MBAs That Return More Than $3 Million

Want to earn more than $3 million over the next 20 years? You’ll need to get into one of only seven MBA programs in the U.S., according to a new study of MBA career compensation out today (June 13).

Not surprisingly, Harvard MBAs pulled down the most: a whopping $3.6 million over a 20-year span. Wharton grads were next in the gravy train line, with $3.3 million in median pay, followed by Stanford MBAs whose estimated earnings hit were just shy of $3.3 million. And get this: these numbers don’t include stock grants or options, which would significantly increase these numbers.

PayScale crunched the data for Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s top 57 full-time MBA programs in the U.S. On average, graduates from these schools earned about $2.4 million each over a 20-year career, or $122,146 annually. BusinessWeek reported, however, that graduates of the 10 programs with the highest earnings brought home an average of just over $3 million each, or $153,568 a year, compared with under $2.3 million, or $114,752 annually, for the remaining 47 schools ranked by the magazine.

Of course, there’s more at work here than where a person got his or her MBA. Geography and industry choices also play an undetermined role in the estimates of compensation by PayScale, which collects salary data from individuals through online pay-comparison tools. For each school, PayScale estimated median cash compensation—including base pay and bonuses but not stock options—for five points in their careers. The numbers are based on a sample of 24,000 MBAs from the top 57 schools ranked by BusinessWeek.

The data below, for the top 25 highest earning MBAs, shows median pay ten years after graduation, 20 years out, and total pay over a career lasting 20 years. BusinessWeek calls the 20-year totals a “rough estimate.” Nonetheless, for most MBAs, that would mean compensation until they turn 48—long before retirement. So these numbers are fairly conservative estimates of pay over a career.


Business SchoolTotal Over 20 Years Median Pay 20 Years Out Median Pay 10 Years Out
1. Harvard Business School$3,606,601$217,000$169,000
2. Pennsylvania (Wharton)$3,340,334$200,000$155,000
3. Stanford$3,291,894$211,000$157,000
4. Columbia$3,203,292$188,000$153,000
5. Dartmouth (Tuck)$3,092,471$172,000$145,000
6. MIT (Sloan)$3,056,072$180,000$137,000
7. Northwestern (Kellogg)$3,034,837$195,000$135,000
8. California (Berkeley)$2,951,549$174,000$135,000
9. Chicago (Booth)$2,919,270$192,000$132,000
10. Virginia (Darden)$2,883,197$179,000$137,000
11. Yale School of Management$2,838,664$159,000$141,000
12. Duke (Fuqua)$2,814,183$172,000$132,000
13. Cornell (Johnson)$2,785,912$173,000$128,000
14. New York (Stern)$2,725,321$163,000$124,000
15. UCLA (Anderson)$2,702,338$159,000$131,000
16. Emory (Goizueta)$2,701,743$178,000$121,000
17. Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)$2,654,521$159,000$126,000
18. Georgetown (McDonough)$2,618,025$170,000$115,000
19. Vanderbilt (Owen)$2,595,074$170,000$122,000
20. North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)$2,569,966$158,000$116,000
21. Notre Dame (Mendoza)$2,554,927$154,000$125,000
22. Texas-Austin (McCombs)$2,529,283$166,000$120,000
23. Michigan (Ross)$2,495,495$143,000$118,000
24. Southern California (Marshall)$2,446,050$143,000$118,000
25. Rice (Jones)$2,443,862$143,000$121,000

Source: Payscale for BusinessWeek


  • kartik sing raizada

    beste business men salary 50 milian dolar

  • AnaVerma

    can you suggest me some good colleges in that profile?

  • AnaVerma

    is there any mail ID where I can reach you directly?

  • AnaVerma

    Thank you for your response John…esp for providing this angle of thought!
    my profile in a crux:
    GMAT 610
    Grad: BBA in IB..3.0 GPA
    3.5yrs WE
    Female Indian
    24yrs age

  • I do believe it’s a good option–but it’s also important to assess this decision within a framework of other schools that you might be able to get into.

  • AnaVerma

    Please advise if Johns Hopkins Carey Business school’s Global MBA is a good option?…worth the money?..esp for international students
    Please suggest

  • Thanks for posting that John…looks like I’m now able to post comments on my own.

  • My old colleague and friend, Louis Lavelle, over at BusinessWeek, has weighed into the discussion. Here’s what he has to say:

    I want to reiterate what John said–these numbers are interesting, but they really should be taken with a grain of salt.

    For the smaller programs, especially at the 20-year mark, the number of pay reports used to calculate the averages can be small, and the dollar figures might not be truly representative. And remember, PayScale collects its data from online pay comparison tools. The good thing about that is that most people are disinclined to lie–if they do, the information the tool supplies will be meaningless. The bad thing is that it creates a bit of a self-selection problem: only people who are up for a raise, changing jobs, or seeking a promotion have a reason to use such tools in the first place.

    Finally, remember that these numbers are backward looking–they report on what someone who got their degrees a long time ago might have earned. A lot’s happened in the last 20 years–booms and busts, the rising and falling reputations of individual schools, changes in the value of the MBA itself–all of which influence salaries and bonuses.

    The reason I think the PayScale numbers are fairly accurate is because the salary/bonus numbers for people with less than 2 years experience and 5 years experience are pretty close to what the schools themselves report at graduation. So the data are far from perfect, but far from fiction, too.

  • KT

    Interesting! I recently wrote an article on whether graduate education is worth it in terms of the financial payoff, and these definitely confirm the trends that I’ve seen in the stats, specifically for people with professional degrees.

    To the poster who commented about the low pay increases per year, law of diminishing returns? Comparatively, these figs are way above the national average in salary.

  • Arthur Featherstonehaugh Dullsworthy

    Numbers won’t be as high when women are 50% of the class.

  • Bruce Vann

    Good point, John.

  • Adam,

    It’s also important to remember that BusinessWeek concedes these are “very rough” estimates. Most median figures shown represent only 100 to 300 actual salaries per school, according to PayScale, the firm that put this together for BW. So that leaves open the possibility that in some cases fewer than 100 data points was used to come up with the median numbers–and then BusinessWeek extrapolated from there. I suppose that many people who are employed and making a good amount of money (and therefore are fully engaged in their jobs) might not be inputing their compensation to PayScale. As a very rough guide, the data is interesting but it is hardly conclusive. So do take it with a grain or two of salt.

  • Adam

    I went to Ross. I saw this study before – and yes, it’s disconcerting. My conclusion is that there are more Rossers living/working in the Midwest where cost of living and pay are lower. I also think Rossers may be more likely to work in nonprofits and other lower-paying occupations over the long term – this is a hunch.

    This is the most disconcerting thing, however – that MBAs, from years 10 to 20 post degree, often only increase their salary 2-3% a year. I assume the exclusion of stock awards and other pay accounts for this performance.

  • Bruce Vann

    Also, I wonder if the percentage of women who may take time off from work and the duration of the average time that they take is roughly the same at all of these schools. I ask because men are less likely to do that and a few years of no income could make a big difference in earnings made over 20 years.

  • Chris

    You have to consider where the grads typically work after completing the program. The cost of living in Chicago is drastically different than in Ann Arbor. I don’t have those specific figures, but it could explain a chunk of the disparity.

  • Bruce Vann

    Who woulda thought that Emory would be higher than Tuck and Berkley 20 years out?

  • Louis

    Michigan Ross is way below its peers.