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Why STEM Matters for International Students
You’ve probably heard of the term ‘STEM’, but do you understand what it means? What are the benefits of completing a STEM degree?
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and is a broad term that is used to group these academic disciplines together. Some of the most popular STEM majors in the US include Biology and Biomedical Sciences, Mathematics and Statistics, Computer Science and Information Technology, and Mechanical/Electrical/Aerospace Engineering.
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) maintains a complete list of fields that qualify certain degrees as STEM. The DHS ultimately decides which degrees qualify as STEM and periodically updates its list with any new additions. For a university to designate its program as STEM, it must formally request the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to designate a STEM qualification for its program. The US has a broadened sense of including which disciplines qualify as STEM. For example, some universities in the US consider the ‘Science’ in STEM to include social sciences as well - these colleges have designated the fields of Psychology, Sociology, Economics, and Political Science as STEM. At the graduate level, most MS (Master of Science) programs are designated as STEM, and there are several colleges that offer MBA programs that are considered STEM as well.
Top 12 US Colleges for STEM Degree Programs
Download our updated list (as of Feb 2022) to learn more about the best colleges that offer the most STEM degree programs in the US!
What are the benefits of STEM?
Graduating with a STEM degree has direct implications on your post-graduation employability. A STEM degree’s coursework and curriculum can be significantly more rigorous compared to other majors (both at the undergraduate and graduate levels), and are often focused on developing a technical skill set related to your field of study.
STEM degree holders are in high demand due to a shortage of STEM students in the US. Students who graduate with a STEM degree often start their careers in more technical roles and tend to earn higher salaries across various fields and industries. STEM education helps you apply theoretical knowledge in real world scenarios while also expanding your professional opportunities and improving your employability as an international student in the US. Although students with STEM degrees often start their careers in technical roles, there will be many opportunities to move into managerial roles or remain subject matter experts focused on refining their technical expertise. Graduating with a STEM degree also provides very important immigration benefits to international students, enabling students to work in the US for up to 3 years after graduation.
What is OPT? What does STEM extension mean?
If you intend to study in the US and gain work experience, understanding your immigration benefits is extremely important.
Every eligible international student, studying on the F-1 student visa, is allowed to gain work experience in the US after graduation for a period of up to 12 months. This 12-month period is called “Optional Practical Training” (OPT).
International students without a STEM degree or alternative immigration options must return to their home country within 60 days of the expiration of their OPT period. However, STEM graduates are eligible for an additional 24 months of work authorization (STEM extension) after the initial 12-month OPT period. In total, STEM graduates are eligible to work for up to 3 years in the US, compared to only 1 year for non-STEM graduates.
International students with STEM degrees are significantly more attractive to potential employers; a 3-year period of work eligibility enables employers to realize a return on investment on the extensive amount of time and money spent on recruiting, hiring, and training recently graduated students. In many cases, new college-graduate programs (jobs) can span 2-3 years throughout different parts of a company and insufficient work eligibility prevents many employers from considering international students, even if they are extremely well-qualified.
In future posts, we'll discuss alternative immigration options and in the meantime, check out our OPT application guide and immigration attorney video interviews.