The Bounce-Back Year: Record Pay & Placement In Darden’s MBA Class Of 2021

Virginia Darden’s full-time MBA Class of 2021 reported historic highs in salaries and bonuses, as well as percent employed by graduation. Darden photo

MBA employment report season is upon us — earlier than last year, when business schools were less eager to trumpet their customarily gaudy salary figures. Last week, Chicago Booth School of Business released its preliminary report; this week Virginia Darden School of Business has teased its numbers without divulging the full slate of stats. What both reports show is what both business schools are happy for everyone to see: More than mere resiliency in troubled times, Booth and Darden are advertising continued excellence amid historic uncertainty and chaos.

“Historic” is the word Virginia Darden uses to describe its latest numbers, and that’s true in a few ways. Salary reached new heights for a third consecutive year, and bonuses climbed to a new record, rebounding from last year when they actually dropped slightly.

But MBA salaries always go up. (OK, they usually go up.) Placement numbers may be the most impressive thing for Darden this fall, with a school record for the highest percentage of students employed at graduation — and stellar numbers for international students at 90 days post-graduation.


Jeff McNish, assistant dean of career development at Darden

The average base starting salary for Virginia Darden’s Class of 2020 MBAs was $139,945, up about $4,800 from the Class of 2019’s $135,168 average, or 3.5%. In 2021, Darden’s average salary grew $4,988 to $144,933, a 3.6% increase. Over the past five years, average base salaries for Darden MBAs have risen by over $22,000.

Bonuses reported by Darden graduates also reached record highs. Average bonus was $33,266 last year, down slightly from the previous year’s $33,458. In 2021, 88% of the class reported an average signing bonus of $35,488 — up more than $2,200, or 6.7%.

For Darden, less steady than salary amid the recent historic disruption has been placement rate, which dipped last year to 84% at graduation and 91% three months later. But 2021 brought the bounce-back: This year, the school set a record with 91% employed at graduation, which is nearly 11 percentage points higher than 2016’s job acceptances reported by graduation. By 90 days after graduation, 97% of the Class of 2021 had received a full-time offer — better than any top-25 school last year and in league with Wharton and Kellogg numbers from 2019 — and 95% had accepted a full-time job offer, up from 93% and 91%, respectively.

Darden had been one of the “hardest-hit” schools in the pandemic in terms of placement rates. Always the hardest hit among any struggling cohort: internationals. Last year 91% of internationals received a job offer after 90 days, but Darden has pushed that number up to 93% — and bested the average of the last six years, which has been around 90%.

“These terrific employment outcomes for Darden’s most recent Full-Time MBA graduates demonstrate the hard work our students do to secure great job opportunities,” says Jeff McNish, assistant dean of Darden’s Career Center. “Despite the challenges of the past 18 months, students, faculty, alumni and staff came together to ensure the same excellent employment opportunities that Darden students earn year after year.”


Darden MBAs are definitely spread out, finding work at 141 companies in 73 cities across six countries and 28 U.S. states. By U.S. region, Darden graduates began their post-MBA roles in the Northeast (29%), Mid-Atlantic (21%), West (18%), Midwest (11%), South (11%) and Southwest (8%).

McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group are the top two employers — no surprise for a class where consulting accounted for nearly one-third (32%) of all accepted jobs. (That’s down from last year’s record of 41%.) Next on the employer list are Microsoft and Amazon, accounting for the majority of 19% of the class who went to work in tech. Financial services, meanwhile, saw a rebound, to 26% from 19% in 2020, with this year’s class more than three times as likely to begin their post-MBA careers in private equity and venture capital than in the last five years, on average — an increase Darden credits to the launch of the Darden Venture Capital Initiative, which provides curricular, co-curricular, and professional development opportunities for students looking for work in private market investing.

Healthcare, where just 2% of the Class of 2020 found work, also saw a jump, to 6%, with Bayer, Cigna, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer among the top hiring companies.

Darden’s full MBA employment report is due in a few weeks.


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