Wall Street Gets Its Finance MBAs From These Schools

Wall Street has always gotten most of its MBAs from a handful of elite schools. That didn’t change in 2019 — but the top school for finance MBAs by percentage of graduating class did.

Before the world of graduate business education dives headlong into the unknown of an autumn under the pall of coronavirus, Poets&Quants is taking a final look at the MBA Class of 2019 employment picture, beginning with last week’s analysis of tech employment and concluding next week with consulting. In this article we look at finance, an industry perhaps most impacted by the ongoing health crisis, and for which the as-yet-unreleased Class of 2020 data will be very interesting indeed. 

For as far back as anyone cares to look, two schools have vied for the distinction of top feeder of MBAs to the money factories of Wall Street. Finance-bound MBAs have always been likeliest to come from either The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania or Columbia Business School, even as both schools’ populations of finance grads shrank from the 50s to the high 30s over the last decade as consulting and tech began to bite into finance’s hold at the elite programs — even the ones in New York City. 

Wharton and CBS’s finance MBA output shrank again in 2019, to the mid-30s, while rising elsewhere. With 37% of its graduating class hiring into finance, up from 29% last year — a whopping one-year jump of more than 27% — Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management led all elite schools in Europe and the United States, including all of the top 25 schools as ranked by both Poets&Quants and U.S News. Wharton followed with 35.8% and Columbia was third with 34.3%.

Cornell did not boast the top median base salary for finance MBAs, however. Those bragging rights went to Stanford, which reported a salary of $170,000, the only school to eclipse the $150,000 threshold where 11 peer schools reside. (See all the data on the second and third pages of this story.)


It should not be a surprise to see Cornell at the top of the finance heap on the list of 34 U.S. and European schools whose employment reports were examined by Poets&Quants. Four years ago, about one third of their class (32%) went into finance, putting Cornell behind only Columbia, Chicago Booth School of Business, NYU Stern School of Business, and Wharton in the Wall Street pipeline. But by 2018 Stanford had nudged Cornell out of the top five, and Cornell’s big investment in tech made the Ithaca- and Roosevelt Island-based school’s direction seem clear. Now with a resurgence in finance at Cornell, that is no longer the case. In one year the Johnson School’s finance MBA ranks jumped from 29% of the graduating class to 37%, the second-biggest bounce for a top-25 U.S. school after Northwestern Kellogg School of Management, which grew its share of finance MBAs by 35%, from 13.7% to 18.5%.

Of course, in terms of actual numbers, the much larger graduating classes at Wharton (863) and Columbia (753) mean those schools still produce more finance MBAs — approximately 310 from Wharton and 258 from CBS. Cornell, by contrast a small program of fewer than 300 souls, had just over 100 finance grads last year.

After Cornell, Wharton, and Columbia, rounding out the top five finance feeders schools are Stanford (33%) and Chicago Booth (31.3%). These schools are the same you will find in the top five in salary, too: After Stanford, 23 schools provide median salary numbers, and nearly half of those report a base salary of $150,000, including Wharton, Harvard Business School, Chicago Booth, Columbia, Yale SOM, and others. Missing from this group: Cornell, which reports a median salary of $135,000. Five schools out of 34 reported a drop in salary. Three others reported no year-to-year change. 

Salaries rarely drop year-to-year for any type of MBA job, but the proportions of finance grads fluctuate a lot, sometimes wildly. The biggest jump in finance MBAs in 2019 occurred outside the top 25, at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, which grew its finance class by two-thirds, from 14.1% to 23.5%. Other big year-over-year increases after the aforementioned jumps at Northwestern Kellogg (35%) and Cornell (27.6%) came at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business, both of which reported 25% growth from 2018. Pacing the Europeans, London Business School increased its finance MBAs from 23% in 2018 to 26% last year.

And the biggest declines? USC Marshall School of Business (-37.5%), Emory Goizueta Business School (-31.6%), and Washington Olin Business School (-27.3%). NYU Stern lost 13% but it had room to spare, dropping from 33.8% to 29.4%.


The top 10 U.S. schools are, for the most part, the real feeders to the finance industry. The average at the 10 schools as ranked by P&Q is 26.5%, with Wharton and CBS leading the way and UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business bringing up the rear at 15%. That represents a jump from last year, when the top 10 produced an average finance class of just over 24%, much the same as four years ago, in the Class of 2016. 

Seven of the top 10 schools managed growth in their finance numbers from 2018 to 2019, at an average of 14.5%. In the year-over-year comparison last year, looking at 2017 to 2018, that growth average was 9.2%. Northwestern Kellogg’s 35% led all schools, but MIT Sloan School of Management’s 20.1% and Dartmouth Tuck’s 20% were noteworthy as well. 

So — the finance numbers are going up at the elite schools. What about the money? Of course that is going up, too! Every school in the top 10, with the exception of Stanford ($170K) and Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business ($145K), reports a median base salary of $150,000, making the overall median $151,500, an increase of 14.6% over last year’s $132,250. Top 10 finance MBA salaries have climbed 17% since 2016.

On the signing bonus front, the average median for nine of the 10 schools is $40,555, with Wharton, CBS, and Yale SOM all reporting $50,000 medians bonuses. (One school, Berkeley Haas, reports only an average — $29,369.) That’s a significant jump from last year’s average of eight schools ($36,806) and even the 2016 average ($39,078).

See the next pages for a detailed breakdown of MBA Class of 2019 hiring in finance and base salaries and bonuses.

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