What The Class of 2012 Made This Year

If you still need evidence that a highly ranked MBA degree is worth the investment, look no further than this year’s starting median salaries. While it’s true that in most cases year-over-year starting salaries for MBAs have remained flat or shown meager growth, the impact of the degree is that it significantly boosts your pre-MBA pay.

This year’s MBAs reporting the largest percentage increases over their pre-MBA salaries graduated from Michigan State’s Broad School (a whopping 268.6% increase from what they had earned before getting the degree), Notre Dame’s Mendoza School (up 148.8%), the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School (up 132.2%), the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School (up 122.2%), and Indiana University’s Kelley School (up 119.6%). And these numbers exclude starting bonuses and other bennies that are often handed out to MBAs when hired.


While graduates of Stanford, Harvard, and Wharton earned the highest median salaries, their increases over pre-MBA pay were much smaller because they entered their MBA programs earning significantly more money–a sign of the high caliber of the incoming students. At Stanford, where grads landed jobs with median salaries of $125,000, the highest of any school, MBAs experienced a 38.9% increase over their pre-MBA pay. At both Harvard and Wharton, where median salaries were $120,000 this year, the increase was 33.3%–the lowest percentage rise at any of 30 top U.S. schools.

Not bad, of course. Just not as eye-popping as some other business schools that are enrolling students who had earned less. That occurs because MBA starting salaries are, by and large, similar across most of the top schools, even though students entering lower ranked schools typically make less money. Moreover, graduates from schools with the best brands usually receive greater non-salary compensation. At Harvard Business School, for instance, three of every four graduates this year reported getting a median signing bonus of $20,000 and one in five (21%) reporting median “other guaranteed compensation” of $25,230. Harvard MBAs lucky enough to collect all three (base, sign-on bonus and guaranteed comp) earned first-year median pay of $170,230.

Some 17 schools reported six-figure median salary numbers for their graduates, ranging from Stanford’s high of $125,000 to seven schools whose MBAs started at $100,000. They include Cornell University’s Johnson School, Yale’s School of Management, the University of Southern California’s Marshall School, Emory’s Goizueta School, Texas at Austin McCombs School, the Kenan-Flagler School at the University of North Carolina, and New York University’s Stern School.

The median salary numbers, reported by the business schools to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, are for BW’s top 30 U.S. schools. So it’s likely that there are other schools that have similar returns for their MBA graduates. The magazine did not report the statistics it has gathered for schools outside the U.S. or for other schools that are not ranked among its top 30 list.


BusinessWeek reported that the inflation-adjusted growth rate for the median salary of each school’s graduates “is not rosy. At about a third of the 30 to-ranked schools, the median growth rate was negative, meaning salaries have either fallen, or budged by less than one percent, over the last three years.” Year-over-year median salaries remained flat at Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, Columbia, and Yale’s School of Management, among many other schools.

A few schools nicely bucked this trend, reporting that their MBAs saw increases in salary over last year. The University of Chicago Booth School, for example, said its graduates landed median salaries of $115,000 this year, up from $107,000 last year and $102,000 in 2010. Duke University’s Fuqua School reported that its 2012 MBAs had median starting salaries of $110,000, up from $101,400 last year and $100,000 in 2010.


Even so, the increases over pre-MBA salary remain impressive–and at many schools are astonishing given the still uncertain economy in the U.S. At seven of the 30 schools, graduates either doubled or more than doubled their pre-MBA pay. At 22 of the 30 schools, graduates reported at least a 50% increase in starting pay–and again these figures do not include signing bonuses, guaranteed year-end bonuses, or tuition reimbursements.

(See following page for a table of the median salaries and post-MBA pay hikes for the 30 top U.S. schools)

  • Willis

    And because of Obama, Americans can’t trust blacks, Hawaiins, people with Muslim dads, Chicagoans, not democrats.

  • Donald Guilford


  • Norman

    No, the average salaries at those two schools are around 95000 USD. look at the tail of list here, you find something in 80s!!!!

  • Sali

    if you look careful into most of the published employment reports, you will notice that (and may be for the first time) the average salaries for the international students are HIGHER than domestic students. Yes, the economy might be turning but the obvious thing is that corporations hire and pay good for the international positions.

  • Did you go to illinois? Many of the top engineering schools (MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Michigan, GaTech, USC, Carnegie Mellon et al) also have pretty good to fantastic business schools by design. I get your point though. Also, realize that pedigree leads to better opportunities that pay better, which explains why the typical H/S student may already $30k-$40 ahead of an incoming student to Carlson. This doesn’t make them better, its just a fact. People by into pedigree. Merit only exists in a vacuum.

