MBA Debt Burden At The Top 50 U.S. Business Schools: Where Grads Owe The Most & Least

MBA Debt Burden At The Top 50 U.S. Business Schools: Where Grads Owe The Most & Least

Debt burden data is hard to come by since many top business schools in the United States stopped reporting it around 2016 and 2017. The elite schools that are routinely ranked in the top 10 are most recalcitrant of all, especially the M7, of which only one school — Harvard Business School — continues to report graduates’ average indebtedness to U.S. News & World Report.

Yet according to an analysis by Andrea Bowers, director of marketing analytics at Washington Foster School of Business, debt is among the foremost concerns of prospective MBA students, along with salary, job placement, ROI, and the networking opportunities a B-school provides. So what’s a prospective applicant to do if they want to find solid information on the debt burden of graduates of the leading MBA programs?

Go back in history a bit, and do some estimating — because there is another reliable source for debt information, if you’re willing to wade through massive amounts of data compiled in its most unhelpful form: the College Scorecard of the U.S. Department of Education. The College Scorecard’s most recent data is, unfortunately, from 2018-2019, so the numbers are a bit dusty — but you can be sure they have not gone down at most, if any, schools, if a comparison with the relatively few schools that continue to report to U.S. News is any indication. (We eagerly await updated numbers from the federal government, but in the meantime we’ll have to make do with we have.)


Bowers and Washington Foster have gathered debt information from the College Scorecard and included it among 10 metrics in the school’s newly redesigned MBA Rankings Calculator, with which MBA prospects can create a personal ranking tailored to their own interests. Foster’s calculator includes all kinds of interesting information, from tuition and fees to ROI for grads from a host of leading U.S. schools — including College Scorecard data on cumulative debt at graduation: field of study-level data files for the pooled 2014-2015, 2015-2016 award years through the pooled 2017-2018, 2018-2019 award years.

Bowers says the calculator has the seal of approval from the most important constituency: MBA students.

“All of the metrics that are in the calculator have been vetted by MBA students, and we paid a lot of attention to the weights and the priorities that they share with us,” she tells P&Q, adding that “what we’re really seeing post-pandemic is a lot more focus on the financials and on the longer-term metrics” including ROI and debt.

The debt data in this story, as well as tuition and fees totals for each school, were taken directly from Foster’s DIY ranking calculator — which is why we didn’t stop at the top 50, grabbing an additional 11 schools based on their inclusion in the calculator. (See the next pages for complete tables of debt data, as well as tuition/fees and average starting pay data, on 61 B-schools. Tuition and fees data do not include living expenses; see this story for detailed information on the living expenses at the leading B-schools, which can add significantly to total cost.)

There have been other noteworthy efforts to quantify MBA student debt over the years: Sofi, a student loan refinancing company founded by Stanford MBAs, annually reports debt data for all college students, using the nonprofit College Board as its source; in 2018 P&Q wrote about Sofi’s efforts to track MBA debt. And in 2019, Bloomberg Businessweek surveyed more than 10,000 MBAs from the Class of 2018 and released a major report on MBAs with six-figure debt.


What we find in the College Scorecard cumulative debt data, which is available at Foster’s rankings calculator for 55 of 61 schools, is three schools whose grads carried more than $100,000 in debt post-graduation (all of them in the Poets&Quants top 25), and three more schools at more than $98K; on the other end of the spectrum, 13 schools’ grads had debt below $40K.

In the nine schools in the P&Q top 10 for which CS data is available (UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business being the exception), the total debt burden was $635,991, averaging out to $70,666. In the top 25, the debt burden reached $1,865,527, averaging $77,730 for 24 schools. The school with the biggest debt average across all 55 schools is New York University Stern School of Business, at $108,594, with Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management close behind at $108,059; the school with the lowest is Harvard Business School, at a strangely low $25,083.

(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story used data from College Scorecard based on an incorrect data code for the Kellogg School of Management.)

How could Harvard grads owe so little — less even than MBAs graduating from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst or Northeastern University? For one thing, HBS is super generous with scholarships because they have the massive resources to be so. And as Bowers says, it’s important to ask: “What kind of student population are the schools attracting? Are they attracting students who can pay their full way, who come from families of means? Or are they coming from a broader economic group?”

At any rate, as you will see below, Harvard’s more recent debt data provided to U.S. News is more realistic. HBS’s most recent data published on its website is, too: Last year, the school says, the average student graduated with loans of approximately $99,000. The average for scholarship recipients was $94,000 and the neediest half of scholarship recipients was $75,000.


