MBA Pay: Harvard vs. Duke & Texas

moneytreeHow important is a business school brand in determining how much money you’ll make when you graduate with your MBA degree?

The answer, given the clamor among MBA applicants to get into the highest ranked school possible, may surprise you.

Consider three highly prominent schools that have released preliminary employment stats for full-time MBA grads of the Class of 2013: Harvard Business School, Duke University’s Fuqua School, and the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business. Comparing the preliminary stats allows a glimpse of pay at what is generally regarded as the best business school in the world against two highly ranked and prestigious universities: one private and one public.


If you guessed that HBS grads left school with the highest starting salaries, you would be right. But the surprise is that they didn’t earn that much more than MBAs from either Duke or UT. The median starting salary for a Harvard MBA this year was $120,000, $10,000 more than Fuqua’s $110,000 median and $15,000 more than McCombs’ $105,000.

When it came to signing bonuses this year, each school reported exactly the same median number: $25,000. There was greater variation in guaranteed other compensation with Harvard MBAs pulling down a median $35,000 versus $20,000 at Fuqua and $10,000 at McCombs.

But the overall differences in pay may have as much to do with industry choice than with brand. Even geography doesn’t explain the differences. Harvard MBAs who went to work in the southwest, for example, reported median base salaries of $$130,850, significantly more than the UT average of $111,512 or the Duke median of $102,000. McCombs’ MBAs who landed jobs in the northeast reported average salaries of $105,583. That compares with the $110,000 median for Duke MBAs and the $120,000 median for HBS grads in the northeast.

The most revealing data can be seen in the industry breakdowns. The median for consulting, the industry that hires the most MBAs, at both Harvard and Duke is exactly the same: $135,000. McCombs didn’t report median numbers for industry specific compensation but its average of $128,698 for consulting is close enough to make little difference. What the data essentially shows is what most corporate recruiters already know: MBA pay is generally the same no matter where they recruit.


In some cases, these numbers diverge–but in surprising ways. The 10% of the class at Fuqua that accepted jobs in the technology industry reported median starting salaries of $117,000, a couple thousand dollars more than the 18% of the class at Harvard that went into tech. HBS grads reported median base salary of $115,000.

The average industry numbers for investment management at McCombs, $120,250, are better than Harvard’s median of $115,000 for the same industry. McCombs boasts higher averages for MBAs going into the consumer products industry as well.


On the other hand, Harvard kills it in private equity and venture capital. The school’s median base this year was $150,000. The UT average in the same industry was nearly $48,000 less at $111,000. At Duke, the median was $112,500, a difference of $37,500 in Harvard’s favor (see table). Even more telling is that 9% of Harvard’s graduating class this year went into PE or venture capital, versus only 1% at Duke and 3% at UT. Those differences alone could well account for the disparities in overall starting salaries reported by each school.

Harvard grads also seem to be doing a lot better in healthcare and manufacturing. In healthcare, for example, HBS grads nailed down median base salaries of $120,000, $10,000 more than those at Duke and nearly $18,000 more than the UT average. In manufacturing, Harvard MBAs reported median base pay of $120,000 as well, versus $102,600 for Duke grads and an average $93,750 for UT grads.

Still, the big surprise is that the differences–with few exceptions–aren’t all that great. And that especially is true when you take into account the sticker price for the education. The tuition bill for a UT student over the two-year MBA program is nearly $29,000 less than Harvard’s $126,400. The two-year tuition at Duke comes to $110,600, nearly $16,000 less than HBS.

(See following page for a breakdown of the key salaries at all three schools)

  • ResultsMatter

    Brilliant!! Nice Insight.. These rankings dont portray the right picture..

  • anonymous

    Congrats Tammera! I’m assuming you mean the TIP program, which is totally worth it. They give you the opportunity to take the SAT in the 7th grade, which could be a very good thing for you. I am going to recommend you do something almost no one your age does, but I did. STUDY FOR THE SAT NOW. Kahn Academy (you can find them through google) has very good resources for this. Kaplan or princeton review is good as well. Because I studied for the sat early and scored well when the TIP program allowed me to take it in the 7th grade, i was able to gain a full merit scholarship to a private middle school and later high school. I was also able to entirely pay for college with a national merit scholarship (based on a test very similar to the SAT), which considering i grew up poor was a very big deal. I’m now applying for Fuqua’s mba program and several others, and studying in advance of the GMAT helps alot with admissions to those programs as well. Good luck! it’s definitely worth it to study for these tests, but definitely remember to chill out and be a kid too. Also, poets and quants is probably pretty boring reading for you, go read some awesome book. LLoyd alexander (the black cauldron) has some great ones.

  • tammera

    im only 10 and i got reccomened for duke university for only $37 im sooo excited

  • Anonymous

    I do not expect “HBStimes” to make grammatical errors.