  • I don’t think this data is that valuable. Naturally, the average salary of an incoming students to H/S/W and the like are going to be higher than those coming into Michigan State or Kelley. I don’t think they should be penalized for that. A better metric would be to poll a sample of 1000 graduates of each across multiple industries 5 years out and ask them them whether they felt it was worth it. That would be more telling. There are miserable people who got fairly high salary jobs. There are other people who dreamed of non profit and got exactly that—and a $75k salary, which may be less than what many of their classmates came into school with. There’s just way too much context that isn’t reflected here.

  • JDMBA33

    Can we include law schools as well. Thank you.

  • Aravind Prasad Balaji

    You give too much credit to Americans.

  • Aravind Prasad Balaji

    There were 30 other schools that did better?

  • Norman

    I just looked into Vanderbilt employment report for the class of 2012 and before that looked into Olin at Washington University. both schools has placed its graduates greatly with really good salaries and high employment percentages. Yet, those great institutions aren’t in the top 30 on BW! why?

  • TA

    Its ironic how at a discussion about top 5 mba programs in THIS world (not post WW II USA ) we have jokers like roger , mitt and co talking about “some Chinese source”.
    My dear friends get used to China. This isn’t the last you ve heard of it. And if this is your attitude towards China at large.. You dont deserve access to Poets and Quants let alone admission to a top B school

  • TA

    I agree with you. Booth is the most meritocratic top B school out there. No pedigree. No daddy’s lil princesses , no phone calls from the governer to get your child in none of that bull
    For the other readers.All B schools have research work going on . How do you think all the professors get tenure and some amount of research always helps society at large. It doesnt mean you have to do a PhD to be involved in research. Also research is done for and usually sponsored by the same companies and organizations that MBA’s work in . So the 2 arent mutually exclusive. Getting an MBA doesnt mean you cant be intrigued by the R&D team of a large or even small company.

  • TA

    Louis I am going to have to disagree with you there because a big big chunk of HSW accepts are based on pedigree and not merit.
    And in a lot of these cases pedigree really is = were your parents aware that there is a lot of money to be made out there by sending your child to a top private/ivy league school to study economics and not to a really solid in- state school to study engineering.
    Kamal has a point. I went to a fantastic state school for undergrad in engineering(top 5) and while the B school there wasn’t excellent (its ranked in the 40s) I saw graduate after graduate go out there with sub 20,000 loans ( because they give anyone who se willing to study scholarships), with starting salaries of 80k but then work their way up by spending a few years in chicago and then after 2-4 years of work ex move to NYC and make the same that a Wharton grad might be making .

  • Himer

    After Bush, I believe american people will not trust Harvard MBA anymore,

  • Cowell

    Point taken, but it’s also worth noting that many if not most applicants are looking for a career change, and sometimes one-year program might not be suitable for them. I think we just need to know Insead is definitely on par with the top dogs in the us, but I doubt there’s anything else to say beyond that.

  • Mitt

    Well, we are talking about US b-schools here. Why do we have to care about how some Chinese source thinks about our schools? Will you judge your own wife based on how we see her? You get my point. Now go on applying to a PhD or something. Here’s for MBA applicants/students.

  • P&Q Reader

    Dear P&Q editor: Please Please delete those two comments. we are here for healthy and useful discussion.

    Your readers community.

  • HG14

    Simon, why should an aspiring MBA care about “research and scientific criteria?” If you want a to be in academia, get a PhD. An MBA is largely (but not entirely) a practical degree where students learn concepts to use in the field – it is inherently not a research degree. The real value is the connections made while in school, alumni network, branding, ability to get a better job, and to a lesser extent, the skills gained in the program.

    A ranking that focuses on research and scientific criteria as the main consideration is missing the point. In this regard, I don’t think anyone would question Chicago Booth’s research excellence in the field of economics. But other than more interesting classes, what value does this expertise bring to the MBA student? Some, yes. But much less than the network gained and the schools branding.

    So once again, this Chicago pandering/trolling is quite ridiculous. Booth is a great school. However, it will not be a top player (top 2 or 3 depending on who you ask) until it provides the same tangible benefits to their MBA grads as the other top schools.

  • Farhad

    You are right. but its not that significant difference. the average age at insead is 29. in fact, its similar to Duke and Berkeley both have avg 29. the others top schools are 28 or 27 ! I really don’t think 1 year difference will make the comparison irrelevant. again, its just my conclusion, as I am watching INSEAD for long time, not from an American vs European prospective, No, basically, from a ONE year vs Two Year program. I curious to see how the kellogg 1Y progressing as it is the only top school to be similar to INSEAD. many believe that one of the secrets of INSEAD success is that it successfully distant itself from an european school to an international and global school, and hence, it draws the multinational corporations to recruit there from an unparalleled mix of students that hardly to be found anywhere else.

