What Harvard MBAs Made This Year

Members of the Class of 2016 celebrate Commencement Day at Harvard Business School

The world’s major consulting firms again upped their game this year, raising median starting salaries for the third year in a row to a record $150,000 for an MBA from Harvard Business School. Only three years ago, the consulting industry’s median base for an HBS graduate was $135,000, with a smaller percentage of hires getting the standard $25,000 sign-on bonus.

But with competition from both finance and technology industries heating up, the likes of McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Deloitte and other top firms apparently felt the need to make their offers even more enticing. In each of the past three years, base salaries have risen by an additional $5,000. The result: This year’s total median compensation for a Harvard MBA entering consulting came to an unprecedented $174,600, a number adjusted for the 96% of students gaining median sign-on bonuses and the 5% who reported other median guaranteed compensation of $13,000 (see below table).

The biggest pay day this year, however, went to Harvard MBAs who gained jobs in investment management firms and hedge funds. The 6% of the class who landed those positions reported median total compensation packages just shy of $200K at $193,837, including median sign-on bonuses of $45,000, received by 59% of the graduates, and other guaranteed compensation of $75,000, reported by 30% of the students.


The only other MBAs at Harvard who did better than consulting—and not by very much—were those who accepted their job offers in venture capital, private equity and leveraged buyout firms. Their total median comp packages reached $175,156 this year, with the highest reported median base salaries for any industry at $152,500. About 37% of these grads reported sign-on bonuses of $25,000, while 18% told HBS they expected to receive other guaranteed compensation of $75,000.

All told, it was another very strong year for both pay and placement at Harvard Business School, though overall total comp packages fell slightly to $154,750 this year, down 2.1% from last year’s record $156,160 (see below table). HBS said median base salaries were $135,000 this year—exactly the same as last year—while 66% of the Class of 2017 picked up $25,000 signing bonuses and 13% reported other guaranteed comp of $25,000. The slight decline was largely a result of student preferences on what job to take, with double the number of MBAs going into nonprofit, government and education jobs, among other lower-paying choices.

Typically, Harvard Business School MBAs beat every other school’s graduates in pay, with the exception of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, which has yet to publish its 2017 employment report. The HBS numbers—in the school’s latest employment report—again prove the value of the MBA degree. All the numbers, moreover, tend to be conservative estimates of first-year compensation for MBAs because they fail to include reimbursement of tuition, stock options, other equity awards, and several other perks. Unlike several rival schools, including Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, HBS has decided to continue reporting other guaranteed compensation this year. That number typically includes guaranteed year-end bonuses promised to graduates, more commonly granted in the financial industry.

The school said that 95% of its graduates had job offers within three months of graduation, with 89% of the MBAs accepting their offers. Last year, 94% of HBS graduates had job offers three months after commencement, while 91% of the class accepted those offers. The gap between offers and acceptances is often an indication of how choosy MBAs have become in what is a very strong job market. Students are simply waiting for that ‘perfect’ opportunity, unwilling to settle for the first offer from an employer.


Despite the unprecedented $150K starting salary offers from consulting, the industry actually recruited slightly fewer Harvard MBAs, capturing 23% of this year’s class, down two percentage points from 25% a year earlier. In contrast, the VC, PE and buyout industries upped their take of Harvard’s graduating MBAs this year by five full percentage points, 18% versus 13% in 2016.

That shift helped to boost the share of Harvard grads going into the financial sector this year. Some 31% took jobs in the financial industry, up from 28% a year ago. Besides the 18% going into VC and PE firms and the 6% into hedge funds and other investing jobs, some 5% of the class landed with investment banking firms, while 1% went into “other financial services.”

Surprisingly, Harvard grads going into tech companies fell by three full percentage points to 16% from 19% last year, making 2017 the lowest in at least five years for the tech industry. That outcome occurred despite the fact that tech companies also raised their base salary offers by $5K to $130,000 this year—though that was still $20,000 below the consulting median. Still, the $130K base for MBA jobs in tech is up from $115K in 2013.

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