Highest & Lowest Paid MBAs of 2015

happy businessman with money in hand and computer

When it came to nosebleed numbers, Columbia Business School graduates put on an impressive show in 2015. The highest reported compensation of any MBA came from the New York school for a graduate who got a job in private equity. The MBA reported other guaranteed compensation–not including base or signing bonus–of $467,000. That’s over 50% more than the next biggest pay day another business school, reported by two Wharton MBAs, one of whom landed a $300,000 starting salary or another Wharton grad who got a job that paid a whopping $300,000 in signing bonus alone.

In a year in which many schools reported record pay for graduates, these are the biggest numbers of all–the most highly paid MBA graduates of 2015. Make no mistake, these are the exceptions to the rule. After all, at Columbia Business School, the median salary for a Class of 2015 graduate was $125,000 and the median other guaranteed comp was just $25,000, a mere fraction of the $467,000 reported by CBS’ highest paid graduate. And then there was the Columbia graduate who took a job in consumer products for a $320,000 starting salary and yet another two MBAs who landed $250,000-a-year salaries in hedge funds and investment management.

And the lowest salaries? A graduating MBA at Stanford, where the annual tuition is $64,050, won the dubious distinction of earning the least money of any MBA last year–just $18,000 for a non-profit organization in Europe. Even by non-profit standards, that’s a lowly sum. The 5% of the Stanford class that took jobs in the non-profit sector had median starting salaries of $100,000 last year and the highest reported salary for a non-profit job was $175,000, a sum that is even higher than many school’s highest paid graduate.


But there were plenty of other lows, not all that far away from the Stanford number. An INSEAD grad took a social sector job for just $23,300 in Asia Pacific, while a Wharton’s low for the Class of 2015 was only $24,000. Wharton doesn’t report on the industry choice of that graduate, but even the lowest median for any career choice is for “social impact.” But even the median is a healthy $91,000, nearly four times as much as the bottom number. More often than not, the lowest salaries were paid to MBAs who went into the social sector or government work. But in some cases the lowest sums were reported by grads who went into services, operations, and healthcare.

The highs and lows, of course, are all extremes. Typically, MBAs who nail down the biggest pay packages of their class have highly desired skills, proven work experience, and successful pre-MBA track records that make a company pay up big time. “On the high salaries, it’s usually a very unique and specific match between a company’s needs and a student’s relevant skills and experiences,” says Sheryle Dirks, associate dean for career management at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

At MIT Sloan, the high water mark of a $220,000 starting salary was for an MBA who landed an operations or project management job in computer/electronics manufacturing in the Bay Area. The graduate had an engineering background and more than five years of work experience to bring to the new job.


At Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, which boasts the highest starting pay packages in the world for MBAs, there were five categories of graduates that hit the $200,000 or above starting salary level: hedge funds ($267,000), private equity ($250,000), healthcare ($225,000), investment management ($225,000), and venture capital ($200,000). The highest reported signing bonus of $100,000 went to a Stanford MBA who got a job as an investment manager. The highest other guaranteed compensation of a quarter of a million dollars went to MBAs who accepted jobs at hedge funds and PE firms.

Many schools conceal the highest total compensation packages to protect the privacy of their graduates and to prevent applicants from having unrealistic expectations of what they can expect out of the MBA degree. So in virtually all cases, the numbers provided here are conservative. It is almost certain that the MBA at Columbia Business School who won the other year-end bonus of $467,000 has a starting salary and a sign-on bonus which would put the graduate with a first-year pay package of well over half a million dollars. For that matter, it also does not include reimbursement of tuition, relocation offsets, carry, or non-guaranteed performance bonuses or the value of stock options.

Generally, only a minority of students receive these other benefits. Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, for example, has reported that 36% of its Class of 2015 received either stock or stock options with their job offers, up from 31% a year earlier. Wharton revealed that 47% of its MBAs received relocation money in 2015, worth a median $10,000, but only 4% accepted jobs with reimbursed tuition, with a median of $60,000. Sign-on bonuses obviously are more common than “other guaranteed compensation.” At Wharton, 63% pulled down signing bonuses, but only 19% got a back-end compensation deal. It generally depends on the industry in which an MBA accepts a job.

Unlike most business schools, Harvard Business School won’t even reveal the high and low numbers for its graduates, preferring to provide only 25th percentile and 75th percentile numbers. For the Class of 2015, both private equity and venture capital industries posted $195,000 base salaries at the 75th percentile. So clearly, there were HBS graduates who easily won $200,000 in starting pay. The “median” guaranteed other compensation for HBS grads who landed jobs with hedge funds was an incredible $120,000. The lowest base among the 25th percentile numbers at Harvard in 2015 is not so low at all: $90,000, for went to work for a non-profit organization.

(See following pages for the highest paid and lowest paid MBAs of 2015)

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