  • Simon

    expected reply. typical american mentality. when ignorance combined with stupid. a lack of politeness and respect. no heritage, no history, nothing at all to have to be proud of. Instead you just blow your irresponsible words on others. Those like should not leave US and the US media should not allow the world to know about them.

  • Roger

    Other than Forbes, BW and USNews (and probably here), I don’t think I need to read any other ranking about US b-schools. There’s one thing for sure, when it comes to credibility, Chinese products rarely have any. Go bark somewhere else (with your unheard/unknown/irrelevant rankings).

  • Cowell

    So what about the more extensive work experience of the graduates at Insead? I just think it’s not statistically significant enough to draw such a conclusion like yours.

  • Simon

    To consider a ranking credible or relevant DOES NOT mean you should heard of it. Thats the problem, you only recognize things that you like or heard of. But I suggest you to read about this ranking, do some search before posting here. Chicago is a great university by all means and its economics, business programs are among the best worldwide if not the best.

  • Roger

    Well, I have never even heard of those irrelevant rankings you cited before. So, I have to agree with Louis on this one. And your shameless attempt to boost Chicago Booth like that is uncalled for.

  • Farhad

    agree. btw, INSEAD publishes the most comprehensive employment report among top schools. its really impressive job.

  • Simone

    I didn’t mean in Europe. I meant here in the US. according to the INSEAD employment report, they place about 10% or so, in North America, and the median salary is $125000. Even if you dig more, and focus on only US, you will find that the median salary for those in US is also $125000. Thats my point.

  • Simon

    From your comments here on many posts, It is obvious you still growing, and think just like a kid not as a grown person. So, I forgive your ignorance I must understand your dilemmas. Don’t worry, things will change once you reach 21.

  • Paula Abdul

    Most credible ranking ever? According to you? More like the most incredible joke ever.

  • Lewis

    The taxes are a lot higher in Europe, so the higher salaries do not mean much. Plus students at Insead on average have a lot more work experience, so it does not seem all that impressive after you know what’s going on.

  • Louis

    Who cares about those worthless Chinese rankings? And, dude, you are pathetic.

  • Rebecca

    Schools such as NYU Stern which send high numbers into banking are handicapped as so much of a banker’s comp is bonus based. If you adjusted for this the traditional consulting schools would drop a bit relatively.

  • Simon

    Booth already ahead of those schools. BW, Economist, and many publications said this. and many people even outside business world know that Chicago Booth is better than Stanford and Wharton and on par with Harvard. the most credible ranking ever, shanghairanking.com or ARWU, put Chicago second only to Harvard in the business and economics category. and their ranking is purely on research and scientific criteria, NOT emotion or just empty branding. I would pick Chicago Booth over H/W/S any time without hesitate.

  • H/SorBust

    Keep dreaming…

  • Parimo

    Kamal made a good point. and yes, you might be right too. But when measuring the value of the program by numbers, then it is very obvious that Duke, Michigan, or Tuck_for example, give their graduates more valuable MBA than Harvard or Stanford. Thats it.

  • Matt

    Big increase for Booth, it continues closing the gap with H/S/W.

  • km80

    This only goes to prove that the school branding did not have to do with the higher salaries.

  • Ram

    Mate, it could also be that a lot of them work in PV, Consulting and Fin in the north east, and as a result make a lot more money. Regional powerhouses like Ross, Duke etc. might get students from those areas that earn a lot less. Moreover, how do they calculate the earnings of international students? Are their incomes converted to USD? But yes, no doubt that Harvard gets the best…but Kamal made a valid point.

  • Louis

    it only proves the students accepted at Harvard and the like are of much higher caliber and thus were paid a lot higher pre-MBA.

  • Kamal

    I believe the most important point is how the school turned out its graduate by the salary increase. If you look into those of Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT, and other very top, you notice that the increase in salary isn’t that significant. But look at those school of decent programs but give you the opportunity to almost double salary. Fuqua, Tuck, UNC, Emory, Michigan, Tepper…simply, they have much higher ROI than the very top..and I believe you would enjoy the class and the experience more than the competition atmosphere..If I am considering MBA I would definitely focus very much on the ROI and the percentage of the salary increase instead of just fame of brand..

  • Simone

    If they include INSEAD, it will be tied with Stanford for first place. thier median salary for 2011 is 125000 usd, It is impressive how did they do so with only 10-month program!!

  • Louis

    Olin is not a top 30 school by BW.

  • Palima

    Where is Olin at washington University?! it is one of the first to report the employments statistics for the 2012 class.. and here is the link : http://olincareers.wustl.edu/SiteCollectionDocuments/PDFs/WCC/EmploymentMBA.pdf

  • rock

    This made my night!! yay

  • Miami Phil

    Is this a sign that the economy is turning around? I hope so!

  • cptonk