What MBAs Earn By Industry: Here’s How Much You’re Worth

‘If you don’t know your worth, someone will calculate it for you.’

‘You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate’

You’ll find these sayings scattered across any Holiday Inn negotiation seminar. They are a reminder to know your worth as much as what’s fair and realistic. That’s because there is sometimes a gap between market value and the going rate. To get the best deal possible, you need to find where you stand so you know the wiggle room.


Negotiating compensation can be particularly awkward process. Ask for too much and you’ll be pegged as pompous. Ask for too little and you’ll be exposed as timid. Hold firm and you’re inflexible. Cave in and you’re hapless. Of course, talent shortages have given candidates added leverage in the process. You won’t find many employers huffing-and-puffing, making last-and-final and take-it-or-leave-it offers these days. Make no mistake: starting out, they won’t be laying their best offer on table, either.

That makes a difference for MBAs. Sure, you won’t see much give-and-take with MBB firms, bulge brackets, or tech blue chips. Such firms make up a fraction of employers. At Harvard Business School, for example, such firms accounted for less than a quarter of 2020 grads. For the most part, MBA grads will end up in middle markets, boutiques, second-tiers, and startups — the types of places where talent is a differentiator and everything is negotiable.

How negotiable? Let’s start by school and industry. Each year, U.S. News & World Report collects school-by-school base pay by industry, which includes marketing, consulting, finance, and general management. Think of it as a starting point that provides pay ranges. Obviously, the data doesn’t cover popular inducements such as stock options, reimbursements, and 401K terms. For this exercise, P&Q also excluded one-time signing bonuses, which topped out at an average of $37,892 (NYU) and individually at $250,000 (North Carolina Kenan-Flagler). Instead, P&Q focused on base pay for 2020 graduates: high, average, and low pay.

Stanford GSB MBA students gathered together


How does industry starting pay impact MBA graduates? Take Marketing, where 44 Stanford GSB grads averaged $148,273 in base to start. Factoring in a conservative 5% annual raise, these students can expect to gross $819,303 in base alone over their first five years out of business school. Compare that to Northwestern’s Kellogg School, where 40 grads averaged $123,025. Using the same formula, Kellogg can expect to pull in $679,789 over that same period — or $139,514 less than Stanford GSB grads. And the gap only grows larger over time.

Don’t assume Stanford GSB marketing grads will always top their rivals, however. After all, the highest marketing base salary — $312,000 — went to a Yale SOM grad. What’s more, there were 24 business schools that had one or more 2020 marketing grads earn more than Stanford’s $148,273 average base. That list includes students at programs like Boston University (Questrom), University of Rochester (Simon), Texas A&M (Mays), and the University of California-Davis.

Translation: those graduates knew what they wanted and what they were worth. Chances are, they wouldn’t settle for anything less.

Alas, pay isn’t the only factor when MBAs choose employers. Location, growth trajectory, and exit prospects also play a part. Admittedly, industry pay is a flawed metric, one dogged by regional pay scales, employer differences, and hiring rates. Taken as a whole, industry pay data is a puzzle piece that enables MBAs to earn more out of the gate and maximize their business school investment long-term. How much are graduates earning on average at your target business schools in various industries? What are the pay ceilings for the top performers? And how do schools compare to each other when it comes to starting base pay? Click on the links below to see high, average, and low pay by industry and school — and how it has changed over the past five years.










Editor’s Note:

Class of 2021 pay data will begin to trickle out during the fall. 

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