Highest & Lowest Paid MBAs of 2015

happy businessman with money in hand and computer

When it came to nosebleed numbers, Columbia Business School graduates put on an impressive show in 2015. The highest reported compensation of any MBA came from the New York school for a graduate who got a job in private equity. The MBA reported other guaranteed compensation–not including base or signing bonus–of $467,000. That’s over 50% more than the next biggest pay day another business school, reported by two Wharton MBAs, one of whom landed a $300,000 starting salary or another Wharton grad who got a job that paid a whopping $300,000 in signing bonus alone.

In a year in which many schools reported record pay for graduates, these are the biggest numbers of all–the most highly paid MBA graduates of 2015. Make no mistake, these are the exceptions to the rule. After all, at Columbia Business School, the median salary for a Class of 2015 graduate was $125,000 and the median other guaranteed comp was just $25,000, a mere fraction of the $467,000 reported by CBS’ highest paid graduate. And then there was the Columbia graduate who took a job in consumer products for a $320,000 starting salary and yet another two MBAs who landed $250,000-a-year salaries in hedge funds and investment management.

And the lowest salaries? A graduating MBA at Stanford, where the annual tuition is $64,050, won the dubious distinction of earning the least money of any MBA last year–just $18,000 for a non-profit organization in Europe. Even by non-profit standards, that’s a lowly sum. The 5% of the Stanford class that took jobs in the non-profit sector had median starting salaries of $100,000 last year and the highest reported salary for a non-profit job was $175,000, a sum that is even higher than many school’s highest paid graduate.


But there were plenty of other lows, not all that far away from the Stanford number. An INSEAD grad took a social sector job for just $23,300 in Asia Pacific, while a Wharton’s low for the Class of 2015 was only $24,000. Wharton doesn’t report on the industry choice of that graduate, but even the lowest median for any career choice is for “social impact.” But even the median is a healthy $91,000, nearly four times as much as the bottom number. More often than not, the lowest salaries were paid to MBAs who went into the social sector or government work. But in some cases the lowest sums were reported by grads who went into services, operations, and healthcare.

The highs and lows, of course, are all extremes. Typically, MBAs who nail down the biggest pay packages of their class have highly desired skills, proven work experience, and successful pre-MBA track records that make a company pay up big time. “On the high salaries, it’s usually a very unique and specific match between a company’s needs and a student’s relevant skills and experiences,” says Sheryle Dirks, associate dean for career management at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

At MIT Sloan, the high water mark of a $220,000 starting salary was for an MBA who landed an operations or project management job in computer/electronics manufacturing in the Bay Area. The graduate had an engineering background and more than five years of work experience to bring to the new job.


At Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, which boasts the highest starting pay packages in the world for MBAs, there were five categories of graduates that hit the $200,000 or above starting salary level: hedge funds ($267,000), private equity ($250,000), healthcare ($225,000), investment management ($225,000), and venture capital ($200,000). The highest reported signing bonus of $100,000 went to a Stanford MBA who got a job as an investment manager. The highest other guaranteed compensation of a quarter of a million dollars went to MBAs who accepted jobs at hedge funds and PE firms.

Many schools conceal the highest total compensation packages to protect the privacy of their graduates and to prevent applicants from having unrealistic expectations of what they can expect out of the MBA degree. So in virtually all cases, the numbers provided here are conservative. It is almost certain that the MBA at Columbia Business School who won the other year-end bonus of $467,000 has a starting salary and a sign-on bonus which would put the graduate with a first-year pay package of well over half a million dollars. For that matter, it also does not include reimbursement of tuition, relocation offsets, carry, or non-guaranteed performance bonuses or the value of stock options.

Generally, only a minority of students receive these other benefits. Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, for example, has reported that 36% of its Class of 2015 received either stock or stock options with their job offers, up from 31% a year earlier. Wharton revealed that 47% of its MBAs received relocation money in 2015, worth a median $10,000, but only 4% accepted jobs with reimbursed tuition, with a median of $60,000. Sign-on bonuses obviously are more common than “other guaranteed compensation.” At Wharton, 63% pulled down signing bonuses, but only 19% got a back-end compensation deal. It generally depends on the industry in which an MBA accepts a job.

