2020 was a wild and disruptive year for many reasons. But through it all, MBA salaries and bonuses kept climbing.
For the most part.
The overall employment picture for MBAs graduating from the top U.S. business schools in the coronavirus year of 2020 was perhaps best summed up by Abby Scott, assistant dean for career management and corporate partnerships at the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley. “I wouldn’t say that it was the toughest year,” Scott told Poets&Quants in November, “mostly because there was still a lot of optimism and it felt because this was kind of an economic shock rather than the true economic downturn that I think we’ve seen in previous recessions and years. It felt like things were going to be OK.
“And that proved to be true. Companies were able to invest in our grads, and in many cases, we didn’t have a lot of people’s full-time offers rescinded.”
TOP SCHOOL FOR BASE SALARY: STANFORD GSB
Scott’s view was widely held across the top-25 MBA programs. In short, while job opportunities were somewhat diminished across the board — see placement details on page 2 of this story — and while the odds may be against any future mega-rich captains of industry being among them — an MBA from one of the top programs continued to be a lucrative investment, even in a wild and unpredictable 2020.
Leading the way in starting base salary once again: Stanford Graduate School of Business, where graduating MBAs reported an overall average $159,544 to start their new jobs. Stanford was trailed by five schools that report only median salaries, and which are all tied at $150,000: the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard Business School, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, MIT Sloan School of Management, and Columbia Business School; and another median salary-reporting school in Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, at $144,000. But in average salary, Stanford was followed by Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business ($143,867), NYU Stern School of Business ($143,858), the University of Virginia Darden School of Business ($139,945), and, rounding out the top five, Berkeley Haas ($139,122). Overall, two schools that report medians — Wharton and Columbia — saw no growth in MBA salary in 2020, but all 23 others saw increases, of a little or a lot. See page 3 for details on overall salary averages.
What do the numbers look like at the top 10 schools? Glad you asked! Below is a breakdown of the salary data for U.S. and international MBAs at the top 10, showing how just one school — Stanford — had a greater pace of salary growth in 2020 for domestic grads, while three schools saw improvements in pay rate for foreign MBAs.
A SLOWER RATE OF SALARY INCREASE IN 2020
Inside and outside the top 10, MBA salaries tend to rise faster for U.S. citizens who graduate from U.S. B-schools, something the data reinforces every year. In this way, 2020 was no different. Only five schools in 26 reported a higher foreign than U.S. average salary: Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management, UNC Kenan-Flagler, Indiana Kelley School of Business, and Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business. But the gap may be narrowing: Last year for this story, there were only two schools with higher international MBA salary averages. (See page 4 for the data.)
Stanford boasts the highest U.S. salary average, at $168,475, up 7% from the previous year, when it Stanford also had the highest U.S. MBA salary. GSB was followed by HBS ($155,061), Chicago Booth ($149,454), Columbia ($146,375), and Tuck ($146,192). Columbia, meanwhile, reported the highest foreign MBA salary, at $146,244. That's an increase of 3.2% on CBS's mark last year, when it was second to Wharton (we don't know Wharton's or MIT Sloan's data this year because they declined to participate in U.S. News' ranking). CBS was followed on the foreign MBA salary list by Booth ($143,959), HBS ($141,974), Cornell ($139,044), and Stern ($139,024).
In total, the average U.S. MBA salary in 2020 was $137,888, up 2.1% from 2019. The average international MBA salary was $131,709, up 3.6%. In the top 10, the U.S. MBA salary average is $149,065, up 3.6% from $143,911 in 2019, and up about 10% since 2018. In foreign MBA salary, the top 10 schools average $138,532, up 3% from $134,565 and up 8.5% in two years.
MBA BONUSES: INTERNATIONALS LEAD THE WAY
As far as trends go, MBA bonuses and salaries at the leading U.S. schools are dissimilar in one major way: Foreign MBAs tend to do much better on the bonus front.
The number of schools with higher foreign than U.S. average sign-ons is 19 of 26. That number grew from 13 schools last year. Five schools reported $40K or more foreign sign-on average, up from one school last year; zero schools had such lofty numbers to report for their U.S. graduates, in either 2019 or 2020. Nor are the specific numbers less gaudy for the foreign MBAs graduating from the leading programs: While the highest average signing bonus for a U.S. MBA was NYU Stern's $37,077, Georgetown McDonough's foreign MBA average was $44,548. Stanford GSB boasts the highest individual foreign MBA bonus: $175,000. See page 5 for details.
Overall, the average U.S. sign-on bonus for the 24 schools for which we have data is $31,635, up 2.3% from last year's $30,926. The overall average for international MBAs at the 24 schools was $35,168, up 12.1% from $31,370. In the top 10, U.S. MBAs average $32,720, up about 7%; foreign MBAs average $36,307, up 8.8%.
Visit the next pages for all the data on pay and placement at the top business schools in the United States.
AND DON'T MISS OUR COVERAGE OF EMPLOYMENT AT THE TOP B-SCHOOLS: