The Jaw-Dropping MBA Pay of 2013

money, salary, payThe last thing we want to do is create unrealistic expectations about what you’ll make when you get an MBA from a highly selective, top ranked school. But these numbers–the highest base salaries, signing bonuses and other compensation–reported by the Class of 2013 are enough to drop your jaw.

The highest reported salary last year? At Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, one MBA landed a base salary of $375,000.

The highest signing bonus? At both Harvard Business School and Wharton, there were graduating MBAs who were handed $200,000 each just to sign an employment contract.

And the highest “other compensation”–that catchall phrase to describe a guaranteed year-end bonus? At Stanford, a Class of 2013 MBA nailed down $337,500.


At eight U.S. business schools, the highest paid MBAs pulled down base salaries of a quarter of a million dollars or more–to start. Even at MBA programs that are generally not considered among the truly elite, there was eye-popping pay. At both Southern Methodist University’s Cox School and Notre Dame University’s Mendoza School, there were graduates last year who landed base salaries of $200,000 each. At Rice University’s Jones School, one MBA reported “other compensation” of $200,000. One employer paid a Penn State MBA $115,000 for a sign-on bonus alone.

We’re glad we didn’t run this story on April 1st because most people would have thought it was an April Fools joke. But of course these are all “special cases,” people who often went to business school when they actually didn’t need to do so. They already have the experience and track record to get an employer to make the offer you can’t refuse. In most cases, the highest pay was reported by MBAs who ventured into finance in the Northeast, mainly for jobs at hedge funds and private equity firms. But there also were a number of consultants, general management and marketing types, as well as operations experts who landed the big money.

We’ve run the highs and lows before for a much smaller set of elite business schools. This is the first time we are publishing this data for the larger universe of the top 50 U.S. schools and also including some MBA programs, including Harvard Business School and Yale University’s School of Management, that don’t publish this data in their official employment reports.


Overall, 2013, the fourth year in a row of an MBA jobs recovery from the economic implosion of 2008-2009, the big exceptional pay package didn’t seem all that rare. At Northwestern, for example, besides the $375K investment management job, presumably at a hedge fund, there was a $350,000 base salary hire by a private equity firm, a $225,000 base salary for an MBA who went into the energy industry, and a $206,000 base for an MBA who took a job in “transportation services.” Kellogg grads who went into venture capital and consulting also landed awfully rich pay packages with base salaries of $175,000 each. None of those sums include sign-on bonuses or other guaranteed compensation which would further enlarge all those high numbers.

Truth is, total compensation packages–including sign-on bonuses, guaranteed year-end bonuses, tuition reimbursements, and equity interests–are more elusive. Very few schools report total comp for the highest paid members of their graduating classes. But in some cases, guaranteed other compensation–which schools generally report out separately–can be as high or higher than base pay. At Wharton, for example, a 2013 graduating MBA got a guaranteed year-end bonus of $260,000. Another received tuition reimbursement of $150,000, while one Whartonite was handed $100,000 to sign an employment contract. The University of Virginia’s Darden School also reported that the highest sign-on and guaranteed year-end bonuses were in six-figures as well.

(See following pages for our tables of the highest paid MBAs at the Top 50 last year)


  • cindy dial

    These are likely consultants earning this kind of money in exchange for very heavy travel and a difficult lifestyle and career not contemplated by those recent graduates who are looking for what most would consider a traditional job. Consulting should be a distinct category in job placement statistics.

  • Dutch Ducre

    your comment adds no value, my comment actually backed up my statements with legitimate scenarios; being an MBA grad myself, I know the schools and many of their grads pretty well
    Energy jobs/pay in Texas is not a dallas tv show steroetype, its whats behind many high paying mba jobs or engineering/mba jobs
    someone is BH

  • Guest

    by all means, be dismissive. especially when considering the data from state schools or schools from Indiana and Texas, of all places. Your assumption of the Rice and SMU grads is based on, what? watching both iterations of Dallas?

  • Brian Edward Croner

    That’s some expensive hot air.

  • guest

    I think he’s just not sure what you were trying to say. There were too many sentence fragments in your comment and as a result your message was distorted. For example, who gave up, and what did they not know better?

  • lopster

    interestingly, the highest paid grad at Vandy is in an overseas marketplace and in marketing! with 190000 base salary!

  • Peachie

    You are crude

  • Simmy

    John Byrne,

    You did an article on the winners and losers in MBA job placement after three months, it would be good to see that again as it keeps career services on their toes !

  • John

    Trust is a huge factor in reported MBA salaries, it is also lacking in many instances. Grads are fully aware and prodded that reporting higher salaries has enormous impact on a program. Some schools even coach their students prior to graduation re. reporting good salaries. The above should be taken with a grain of salt. Having been involved with one MBA program in particular I know there was a dedicated strategy to game the FT ranking via higher reported salaries.

    Also it would be nice if John Byrne commented/showed US News specialty rankings beyond 1-10.

  • JohnAByrne

    Actually, there were a good number of highest paid who went to work outside the U.S. and several international MBAs who were among the highest paid who landed jobs in the U.S.

  • Andy

    Any international student who received the “highest salary”?

  • JohnAByrne


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  • Dan

    what is the deal with the register/login prompt that keeps coming up?

  • Peachie

    Retired old chemistry researcher. I have heard the comments in my career that if you can manage one business, you can manage any other. My intuition says those are MBAs with

  • JohnAByrne

    Absolutely. Very good points.

  • Dutch Ducre

    The high numbers from Rice and SMU were likely energy related, someone with a technical background and high earning power to begin with; also, hedge funds don’t pay base salaries of 350-375k unless that person is a PM, in which case he would have to have been a PM before B-school. Pretty silly to act as if these are career changers w/MBA pumping up earnings power to 200-300k levels