Stanford GSB | Mr. Future VC
GMAT 750, GPA 3.6
Stanford GSB | Ms. Digital Health
GMAT 720, GPA 3.48
Wharton | Mr. Colombian M7 Deferral
GMAT 710, GPA 3.84
Harvard | Mr. Google Tech
GMAT 770, GPA 2.2
Harvard | Mr. Italian In Tokyo
GMAT (710-740), GPA 4.0
Harvard | Mr. MedTech Startup
GMAT 740, GPA 3.80
Chicago Booth | Mr. Consulting Hopeful
GMAT 720, GPA 3.6
Kenan-Flagler | Mr. Fish
GRE 327, GPA 3.733
Yale | Mr. Healthcare Geek
GMAT 680, GPA 3.5
IMD | Mr. Gap Year To IMD
GMAT 660, GPA 3.5
Kellogg | Mr. Brazilian Banker
GMAT 600, GPA 3.8
Harvard | Mr. Low GPA Product Manager
GMAT 780, GPA 3.1
Harvard | Mr. Upward Trajectory
GMAT 720, GPA 3.3
Stanford GSB | Mr. Blockchain
GMAT 760, GPA 3.9
Kenan-Flagler | Mr. Healthcare Provider
GMAT COVID19 Exemption, GPA 3.68
Kellogg | Ms. MBA For Social Impact
GMAT 720, GPA 3.9
Chicago Booth | Mr. Controller & Critic
GMAT 750, GPA 6.61 / 7.00 (equivalent to 3.78 / 4.00)
Kellogg | Mr. PE Social Impact
GMAT Waived, GPA 3.51
MIT Sloan | Mr. International Impact
GRE 326, GPA 3.5
MIT Sloan | Mr. Energy Enthusiast
GMAT 730, GPA 8.39
Chicago Booth | Ms. Future CMO
GMAT Have Not Taken, GPA 2.99
Said Business School | Mr. Global Sales Guy
GMAT 630, GPA 3.5
N U Singapore | Mr. Just And Right
GMAT 700, GPA 4.0
Georgetown McDonough | Mr. International Youngster
GMAT 720, GPA 3.55
Columbia | Mr. Chartered Accountant
GMAT 730, GPA 2.7
Harvard | Mr. Spanish Army Officer
GMAT 710, GPA 3
Kellogg | Mr. Cancer Engineer
GRE 326, GPA 3.3

$1 Million For A Wharton MBA? Not so.

A week ago, we reported that in all likelihood an MBA in this year’s graduating class at Stanford Graduate School of Business would be the highest paid MBA of the year. The freshly minted grad landed a hedge fund job that paid a guaranteed bonus of half a million dollars, bringing the person’s total starting compensation package to at least $675,000.

Few thought anyone could top that number, and Wharton reported earlier this week that one of its grads in the Class of 2011 also bagged a $500,000 signing bonus—just for agreeing to go to a certain, unidentified firm. It turns out, however, that the school input the wrong number. Instead of half a million, it was $300,000. Nothing to sneeze at, but hardly big enough to unseat the Stanford grad as the highest paid MBA of the year.

The Wharton sign-on bonus now merely ties the previous $300,000 signing bonus record reported by a Wharton grad in 2006.

That’s not all, however, Wharton says that the highest starting salary for one of its MBAs was $375,000, the highest yet reported by any business school this year. (Wharton’s record is $420,00 snagged by a 2009 MBA).

And wait. The highest guaranteed bonus—which is separate from a signing bonus—was $230,000. (Wharton’s high was $450,000 received by a 2008 MBA).

So much for the recession–and so much for critics who think the MBA is passe.

Wharton used to total each of these numbers—starting salary, sign-on bonus and other guaranteed bonus–into one tidy sum, but stopped that practice five years ago (see table on next page). So even when the school releases its 2011 employment report next week, it’s unlikely that you can tell with certainty what the person who got the half-a-million-dollar signing bonus will bring home in the first year.

Though Wharton won’t disclose which industry its highest-paid grad entered this year until the school’s official employment report comes out next week, in all probability the person headed into either a hedge fund or private equity job. The highest paid MBAs at Wharton over the past seven years have gone into either of those two fields. Indeed, Wharton’s known record, set by one of its MBAs in 2004, was for a total compensation package of $680,000 at a private equity firm.

These are, of course, the extreme highs of MBA pay. “They are usually people who have done it and are going back in,” says Maryellen Reilly Lamb, the newly appointed director of Wharton’s Career Management Center. “These are not the average MBAs who are switching careers.” Wharton says the median starting salary for the Class of 2011 was $120,000. Some 68% of the class got a median signing bonus of $20,000, and fewer still–some 16% of the class–received median guaranteed year-end bonus of $30,000.

By and large, the highest-starting salaries these days are being paid by private equity firms and hedge funds which recruit far fewer MBAs than the elite consulting firms and investment banking partnerships that buy MBAs in the boatloads. Among the largest private equity players, TPG Capital and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) are known as the highest paying PE shops. Not far behind, according to a recruiter for a top private equity firm, are Blackstone, Bain Capital, Carlyle Group, Providence, and Apollo. Even so, median pay in private equity isn’t nearly as large as these big numbers. At Harvard, the median salary for an MBA going into private equity this year was $130,000 and the median salary for an HBS grad going into hedge funds was $150,000.

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.