How Much Is Your MBA Worth? Tracking Pay By School & Function



What industry pays graduating MBAs the most money?

The answer depends on which school stamped your degree and which companies recruit at your school. Conventional wisdom would likely steer many students toward Wall Street and finance. But that again depends on the school, the employing company, and even the specific job you are hired to do.

At Harvard Business School, for example, the average starting pay for 2015 graduates in finance was $146,993. That’s $17,048 more than HBS graduates who entered consulting. And the gap is $23,000-$29,000 more, on average, compared to MBAs hired into marketing, operations, and general management.

Look beyond Harvard and you’ll see an entirely different picture. Among the ten highest-ranked MBA programs, consulting graduates earned more than their finance counterparts at eight of ten schools. In fact, consultants raked in higher average starting pay than financiers at every Top 25 school except Harvard and Stanford.

But even that comes with a caveat. In terms of the highest individual pay packages, finance grads topped their peers at six of ten MBA programs in the Top 10, losing out at MIT (operations), Yale (general management), Dartmouth (consulting), and Columbia (marketing).  Broaden this to the Top 25 schools and finance grads came away with the highest individual checks at 12 schools, too.


Indeed, you could argue that pay acts as a de facto school ranking in particular disciplines. It pegs the value that the consumers of MBA talent – employers – place on particular school graduates. Beyond perception, pay can reflect the depth and quality of school roots (i.e. network) in specific industries (and their largest employers).

In a world where knowledge is power, these numbers level the playing field – and even give MBAs a slight advantage. Why? They reflect an MBA’s value. That’s why Poets&Quants we’ve reviewed starting pay for 2015 graduates in six core MBA functions: marketing, operations, general management, finance, consulting, and non-profits. Rather than consulting 50 separate employment reports, readers can quickly learn what employers are paying their peers in particular occupations by school.

Beyond the convenience of having this info in one spot, this data provides readers with something more: An idea of how much more money they can angle for in pay (and the ability to justify why).


There are certain limitations, however, to these numbers. Although overall starting pay factors in bonus, the occupation data is predicated strictly on base salary. That’s because bonus isn’t attached to every offer – and many schools don’t report bonus numbers by function. As a result, first-year earnings, when bonuses are added, can jump anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000. On average, you’ll find bonus coming in above $25,000 at Top 25 schools (including $31,045 at Wharton, $29,634 at Darden, $28,447 at Kellogg, and $25,866 at Rice Jones). For programs ranked 26-50, average bonus generally comes in above $15,000 (including $20,950 at BYU Marriott, $20,795 at Iowa Tippie, $16,423 at Florida Hough, and $15,197 at Boston College Carroll).

The data also doesn’t include such benefits as tuition reimbursements, moving allowances, other guaranteed bonuses, or stock options. And the averages across functions can be impacted by the number of graduates reporting this data back to their schools. For example, UCLA’s marketing and finance starting pay is based on responses from 73 and 66 graduates, respectively, while its operations salary numbers stem from just 10 responses.

That said, you’ll be hard pressed to find better data for determining just how much your MBA is worth in  a given function. Not to mention, it is a convenient way to compare schools side-by-side based on potential starting earnings. To check out data on the high, low, and average salaries for the 50 highest-ranked MBA programs in the most popular industries, click on the links below.