The Highest & Lowest Paid MBAs At The Top 25 Schools

Last year a student from the United States working in finance in the Northeast — probably New York City — pulled down a salary of $350,000 after graduating from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. One of his colleagues, an American working internationally, also reported a base salary of $350K.

Meanwhile, another U.S. student in the same Wharton class working in an unknown industry in an unknown region earned a sign-on bonus of … $40.

There are gaudy numbers and there are head-scratchers in the data trove reported to U.S. News & World Report and released as part of that publication’s annual ranking of MBA programs. But overall in 2018 and in key specific cases, the gaudy numbers are still very gaudy, even as base salaries and bonuses continue a gradual return to Earth from their stratospheric heights of two years ago.

Among all business schools in the Poets&Quants top 25, Wharton reported the highest base salary for a U.S. citizen — that Northeast-bound financier who scored a cool $350K — while Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business were close behind, each with a domestic $300K earner of their own. Columbia Business School boasted the highest starting salary for an international student at $308,000. In sign-on bonuses, Wharton again paced the pack for both U.S. ($250,000) and foreign nationals ($150,000). Big numbers — but not the biggest in memory. Just a few short years ago, someone in the HBS Class of 2016 secured a starting base salary of half a million dollars, while someone at Stanford reported a salary of $450,000.


The highest U.S. average salary was not at Wharton but at Stanford, where U.S. grads reported a base salary of $150,123. (Stanford was tops last year, too, at $144,455.) The highest average pay for international grads was at HBS: $136,194.

Once again, U.S. salaries outpace those of their international classmates, with the overall U.S. average of the 25 schools about $7,000 more than the average for foreign national grads: $127,603 to $120,589. Looking only at the top 10 schools, the U.S. was about $8,000 ahead: $135,620 to internationals’ $127,674.

It’s worth repeating that the highest paychecks after graduation usually go to MBAs who were already making high salaries before arriving on campus. These are the MBAs with years of experience in finance at hedge funds, private equity companies, and venture capital firms. And the highest salaries tend to be in the Northeast, where New York is, or the West Coast, where they keep Silicon Valley. At Wharton, for example, we see that one of the two U.S. citizen $350K earners went into finance internationally while the other went to the Northeast (New York, probably), also in finance; in all, 220 of the 633 job-seekers in the 2018 class went to work in the Northeast. That’s more than a third. At Stanford, meanwhile, the top salary, $300,000, went to a finance person who went to work in the West. In fact, 153 GSB grads stayed in the West for work, more than half of those known to be seeking work in that graduating class.


We haven’t said much about the lower-tier schools. For one thing, that’s a reflection of reality. How trustworthy the data is depends largely on each school’s reporting percentages, and the top schools tend to have higher percentages. But not always. The school with the highest percentage reporting salary numbers in 2018 was Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, No. 24 on the P&Q ranking, where 94.5% reported — 86 students out of 91 known to be looking for work. Close behind were No. 6 MIT Sloan (91.9%) and No. 8 UC-Berkeley Haas (90.8%). Stanford actually had the lowest percentage of salary reporters: 74.1%, or 218 grads out of 294 on the market.

We know why: Stanford is an entrepreneurial hotbed, where by far most of the country’s successful startups are launched. This inclination also affects the school’s percentage reporting bonuses, which is also the lowest among the top 25: 40.8%. On the flip side, the highest bonus reporting percentage could be found at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, at 82.0%, with the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business close behind at 79.7%.

In past years, U.S. News has reported “other” compensation — stock options, moving expenses, really anything used as an enticement to employment that isn’t money but can be given a monetary value. But those figures were absent this year’s batch of data, leaving us to rely on salary and bonus data even though in past some “other” comp has been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 2017, one Stanford grad reported “other” compensation of $450,000.


Besides highs and averages, U.S. News also reports lows. The lowest reported salary for a U.S. MBA in the Class of 2018 was at Harvard, where someone took a job for the base pay of $41,875. For an international student, the lowest base pay was reported by a Whartonite who was hired for $15,910; the job, categorized as both financial services and “other,” took him or her outside the U.S.

The lowest sign-on bonus for an international student was reported by a UCLA Anderson grad: $1,598. And then for a low bonus accepted by a U.S. student, we return to the question of the $40. Were they paid by check or two bills out of the boss’s wallet? We may never know.

Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business swept a host of interesting “lows”: lowest high U.S. salary ($150K), lowest average U.S. salary ($111,640), lowest high U.S. sign-on ($58,500), lowest high foreign salary ($145K), and lowest high foreign sign-on ($35K). The Hoosiers’ $99,108 average foreign salary, another low, was the only non-six-figure salary for any top-25 school in either the U.S. or foreign column.

Flipping the script, the highest low U.S. salary was at Dartmouth Tuck ($87K), though four schools — Northwestern Kellogg, USC Marshall, Michigan Ross, and NYU Stern — were close behind at $80K. USC claimed the highest low foreign salary: $90K. Emory Goizueta ($8K) had the highest low U.S. sign-on and Virginia Darden and Georgetown McDonough ($10K) shared the distinction of reporting the highest low foreign sign-on.

See the next pages for charts of the highest and lowest base salaries and sign-on bonuses for U.S. and international students from the top 25 U.S. schools. 

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