2023 P&Q Rank School Average Student Debt – 2019 College Scorecard
15 New York (Stern) $108,594
13 Cornell (Johnson) $108,059
46 Southern Methodist (Cox) $103,602
16 UCLA (Anderson) $98,818
24 Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) $98,433
7 Columbia Business School $98,036
Source: College Scorecard via Washington Foster MBA Rankings Calculator


Despite many elite schools’ refusal to provide it, U.S. News still collects indebtedness data from schools, and what the magazine has collected still offers a piecemeal snapshot of the impact of the financial commitment of an MBA on those attaining one. Of the 61 schools examined here, 36 still give U.S. News and its readers what they want in terms of average graduate indebtedness and the percentage of grads who carry debt into their first post-MBA jobs. (A few schools don’t provide the former, but do provide the latter.)

What we see is that in the B-schools ranked in the top 25 in 2023 by Poets&Quants, total debt burden at the 11 schools that reported their 2022 data to U.S. News was $1,013,765, averaging $92,160 per school. Six schools graduated MBAs with six-figure debt, and one more at $95K — all in the top 25. The largest debt was reported by Virginia Darden School of Business grads: $114,043. The smallest in the top 25 was at Indiana Kelley School of Business, at $53,265; across the top 50+, Arizona State Carey School of Business, at $20,549, while Georgia Terry College of Business was close behind at $21,113.

Harvard is the highest-ranked B-school to report average indebtedness to U.S. News, reporting $88,757 carried by 52% of the Class of 2022 — much higher than the $25K listed in the College Scorecard. After Harvard, the other two top-10 schools to report average indebtedness this year were Yale School of Management, at $104,882, with 44% of the class carrying debt; and UC-Berkeley Haas, at $110,102 and 46%.

U.S. News also tracks the percentage of graduating MBAs classes that carry debt into their first post-grad jobs. For MBA Class of 2022 grads, the magazine has data for 13 schools in the top 25; the average percentage in debt at these schools is 48.2%. The biggest percentage of debt-holders in that group can be found at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School (65%), and the smallest at Washington Foster (36%). Across the top 50+ schools, 11 schools had more than 50% of grads with debt: Rochester Simon Business School had the most (71%), while Arizona State Carey (17%) had the least; UMass-Amherst’s Isenberg College of Management also had a notably low number: 20%.


2023 P&Q Rank School Average Indebtedness – US News MBA Class of 2022 Percent of Class of 2022 Graduating With Debt
14 Virginia (Darden) $114,043 53%
10 UC-Berkeley (Haas) $110,102 46%
19 North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler) $107,994 65%
12 Duke (Fuqua) $105,084 56%
8 Yale SOM $104,882 44%
Source: U.S. News & World Report


How do the debt totals from each source jive with the tuition and fees at the respective B-schools? And more importantly, what are those schools’ starting salaries? All that data is on the next pages, but it’s interesting to look at the extremes on both ends of the spectrum, and how the data makes the debt burden of MBAs more understandable — and tolerable:

  • College Scorecard’s biggest debt total across 55 B-schools: NYU Stern, $108,594; Stern’s 2022 tuition/fees were $82,326, and the starting pay for Stern grads in 2022 was $191,768.
  • U.S. News‘ biggest debt total across 36 B-schools: Virginia Darden, $114,043; Darden’s 2022 tuition/fees were $75,600, and the starting pay for Darden grads in 2022 was $186,974.
  • College Scorecard’s smallest debt total: HBS, $25,083; Harvard’s 2022 tuition/fees were $74,910, and the starting pay for HBS grads in 2022 was $194,723. Alternatively, since the HBS number is unusually low, the next-lowest can be found at Northeastern D’Amore-McKim Business School, where the debt average was $37,535, 2022 tuition/fees were $90,200, and 2022 starting pay was $104,746.
  • U.S. News‘ smallest debt total: Arizona State Carey, $20,549; Carey’s 2022 tuition/fees were $48,400, and the starting pay for Carey grads was $146,486. Likewise: Georgia Terry, $21,113; Terry’s 2022 tuition/fees were $32,606, and starting pay for 2022 Terry grads was $137,306.

Tuition rates for the top business schools in the United States have been updated in 2023; read more about them here. MBA starting salary data for the top 100 U.S. B-schools can be found here. And the latest information on scholarships, which of course don’t have to be paid back and therefore can make all the big, scary tuition numbers moot, can be found here.

See the next pages for complete tables on debt data, with side-by-side comparisons of College Scorecard and U.S. News data, as well as tuition rates and starting MBA pay at 61 of the top business schools in the United States.

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