Salaries Up Overall, But UNC’s International MBAs Struggle

MBA students leaving McColl Hall

One of the first things to check when a new employment report is released by a top business school is salaries. Are they up from last year? By how much? And if they are not up, or only up by a little, why? After examining the so-called bottom line, you move on to which industries were most popular, where MBAs went to work, and so forth, looking for departures from previous years.

In 2020, the conjecture about MBA employment is uncomplicated: Whatever the ailment, coronavirus is likely the culprit. And that holds true in the latest report from a top-20 B-school. At North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School in 2020, salaries were not the problem. The problem was jobs — specifically, jobs for foreign students without permanent work authorization in the U.S.

International students typically lag behind their domestic U.S. colleagues, for non-mysterious reasons. But at UNC this year, “lag” doesn’t quite capture the dramatic drop-off: While 86% of Kenan-Flagler MBAs overall received job offers after three months, and 85% accepted, only 72% of international students had offers or accepted them 90 days after graduating. That’s down 9 percentage points from last year — and more than 20 points from 2018, when 94% of foreign MBAs had offers three months after leaving Chapel Hill and 93% had jobs.

Blame coronavirus? Sure. But blame a confluence of other negative factors too, Tammy Samuels says.

“Despite our best efforts to support international students,” says Samuels, Kenan-Flagler’s executive director of career and leadership for MBA programs, “we did have a decline of 9% this year in accepted offers, with 72% for 2020 from 81% in 2019. It’s important to note we had 59 international students in 2020 compared to 71 in 2019. In addition to the global pandemic, economic uncertainty, immigration regulations, racial injustices, social division, and a tumultuous election year adversely impacted the vast majority of international students.”


Tammy Samuels

As Tammy Samuels points out, that all-important first item in the employment report was good news for UNC MBAs: Salaries ticked upward from 2019, to an average of $126,957 from $123,980, about 2.4%. However, between 2018 and 2019 UNC’s MBA base salaries grew 6.4%. Median salary for UNC’s 280 graduates was flat in 2020 at $125K, as were signing bonuses, which rose $3 to $29,588 from $29,585. Median bonus, however, grew to $26K from $25K.

Tech (18% of the Class of 2020), which had been the top industry for UNC MBAs since 2017, slipped behind finance (19%) this year. Consulting was again third at 16%. Consulting-bound UNC grads reported the highest median salaries, at $160,000, followed by finance ($150K) and tech ($130K). The consulting median represents a $20K jump in one year.

Geographically, most of UNC’s MBA Class of 2020 stayed in the South, with the Northeast and West a distant second and third — unchanged from previous years. More than a third of the class (37%) found work in the South, up from 29% four years ago, while 18% went to the Northeast — New York, Boston — and 16% went to California or Washington or other points west. The latter group made the most, at a median of $140K.

Even as job offers and acceptances declined a few points overall and dramatically for internationals, they were stable for domestic students, another positive in a coronavirus-plagued season.

“The Class of 2020 could not have anticipated the jolt we all would encounter in March — a global pandemic, gravely impacting our nation,” Samuels tells Poets&Quants. “Our final full-time job offers for three-month post-graduation showed a slight decrease of 2 points, with our final number at 86% from 88%, due in large part to the resilience, determination and commitment of the UNC Kenan-Flagler community. We saw an increase in the mean base salary from $124K to $127K — notable because our mean base has increased by over $10k since 2018. Interestingly, the percentage of our domestic students accepting offers remained flat year-over-year at 89%.”


Healthcare and real estate, two areas where UNC is a global leader, remained strong, with healthcare growing to 13% of the class with a median salary of $119,500, up from $115K, and real estate remaining in double digits — one of the few elite B-schools where that is the case — at 11%.

Internships — which have been the canary in the coal mine for B-schools this year as employers were far more likely to rescind or scale back their summer hires — were strong for UNC this year, too, Samuels says. “As far as our internship stats for the Class of 2021, our percentages remained strong for year-over-year and we saw a slight increase of .4% from 99.2% in 2019 to 99.6% in 2020 for accepted internship offers,” she says, adding that the top industries for internships were financial services, healthcare, technology, and real estate.

While Covid-19 certainly impacted overall numbers this year, Samuels and her careers team were pleased with the final results. Alumni and the rest of the school community deserve the credit for acting fast when the crisis hit in March, she says.

“The MBA Career & Leadership team successfully engaged with the UNC Kenan-Flagler community — including campus partners, parents, and alumni — to help our students secure internships and full-time job opportunities,” she says. “Through a collaborative effort with the career teams for our Master of Accounting Program and Undergraduate Business Program, and the Advancement Office, we sought the support and assistance of our Board of Advisors and Parents Council. Their response was wonderful and we believe our concerted effort had a positive impact on our final numbers.

“In addition, many other alumni and staff posted on their individual LinkedIn pages to offer assistance even if they didn’t have jobs to offer. UNC Kenan-Flagler alumni are passionate about helping the school and they offered to network, answer questions, and make connections. Many alumni recall the tough job market from the financial crisis of 2008 and, unsolicited, offered support and words of encouragement.”

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