12 Charts That Explain Why So Many Want A Harvard MBA

Harvard MBAs always have cause to celebrate when they graduate

Every picture tells a story. So does every chart.

These 12 charts offer a seductive look at the most immediate rewards of a Harvard Business School MBA degree over the past five years. The stories they tell will illuminate why the school attracts more applicants than any other in the world.

Some of the stories are quite surprising. Did you know, for example, that nearly one out of every four Harvard MBA grads never look for a job? Or that one industry–which claimed 18% of the graduates in Harvard’s MBA Class of 2020–handed out first-year compensation to Harvard MBAs of more than $300,000 twice in the past five years? Or did you know that the early employment report understated the income earned by the school’s MBAs, largely because it captures fewer of the graduates, and that the latter updates provide a better picture of just how much money Harvard MBAs make? There’s more, much more, information in the charts below.

It’s worth remembering that HBS grads, as lucratively paid as they are, still are not the highest paid MBAs in the world. That title tends to belong to the graduates of the school’s West Coast rival, Stanford Graduate School of Business. But the facts and figures behind the hiring trends in the past five years at Harvard are a proxy of sorts for the rewards MBAs from any of the top business schools receive upon graduation.

Sure, it costs a lot of money to get an MBA degree from Harvard or any other top business school. Besides giving up nearly two years of pay to attend school, the tuition is high and so are the fees and the living expenses. But so are the rewards that you will see in the very first year once you graduate. Last year's Class of 2020, graduating in the midst of a pandemic, saw total median first-year compensation hit $193,200 in base salary, signing bonus and expected first year performance bonus. That number, by the way, is nearly $20,000 higher than what Harvard first disclosed when it published the initial employment report for last year's class. The reason: More graduates responded after the deadline for reporting on their employment status and those additional data points have since been included into the stats for the class.

While class median pay is a good indication of the short-term rewards of the degree, it's even more interesting to look at which Harvard MBAs make the most money in the first year. Hands down, it's those lucky enough to land jobs in private equity. At Harvard, a record 18% went into the field in 2020. That's up  from 11% back in 2016. The chart explains why so many people want to work in PE. The median total first year comp was $297,500. And yet, that was considerably down from the year-earlier figure of $322,100 in 2019. In fact, PE is the only industry employer of Harvard MBAs where hires have broken through the $300K mark twice in the past five years.

It's no secret that the industry you enter as an MBA will largely determine how much money you make. If you were lucky enough to land a job in PE or investment banking last year, you would be at the top of the heap. But if you chose to use your MBA to work in either the nonprofit world or in the government, you would find yourself among the least rewarded in your first year--at least when it comes to your actual bank account. Whether the psychic income makes up the difference is your decision, but nonprofit jobs pay less than a third of what a PE job will pay in the first year for the Class of 2020.

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