Does Your Work Make The World A Better Place? MBA Alums Answer


You’ve probably heard the adage that “Money isn’t everything.” Turns out, there may some truth to it – among MBAs, at least.

This week, PayScale, a leading data warehousing firm that specializes in employee compensation, released its 2015-2016 College Salary Report, which includes income and career satisfaction data for MBAs.  And it’s packed with surprises.


Take the for-profit Strayer University, for example. Although Strayer MBAs make $55,200 within 5 years of graduation and $73,800 by mid-career (defined as ten years or more out of business school), 73% of its graduates find high meaning in their work. Compare that to Stanford MBAs, who earn $118,000 early on and $175,000 by mid-career according to PayScale. Here, just 47% of Stanford MBAs answered “Very much so” or “Yes” to the question, “Does your work make the world a better place?”

And the numbers aren’t much better at several top business schools, where less than 50% of its highly-paid MBAs believe their work is meaningful. And the list features schools whose brands are associated with a higher calling and an upbeat, close-knit vibe. They include UCLA (49%), Texas (49%), Columbia (45%), Cornell (45%), Notre Dame (44%), Dartmouth (38%), Georgetown (37%), Minnesota (37%), Virginia (34%), and Vanderbilt (33%).

Alas, several top tier programs – Harvard (62%), Wharton (60%), MIT (61%), and Yale (65%) among them – averaged 60% or higher when it comes to feeling their work makes a positive difference. However, the defeatist sentiment among many alumni makes us wonder: Are these students also dissatisfied with their alma maters?


Tuck students in class

Dartmouth Tuck students in class

And the answer appears to be “no.” In a 2014 Forbes survey of 2008 MBA graduates that netted 4,600 responses, Stanford MBAs were actually the happiest group. They ranked their school #1 in terms of their education and preparation relative to other MBAs. And they finished fourth in current job satisfaction. Similarly, Dartmouth – which sets the pace for alumni loyalty (and fund-raising engagement) – finished second in education and fourth in preparation. Despite this, Tuck came in 38th when it came to current job satisfaction (a number that correlates some to the PayScale study).

In fact, the alumni who find the least meaning in their careers are often the staunchest supporters of their alma maters. The Financial Times, as part of its annual rankings, collects data from MBAs on which business schools they would want to recruit graduates. Not surprisingly, Stanford graduates rank second globally, with Columbia (8th), Dartmouth (12th), Virginia (18th), Texas (19th), UCLA (24th), Cornell (25th), and Georgetown (37th), and Vanderbilt (51st) all performing well worldwide. In other words, disillusioned MBAs at these schools aren’t taking their frustrations out on their successors (or steering them away from their employers for that matter).

Even in the much-maligned Economist rankings – which surveys students and recent graduates – you’ll find schools whose respondents find the least meaning at work earned high marks in key metrics. In the Personal Development and Educational Experience category, for example, Virginia (1st), Dartmouth (4th), and Stanford (5th) ranked in the Top 10 globally (with UCLA clocking in at 11th). With Career Services, UCLA, Columbia, and Dartmouth also made Top 10 (with Virginia finishing 11th). In terms of alumni effectiveness, Dartmouth, Stanford, Notre Dame, Virginia, and Cornell were ranked among the ten-best schools as well.


Bottom line: Something changed for these graduates once they found a job. Here’s one possibility: Some schools sell themselves as being a respite from the real world. However, this high-minded approach insulates students from the sharp-elbowed world of executive leadership or the seedier elements of industries like investment banking.