Data: Where MBA Signing Bonuses Are Trending Up, Up, Up

No matter how you slice it, new data and analysis from RelishCareers shows what Poets&Quants has been reporting in business school employment reports in recent years: Compensation for MBA graduates is going up, including in those signing bonuses meant to sweeten the employment pot.

Relish, an MBA career-finding platform, aggregated more than 10 years of signing bonus data for MBA graduates from 115 business schools, looking at trends not only over time but also in three different tiers of programs.

Zach Mayo, co-founder of RelishCareers. Courtesy photo

Relish’s analysis found that while signing bonuses overall increased at least 15% in the last decade, the biggest percentage gains were at lower-ranked schools. Schools in tier 7 or lower in the platform’s aggregate ranking system saw their average bonuses grow an eye-popping 63% since 2013.

“Compensation packages for MBAs can contain a lot of different components, and candidates should be aware of how their offer compares to similar positions with regards to more than just annual salary,” Zach Mayo, COO and co-founder of Relish, tells Poets&Quants. “We’re also in a heavily candidate-driven hiring market, so employers have had to respond by offering more appealing overall compensation, and we wanted to look at the data to see how that has changed.”


In this analysis, Relish used an aggregate ranking system to group 115 schools into 13 tiers. It took the average of the rankings from the past three years from four major ranking publications: U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, The Economist, and the Financial Times. For its analysis of signing bonuses, it grouped schools into three buckets:

  • Tiers 1-3: This category includes the business school consistently at the top of the rankings. The M7 programs make up the first two tiers with Stanford GSB, Chicago Booth, Wharton, and HSB in Tier 1 and Northwestern Kellogg, MIT Sloan, and Columbia University in Tier 2, along with UC Berkeley Haas. Tier 3 includes Dartmouth Tuck, Yale SOM, Duke Fuqua, Michigan Ross, UVA Darden, NYU Stern, Cornell Johnson, and UCLA Anderson.
  • Tiers 4-6: This category largely includes business programs often competing with one another for spots in the top 25 schools, usually behind the schools in Tiers 1-3. Schools like CMU Tepper, USC Marshall, Indiana Kelley, Vanderbilt Owen and UNC Kenan-Flagler. There are 20 schools in the Tiers 4-6, and most all of them end up in the top 50 B-schools in rankings, including in P&Q’s annual aggregate ranking.
  • Tiers 7-13: This group includes 80 other business schools that typically round out the rankings of the major publications. These are also the schools that saw the highest growth in average signing bonuses. Think University of Arizona (Eller), Babson College (Olin), University of Rochester (Simon), and University of Pittsburgh (Katz).


So, according to Relish’s analysis, MBAs at schools in Tiers 7-13 saw average signing bonuses rise a whopping 63% between 2013 and 2022, from $14,367 in 2013-15 to $23,452 in 2020-22.

“This put them almost on par with schools in tiers 4-6 in the 2020-22 sample, although both groups lagged behind the top tier schools by a significant margin in terms of overall average signing bonus,” Mayo says.

Schools in the second bucket, Tiers 4-6, had an average bonus of $25,927 in 2020-22, just $2,475 more than the lower tiered bucket. The top schools (Tiers 1-3), meanwhile, had an average starting bonus of $31,709, or $5,782 more than Tiers 4-6 and $8,257 more than Tiers 7+.


Mayo notes that across the board, average signing bonuses are trending upward, including sharp increases at the top tiered schools since 2016, though not as sharp as the bottom tier schools. Schools in the top bucket saw average bonuses rise 1.83% from 2013 to 2015, 16.5% from 2016 to 2019, and 18.63% overall between 2013 and 2022.

“This matches the feedback we've received from our employer partners about the increased competition for top students: With more and more firms vying for top MBA talent, employers have no choice but to sweeten their offers for the best candidates,” Mayo says.

“Overall, our analysis of signing bonuses over the last decade–in addition to other compensation trends we've seen from our data–suggests that employers are as eager as they've ever been to hire MBAs, from schools across the ranking spectrum.”


For a deeper dive into 2021’s signing bonuses, check out this analysis of MBA salaries, bonuses and total compensation at the top and bottom B-Schools in U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of the top 100 programs. At the top 25 programs in that ranking, average bonuses ranged between $27,651 at Vanderbilt Owen (No. 25) and $40,544 at Chicago Booth (No. 2). Stanford GSB, the highest ranked school in the U.S. News ranking, had an average signing bonus of $29,148, at the low end of the top 25 schools. Still, GSB’s starting salary of $161,831 was more than $8,000 higher than the next closest school.

You can also see how signing bonuses changed in the top 25 programs in Poets&Quants’ 2021-2022 MBA Ranking. Our analysis shows that the 2021 average signing bonus at Stanford (No. 1 in our ranking) fell $3,403 from 2020, a 10.45% decrease. Meanwhile, No. 2 Chicago Booth saw its bonus increase by $5,000 to, or 16.67%. Vanderbilt Owen (No. 25) had a 2.45% bonus increase for the year, or $660.

It’s no big revelation that signing bonuses for MBAs can boost the degree’s already high average first-year compensation for graduates from top schools. Take Stanford Graduate School of Business for example, consistently ranked in the top three of most MBA rankings. Its average starting bonus in 2021 accounted for 16.8% of average total compensation of $174,246, and one Stanford grad even reported a $1 million signing bonus in the school’s 2021 employment report.


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