Starting Salaries Up Almost 6% For Cornell Johnson’s 2020 MBAs

Cornell Johnson has released its employment report for the full-time, two-year MBA Class of 2020, showing a 6% increase in starting salaries over the Class of 2019. File photo

As we have seen at MBA programs across the United States, coronavirus had a definite impact on placement, if not so definite on pay, in 2020. At school after school, offers and acceptances at graduation and three months later — long the standard benchmarks — have shown a decline, usually only by a few points but unmistakable.

Not so when it comes to salaries. In fact, most top-25 schools have reported salary and bonus growth despite an unprecedentedly disruptive hiring season — and Cornell University, one of the last elite B-schools to release its MBA employment report, now joins the consensus. In one key metric, in fact, Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management leads most programs: year-over-year base salary growth, which Cornell reports was nearly 6% this year.

Cornell’s 2020 MBA class of 280 grads — 259 of whom were seeking jobs — saw only a slight dip in employment rates (more on that later) but a big jump in pay, to $138,767 from $131,150, which represented an even faster rate of growth than the 4% between 2018 and 2019. Bonuses were up, too, though more modestly, climbing 1.1% to $36,391 from $35,976, fueled by a big jump for non-U.S. work-authorized MBAs to $38,863. That’s more than $3,000 on average than the bonuses received by their U.S. work-authorized counterparts, who reported an average of $35,757. That latter figure represents a decline from last year of about 2%.

However, the big takeaway is that 92% of MBAs reported a signing bonus, which allows us to calculate that the average total compensation for Class of 2020 MBAs was $172,247 this year, up 6.5% from last year’s $161,730 — and up 12.5% from two years ago.

Source: Cornell Johnson


In 2019, by three months after graduation, 94% of Cornell MBAs had received job offers, same as 2018, and 93% had accepted them. This year, after 90 days 93% received offers while 90% accepted. Clearly then, coronavirus had a smaller impact on Johnson grads than seen at peer schools like Duke Fuqua and Carnegie Mellon Tepper.

“We were very pleased with our placement results for the class 2020, all things considered, with offers only down one point to 93% given that the pandemic arrived as just in time full time hiring was about to kick in,” says David Capaldi, Cornell Johnson’s executive director of career services. “I attribute this to our very strong internship conversion rate and the support from alumni and several faculty members. Outreach efforts to this group throughout the spring resulted in not just full time offers but internships and some short term projects. In addition to our strong placement results, average compensation increased 6% to $139,000.”

Consulting was the top destination for Cornell MBAs this year, at 34% of the Class of 2020, up from 28% in 2019. It was followed by finance (30%, down from 37%) and technology (16%, up from 15%). led In 2019, top salaries for Cornell MBAs were in consulting ($142,019) and finance ($131,693), followed by tech ($126,029); in 2020, much the same dynamic played out, with consulting leading at an average of $154,608, followed by finance ($139,752) and tech ($128,656), though the 1% of the class who went to work in legal careers reported an average base salary of nearly $200K.


*Healthcare includes: Medical Services and Pharmaceuticals
**Non-Profit/Other includes: Entertainment/Media, Hospitality/Tourism, Retail, and Transportation/Logistics


“In terms of placement, Johnson has a reputation for strong finance placement and that continued in 2020,” Capaldi tells Poets&Quants. “However, we have seen real momentum in consulting which grew to 30% last year, as well as growth in tech sector.”

The expected explosion in tech interest at Cornell never quite materialized, but tech companies continue to be among the top employers of Cornell MBAs. Amazon and Google are among the top 15 companies that hired Cornell Johnson Class of 2020 graduates for full-time positions — but consulting dominates the list, including Bain & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Accenture, McKinsey and Company, Deloitte, and others. In total, 233 companies recruited two-year Cornell MBAs for either full-time employment or internships during the 2019–2020 academic year.

Traditionally, the vast majority of Cornell MBAs find work in the region where they studied: the Northeast, presumably mostly New York City. That was true in 2019, when 53% went to work there, and it’s true in 2020 as well, as half the class — 50% — found jobs there. But that’s not where the most money is. Northeastern Cornell MBAs made an average base salary of $144,565, up from $135,667 last year, higher than the overall salary average but lower than those who relocate to the Mid-Atlantic — presumably the Washington-Philadelphia corridor. Though only 5% of Cornell MBAs make that move, they average $148,300 to start. Another 15% of 2020 Cornell MBAs moved to the West, up from 11% in 2019, which includes the West Coast, to make an average of $135,158, down slightly from $135,492; while 11% moved to the Midwest (think Chicago) to make an average of $131,087, down from $134,496.


On the internship front, Cornell’s two-year MBA Class of 2021 saw a 1% increase in average monthly salary compared to students in the Class of 2020 who interned. Students in the Class of 2021 who were not U.S. work-authorized reported an average base salary of $9,224.

Forecasting next January’s jobs report, Johnson’s strengths in investment banking and consulting continue to pay off with the two highest average monthly salaries paid to Class of 2021 interns. The 38% of students who interned in financial services reported an average monthly salary of $10,900, eclipsed only by the 21% in consulting internships, who reported an average of $11,608. By function, the highest-paid interns were in investment banking ($11,939 average per month) and consulting ($11,090).

Tech interns comprised 19% of the Class of 2021; they made an average monthly salary of $7,854.

Nearly all the internships were remote, of course, but the majority of students — over half — interned for companies based in the Northeast region of the U.S. That’s also where the highest pay was found, with a monthly salary average of $10,180.

See all the internship data in Cornell Johnson’s employment report here.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.