MIT Sloan | Mr. Latino Healthcare
GRE 310, GPA 3.4
Kellogg | Ms. Public School Teacher
GRE 325, GPA 3.93
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Army Officer
GRE 325, GPA 3.9
INSEAD | Mr. Future In FANG
GMAT 650, GPA 3.5
Duke Fuqua | Mr. Military MedTech
GRE 310, GPA 3.48
Wharton | Mr. Aspiring Leader
GMAT 750, GPA 3.38
Cornell Johnson | Mr. Advisory Consultant
GRE 330, GPA 2.25
Kellogg | Mr. Equity To IB
GMAT 730, GPA 3.6
INSEAD | Mr. Marketing Master
GRE 316, GPA 3.8
Darden | Ms. Marketing Analyst
GMAT 710, GPA 3.75
Harvard | Mr. Hedge Fund
GMAT 740, GPA 3.8
Stanford GSB | Mr. Deferred MBA
GMAT 760, GPA 3.82
Stanford GSB | Mr. Robotics
GMAT 730, GPA 2.9
Stanford GSB | Ms. Artistic Engineer
GMAT 730, GPA 9.49/10
Yale | Mr. Army Pilot
GMAT 650, GPA 2.90
Kellogg | Mr. Double Whammy
GMAT 730, GPA 7.1/10
INSEAD | Mr. Tesla Manager
GMAT 720, GPA 3.7
Darden | Mr. Tech To MBB
GMAT 710, GPA 2.4
INSEAD | Ms. Investment Officer
GMAT Not taken, GPA 16/20 (French scale)
Cornell Johnson | Mr. SAP SD Analyst
GMAT 660, GPA 3.60
McCombs School of Business | Mr. Startup Of You
GMAT 770, GPA 2.4
Kellogg | Mr. Hopeful Admit
GMAT Waived, GPA 4.0
UCLA Anderson | Mr. International PM
GMAT 730, GPA 2.3
Harvard | Mr. Policy Development
GMAT 740, GPA Top 30%
Ross | Mr. Brazilian Sales Guy
GRE 326, GPA 77/100 (USA Avg. 3.0)
INSEAD | Mr. INSEAD Hopeful
GMAT -, GPA 2.9
Berkeley Haas | Ms. Against All Odds
GMAT 720, GPA 2.9

Is An Elite MBA Degree Still Worth The Cost?

Does it really pay to get an elite MBA degree?

Ordinarily, that would be a silly question. An MBA from Harvard or Stanford or from any number of the very elite business schools has long been a no-brainer, regardless of the amount of money you have to borrow to make it happen.

But a new analysis by BloombergBusinessweek, published yesterday (Jan. 6), may give some pause. The return-on-investment study claims that it can take a Harvard or Stanford MBA ten or so years to fully recoup his or her investment in the degree. In fact, BW asserted that the elite schools at the very top of MBA rankings tended to have among the worst returns of any of the schools in its study. Chicago’s Booth School was ranked dead last among 71 schools with a payback of 14.3 years. Columbia Business School was next to last with a payback of 12.8 years. It will take MBAs from Wharton, Kellogg and the London School of Business some nine years to recoup their investments, according to BusinessWeek. In contrast, Texas A&M’s Mays Business School, the magazine predicted that Class of 2010 MBAs would earn back their investments more than three times faster than Harvard grads.

While the payback at some very elite schools—Harvard, Chicago, and Columbia—is more than a full decade long, it’s 6.5 years on average for the Class of 2010, according to BusinessWeek. And that’s up nearly a year from 5.6 years for the Class of 2008. The magazine says the deteriorating payback period is a function of lower post-MBA salaries (down 6% from the 2008 average) and higher tuition costs. Another important reason is that members of the Class of 2010 left jobs with higher salaries so the pay differential between what a grad made before and after earning the degree was not as large.

THE BIG SHOCK: B-SCHOOL LEADERS HAVE LONGER PAYBACK PERIODS THAN SECOND-TIER SCHOOLS?

The biggest surprise of the study was not that payback periods grew longer, given the impact of the recent economic meltdown and rising tuition. The most shocking and implausible result is schools outside most Top 25 lists give students faster returns on their investment than the acknowledged leaders in graduate business education.

With the exception of some one-year MBA programs outside the U.S., BusinessWeek said that Texas A&M had the fastest return, in just under three and a half years. Mays is one of the few U.S. programs that is a year and a half in length, the magazine explained, so the total expenses, at just under $70,000, are considerably lower than at most other schools. Other MBA programs at the top of the ROI list: Michigan State’s Broad College of Business and the College of Business at the University of Illinois.

So why did the most elite programs fare so poorly in this analysis? These schools generally have the highest tuition costs, and they also attract applicants with high pre-MBA salaries, two big negatives in BusinessWeek’s ROI calculation. The average pre-MBA salary at Chicago and Harvard, for example, averages more than $80,000 a year.

BUSINESS SCHOOLS WHOSE MBA DEGREES GIVE YOU THE LOWEST RETURNS AMONG 71 TOP SCHOOLS, ACCORDING TO BUSINESS WEEK.

School & BW’s ROI Rank Payback Period (Years) Post-MBA Salary Rise
1. Chicago (Booth)14.28$22,000
2. Columbia12.78$25,000
3. Harvard10.63$30,000
4. Toronto (Rotman)10.02$25,000
5. Stanford9.67$35,000
6. Texas-Austin (McCombs)9.33$28,000
7. Northwestern (Kellogg)9.12$35,000
8. Pennsylvania (Wharton)9.09$35,000
9. Washington (Foster)9.00$27,000
10. London Business School8.91$27,000
11. MIT (Sloan)8.87$35,000
12. Georgia (Terry)8.84$19,000
13. New York (Stern)8.22$35,000
14. Maryland (Smith)7.99$30,000
15. Georgia Tech7.89$27,000

SOURCE: BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

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.