Like thousands of other top MBA candidates, this 28-year-consultant has been working toward the completion of his applications to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, and MIT Sloan to meet the round two deadlines this month. But he’s having second thoughts. Though on the young side for an Executive MBA program, he is now seriously considering a part-time experience in an exec program where the average age of a new student is 35.
For this aspiring MBA candidate, the ROI numbers just don’t add up. This young professional, who asked for anonymity, works in technology for a financial company in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Going into a full-time MBA program would mean the loss of two years of experience in the fast-moving tech field and nearly $300,000 of compensation and benefits. “It makes even top 10 full-time programs a hard sell,” he believes.
“Over the last week I have been leaning towards not submitting the full-time applications,” he tells Poets&Quants. “Why would someone in my situation go full-time? It doesn’t make sense to hassle my recommendation writers or pay $1000 in application fees just to potentially get an admission that I wouldn’t accept.”
‘THE NUMBERS JUST DON’T ADD UP’
He has already been admitted to the Executive MBA program at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and since his acceptance in that program, his doubts over the full-time option have only increased. “Once I received the Darden decision, I really started doing the comparison and asking myself whether the EMBA program would be my final choice anyway, even if I got into the other programs. Now, when I look at the numbers for the full-time programs while I prepare my applications, they just don’t add up.”
The numbers, in fact, are quite revealing. Graduates of Darden’s Executive MBA program in 2019 who chose to stay with their employers reported that their compensation rose by 45% over pre-EMBA levels. For the career switchers in the EMBA program, there was an average salary increase of 76%. Those increases compare favorably to the MBA bumps experienced by graduates of Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and MIT Sloan, the same schools to which this consultant had been planning to apply.
In fact, career switchers at every one of those schools didn’t do as nearly as well as Darden’s last EMBA class of grads who used the degree to transition into a new field. Getting reliable pre-MBA numbers is often difficult because schools do not release this data. However, The Economist collects pre-MBA salaries from alumni surveys for its annual rankings of MBA programs (see below).
THE SALARY INCREASES ALONE AT TOP MBA PROGRAMS AREN’T AS GOOD AS THEY ARE FOR DARDEN EMBAS
The latest data shows that the average pre-MBA pay for a Harvard Business School student has now reached a record $108,303, while the post-MBA salary is just $139,339, resulting in a rather puny 29% gain in salary. And that is after students walked away from those six-figure jobs, lost their income for 21 months and paid some hefty tuition bills to boot. Sure, HBS gives out wads of scholarship money but only half of the students get any of it so you can’t assume your tuition will be offset by help from the school. And if you have to borrow money to pay for your MBA, you also have to count those interest charges on the loans.
While the HBS numbers on salary (don’t forget many MBA grads do receive sign-on bonuses and guaranteed first-year compensation bonuses) are abysmal, they aren’t all that much better at the other schools under consideration by this young professional. The immediate MIT Sloan salary increase is 46%, while the increases at Wharton and Stanford are 59% and 58%, respectively. All of them are well below the 76% jump for Darden career switchers out of its Executive MBA program in Washington, D.C., and those graduates did not forgo their jobs, salaries, and health benefits.
The substantial increase reported by Darden EMBA grads is unusual, owing partly to a hot economy in the D.C. metro market, a tight labor market, and the quality of the students Darden has been able to attract to its program. Graduates of EMBA programs overall report just a 14.6% rise in pay.
Of course, an ROI on an MBA degree can’t be fully calculated on pre- and post-MBA salaries alone. But this consultant has plenty of reasons not to hit the send button on his applications to Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, and MIT Sloan.