Harvard MBAs Now Landing Starting Pay Over $160K

Graduation at Harvard Business School brings highly lucrative jobs

Sure, the upper echelon MBA programs aren’t cheap. When you tote up your forgone earnings from quitting job, the all-in cost of an MBA can approach a quarter of a million dollars. But as today’s employment report from the Harvard Business School clearly shows, the rewards are just as stupendous as the costs.

This year’s graduating class of Harvard MBAs pulled down a record $160,268 in total first-year compensation. That starting sum, adjusted for the percentage of MBA graduates reporting sign-on bonuses and other guaranteed first-year compensation, represents a 3.6% improvement on the year-earlier total of $154,750.

The pay boost occurred largely because of a $5,000 jump in median base salaries to $140,000 this year, from $135,000 a year earlier, as well as an increase in both the size and number of students who reported getting other guaranteed compensation. Some 65% of Harvard’s graduating class this year earned median sign-on bonuses of $25,000, while 14% reported median guaranteed first-year comp of $28,700, up from the 13% getting $25,000 a year earlier.


And depending on the career path chosen by a newly minted Harvard MBA, the rewards could be even far more lucrative than the new record sum. For the lucky 6% of the graduating MBAs who landed jobs with hedge funds in investment management, for example, total median compensation reached $211,050 with media base salaries of $150,000 to start, median sign-on bonuses of $35,000, received by 33% of the students, and whopping other guaranteed first-year comp of $150,000, reported by a third of the grads. The record $211,050 exceeds last year’s total of $193,827 by 8.9%.

One in four members of the Class of 2020 accepted jobs in consulting where the pay also was well above the class median. Total median compensation for consultants was $175,800, a tidy sum fueled by $150K starting salaries, $25,000 signing bonuses, received by 94% of the MBAs, and $28,750 in other guaranteed comp, reported by 8% of the students who went into consulting. The consulting total beats last year’s $174,600.

The publication of Harvard business School’s annual employment report is one of the bellwether moments in the MBA world, given the prestige and immediate status of the school’s MBAs. The record numbers this year are pretty much in line with what other business schools, including Chicago Booth, Wharton and Michigan Ross, have been reporting thus far.


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 2018 employment report. Last year the average total compensation at Stanford was an unprecedented $180,284 (see Stanford MBA Pay In One Word: Wow!). MBAs at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business this year made an estimated $149,750, up 3.5% from the year earlier total of $144,750 (see Record Total Pay At Booth This Year).

The HBS numbers—reported as medians not averages–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 including performance bonuses, profit sharing, or 401K matching plans.

As is typical with MBA pay, the highest salaries went to graduates who stayed in the U.S. The median total compensation for students landing U.S. jobs came to $162,650 versus $140,099 in Europe and $135,750 in Asia. The median base salary in the U.S. was $142,000, compared to $125,000 in both Europe and Asia (see table on Harvard MBA pay by hiring region).

The school said that 95% of its graduates had job offers within three months of graduation, with 89% of the MBAs accepting their offers. Those numbers exactly match last year’s job placement stats. 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.


While several other schools, most notably Wharton and Booth, have reported placing more MBA students in financial services this year, Harvard’s graduating class sent fewer of its MBAs into the financial sector. Some 29% of the class headed into finance this year, down two percentage points from a year ago. Meantime, consulting was up by two percentage points, taking 25% of the entire class.

Among the financial service-bound crowd, Harvard said that 15% took jobs at firms specializing in venture capital, private equity and leveraged buyouts, down from 18% a year ago. Investment banking, sales and trading hired 6% of the class, up a percent from 2017. Investment management firms and hedge funds took 6%, unchanged from last year, while other financial service firms took the remaining 2%, up from 1%.

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