How much are you worth?
That depends on what you studied…and where you went to school.
It’s no secret. Some MBA degrees get stamped with a higher market value than others. Traditionally, the rule of thumb has presumed that ‘higher rankings equal higher pay.’ It seems logical enough — on the surface, at least. Top programs carry a certain swagger. In popular imagination, their graduates personify the gold standard, proven commodities with little risk who can quickly bring a return. Not surprisingly, applicants associate brand names with higher standards, deep-pocketed and connected alums, and enviable employment records.
Naturally, employers would naturally follow that line of thinking, right? Think again.
STARTING PAY DOESN’T ALWAYS FOLLOW SCHOOL RANK
Take the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Ranked 12th by Poets&Quants, Darden grads snagged $150,823 average packages to start in 2016, ranking just behind the trio of Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton. Let’s go a step further. Most MBA faculty and students associate Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management with marketing. Despite Kellogg’s excellence in the field, 2016 grads who landed marketing jobs earned less than seven peer schools, including cross-town rival Booth.
So toss out the conventional wisdom. When you’re ready to negotiate, it helps to have stats and precedent on your side. In fact, you can think of the hiring cycle as the application process coming full circle. Back then, business schools would lavish full-rides to entice candidates to campus. Now, the lucky few can write their own ticket. The rest, however, are subject to the going rate.
What is that rate? Don’t expect employers to show their cards. Fact is, your pay package is a test. Are you someone who leaves money on the table? Or, can you make a polite and persuasive case to loosen the strings?
DATA FOCUSES ON GUARANTEED BASE SALARY
How do you know when and where to look for wiggle room? Simple, you start with a frame of reference. That’s why Poets&Quants has compiled data for over 50 top American programs in six occupation categories: marketing, operations, general management, finance, consulting, and other occupations. Wondering which school’s graduates earn the most or which industries pay the most? Here, you’ll find low, average, and high salaries, so you understand the pay range enjoyed by graduates. Even more, the data covers the graduating classes of 2015 and 2016, making it easy to gauge whether a school is trending up or down in various occupations.
Admittedly, the data isn’t perfect. For one, it is strictly a measure of base salary. In other words, the data excludes sign on bonuses that can tack $10,000-$30,000 onto first year pay. Even more, traditional perks such as tuition reimbursements and stock options are also excluded. Why? They tend to be unevenly distributed. Stanford is a case in point. Among the program’s 413 full-time MBAs who graduated in 2016, 220 reported back a base salary according to U.S. News. Dig deeper and just 121 Stanford grads submitted bonus data. By the same token, only 76 received additional compensation. However, the perfect is often the enemy of the good. Base pay is the guaranteed earnings. Beyond that, you can manually tally school-based data for overall average bonus and additional compensation and high and low pay.
Another factor to consider: When it comes to occupational pay, you can’t always make clean comparisons between schools. Location is one factor, with industry footprint and cost of living shaping compensation to some extent. A larger factor, however, is sample size. In 2016, Stanford MBAs entering consulting technically earned more than $5,500 less to start than their counterparts at Michigan State? Why? Consider this: Stanford consultants outnumbered Michigan State consultants by a 54-to-6 margin. Still, the contrast is meaningful. Between 2015 and 2016, consulting firms shelled out $4,000 less to Stanford MBAs and $40,000 more to Michigan State grads, perhaps an early indicator of a shift in strategy or perception among employers.
STANFORD STACKS UP WELL ACROSS THE BOARD
That said, consulting was the only occupation where Stanford fell short of its peers. Overall, 2016 GSB grads pulled down the highest salaries in marketing, operations, general management and finance. This year’s biggest paychecks went to Stanford MBAs in finance, who carted off $159,119 on average, up $1,700 from the year before. Finance also treated Harvard MBAs well. They boasted $146,993 in average base pay in 2016. That doesn’t count one fortunate HBS grad who walked away with a $500,000 salary, the highest of any school or occupation.
Overall, average salaries were a mix bag in terms of growth. In finance, for example, 7 of the 10 highest-ranked schools witnessed higher base pay for grads in 2016, headed by Wharton with a nearly $6,300 increase on average. Marketing was even more bullish, with 16 of the 20 highest-ranked programs experiencing pay raises from 2015-2016, including $8,000 jumps for both Stanford and Booth. In contrast, operations cut back. Here, only Wharton (+$8,800) and Columbia ($1,500) grads snapped up higher starting in pay in 2016, while MIT Sloan pay fell s by nearly $7,500. Consulting ran somewhere in-between, with Harvard, Wharton, and Duke gaining ground and Stanford and Columbia losing it.
Consulting’s malaise is also reflected in topline pay. Among the ten highest-ranked programs, just four saw base pay increase at the high end. Notably, the highest-paid Columbia Business School consultant made just $143,000 in base, lower than highs reported by Boston University and the University of Florida. Finance remained the occupation with the best odds to earn big. In fact, eight schools produced a graduate who earned starting bases of $200,000 or more, a higher number than consulting, marketing, and operations combined.
To see salary information on high, low, and average pay for the 50 highest-ranked American MBA programs in the most popular industries, click on the links below.