Highest & Lowest Paid MBAs of 2016

The starting salary for a newly minted MBA often tells only part of the story when you’re trying to track the highest paid business school graduates of the year. That’s often because sign-on bonuses and other guaranteed compensation can equal or exceed base pay for the most extraordinary MBAs who went to school with highly valued experience and a solid track record.

For Class of 2016 MBA graduates, it was no different. The highest reported starting salary for any graduate went to a Harvard Business School MBA who landed a half-million-dollar base. Yet, over at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, an MBA reported that he expected receiving a year-end bonus that would total $500,000.

Generally, the highest paid MBAs end up in finance at hedge funds, private equity companies and venture capital firms. Yet the graduate at Stanford landing the biggest deal–a $450,000 base salary to start–took a general management job at a healthcare company in the U.S., in all probability a dual-degree grad with an MBA and an MD.


At Columbia Business School, an MBA landed a $325,000 base at a hedge fund, a sum that was $200,000 over the median salary. At Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business, a graduate reported getting a job paying $300,000 a year to start, not including sign-on bonus or other guaranteed compensation.

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 2016. Make no mistake, these are the exceptions to the rule. The highest paychecks immediately after graduation tend to go to MBAs who already had been making big money before they arrived on campus. They have solid track records of performance and years of experience in a highly paid field, virtually guaranteeing that they would be among the most richly rewarded members of the Class of 2016.

A new analysis of pay by Poets&Quants also shows the difference between the highest paid MBAs who land a job in the U.S. versus those who gain a job outside the U.S. At Harvard Business School, for example, the highest paid graduate outside the U.S. received base salary that was only half as much as the top U.S. salary, $250,000 vs. $500,000. The largest starting salary outside the U.S. was achieved by a Columbia Business School MBA who is being paid a base of $280,000.


Yet at some schools, students accepting positions outside the U.S. made more first-year pay than their classmates who stayed in the U.S. At UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, for example, the highest paid MBA landing a job in the U.S. scored a starting salary of $150,000, $20,000 less than the graduate going overseas in a position that paid $170,000 to start. And also at UCLA, the highest other guaranteed compensation–$128,000–went to an MBA who took a job outside the U.S. vs. the equivalent $50,000 number for a student who stayed in the U.S.

And the lowest salaries? A graduating MBA at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas in Austin, where the annual estimated cost of attending the full-time MBA program for an out-of-state student is $70,282, won the dubious distinction of earning the least money of any MBA last year–just $15,000, presumably for a non-profit organization overseas. Even by non-profit standards, that’s a lowly sum. UT students who took jobs in fields such as education or the government had average starting salaries of $83,600 and $90,000, respectively, last year. Otherwise, the lowest salary U.S. staring salary was reported by a Stanford MBA: just $24,000.

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 Harvard MBA who pulled down the highest starting salary also gained a lucrative sign-on bonus and other guaranteed compensation which would give the graduate a first-year pay package well in excess of half a million dollars.


In fact, if the student received merely the average HBS sign-on bonus of $29,134–and not the highest sign-on of $130,000–and the average other guaranteed bonus of $57,849–rather than the highest other compensation of $300,000–the MBA would expect total pay of $587,000 in his or her first year. For that matter, these sums also fail to include reimbursement of tuition, relocation offsets, carry, or non-guaranteed performance bonuses or the value of stock options.

There were some fascinating numbers reported by several schools, including INSEAD and Stanford GSB. At INSEAD, the highest paid MBA last year took a job in Africa or the Middle East for $204,100 in management consulting, of all things. INSEAD also reported a graduate who landed a vice president or director job in Western Europe with a private equity firm paying $202,100 in base salary as well as a graduate who accepted an analyst’s job for either a hedge fund or an investment management firm in Latin America paying $200,000.

Over at Stanford, where MBA graduates earn the highest median total compensation–$163,823–in the world, there were a lot of very big pay days for several grads. Besides the $450,000 high water mark in healthcare, there was a $250,000 base in private equity and another $250,000 base for an MBA who went into venture capital. One MBA who landed a job with an e-commerce firm got a $225,000 base, while another who went into investment management won a $200,000 starting salary. One person going into PE reported other guaranteed comp of $400,000, while another who went into investment management gained other comp of $209,000 last year. The highest signing bonus–$75,000–went to an MBA who took a position with an investment management firm, while one grad who accepted a job with a software firm got a $65,000 inducement to join.

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