Unlike most business schools, Harvard Business School won’t even reveal the high and low numbers for its graduates, preferring to provide only 25th percentile and 75th percentile numbers. For the Class of 2015, both private equity and venture capital industries posted $195,000 base salaries at the 75th percentile. So clearly, there were HBS graduates who easily won $200,000 in starting pay. The “median” guaranteed other compensation for HBS grads who landed jobs with hedge funds was an incredible $120,000. The lowest base among the 25th percentile numbers at Harvard in 2015 is not so low at all: $90,000, for went to work for a non-profit organization.

(See following pages for the highest paid and lowest paid MBAs of 2015)

  • pied

    parthenon is known to be 1st tier in base

  • Jeff, As the article clearly states, these are the extremes of MBA starting pay. The U.S. News figures are actually more than a year old. If you want the latest data on median pay, we’ve published that as well. Here it is:


  • Jeff Blake

    All the schools publish median figures for that every reason. Some of them refuse to publish “top” figures. This is media hype. Check out someplace like US News & World report if you want the table of “median” pay.

  • PG

    Agreed. 125k in Minneapolis is not 125k in Manhattan.

  • elite

    People am telling ya
    CBS – ivy + NYC is an ubeatable combination

  • technically

    Ok, so I’m admitted to a top MBA program with 4 years of experience in my field, a 3.8 and a 780. I’m nowhere near the 100K mark because I don’t work in a city with a crazy high cost of living. I don’t think you can assume that everyone coming in has the same salary…

  • DonS

    To get into a top MBA program you need 3-5 years of business exp in your field and in the
    top of your class 3.25+ GPA,/ 680+ on the GMAT so you should be at the 100K mark already so a 25% bump would be expected on avg to 125K. the other post had it correct if you want to make 250K expect to work 80 to 90 hours a week , so it is the Equivalent of 2 jobs

  • KranmarMysteryDelicious

    Tables are pretty worthless for prospective students unless they list the median comp of grads.

  • pdh

    ….no …you are wrong. parthenon pays 170k base.

  • 2cents

    He’s fishing or that company is absurdly irresponsible fiscally and will be out of business soon

  • cunsultant2.0

    base salary kiddo…..no consulting companies pay MBAs that kind of base as a regular practice.

  • David__D

    Wow what entrepreneur got paid a guaranteed $1M starting salary?

  • Francis P. Remengesau

    500K salary is pocket change compared to an MBA Grad, who did not graduate from elite schools who got paid $1 million dollars starting salary. It is not about the school people. It is all about being an entrepreneur. 🙂

  • al

    yea completely up to the person and preferences. I would love to make 250k first few years out of bschool and get my debt taken care off. absolutely worth the sacrifice to coast financially through my 30s. not a PE associate would you prefer to work 20 hours a week, make 60k, and have even more of a personal life? doubt it.

  • Pre-MBA Geek

    It depends on the person. I am in the “social impact” sector but some weeks a push to nearly 80 hours a week. It just depends on priorities, stamina, and various other factors.

  • a PE associate

    ** those that are getting paid top salaries are coming from the most impressive, relevant backgrounds that justify such a salary. **

    Typical tree hugger mentality. 80-90 hours a week is child’s play for some btw (IB analysts). As for me, would much rather make $250K than $125K — the answer to your question is not as clear-cut as you may want to believe.

  • avivalasvegas

    I’d love to know more about the CPG and Media and Entertainment candidates who bagged offers this high. Great to see diversity in careers from the mundanity of P.E, Finance and Consulting.

  • Not a PE associate

    Let’s be honest, those that are getting paid top salaries are working the equivalent of two jobs. Would you rather make $250K and work 80 or 90 hours a week or make $125K and have a life?

  • consultant

    $170k shouldn’t be hard to hit, all you need is an offer from Parthenon, a 2nd tier consulting firm.