Last year, after graduating from Columbia Business School, an MBA from the United States went to work in finance with a starting base salary of $375,000. Not counting bonuses or other compensation, that person was the single highest-paid MBA coming out of B-school in either 2018 or 2019 — a member of a class that years from now may be remembered as the last in some time to enjoy the semblance of a normal job search.
Not everyone made $300K coming out of B-school — in fact only a handful did — but for most Class of 2019 MBAs from the top 25 B-schools in the U.S., the job search went well. For others it went even better. One graduate from Duke University Fuqua School of Business pulled in $325,000 for a finance/accounting job in the West; a Harvard Business School MBA accepted a marketing/sales position in the energy industry in the Southwest for a starting salary of $315,000; and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management each reported at least one graduate with a high salary of $300,000. On the spectrum’s other end, someone graduating from HBS took a general management job in healthcare for $14,000; and a Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business MBA went to work in the Mid-Atlantic region for $15,000.
Overall, these were outliers. 2019 saw the total average salary for U.S. citizen graduates rise to $134,991 from $127,603, according to data from U.S. News & World Report and Poets&Quants, a one-year increase of 5.8%. For internationals — non-U.S. citizen, non-visa holders — the total average salary was not far behind, climbing from $120,589 to $127,156, a jump of 5.4%.
Sign-on bonuses rose, too, for both groups, though conversely they rose higher for foreign grads than domestic; both, however, averaged over $30,000. Including both foreign and domestic U.S. students, the average salary/bonus pay package at the top 25 was $157,076, up from $150,311 in 2018 — a 4.5% increase.
AMONG TOP SCHOOLS, CBS SEES BIGGEST Y-O-Y SALARY JUMP
The highest average starting salary for U.S. MBAs in the Class of 2019 was at Stanford GSB: $157,460. HBS ($151,271), Wharton ($149,348), the University of Chicago Booth School of Business ($143,950), and Columbia Business School ($142,268) followed. Wharton boasted the highest average salary for foreign grads, $142,289, trailed by CBS ($141,776), Stanford ($139,899), Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business ($135,184), and HBS ($134,272). The lowest average salary in the Poets&Quants top 25 was at Indiana University Kelley School of Business for U.S. MBAs ($116,805) and at the University of Washington Foster School of Business for internationals ($112,186).
Among the top 10 schools, the average salary for a U.S. MBA was $143,911, up from $135,586 in 2018, a 6.1% jump. For foreign MBAs, the picture was almost as rosy: $134,565, up from $127,799, a 5.3% increase. Columbia had the highest year-over-year increase in both U.S. and foreign MBA salary, 8.4% and 8.7%, respectively. All 10 schools saw increases in U.S. MBA salary from 2018 to 2019; however two schools, Harvard and Yale School of Management, saw declines in foreign MBA salary. The average increase on the U.S. side was $8,325 and 6.2%; on the international side, $8,816 and 6.9%
In the top 25, the University of Virginia Darden School of Business had the highest percentage of graduates reporting salaries, 94.3%, with Northwestern Kellogg (92.8%), Washington Foster (92%), and the University of Michigan Ross School of Business (90.1%) in order behind. The lowest percentage of salary reporters came at Columbia, with 70.2%.
AS SALARIES GROW, SO GROW SIGNING BONUSES
Only two schools had a higher foreign average salary: USC Marshall School of Business ($133,193 to $125,808) and UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School ($125,069 to $123,750). In sign-on bonuses, however, more than half of the schools — 13 — had a higher foreign average. In the top 25, the total average U.S. sign-on was $30,926, a few hundred dollars less than the average for the internationals: $31,370; in the elite top 10, the difference expanded slightly, with U.S. graduates getting an average bonus payment of $30,607 while their foreign peers were paid an average of $33,382.
As in salaries, Virginia Darden had the highest rate of bonus reporting: 84.9%. Stanford, producer of a high volume of entrepreneurs and grads who go to work for startups, had the lowest at 40.6%. The highest average sign-on was at USC Marshall for U.S. grads ($39,853) and Wharton for foreign grads ($40,618). The lowest? Indiana Kelley for domestic MBAs ($23,825) and Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business for internationals ($17,308).
And what about individual instances of crazy high or strangely low bonuses? A U.S. citizen graduating from Chicago Booth was paid a $300,000 bonus; a foreign-born MBA in the UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business Class of 2019 signed up for $250,000. At the other end, one MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management got $500 (Sloan doesn’t differentiate between U.S. and foreign MBAs in its report to U.S. News), while U.S. MBAs from both the Kelley School and NYU Stern School of Business grabbed $1,000. At Booth, one foreign MBA got $2,000.
A handful of low bonuses aside, it was, all in all, a good-to-great year for MBA pay. Will it be the last one for a few years? Many expect so.
See the next two pages for a complete breakdown of salary and bonus data at the top 25 schools in the Poets&Quants ranking.