What MBAs Earn By Occupation: A Look At Top 50 Business Schools

“This had better be worth it?”

That’s the 2:00 a.m. refrain of every first-year MBA student taking the core course in managerial statistics. Forget intuition – this is hard core, mind-numbing math that requires synthesizing complex and contradictory data. Why endure it? Well, there’s the big days – the payoffs – that make all the stress and sacrifice worth it. It’s the important know-how that leads to job offers, the graduation ceremony, and that first paycheck that remind you why you did it. You may have missed out a few times, but now you’re ready to cash in.

Question is, how much are you worth?


That depends. Industry pay varies a bit, as do company packages. The real difference comes when you look at pay by school – particularly base pay. Take consulting. In this field, the highest base was generally conferred to graduates of the highest-ranking programs. Topping the list was the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Here, Class of 2017 MBAs reported a median base of $142,793. On one hand, that’s within range of Chicago Booth, Wharton, Northwestern Kellogg and Dartmouth Tuck graduates, who all made $139,000 or more in base starting out. Of course, Stanford pay is also $7,000 more than rival Harvard Business School – and over $8,000 more than nearby Berkeley Haas. In other words, Stanford consultants are either landing better packages – or their hiring is concentrated within higher-paying and more prestigious firms.

Darden alumni kicking back in front of their alma mater.

Ranking doesn’t necessarily dictate pay, however. Returning to consulting, 13th-ranked Virginia Darden grads made off with $140,839 in base, better than 10 programs either placed above or tied with them. By the same token, Emory Goizueta’s $136,035 haul bests 10 programs that ranked above them by U.S. News. More impressive yet, consulting hires from the University of Tennessee’s Haslam School of Business, which ties for 44th overall, raked in $133,400 in 2017 – higher than East Coast stalwarts like Yale SOM or NYU Stern. Rocky Top’s performance was hardly an anomaly, with the highest-paid Haslam consulting grad making just $140,000 – making pay relatively consistent across the board. While a lucky Stanford GSB grad earned the highest individual base at $228,000, you’ll also find a Vanderbilt Owen star who snapped up $208,000 to start.

Bottom line: MBAs command wiggle room to negotiate, whether you’ve earned your degree from Sloan or Smeal. That’s why, each year, P&Q provides a frame of reference for prospective MBAs to evaluate what they can expect to earn – at least in terms of base pay. Supplied with the low, average, and high averages, readers can identify pay trends within their occupation or MBA program.


Average pay is a case in point. Just compare data between the Class of 2017 and 2015 in consulting. At Stanford GSB, consulting pay jumped by $14,515 over the past two years. And the numbers were nearly impressive at top flight programs like Wharton (+$9,131), Chicago Booth (+$8,228), Northwestern Kellogg (+$7,204), and Harvard Business School (+6,367). In fact, 2017 grads from 17 Top 50 program experienced $6K or better increases in starting consulting base over the past two years.

This year, P&Q evaluated median base pay in six categories from the Top 50 American MBA programs according to U.S. News & World Report. Using data supplied by the business schools, we built side-by-side pay comparisons in marketing, operations, general management, finance, consulting, and other programs (a catch-all that can include health care, human resources, and MIS…and even  operations or general management depending on the program).

Why focus on just base? For one, U.S. News didn’t collect data for bonus and additional compensation by function – just a total median bonus in that area (which is included in the Overall Pay link). Mind you, this data resides in annual employment reports…but it comes with a caveat. Some schools, such as Berkeley Haas, only report this data in mean form. Others, such as Wharton, slice up large functions. At Wharton, for example, finance is broken into smaller independent categories investment banking, corporate finance, investment management, and private equity. As a result, it doesn’t offer a clean, dollar-for-dollar comparison like base pay, which is calculated the same way. The same principle applies to the ever-nebulous “Other Compensation” – which can range from stock options to travel reimbursement – a number that has traditionally been enjoyed by a far smaller percentage of graduates.


Base pay isn’t a perfect barometer. For one, pay data isn’t adjusted by regional cost of living – a number that would involve altering data for each student at each school. In addition, the pay totals are subject to fluctuation based on the size of the sample. For example, in marketing, the University of Florida Warrington’s 2017 class actually pulled down higher base pay than an urban Ivy like Columbia Business School, to the tune of a $112,167-to-$109,559 margin. At the same time, the number of Columbia marketing students reporting their starting pay topped their Warrington peers by a 42-to-6 margin. In other words, smaller program pay data is more subject to fluctuations stirred by one or two paychecks outside the norm.

Overall, finance yielded the highest paychecks for the Class of 2017, with Stanford grads making $161,097. That doesn’t include bonus, which came to a $50,000 median each at Stanford GSB, Wharton, and Northwestern Kellogg. In fact, finance grad at a dozen programs came away with a starting base of $120K or more. If you’re seeking guaranteed pay – not a one-time signing bonus or run-yourself-into-the-ground incentives, consulting is the place to be. Here, 29 schools graduating consulting students who made a median base of $120K or better in their first year.

Looking for growth? At 12 MBA programs, operations grads enjoyed a pay increase of $10K or more since 2015 – an improvement bigger than finance and consulting combined. Overall, the largest bases were doled out to finance majors, with graduates at Wharton, Harvard, and Berkeley Haas each claiming $300K salaries.

To see salary information on high, low, and average median pay for the 50 highest-ranked American MBA programs in the most popular industries, click on the links below.

Overall Pay



General Management



Other Occupations





Editor’s Note: Class of 2018 pay data will begin to trickle out during the fall. 

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