When The Sky Is Nearly the Limit: Highest Paid MBAs of 2010


Highest  2010 SalarySchoolIndustryLocation
$250,000*HarvardPrivate EquityNew England
$330,000StanfordPrivate EquityEurope
$300,000ChicagoPrivate EquityUnknown
$350,000WhartonPrivate EquityNew York
$300,000ColumbiaInvestment Mgt.New York
$225,000*DartmouthPrivate EquityMid-Atlantic
$300,000KelloggStrategy ConsultingChicago
$152,000DukeHealth CareSouth

SOURCE: Business school employment reports. * An estimate based on Harvard’s report that a $185,000 base salary for one of its Class of 2010 MBAs is at the 75th percentile of the range of offers for private grads going into private equity. An estimate based on Tuck’s report that a $201,000 base salary for one of its Class of 2010 MBAs is at the 90th percentile of the range of offers to the class.


Most business schools try to play these numbers down because they don’t want to raise unrealistic expectations among applicants and students. After all, the average starting pay for MBAs from most elite schools is a third or less of these outsized gains. The University of Virginia’s Darden School and the University of Michigan’s Ross School only report median and average compensation numbers so that applicants never know how much the lowest or highest-paid graduates pull down in base salary. Harvard Business School and Dartmouth’s Tuck School takes the focus off their highest paid grads by respectively reporting only the 75th percentile and 90th percentile numbers.

On the other extreme, Wharton reported that the lowest-paid MBA in the Class of 2010 received a base salary of juist $25,000 a year for a job in the “media and entertainment” industry in the midwest. At Stanford, the lowest paid MBA this year accepted a health care job paying $40,000–less than the lowest paid non-profit job which paid $50,000 in base salary.


YearHighest SalaryIndustryHighest Total Comp
2010$350,000PE/Investment Mgt.Unknown
2009$420,000Hedge FundUnknown
2008$300,000Private EquityUnknown
2007$392,000Private EquityUnknown
2006$300,000Private Equity$425,000
2005$330,000Private Equity$465,000
2004$180,000Private Equity$680,000
2001$150,000PE/Venture CapitalUnknown
2000$160,000Investment Mgt.Unknown

SOURCE: Wharton Career Reports. Record in bold.

  • califmerchant

    thats nothing, i make $3M a year, without an MBA, beat that

  • Matt


    First, thanks for the work you do on this site. In regards to this story, I would love to hear what type of background these highest paid applicants had prior to entering b-school. Were they already highly paid prior to their education, or was this as high a markup in salary as it sounds?

    I know it may be very difficult to find this type of information, but it would be great to hear anything that may provide context.


    I recall a story from around 1998 revealing that top programs — HBS and Stanford, for example — were caught sharing information with one another as to which applicants they planned to accept. They did this to keep yield rates as high as possible. The programs claim to have fixed this “procedural error,” but I wonder if any recent admissions officers have updated news along these lines.

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  • Rutgersdude

    I graduated from Rutgers and made $900k in my first year. I didnt bother filling out the college comp survey, that why it doesnt appear here.

  • A good insight about the top paid MBA’s.It is compelling to say almost all top-paid MBA’s are related to finance and those who are already worked on big IB’s.

  • mainhoon

    I fail to understand the justification for such astronomical salaries. What is this one guy going to be able to do that say 3 guys I can hire for that 1 salary cannot? I think there is a bit of ego involved in these firms throwing our money like this…

  • Donald,

    Tuition reimbursement is not common, and getting a handle on this is hard because not all of the top schools report the percentage of grads who get this benefit. Dartmouth’s Tuck School says that 14% of its Class of 2010 received this perk. For Tuckies, the range of reimbursement was from a low of $14,000 to a high of $103,000. The mean was $46,000, while the median was $40,000. At Wharton, some 4.2% of the Class of 2010 reported receiving tuition reimbursement, ranging from a low of $7,000 to a high of $112,000. The median at Wharton was $85,000. One thing to keep in mind: many of the grads who get this benefit are returning to pre-MBA employers like McKinsey or Goldman Sachs. So it’s not something that is generally available to many people. Hope this helps, even though it’s not necessarily very good news.

  • Is tuition reimbursement a common component of post-MBA compensation packages or is it a rarity. If its common, what industries, or even better, what companies commonly offer tuition reimbursement. I want to do an MBA at a top 5 program but the100k tuition bill is a hard pill to swallow, especially when you already have loans to pay from a masters program. I’ve therefore been reconsidering holding off applying this year in hopes of getting an early start on applying for available fellowships and scholarships for next years application cycle. However if theres a good shot of obtaining a job offering tuition reimbursement I think that alters the equation a little for me.

