$1 Million For A Wharton MBA? Not so.

The very highest paid MBAs tend to be special cases. To these first MBA jobs, they bring extraordinary work experience and track records that convince firms who want to hire the absolute best and brightest that they are worth the money. In private equity and hedge funds that means hiring grads who already have been in the business–often as high-performing analysts for the same companies that hire them back. At Harvard, private equity and leveraged buyout firms hired 14% of this year’s class, up from 9% in 2010. Meantime, 7% of this year’s class headed into hedge funds.

Eye-Popping Numbers from Wharton Over the Years

Year Highest Salary Industry Highest Sign-On Highest Guaranteed Bonus Total Comp
2011 $375,000 PE/Hedge? $300,000 $235,000 Unknown
2010 $350,000 Private Equity $110,000 $250,000 Unknown
2009 $420,000 Hedge Fund $70,000 $300,000 Unknown
2008 $300,000 Private Equity $100,000 $450,000 Unknown
2007 $392,000 Private Equity $80,000 $260,000 Unknown
2006 $300,000 Private Equity $300,000 $200,000 $425,000
2005 $330,000 Private Equity $140,000 $200,000 $465,000
2004 $180,000 Private Equity $51,300 $25,000* $680,000
2003 $225,000 Unknown $50,000 $90,000 $435,000
2002 $150,000 Investment Mgt. $50,000 $90,000 Unknown
2001 $150,000 PE/VC NA** NA** Unknown
2000 $160,000 Investment Mgt. NA** NA** Unknown
1999 $165,000 Consulting NA** NA** Unknown

SOURCE: Wharton Career Reports. * In 2004, one Wharton MBA reported “other compensation” of $500,000. ** Wharton did not report the high for the year in this category.

The recruiter for a top private equity firm that recruits only at Harvard and Stanford attributes the size of these packages to “the arms race, and generally trying to get the ‘best,’ which often correlates with these numbers. Many of them (private equity firms) take back their former analysts which means those spots are incredibly limited for anyone who hasn’t worked in PE before school.”

Often, these recruits already were pulling down big salaries before deciding to go to business school. “Even more shocking is the fact that some of the pre-MBAs were made offers that were easily $500,000 to $600,000 over two years,” adds the recruiter. “That’s right, the 24-year-olds who were made offers when they were eight months into their two-year analyst programs, just eight months out of college.”

DON’T MISS: WHEN THE SKY IS NEARLY THE LIMIT: THE HIGHEST PAID MBAS OF 2010 or YEAR’S HIGHEST PAID MBA? $675K TO START