Harvard Starting Salaries Fall By $5,000

by John A. Byrne on Print Print

moneymanThe median base salary for a Harvard Business School MBA this year fell by $5,000 to $120,000—reversing a $5,000 increase from last year’s preliminary data. The drop can largely be attributed to the fact that significantly fewer Harvard MBAs ventured into the financial sector this year, instead preferring such industries as technology, consumer products, and non-profits.

Three of every four HBS grads reported getting median signing bonuses of $25,000, and one in five said they received median “other guaranteed compensation” of $35,000. Harvard MBAs lucky enough to collect all three landed first-year median pay of $180,000—a nearly $10,000 increase over 2012.

Yet, even that sum could be highly conservative because Harvard’s numbers—released last week on its website—fails to include such things as performance bonuses, reimbursements, profit sharing, 401K matching programs, restricted stock or stock options.


The preliminary employment stats for the Class of 2013 show that the highest paying salaries went to graduates who ventured into the private equity and leveraged buyout industries. MBAs who gained jobs in those two fields reported median starting salary of $150,000, with nearly half earning a $26,000 signing bonus. Yet, the big bonanza was “other guaranteed compensation” in those fields, with 45% reporting it was a median $135,000. Roughly 9% of Harvard’s Class of 2013 went to work in either a private equity or leveraged buyout firm.

The second most lucrative field was hedge funds, which attracted 5% of the class. Hedge funds paid HBS grads median starting pay of $138,000, with 56% getting median signing bonuses of $30,000 and nearly half of them landing “other guaranteed compensation” of $72,500.

The largest chunk of the class, 27%, went into financial services, which includes PE and hedge funds. Consulting firms nabbed 24% of the class. The median starting salary in consulting was $135,000, with 93% reporting median signing bonuses of $25,000 and 14% getting “other guaranteed comp” of $28,200.


However, the two mainstream industries for MBA hiring got fewer Harvard grads this year. Consulting fell to 24% from 25% last year, while financial services fell to 27% from 35% last year based on the preliminary numbers. The biggest drops in the financial sector occurred in the PE/LBO industries which were down to 9% from 15% a year earlier—in all probability that alone caused the $5,000 drop in overall median starting salary. HBS grads going into investment banking also declined to 5% of the class from 7% last year.

Other industries gladly took up the slack. Some 18% of this year’s class went into the technology industry, up from just 12% in 2012, while 7% went into the consumer products industry, up from a mere 3% last year, and 5% took jobs in the non-profit or government sectors, up from 3% in 2012. Those industries tend to pay less than either consulting or financial services. The median starting salary in the technology sector, for example, was $115,000–$10,000 less than financial services and $20,000 less than consulting. The median base salary in consumer products was $100,000–$25,000 below financial services and $35,000 below consulting.

Harvard Business School does not report the full range of salaries reported by its MBAs nor does it report which companies hired its graduates. Instead, the school reports the 25th percentile salary as well as the 75th percentile salary along with the median. The highest 75th percentile base reported this year was $177,500 for a private equity or LBO job. If that person received the median sign-on bonus and guaranteed comp package, he or she would be making $338,500 in the first year of work.


Harvard is among the first business schools in the U.S. to report the employment statistics for its Class of 2012, which graduated in late May.  Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business reported its numbers last week. HBS said its self-reported student numbers are based on a sample of the class at graduation and “is subject to change until finalized in the fall.” Last year, in fact, the median starting salary reported in the preliminary release was $5,000 more at $125,000 than the final number, which was $120,000. The data for other business schools tends to trickle out after September.

Interestingly enough, the highest median starting salaries were reported by Harvard MBAs who relocated to the south. The 5% of the class who took jobs with companies in the south reported median base pay of $135,000. The only other geography in the world that was close was China where median salary was reported at $134,000, with 100% of the MBAs going to China earning sign-on bonuses of $25,000.

The school failed to breakout numbers for India. Overall, MBAs who gained jobs with companies in Asia reported median starting salary of $118,500, with 80% landing sign-on bonuses of $22,500 and 47% reporting other guaranteed comp of $25,000.


  • david

    starting salaries are a poor measure because it just reflects the number of people going into consulting. Financial services usually don’t pay a high base, consulting average base is usually 120K+, so the more consultants you have, the higher the salary.

  • Scott S.

    @NewNews – stop hiding behind your pathetic screen name. Funny you say that, as Ross MBAs median salary is about $110k. I imagine there are a handful of BBAs that get jobs paying $70k +, maybe the same as any MBA grad that decides to start a business or something. But seriously get off these boards and go back to your mom’s basement playing Halo. Your comments are taken as nothing else but worthless drivel. I can’t believe I am even responding.

  • allen

    I agree that the comparison is irrelevant, but not for the same reason.

    It’s the difference between staff jobs and line jobs. Law is a fee-generating service business, and although historically high paid, $$ spent on lawyers doesn’t increase the bottom line (like a staff job). Basically just because there are more lawyers, doesn’t mean there is more work. Sure, MBAs aren’t necessary to be a manager and more MBAs in the market does have some dilutive effect on the prestige value, but in general MBAs are more likely to be in income-generating line jobs and departments. Theoretically, MBAs are also more adapt to create work, revenue, and jobs (ie Entrepreneurship). A lawyer can’t “create work” unless more people get sued, just like a doctor can’t “create work” unless more people get sick.

    The reason why we’re even debating this between Law and Business, is that MDs figured out a long time ago to limit the number of people accepted into Medical school as a way to control the labor supply.

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