At Columbia, Consulting Overtakes Finance As The No. 1 Career Choice

Columbia Business School graduation (Photo courtesy of CBS)

For the first time ever, more Columbia Business School MBAs accepted jobs in consulting than finance this year. Just over a third of the Class of 2018, exactly 33.6%, landed positions with consulting firms, while 32.2% took jobs in financial services.

For a school long known as a pipeline to Wall Street, Columbia has been reporting a steady decline in finance as an MBA career choice since the Great Recession. Only seven years ago, in 2011, 50.3% of Columbia MBAs headed into financial services. Just 22.3% took jobs in consulting. But this year, consulting became the number one job destination for CBS grads.

Seven of the top ten employers at Columbia this year were consulting firms, with McKinsey & Co. leading all hirers in employing 55 CBS grads. Bain (22), Boston Consulting Group (21), Deloitte Consulting (17), PwC Strategy& (12), A.T. Kearney (9), and KPMG (9) were all among the top ten. The only firms to break up the consulting party at the top was Amazon, which hired 18 Columbia MBAs this year, Goldman Sachs (16), and J.P. Morgan (9) (see the full list of major employers at CBS over the years).

TOTAL MEDIAN COMPENSATION UP 5.7% TO $155,248 — JUST $5K UNDER HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL

Despite the shift away from the highly lucrative financial sector, it was a banner year for pay at the school. MBAs reported median base salaries of $130,000, up $5K this year, median signing bonuses of $30,000, up from $25,500 a year earlier, and median other guaranteed comp of $28,500, up from $25,000. Signing bonuses were reported by 66.3% of the class, while other guaranteed was reported by 18.8% of the graduates.

All together, adjusted for the percentage of students reporting bonuses and extra comp, the total median compensation this year was a hefty $155,248—just $5K under Harvard Business School’s $160,268 total this year (see Harvard MBAs Now Landing Starting Pay Over $160K). This year’s Columbia total pay number compares with $146,879 last year (see table below).

More schools are refraining from reporting other guaranteed compensation this year due to newly adopted reporting standards, though those guidelines do not prevent schools from revealing more compensation detail. Not surprisingly, schools where first-year guarantees reflect more favorably on their pay outcomes are more likely to report such information. That is especially true of schools that send significant numbers of students into finance where other guaranteed pay is a more prominent feature of a first-year starting package.

HIGHEST STARTING SALARY LANDED BY AN MBA IN PRIVATE EQUITY: $308,000

At Columbia, for example, more than half the MBAs going into finance report these extras. In investment banking and brokerage, 84.5% of the students report getting other guaranteed comp, with a median value of $50,000, a substanial boost to the median salary of $125,000. In fact, one MBA student expected other guaranteed comp of $215,624 in management consulting.

Even so, these are still conservative estimates of the full value of first-year compensation because they exclude tuition and relocation reimbursements, carry, and non-guaranteed performance bonuses. Nonetheless, even excluding the extras, the median salary and signing bonus at Columbia this year rose an impressive 5.7% to $149,890, up from $141,754 last year.

The highest reported MBA starting salary this year was $308,000 landed by a graduate in private equity, followed by a classmate who was given a starting salary of $233,500 in consulting and another MBA who got a $200,000 salary in tech at an internet services or e-commerce firm.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.