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The Highest (& Lowest) Paid MBAs Of 2017

Last spring, Poets&Quants reported some truly gaudy numbers coming out of employment reports at the top business schools. Among the most eye-catching of all: someone at Harvard Business School secured a starting base salary of half a million dollars, while someone at Stanford Graduate School of Business reported a salary of $450,000. Those “wow” numbers raised the question: Are we entering a new era of ridiculously high starting pay for elite-institution MBAs just entering the workforce?

The answer, based on data released this week in the 2019 U.S. News & World Report ranking, is … probably not. Those two massive salaries from last year appear to have been outliers, as the Class of 2017 MBAs from the top 25 ranked schools shows. This year, the largest base salary for a U.S. student was reported at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, while the largest salary for a foreign student came out of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business: both were $325,000, and both (as might be expected) were in financial services.

Of course, starting salary tells only part of the story, because sign-on bonuses and other guaranteed compensation — such enticements as tuition reimbursement, relocation offsets, non-guaranteed performance bonuses, and stock options — can equal or exceed base pay. And some amazing numbers have come out of the new U.S. News data trove reflecting the value placed on the most extraordinary MBAs who went to school with highly valued experience and an already impressive track record: At both Wharton and Columbia Business School, U.S. MBAs earned $150,000 signing bonuses; at Columbia, one foreign national raked in a $165,000 bonus post-MBA. And in other compensation, one U.S. grad from Stanford pulled in an astonishing $450,000, while another U.S. student from Harvard received $350,000.

Some surprises popped up further down the ranking, too. At the University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business, one U.S. student reported a sign-on bonus of $122,000 — higher than all but two schools in the top 25, Wharton and Columbia. At UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, one foreign student reported “other” compensation of $156,000 — higher than the highest foreign national’s reported base salary from that school ($151,000).

WHERE & HOW THE MONEY IS BEING MADE

The highest paychecks after graduation usually go to MBAs who were already making big money before arriving on campus — MBAs with records of performance and years of experience in a highly paid field, such as finance at hedge funds, private equity companies, and venture capital firms. The highest salaries also tend to be located in the Northeast — that’s where New York City is, after all. That was the case for the Class of 2017 at both Harvard and Chicago Booth, which tied for No. 1 in the new U.S. News ranking, and at No. 3 Wharton, No. 5 MIT Sloan School of Management, and No. 6 Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management. No. 4 Stanford, No. 7 UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business, and No. 16 UCLA Anderson School of Management — feeder schools for the Silicon Valley tech and startup revolution — boasted large salaries in tech on the West Coast to go with the standard high finance/consulting figures.

Those aforementioned students making $325,000? The U.S. student from Wharton got a finance/accounting job at a financial services firm in the Northeast, and the foreign student from Dartmouth Tuck did the same.

Generally, U.S. students are continuing to make more money than their foreign colleagues. At Wharton, the difference in high salaries is $325,000 to $238,600. At Harvard, it’s $300,000 to $250,000. At Stanford, $285,000 to $250,000. You have to go down to Dartmouth Tuck, which had that gaudy $325,000 foreign salary (compared to the top U.S. student salary of $199,400) to find an exception. A little further down and you’ll find a real eyebrow-raiser: the top U.S. salary at Berkeley Haas is $185,000, while the top foreign salary is $300,000. At Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business, the high salaries are identical: $152,500. Same for Texas McCombs ($150,000). At Georgetown University McDonough School of Business, U.S. students topped out at $150,000, while one foreign student reported a base salary of $170,000.

But since bonuses can have such a major impact on actual take-home pay, it’s important to ask the question: Who is getting them? The answer: Not everyone. At Wharton, where the top bonus in the Class of 2017 was $150,000, the average was just $31,214, but more than three-quarters of MBAs (77.2%) reported receiving some kind of bonus. At Harvard, where the top bonus was $100,000, the average was $29,855, and 69.5% of grads reported getting one. The highest average bonus among the leading schools was at Columbia: $34,481. More than 68% of MBAs out of CBS reported securing a bonus. The highest percentage of grads getting a bonus: 82.2% at Dartmouth Tuck, which translates to 175 students. The lowest: 50.7% at Stanford GSB, or 103 of the Class of 2017.