  • Stanford_gal

    Given all these i have always wondered why Tuck is rated so high in top 5.
    And a smack down between Dartmouth with Stan/Harvard is not even relevant, they are not even on par schools! Only see P&Q inclined more towards Tuck.

  • applicant2013

    I agree with Arthur. People who end up getting offers upwards of $200,000 – 250,000 never put it past themselves to be able to pull that off right after business school. It doesn’t give an average applicant any relevant point of reference.

  • Lauren,

    I think the culture has changed at Wharton as it has at Chicago. And the differences among most of these schools today is much smaller than it had been years earlier when there was little thought given to culture, collaboration, teamwork, and leadership. I’ve met and spent time with Kembrel so I know that he has significantly improved the Wharton culture.

  • Laurenscharer


    Do you really think that nothing has changed at the top MBA programs in 22 years? As a recent graduate of Wharton, I would argue that the happiness index you reference would have changed greatly, particularly at Wharton. Not only has the school’s curriculum been overhauled twice during this period, but the installation of a new Dean of Students, Kembrel Jones, has drastically improved the culture. Ask anyone that has graduated since Kembrel was installed, Wharton is now known for its culture among the top three programs.

    Please, if you are going to make statements about the “happiness index” make the data relevant to this millennium!

  • Arthur Dullsworthy

    People who really want to go to HBS know they don’t Wharton and vice versatile.

    What is the information value for b-school applicants in knowing salaries of a small few outliers at Harvard and Wharton. There’s substantially more to those stories than the fact of admission to business school.

  • Very good question. I’ll check around and see what I can find out.

  • R2apps

    John, I think a great Poets and Quants article would be something explaning what I’ll call the “High-Yield Paradox.” I am applying to three schools Round 2 this year and have spent a lot of time (probably too much!) lurking on sites like this and gmatclub to learn about the b-school process.

    I think I generally *get* the process but one thing that blows my mind is the way the top few simultaneously manage to have astronomical yield percentages. What makes this so hard to understand is that one might assume there would be a ton of overlap among high-caliber applicants to these “Usual Suspect” schools.

    Let’s take Wharton and HBS, for example. Both unquestionably great schools, and both have lots of overlap with applicant pools. No major surprise that HBS would its phenomenal yield %, but how does Wharton still have such a high percentage? Am I wrong in assuming that many who matriculate at HBS also apply to, and are accepted by, Wharton?

    I suspect part of the “High Yield Paradox” can be explained by certain schools’ tendency to waitlist like crazy (that way, you can keep the applicant in limbo until you know more about his/her intentions and plans towards the end of the cycle). I also think it has to do with the various rounds and the way candidates use them to stagger out apps…they might only apply to top choices in early rounds and save *safer* schools for later (and thereby might not need them at all).

    Still — I’m intrigued. Who out there in b-school land can REALLY explain this in a way that doesn’t sound like some adcom boilerplate non-answer to a question?

  • Miguel,

    Ah…the happiness index. As far as I know, the closest you can get to this is BusinessWeek’s surveys to recent grads asking them detailed questions about the level of satisfaction with the two-year MBA experience. In 1988, when I created the first regularly published MBA ranking at BusinessWeek, I included an interesting question on the survey I cranked out on my Mac: “What percentage of your classmates would you have liked to have as friends?” It’s not exactly a “happiness index,” but it is as close as one can get to a “friendliness index.” The schools that did best on this question tended to be those that heavily emphasized teamwork, group projects and intimate relationships, things that were not a given in business education in the late 1980s. The best schools on this index? Yale’s School of Management, Dartmouth’s Tuck School, North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School, Northwestern’s Kellogg School, and Stanford. The weakest of the elite schools? Columbia, Chicago, NYU and Wharton, all far larger schools in urban settings where students often disperse after class. Now this was in 1988–not 2010. Not having access to this data at BW today, I couldn’t tell you how different the result would be. But I think people would be very surprised at how little has changed over time.

  • Azhak,

    Yes, that’s partly true. But all of these highest-paid MBAs are special cases so it’s hard to extrapolate from them. Also, there are other schools, such as Yale, Cornell, Michigan, NYU, Virginia where this data is not available. So I had to cherry pick among the top schools that reveal this information.

  • AzhakMansor

    Kellogg and Duke made it into the highest pay ranking without relying on finance related industry. I presume its safe to extrapolate that both schools are well known in consulting and health care respectively?

  • John, it would be interesting to see a ranking based on “happiness” or some sort of “goals achieved” that has nothing to do with cash. I don’t know if there is such a study, is there? I wonder how different it would be from this.