Your MBA’s Worth? Pay By Region


When it comes to starting pay, most MBA applicants focus on either overall pay or industry pay. And each is a strong barometer of employer sentiment about schools.  But there is another factor that determines earnings: Geography.

Where you live ultimately shapes what you do, how much you earn, and how high you go. That’s no secret. MBA programs are creatures of their surroundings. New York and Los Angeles, for example, are artistic Meccas. Not surprisingly, Columbia Business School and UCLA’s Anderson School of Management have emerged as top programs for entertainment management and technology. The industry infrastructure and talent are only a few miles away from these programs. And that creates opportunities for their MBA students to get face time, build relationships, find opportunities, sharpen skills, and eventually land jobs – good jobs with strong pay out of the gate.


Wondering how much your MBA will be worth where you are – or where you’re hoping to go? Recently, Poets&Quants reviewed U.S. Newscollection of starting base salaries by function and school for the Class of 2015. While the metric was just one piece of a much larger puzzle, it did enable readers to compare schools side-by-side. That way, they could get a bearing on how much they could expect to receive in a potential offer. To further help readers in negotiating their package, Poets&Quants has also compiled data on average starting salaries by location and school.

Like the previous salary survey, the starting base pay is not adjusted for cost of living. The data also doesn’t include sign-on bonuses, enticements that are unevenly distributed across the graduate pool.  Harvard Business School is a case in point, where each region averages $25,000 in bonus, but the percentage of students receiving this bonus veers from 56% in the Mid-Atlantic to 89% in the Southwest states. Likewise, some programs, such as Dartmouth (Tuck), only capture bonus pay as a whole, not by industry or region – further dooming any true apples-to-apples comparison at a micro level.

The compensation also doesn’t calculate incentives like tuition compensation, stock options or profit sharing – or adjust for amenities like transportation, trips, or memberships (which schools often don’t request from graduates when formulating their employment reports).


San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge

In other words, the data is a rough snapshot of a point in time (as opposed to a 20-year pay outlook influenced by a myriad of variables — often with less connection to the business school as time passes). It is a tool to compare schools side-by-side using a consistent metric. Aside from revealing a school’s economic strength, the data yields a second benefit. It provides an idea of where a school has developed a footprint outside its geographic seat.  This not only signals a school’s appeal to a wider swath of employers, but also indicates where students can tap into a deeper alumni network.

Alas, smaller programs do suffer an inherent disadvantage here, as they have fewer students to populate key employers and sectors in the United States (and across the world). That said, graduates traditionally stay within an afternoon AmTrak ride away from where they studied. At NYU’s Stern School of Business, for example, 79% of the 2015 full-time class remained in the northeast. The highest concentration of Northwestern (Kellogg) 2015 grads planted roots in the Midwest (32.8%). The same is true with other regional powers like Emory (58% stayed in the south) and USC (86% of accepted North American offers stemmed from the west coast). In other words, a MBA’s most valuable asset – a network of classmates, supporters, and alumni – is often clustered in a certain area. Not only does location influence starting pay, but it can boost a graduate’s ability to land interviews, open doors, and expand options over the long haul.


Overall, the data is divided into these seven regions:

Northeast: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Mid-Atlantic: District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

South: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Midwest: Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Southwest: Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

West: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

International: All Around the Globe.

Average Salary and Bonus

Among the Top 50 full-time MBA programs ranked by U.S. News & World Report, only Columbia Business School was the only school that didn’t furnish salary data since it doesn’t track the geographic dispersal of graduates in its annual employment report.

To see the high, average, and low starting salaries of the 50 highest-ranked full-time MBA programs by region and school, click on the links below.

St. Louis Arch

St. Louis Arch








Average Salary and Bonus

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