Harvard | Mr. African Energy
GMAT 750, GPA 3.4
Duke Fuqua | Mr. Quality Assurance
GMAT 770, GPA 3.6
Columbia | Mr. Energy Italian
GMAT 700, GPA 3.5
Duke Fuqua | Mr. Salesman
GMAT 700, GPA 3.0
Stanford GSB | Mr. Army Engineer
GRE 326, GPA 3.89
Chicago Booth | Ms. Indian Banker
GMAT 740, GPA 9.18/10
INSEAD | Mr. INSEAD Aspirant
GRE 322, GPA 3.5
Duke Fuqua | Mr. Army Aviator
GRE 314, GPA 3.8
Kellogg | Ms. Big4 M&A
GMAT 740, GPA 3.7
Harvard | Mr. Renewables Athlete
GMAT 710 (1st take), GPA 3.63
Harvard | Mr. Healthcare PE
GRE 340, GPA 3.5
Harvard | Mr. Military Quant
GMAT 730, GPA 3.6
Wharton | Mr. Future Non-Profit
GMAT 720, GPA 8/10
UCLA Anderson | Mr. SME Consulting
GMAT 740, GPA 3.55 (as per WES paid service)
Chicago Booth | Mr. Healthcare PM
GMAT 730, GPA 2.8
Kellogg | Mr. Concrete Angel
GRE 318, GPA 3.33
Kellogg | Mr. Maximum Impact
GMAT Waiver, GPA 3.77
MIT Sloan | Ms. Rocket Engineer
GMAT 710, GPA 3.9
Wharton | Ms. Interstellar Thinker
GMAT 740, GPA 7.6/10
Harvard | Mr. Finance
GMAT 750, GPA 3.0
Harvard | Mr. Defense Engineer
GMAT 730, GPA 3.6
Kellogg | Ms. Sustainable Development
GRE N/A, GPA 3.4
Chicago Booth | Mr. Unilever To MBB
GRE 308, GPA 3.8
Harvard | Ms. Female Sales Leader
GMAT 740 (target), GPA 3.45
Tuck | Mr. Liberal Arts Military
GMAT 680, GPA 2.9
Harvard | Ms. Gay Techie
GRE 332, GPA 3.88
INSEAD | Mr. Product Manager
GMAT 740, GPA 63%

The MBA Debt Burden

Business school is expensive, so pricey that MBA students are racking up huge debts to get the degree. In many cases this is a bet on a brighter future. For a two-year program, you make the decision to leave a well-paying job, forgoing between $100,000 and $200,000 in compensation. And then you have tuition, fees, room and board, and living expenses that can easily total $150,000 or more during the two years of study. As much as the starting pay packages for MBAs can dazzle, these numbers make the stomach churn.

So exactly how much money are students borrowing to get the degree? The latest data from U.S. News & World Report shows that it varies greatly from school to school. At the top of the list, the graduates who have the most debt hail from Wharton, the only school where MBAs leave with six-figure debt totals. The average debt burden of a Wharton grad is a whopping $105,489, according to U.S. News. Next on the list? Graduates who get their MBAs from Yale ($99,418), Duke ($88,050), Carnegie Mellon ($87,592), and Chicago ($86,758). The least debt? According to U.S. News, it’s MBAs from Fayetteville State University in North Carolina ($3,810).

What do these numbers suggest? The easy interpretation is that people who go for MBAs are willing to make major sacrifices to get the degree in both opportunity and real costs. They’re even willing to go more deeply in debt for their education than they probably will on any other purchase, other than the acquisition of a home. The more difficult interpretation gets to what these different numbers tell you about the individual schools and the students who attend them.

Are the schools at the top of the list there because their scholarship money is less than adequate? Do they tend to accept students whose parents won’t shoulder any of the cost of getting the MBA? Or do these students have bank accounts that can’t begin to offset the huge costs now charged for the degree? Hard to know, for sure. But it is surprising that the average indebtedness of a Wharton MBA is $28,531 more than it is for a Harvard MBA. That’s 37% more on average.

One of the biggest shocks? The fact that Pepperdine University comes in at number 15. Why in the world are students at Pepperdine’s Graziadio School going into debt to the tune of nearly $72,000 for that MBA degree? The school fails to make our list of the top 50 in the U.S. That’s a heavy debt load for a degree that lacks top-50 finish.

Business SchoolAverage Debt Burden
1. Pennsylvania (Wharton)$105,489
2. Yale School of Management$99,418
3. Duke University (Fuqua)$88,050
4. Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)$87,592
5. Chicago (Booth)$86,758
6. Dartmouth (Tuck)$85,917
7. Michigan-Ann Arbor (Ross)$84,798
8. Cornell (Johnson)$83,700
9. Stanford Graduate School of Business$80,677
10. New York University (Stern)$78,887
11. Georgetown (McDonough)$78,746
12. Harvard Business School$76,958
13. Vanderbilt (Owen)$76,957
14. UNC-Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler)$75,251
15. Pepperdine (Graziadio)$71,680
16. University of Texas-Austin (McCombs)$69,552
17. Rice University (Jones)$68,450
18. George Washington University$66,989
19. University of Virginia (Darden)$66,272
20. Notre Dame (Mendoza)$65,925
21. UCLA (Anderson)$64,030
22. Berkeley (Haas)$63,748
23. Loyola University/Chicago$62,826
24. Case Western (Weatherhead)$59,731
25. Emory (Goizueta)$58,440

Source: U.S. News & World Report, average indebtedness of the 2009 graduating class.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.