  • Sky

    You gotta consider individual amibitions. If a person wants to be a globe trotting , power suited individual starting at a Mckinsey or a Morgan Stanley and then doing 3 years in emerging markets and another 2 in scandinavia and then making partner or finding exit opportunities across the world then an elite MBA will help him or her.
    I go to UT and there are plenty of alumni I know who are more than happy working at an oilfield services company or an Oil and Gas company or a technology company . They have bought condos and houses in TX at a 1/3rd of the cost of buying one in Manhattan or London or Long Island. They’ve started families,have kids and are happy showing up to work in business casuals unless needed otherwise unlike many people who are living the manhattan dream.
    That ‘fit’ in terms of work life balance is what matters. Living out of a suitcase despite a Mckinsey stamped visiting card is not everyone’s dream. Working a 100 hours a week , despite a Goldman paying you a 150k in bonus is again not everyone’s dream.
    I know a partner/rotating director who works for BCG and lives in Austin and commutes out of there. He always says I need to be able to spend more time with my 3 kids or I will regret it when I’m 50 years old. He also says whats the point of making so much money if you barely have time to spend it.
    The point is everyone is not a Harvey Specter.
    Find your fit and make your life.
    UT is a great school if one wants to live and work in Texas.
    Harvard is great if one wants to be recognized globally.
    Duke is great if one wants to be recognized nationally.
    Find what works for you.

  • An MBA is just a training, with little or not guarantee for success in later life. So much other factors come into play such as personality, drive, personal factors, etc.
    However, if you do want to make a comparison between schools based on salaries, I believe that looking at salaries of alumni that are at least 10 years out of school would make much more sense than comparing salaries of fresh grads.

  • TexasGrammarPolice

    Ha! Hope the user name clearly told you that the person was not of an English speaking race. And it’s funny that you got you’re and spelling of grammar wrong. Can’t expect much from Texans anyway, can you?

  • Approaching 35

    I think this was meant as a joke. Your statement implies that after the financial mess ITS EASIER to get employed at many firms IF you are not a grad from a top school.

  • Guest007

    Read the entire article before commenting. Please and thank you.

  • Mojo

    I think you’re missing 2 critical analyses – how many from each school end up at top firms in each industry, and what are salaries 5 or 10 years out? Ultimately, the value of an MBA isn’t in just starting salary but lifelong career earnings.

    My guess is that far more from HBS go to McKinsey/ Bain/ BCG than from UT or Duke. Same probably for Goldman, Google, and top manufacturing. While a PwC consulting job may initially pay the same as a Bain job, ultimately, they have very different career tracks and will have very different exit opportunities 2-5 years down the line. While that’s more difficult to measure, a good proxy would be to look at annual endowment / number of graduates. While HBS is around $3b, I’m not sure UT would scratch past $100m.

    Therefore, I think your short term analysis of cost of tuition vs. initial salary is misleading – what matters is long term value. I think few would argue that HBS provides significantly greater return on investment, despite the higher price tag.

  • Renault

    This is the silliest statement in this entire comment chain.

  • A Mike

    completely agree.

  • Guest

    ‘Averages’ are being compared to ‘medians’ in much of the article since McCombs didn’t report medians … Did HBS and Duke only report medians, no averages?

  • anony

    I have no idea what the other comment said, but kind of laughed that you used you’re incorrectly while scolding someone else for grammar. I do the same thing when I type too fast, but stones and glass houses and all that. 🙂

  • demand234

    thats perception has been changed. especially aftermath the financial mess, any good mba will open doors for you. in fact, many employers hesitate to hire those at hws because of the not so good perception about them.

  • Orange1

    Sloan, you and John are hitting good points. I have been in meetings with MBAs from 4 or 5 top 15 schools. There is no way anybody could look and say, “a ha, that guy is the Harvard MBA and she went to UCLA”. Once you are in, it’s up to the individual, but no question the brand gets you in the door. And for many companies, it’s top 18 or you don’t get a look Companies do put a halo on someone who went to Harvard, albeit after a few months nobody cares.

  • Sloan02′

    Currently work at large VC firm. Of all the MBA’s who started the same year as myself, first to reach VP was a Maryland/Smith grad. Undoubtably brand helps get you into the door, but what you do once you get there is entirely independent of where you got the piece of paper.

  • I’m a tootore too

    you’re comment

  • CarlsonAPP

    These data clearly shows that the employers are smart enough to not fall into the dilusion of the brand, instead look for a good candidate no matter where he/she got the degree as long as it is in a good school (top 50 US is definitely a good school). So, I really encourage applicants to look carefully which school offer them best experience and best FIT. Never ever fall in the trap of brand, it kills you.

  • Tutor Time

    What have you been smoking? you’re comment makes no sense. But I guess it got my attention so I guess you accomplished your goal. If you don’t have something productive to say, don’t say it. What is your point? And work on your grammer. I can tutor you if you’d like. I love people of all races and I’m from Texas.

  • Shaniqua James

    You could easily explain the far greater percentage of HBS grads going into PE and VC from the far greater percentage of HBS’s entering class that come from those fields. Barriers to entry in PE and VC are pretty steep even after you get to HBS. I’m not sure this tells us anything except that PE and VC types prefer to spend their mid-20s at HBS. As for the other fields, I’ll wager the spread between HBS and the rest is even narrower when you factor in the significantly higher salaries of the same people before they entered b-school.