But don’t feel bad for Stanford grads. They had the highest average base pay of any top-25 school — $144,455 — and tied with Wharton for the highest overall starting pay (salary plus bonus) at $159,815.

AT THE OTHER END OF THE SPECTRUM

And what about lowest pay? Where are MBAs eschewing big paychecks to work in nonprofits, for example, or government or education? Looking at the same set of top-25 schools, we find that someone from the Yale School of Management accepted a salary of $18,654, consulting for an overseas nonprofit. Gonna take a long time to pay off the approximately $133,300 two-year bill that way. The next lowest salaries are $30,000 and $36,000 from Stanford and Berkeley Haas, respectively, the former for a general management tech job on the West Coast and the latter in operations at a consumer products firm, also on the West Coast. Two years at Stanford costs about $137,736; at Berkeley, $119,622.

For foreign students, the lowest starting base salary at a top-25 school was $36,000 out of Georgetown McDonough. That student used his or her MBA to secure a finance/accounting gig at a financial services firm overseas. The cost of two years at Georgetown is $112,800.

Poets&Quants also compiled data on low bonuses and “other” compensation, which generally ranges from $1,000 to $7,500 in both categories.

See the next pages for charts of top base salaries for U.S. and foreign students from the top 25 U.S. schools, as well as sign-on bonuses, and other compensation.

CORE METRICS OF THE U.S. NEWS TOP 25 SCHOOLS

School GMAT GPA Accept Rate Pay Jobs at Grad Jobs Later
  1. Harvard 731 3.71 9.9% $158,049 78.9% 89.3%
  1. Booth 730 3.61 23.5% $151,085 88.0% 95.3%
  3. Wharton 730 3.60 19.2% $159,815 82.3% 92.6%
  4. Stanford 737 3.74 5.7% $159,815 63.9% 87.6%
  5. MIT 722 3.57 11.6% $148,5451 84.2% 93.9%
  6. Kellogg 732 3.60 20.2% $146,259 81.6% 92.6%
  7. Haas 725 3.71 12.9% $146,752 66.3% 89.9%
  7. Michigan (Ross) 716 3.46 25.3% $150,052 89.7% 94.4%
  9. Columbia 727 3.60 14.0% $151,849 76.0% 89.9%
  10. Dartmouth (Tuck)  722 3.52 23.0% $152,805 80.2% 91.8%
  11. Duke (Fuqua) 702 3.50 22.4% $147,857 87.0% 92.6%
  11. Yale 727 3.67 17.4% $137,155 75.2% 90.5%
  13. NYU (Stern) 714 3.48 20.9% $146,024 79.1% 91.3%
  13. Virginia (Darden) 713 3.50 24.5% $153,576 83.4% 90.1%
  15. Cornell (Johnson) 700 3.36 29.9% $152,207 80.3% 90.9%
  16. UCLA (Anderson) 715 3.50 22.3% $141,197 74.4% 88.0%
  17. Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) 691 3.30 29.9% $145,463 81.1% 88.6%
  17. Texas-Austin (McCombs) 703 3.48 28.8% $139,406 81.5% 89.9%
  19. UNC (Kenan-Flagler) 701 3.38 37.2% $131,469 79.1% 90.8%
  20. Emory (Goizueta) 682 3.30 34.6% $143,410 84.6% 92.7%
  20. USC (Marshall) 703 3.48 29.1% $135,812 74.9% 93.6%
  22. Washington (Foster) 693 3.39 22.4% $143,674 85.2% 98.1%
  23. Rice (Jones) 711 3.34 27.2% $131,821 83.0% 94.0%
  23. Washington (Olin) 694 3.50 39.7% $125,420 72.0% 97.2%
  25. Georgetown (McDonough) 692 3.37 47.8% $130,588 68.3% 91.8%
Source: Schools reporting to U.S. News & World Report. Pay equals average salary and bonus for the Class of 2017. Job stats are for accepted offers, not offers, at graduation and three months later.