An MBA is a very different kind of investment. You can’t trade it in for a newer or better model. After graduation, you’re tied to your alma mater — forever. You can’t switch jerseys from Columbia to Wharton; your new network won’t accept you. You’re stuck, for better or worse.
That’s why choosing a business school requires so much due diligence. The choice isn’t just life-changing. It is life-defining. It will determine your network and career path. In most cases, your school will impact your earnings too. Any employment report can reveal how much you’ll make during your first year. The real trick, however, is uncovering how your MBA will accrue in value over time. According to data shared exclusively with Poets&Quants by PayScale, there is one truth above all others in graduate business education…
“You get what you pay for.”
VALUE OF A HARVARD MBA INCREASES OVER TIME
Translation: The highest-ranked – and generally most costly – programs generally yield the highest returns on the backend. Look no further than Harvard Business School. According to PayScale, HBS MBAs are earning an annual median of $204,000 by “mid-career,” which is defined as “10 or more years of experience.” Not surprisingly, Stanford GSB ranked second in mid-career pay at $187,200, followed closely by Wharton ($184,300), MIT Sloan ($182,300), and Columbia Business School ($182,300).
Notice a trend? Each is a private, urban, M7 business school blessed with prestige, deep resources, extensive global connections, and plush endowments. They are also costly on the front end, with their annual tuitions ranging from $64K (Harvard) to $68K (Columbia)…and that doesn’t even count cost of living, travel, and the ever-unwelcome “required fees.” Even more, 8 of the 10 highest-paying mid-career MBA programs were also ranked among P&Q’s top 10 MBA programs – a further testament to rank carrying over to long-term career outcomes.
That’s not to say there weren’t outliers. At Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business, MBAs earned $167,800 by mid-career. To an optimist, the number stems from the wealth of tech sector opportunities available in Leavey’s backyard – Silicon Valley. However, this number reveals a flaw in PayScale’s methodology: full-time MBAs aren’t separated out from their executive and online counterparts. Since Leavey’s MBA program caters to working professionals, they would – in theory – own a decided pay advantage with alumni who had steady jobs and career paths. That may not be the case, however. At Leavey, early career pay – median pay for students with 0 to 5 years of business experience – actually stood at $93,000. In other words, Leavey grads nearly doubled their pay between their early and mid-career, which represented the second-highest growth among the 25 highest-paying MBA programs.
Leavey wasn’t alone in making a statement. Emory (Goizueta) grads were also earning more than many higher-ranked peers by mid-career. The latest PayScale data shows Goizueta MBAs pulled down $166,700 by mid-career, an outcome better than Yale SOM. Similarly, Rice (Jones), which holds the #25 spot in the latest P&Q rankings, placed 14th in mid-career pay at $159,600 – ahead of UCLA (Anderson), Cornell (Johnson), and Duke (Fuqua). Similarly, SMU (Cox) ranked 21st with a $153,500 mid-career median. That was nearly $2,500 better than Michigan (Ross), which ranked 36 spots higher. By the same token, Babson College MBA alumni made $148,000 by mid-career despite finishing 54th with P&Q.
PAY LIKELY LOWER THAN WHAT MBA GRADUATES ACTUALLY EARN
This pay data was compiled by PayScale. A leading collector of pay and benefits data, PayScale has partnered with organizations ranging from Google to U.S. News & World Report on compensation-related projects. The data was derived from visitors to the PayScale site, who supplied salary and survey data in order to access industry and regional pay data. The pay is also tagged to the national median, which is the 50th percentile. In other words, half of the respondents earn more than the median and the rest pull down less.
The median pay also extends beyond standard base compensation. It factors in bonuses, commissions, and profit sharing. However, it excludes equity, retirement, and non-cash benefits like healthcare. This places schools like Stanford, which places a larger segment of students in early stage startups, at a disadvantage. PayScale also doesn’t adjust numbers to accommodate regional pay differences. To be ranked, MBA programs must generate a minimum of 50 survey profiles from alumni. This is why Dartmouth (Tuck) was again excluded from the list.
How accurate is PayScale salary data? Admittedly, it skews towards the low side. For example, 2017 HBS graduates grossed $150,000 in median base alone, up $15,000 from four years earlier. Despite this, PayScale pegs the number at $118,100 in early career. However, the gap begins to narrow outside the ‘Big Three.’ Exhibit A: Northwestern (Kellogg) grads scooped up $125,000 in median base in 2017, up from $114,000 in 2013. In contrast, the median for Kellogg alumni on PayScale came to $115,800. One reason? Professionals visit PayScale for wage and benefits data, an indication that they may feel underpaid in their industry, role, or location and looking to move on elsewhere.
Overall, Stanford and Wharton grads reported the highest early career median pay at $128,700 and $126,000 respectively among the 25 schools shared by PayScale. However, a strong start didn’t necessarily continue through mid-career. Stanford and Wharton pay grew by just $58,500 and $58,300 respectively between early and mid-career, middle of the pack by top 25 standards. HBS grads enjoyed the biggest growth, an $86,700 improvement. Notre Dame (Mendoza) and Columbia Business School followed suit at $66,500and $66,200 respectively. Looking for the lowest growth? Head south to Duke (Fuqua), where median pay grew by just $41,200. There were also five programs from the top 10 bunched up in the middle with pay gains from $58,300-$58,700 – perhaps a harbinger of the real gains that MBAs should expect as they transition into mid-career.
(Go to next page to see early and mid-career at 25 top MBA programs along with job satisfaction rates by school.)