Graphic image representation of STEM majors.

What Are STEM-Designated Degrees?

Monday, October 30, 2023

Last Updated: April 19, 2024


During your business graduate program research, you might’ve come across the term STEM-designated degree. So what is it and should you consider getting one?

What are STEM-designated degrees?

STEM-designated degrees are academic programs in a “STEM” field that the U.S. government has identified as being beneficial to students and U.S. companies. STEM refers to majors in science, technology, engineering, and math.

These degrees usually have an increased level of quantitative and/or technical rigor compared to degree programs without a STEM designation. And if you're an international student, they let you work in the U.S. for up to 3 years without needing sponsorship.

STEM-designated degrees can be earned at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. 


Benefits of STEM-designated degrees

1. Develop a technical background to enhance your career

As new technology continues to evolve and shape society, employers will also continue to demand a workforce with STEM-skills—particularly those involving the managing and analysis of data. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects STEM jobs to increase 10.8% by 2032.

From the Carlson School's Business Career Center's own collected data and the most recent GMAC corporate recruiter's survey, STEM skills currently in high demand include:

  • Financial modeling
  • Analytics
  • Data science
  • Insights analytics
  • Business intelligence
  • Valuation
  • Data visualization

STEM skills projected to be in high demand in the coming years include:

  • Web3, blockchain, and virtual reality
  • Cloud-based technology
  • Data visualization
  • AI and machine learning
  • Statistical analysis
  • Database tools
  • Programming skills

Choosing a STEM-designated degree focuses your education on developing and utilizing your quantitative and technical skills, in addition to industry-specific and leadership skills you earn in most Carlson School degrees. This may make you a stronger candidate for jobs with a quantitative and technical focus.

For example, the most data-driven master’s programs at the Carlson School demonstrate outstanding employment and career outcomes for our graduates.

For the Master of Science in Business Analytics graduating class of 2023:

  • 92% of graduates accepted employment within 6 months after graduation
  • $117,507 was the mean base salary

For the Master of Science in Finance graduating class of 2023:

  • 100% of graduates received employment within 6 months after graduation, with 88% of graduates accepting an offer of employment
  • $86,900 was the mean base salary

It’s important to note that when it comes to STEM-designated degrees and employment, the main trend we see is that employers are looking for employees whose skills can align with a specialized role. For example, if you complete a business analytics program, positions you may successfully land include senior data analyst, data scientist, or business intelligence engineer.


2. Expand your opportunity to work in the U.S. as an international student

If you’re an international student, STEM-designated degrees provide an opportunity for you to remain in the U.S. and work for up to 3 years without needing sponsorship if you can find a job that makes use of your technical degree. Here’s how it works.


Optional Practical Training (OPT)

When you complete a U.S. bachelor’s, master's, and/or doctoral program, you can work in the U.S. for 12 months without requiring sponsorship from an employer. This work permission, called Optional Practical Training (OPT), is meant to help you gain real-world work experience in the field of your study.

You can use any portion of your OPT:

  • Before your program ends—can be an internship or other work experience that's part-time or full-time*
  • After your program ends—can be an internship or other work experience that must be at least 20 hours a week or full-time

For example, if you complete your bachelor’s degree in May and are starting a master’s program in September, you can use your OPT for a summer internship between programs.

*Typically when you work prior to graduating, you’ll use your Curricular Practical Training (CPT). CPT authorization lets you complete an internship or practicum with a specific employer for a specific period of time. However, you must have an offer before you apply for CPT authorization. With OPT you do not need to receive an offer before applying.

Difference between CPT and OPT


STEM OPT Extension

If you complete a program that’s STEM-designated (approved by the Department of Homeland Security), you qualify for an additional 24-month STEM OPT extension. This is in addition to the original 12-month OPT. If you complete a STEM-designated degree program, you are eligible for up to a total of 3 years of post-graduation work authorization.


OPT and Sponsorship

To work long-term in the U.S., an employer will need to apply for an H-1B visa on your behalf. A total of 85,000 H-1B visas are given out each year, with 20,000 set aside for those with graduate degrees from a U.S. university (such as Carlson School's STEM-designated ones). Whenever the number of applications exceeds the number of visas available, a lottery system is used to determine who gets a visa.

Over the past few years, the chances of being selected for an H-1B visa have become smaller (see table 1). So qualifying for the STEM OPT extension because of your STEM-designated degree can improve your chances of being selected for an H-1B visa. You’ll have 3 years to qualify for a visa instead of 1 year. This means you'll be able to gain a total of 3 years of work experience in the U.S. with a STEM-designated degree, and you won't need sponsorship during that time. 


Table 1: percentage of eligible H-1B applicants selected in lottery by fiscal year (Forbes)
Fiscal YearPercentage of eligible H-1B Applicants selected

STEM-designated degrees at the Carlson School

The following degrees at the Carlson School are STEM-designated:

Carlson School Career Support and Resources

The Carlson School cannot guarantee employment, but we offer many resources that can help you gain employment opportunities in the U.S.

The Carlson Business Career Center (CBCC) offers robust career services. From polishing your resume to networking and successfully interviewing, our career coaches offer individualized support every step of the way—for life.

If you’re an international student, the CBCC can help you strategize a career path to work in the U.S. We also partner with the University of Minnesota’s International Student and Scholar Services to help you navigate OPT and visa issues.