For many international students aspiring to work in the US, pursuing a degree in STEM can be one of the best pathways to a long-term career and a way to gain valuable skills that top employers seek out.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2016 and 2022, STEM-related jobs in the US are expected to increase by 10.8%. So, choosing STEM majors and understanding what is STEM education (aka degrees in the field of science, technology, engineering, and math) opens many doors to career opportunities in the US — or anywhere else in the world.
In addition to having increasing job opportunities, F-1 students in the US who are STEM majors may also take advantage of programs to extend their stay in America. For example, international students who pursue a STEM degree are eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT) employment, which allows them to work and study with STEM and OPT in the US for up to 12 months. An added advantage of studying STEM is that international students can then request to extend their OPT for an additional 24 months. (To truly gain a competitive edge here, remember to also hone your soft skills to become a well-rounded STEM major and secure your spot in STEM and OPT.)
When to Apply for STEM OPT Extension
As an F-1 student pursuing STEM majors, you may be eligible for a 24-month STEM OPT extension after completing your initial 12 months of OPT. To qualify, you must pursue a STEM degree, be employed by a company that is registered with E-Verify (an internet-based system that allows businesses to verify the eligibility of employees to work in the US), and your employment must be directly related to your degree. Additionally, you must have a valid job offer and submit a training plan with your OPT application.
While the time of each stage will vary, your STEM OPT Extension application timeline may look like this:
Stage 1: Request your STEM OPT I-20 form
Stage 2: Submit your STEM OPT application to USCIS
Stage 3: Receive approval
Stage 4: Maintain F-1 STEM OPT status
The processing time for a STEM OPT extension can change depending on potential delays or documentation required, but can take up to 90 days or more, so it is important to plan accordingly.
Use the following checklist to ensure you have all the necessary documents and information for your STEM and OPT extension application:
Form I-983 training plan
I-94 arrival/departure record
Previous EAD card (if applicable)
Proof of employment
Any additional supporting documents
By planning in advance to meet the eligibility requirements and submitting a complete STEM OPT Extension application, you can maximize your chances of obtaining an extension on time.
We mentioned earlier that in order to qualify for STEM OPT after graduation, you must pursue a STEM major for your degree program. But with many different STEM majors to choose from, it can be challenging to decide exactly which one is right for you. Check out a few possibilities that are eligible for work authorization at Shorelight universities.
STEM Majors at US Universities
Edgewood College, located in Madison, Wisconsin, is ranked #331 among National Universities by U.S. News & World Report and offers several STEM-designated majors:
Broad Field Natural Science
Computer Information Systems
Browse the full list of majors at Edgewood College >
Lewis University, located in downtown Chicago, is a liberal arts university ranked #22 in Regional Universities in the Midwest. Here are a few of Lewis’ STEM programs:
Communication Sciences and Disorders
Browse the full list of majors at Lewis University >
In the heart of Chicago, Roosevelt University offers a transformational education with more than 120 degree programs. Check out a possibilities at Roosevelt:
Cyber Security and Information Assurance
Browse the full list of majors at Roosevelt University >
Shenandoah University blends professional career experiences with a liberal arts education and was ranked #283 Best Colleges for Nursing by Niche. At Shenandoah, you could potentially study:
Browse the full list of majors at Shenandoah University >
University of Dayton
The University of Dayton in Ohio offers many top-ranked programs in STEM. According to U.S. News & World Report, their graduate engineering program is ranked #47. If you attend the University of Dayton, here are just a few majors you could choose from:
Applied Mathematical Economics
Electronic and Computer Engineering Technology
Global Manufacturing Systems Engineering Technology
Medicinal — Pharmaceutical Chemistry
Browse the full list of majors at the University of Dayton >
University of the Pacific
The University of the Pacific is ranked #52 for its undergraduate engineering program, according to U.S. News & World Report. You can choose from a variety of degree options, including:
Geological Use and Environmental Sciences
Browse the full list of majors at the University of the Pacific >
University of Utah
The University of Utah is a top-100 public school located in Salt Lake City. According to U.S. News & World Report, their undergraduate engineering program is ranked #61. Consider studying the following programs at the University of Utah:
Material Science and Engineering
Browse the full list of majors at the University of Utah >
Western New England University
Western New England University (WNE), located in Springfield Massachusetts, is ranked #87 among the Best Undergraduate Engineering programs by U.S. News & World Report. WNE offers several top-ranking degree programs including:
Browse the full list of majors at Western New England University >
York College of Pennsylvania
Ranked #293 in Nursing by U.S. News & World Report and with a 90% employment rate within six months of graduation, York College offers a variety of career-building degrees to choose from, including:
Browse the full list of majors at York College of Pennsylvania >
With so many STEM majors to consider, take some time to think about what you enjoy most and the types of careers you would find fulfilling. Additionally, you can always speak with a trusted advisor who can help you focus and make the best decision for you and your goals.
No matter which STEM major you choose, as an international student, you will be making a smart decision for your future. Pursuing a career in STEM is highly rewarding, whether you decide to work in the US or anywhere in the world.
Talk to a Shorelight advisor about academic support for international students >