programs are residential.
Students in the MBA program can take classes at one of the university's seven other schools and complete a joint or dual degree, allowing them to further specialize in your field. Dual degree options include any other program option at the university. There are six joint degree options, including a Master of Science in Computer Science or a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering.
_University of California - Berkeley_
Berkeley offers three STEM MBA:
- Full-Time MBA
- Evening and Weekend MBA
- Executive MBA
The main difference between these three programs is student work experience. The EMBA and Evening and Weekend MBA programs attract more experienced professionals—7 to 20 years and 5 to 12 years of work experience, respectively. Students in the traditional MBA have an average of 3 to 8 years of experience. The evening and weekend program takes the longest to complete, between 2.5 and 3 years, as opposed to the 21-month MBA or 22-month EMBA.
Students in the MBA program can also earn a concurrent degree like a Master of Public Health (MPH) or Master of Engineering (MEng). Students in the full-time MBA complete core courses like:
- Data and Decisions
- Economics for Business Decision Making
- Macroeconomics in the Global Economy
University of Chicago
Chicago Booth boasts that it has the most flexible program in the world. Besides the traditional MBA coursework in subjects like accounting and economics, students also take psychology and sociology courses. According to the program website, "our multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving empowers you with frameworks for freethinking and sound decision-making."
The program takes 21 months to complete and offers 13 concentration options, including:
- Analytic Finance
- Behavioral Science
- Business Analytics
- General Management
- International Business
_University of Michigan - Ann Arbor_
The University of Michigan data and business analytics track is a STEM-designated MBA. The concentration consists of 12 credit hours of analytics coursework. Class titles include:
- Advanced Big Data Analytics
- Applied Business Analytics and Decisions
- Applied Business Forecasting
- Big Data Management: Tools and Techniques
- Business Application Development with Visual Basic for Excel
- Data Mining and Applied Multivariate Analysis
- Managerial Data Analytics
Students can also complete a Management Science specialization, which can help those looking for a career in quantitative management or business analytics. Course options include:
- A Brief Introduction to Computing Technologies: Crypto, Al, Quantum
- Advanced Valuation
- Financial Derivatives in Corporate Finance: Managing Risk and Creating Value
- Financial Statement Analysis
- Fixed Income and Securities Markets
- Games and Economic Decisions
- Mastering Execution: Resource Costing Systems
_University of Pennsylvania_
According to Poets and Quants, eight of the 19 major options in the Penn full-time MBA program qualify for STEM designation. They are:
- Actuarial Science
- Business Analytics
- Business Economics and Public Policy
- Environment and Sustainability
- Operations, Information and Decisions
Students can select multiple majors; highly motivated learners can even design one for themselves. Wharton also offers dual-degree program options, either through another Penn school or partner institutions Johns Hopkins University or Harvard University.
Wharton is the second-ranked MBA program according to US News and World Report, and has long been the standard-bearer in the field. Wharton boasts over 100,000 alumni; 98 percent of graduates receive job offers within three months of graduation.
_The University of Texas at Austin_
The University of Texas offers 14 STEM-certified concentration options, including:
- Business Analytics
- Clean Tech
- Energy Finance
- Information Management
- Investment Management
- Supply Chain and Operations
According to Lillian Mills, the program's interim dean, "Our goal at McCombs is not only to educate students from across the globe but also to make them competitive for business professions that the market is dictating." Mills views it as "an indication that our programs and our curriculum are both thorough and rigorous."
McCombs students spend extensive time working on projects outside the classroom. The capstone allows students to implement teamwork and management skills in a real business setting by pairing them with a local organization. Students also complete micro-consulting with partner businesses throughout their two years.
_University of Virginia - Main Campus_
UVA students who complete the management science specialization graduate with a STEM-certified degree. Concentrations within this specialization include:
- Corporate finance and investment banking
- Strategy consulting
- Supply chain management
University of Virginia students get access to career resources, including recruiting events and experiential learning opportunities like global immersion courses, starting in their first year. According to the career report, 93 percent of students received a job offer within three months of graduation, including 91 percent of international students.
_University of Wisconsin - Madison_
The first STEM-designated MBA program, the University of Wisconsin is still a leader in the field. STEM students concentrate in operations and technology management (OTM), which is designed "for those with a background in engineering, science, or other areas of technology and operations who are interested in seeking advanced positions while priming themselves for future senior leadership roles."
OTM students choose from four career tracks, each with different coursework requirements:
- Entrepreneurial management
- Healthcare management
- Production systems management
- Technology product management
OTM courses include:
- Data to Decisions
- Financial Accounting
- Introduction to Financial Management
Students earn a STEM-certified degree if they pursue a management science concentration in their second year. The program teaches techniques that include:
- Data warehousing and mining
- Operations research
- Optimization theory
- Statistical modeling
- Systems and evaluation models
Yale students have access to an expansive alumni network, which includes mentoring opportunities and databases. The school also offers over 50 student clubs that provide networking events and career resources. Most graduates (36.9 percent) work in consulting after graduation.
Is a STEM MBA right for you?
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to this question. Many factors play a role in the decision to earn an MBA, including travel limitations and potential career outcomes. For international students who need to leave the country if they don't earn a degree, however, it may be a no-brainer.
A STEM-MBA can help with your career as well. With the demand for qualified STEM professionals high and growing, a STEM and business management background puts you in an exclusive class of professionals.
Base salaries for graduates from top programs usually exceed $100,000—often over $120,000—with signing bonuses and benefits that increase the value even more. Because there's a good chance you'll make back your tuition money, the question comes down to: do you have the time? Not everybody can take two years off to complete an MBA or balance work, school, and life in a part-time program. It may be possible to meet your career goals through work experience. Still, if you're at the point in your career where it's beneficial to earn an MBA, attending a STEM-designated program can maximize the benefits.
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