MBAs Expect 140% Pay Rise From Degree

Attractive Business Man In Suit Throwing Money Into AirBusiness school applicants in the U.S. say they expect the MBA degree to lift their current salaries by a whopping 140%, to an average of $140,000 a year from their pre-MBA salaries of $58,000.

If that increase sounds Pollyannaish, candidates in many other countries have even greater expectations, according to a new survey of MBA candidates by QS, an organization that holds admissions fairs for business schools.  Prospective students in Switzerland said they anticipate post-MBA salaries of $200,000, which would reflect a 145% increase over pre-MBA pay of $82,000, the highest salaries of any MBA applicants in the world.

MBA applicants from India expect the largest percentage increase. They believe the MBA degree will boost their pre-MBA pay by 369% to $112,000, from just $24,000 a year. The current pay of Indian candidates is among the lowest reported by any MBA applicants in the world. Only applicants in Nigeria reported lower salaries: $21,000 on average.


In China, a country like India from which much of the growth in business education is occurring, MBA applicants expect the degree to provide a 245% increase in salary to $121,000 a year from only $35,000 a year currently.

What makes the numbers especially optimistic is the fact that QS did not survey applicants to only the top schools but to a wider variety of business schools whose graduates tend to make considerably less than those at such schools as Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, London Business School, INSEAD and other top-ranked institutions.

Yet, even in the best of all possible worlds, the average salaries at the highest ranked schools would fall well below the expectation of U.S. applicants for average salary of $140,000. Graduates of Harvard Business School reported average base salaries of $124,000 in 2012, for example. Only when you include the average signing bonus of $26,200 at HBS do you exceed the overall expectation—and that is for the graduates of Harvard Business School.


At Georgetown University’s McDonough School, in contrast, the average starting salary last year was $99,799. Even adding the average signing bonus of some $24,100 would make an MBA graduate from McDonough fall some $16,000 short of the expected salary in the QS survey.

Still, compared to 2012, there has been a general drop in candidates’ current earnings as well as their target salaries, according to the report. In the U.S., for example, applicants reported making $58,000 a year, down from $61,000 in 2012. A year earlier, MBA applicants expected to make $153,000 a year when they graduated. That expectation has fallen this year by $13,000 to $140,000 a year. In short, applicants in previous years were even less realistic than those polled in the past year.

The report attributes the decline to the less-than-certain economy, which the authors believe have made MBAs more risk adverse–rather than an increasing realization that earlier expectations were far too optimistic.  “The job market for MBAs now shows signs of healthy growth,” the report said. “Yet prospective applicants remain quite risk adverse in the wake of the recession, and if anything have become more so in 2013.”

Post-MBA Salary Expectations By Country

Source: 2012 QS applicant survey

Source: 2012 QS applicant survey Notes: QS incorrectly calculated the percentage increases which are off by 100%.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly expressed the percentage increases which were provided by QS.

  • Mandeep Singh

    Vijay, for your kind information USD is always taken as a base terms currency in such a case.

  • B-School Prof

    Anyone with a primary school education can see that the percentage increase figures are off. Mr. Byrne, you seem to have a track record of reporting numbers without checking the accuracy of the numbers or even what the numbers represent. I am now reading your posts for their entertainment value. Perhaps that’s your intent.

  • Renault

    In what fields exactly did salaries double? Was that in non-traditional, less tracked fields?

    Consultants usually start out at $135k/year and bankers typically start at $100k/year. There aren’t many people from the private sector who go into their MBA programs salaried at $50k/year (or even $65k/year — half of the consulting salaries), especially since we’re only really worried about top schools here.

    (If you were speaking in generalities then don’t worry about it, I might be overthinking things here.)

  • JohnAByrne

    The math on the percentage increases comes from QS, the source of the data. The table is simply reproduced from the study. But you are right: these percentages are off.

  • Terry M Evans

    Agreed. How about 20 years experience AND a fresh MBA

  • Eugene Franco

    Umm, the math is totally wrong here. If someone is earning $82k and targets $200k post-MBA, that’s a 145% increase, not 245%.

  • vijay

    haha…have you forgotten USD and other countries’ currency values are different? The lowest salaries report before MBA from India, China and Nigeria are just because of that….You should not compare oranges with apples; I guess your intention was just to get yet another hyped percentages like 300%, 400% etc.!

  • Steve D.

    I have a network of friends from college that are at HBS, Kellogg, Fuqua, Ross, Yale, Tuck and Haas and I’ve learned two things. First, for similar functions and companies the salaries are the same, in general, regardless of the school they came from. Amazon, P&G, McKinsey etc pays the same regardless of what school the hire was sourced from. Second, salaries from before to after doubled. Though an intended consequence of getting an MBA from a top school, salary was only one of many reasons we made the choice. People can knock it all they want but the are ignorant to the benefits of additional education, career opportunities and life experiences. For me it was totally worth it and I know eventually ill pay back the debt.

  • Reality Check

    I’ll take 20+ years of experience any day of the week. It’s just like being a world class fighter pilot. You just aren’t worth as much as you think you are until you’ve flown a few missions and successfully won a few battles. Certainly there is value in the degree, but those numbers are off the charts.

  • mbatroll

    I think you mean a 140% increase. I go to a highly ranked school, and 140k isn’t unrealistic – market salary at consulting firms is now ~135k, with another ~20-30k signing. Most people here were also making far more than 60k when they left for school. I think this would apply to the majority of people at top 10 schools.