Debt Burden At The Top 50 U.S. B-Schools: How Much Can You Expect To Owe For Your MBA?

Debt Burden At The Top 50 U.S. B-Schools: How Much You Can Expect To Owe For Your MBA

If you’re planning to go to a business school in the United States and wondering how much debt you’ll accrue, the answer is: A lot, probably.

Or, possibly, not.

The fact is, it’s hard to tell how much an MBA from a top U.S. B-school will drive you into debt. The problem is that while there are currently two legitimate sources that track MBA debt burden, one is a government source that is running about four years behind, and the other relies on participation by the schools it tracks and has been less than comprehensive for nearly a decade. And they don’t exactly mesh with each other: Separately, the College Scorecard of the U.S. Department of Education and the data collected by U.S. News & World Report for its annual B-school ranking show distinctly different pictures of how much debt the grads walk away with. The latter source also offers a glimpse into how many MBAs carry debt past graduation.

Taken together, both show that debt is all over the place, varying widely from school to school — and in some cases year to year at the same school, too. That was the case when Poets&Quants tackled this story last year, and it’s the case today.


2024 P&Q Rank School Average Student Debt – 2020 (College Scorecard) Average Student Debt – 2019 (College Scorecard) YOY Change
7 Cornell (Johnson) $116,730 $108,059 8%
13 UCLA (Anderson) $111,023 $98,818 12.4%
10 New York (Stern) $108,294 $108,594 -0.3%
24 Georgetown (McDonough) $108,170 $60,894 77.6%
16 Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) $106,819 $98,433 8.5%
11 Chicago (Booth) $106,339 $95,657 11.2%
Source: College Scorecard via Foster MBA Calculator 


Looking at the range of average debt reported at more than 60 leading U.S. B-schools, what jumps out is how wide it is — from $25,555 on the low end, according to the College Scorecard, to $116,730 on the high end. According to U.S. News, the range is $25,209 to $121,225.

Trends in MBA debt are elusive, if not nonexistent. Graduates of smaller schools can have six-figure debt; graduates of Ivy League schools can owe in the low five figures. Scholarships and fellowships can and do slash significant chunks of the cost of attendance. This partly explains why the school on the College Scorecard’s low end is none other than Harvard Business School; however, because this is a complex issue, we are obliged to point out that according to U.S. News, Harvard graduated its 2023 MBA class with an average indebtedness of nearly $100K. (See the next pages for tables showing debt data from both sources for dozens of top U.S. B-schools.)

The chief disadvantage of debt numbers from the College Scorecard is that they are old: The most recent available, which partly inform this story, date from 2014-2015 to 2019-2020. U.S. News, on the other hand, has more recent numbers, from 2022-2023 — but there are huge gaps in which schools participate: Many top B-schools stopped reporting debt burden to U.S. News beginning around 2016. Harvard is the top-ranked B-school to provide indebtedness data to the magazine; only three of the top 10 and 11 of the top 25 in P&Q‘s 2024 ranking did so.


Foster School of Business’ Andrea Bowers: “Our biggest finding is that low debt and return on investment are really, really important to prospective students”

Yet according to 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. She knows this because of the research that informed the launch of the Foster MBA Rankings Calculator, a popular tool that since 2016 has allowed prospective MBA students to find the schools that best fit their interests and needs.

(Full disclosure: Poets&Quants works with Foster by providing data for several of the metrics in the Calculator.)

“By working with MBA students, we are able to identify the metrics that were most important to them, and source them from actual rankings and publications so that they have a high level of legitimacy and credibility, as well as very strong accuracy,” says Bowers, who was instrumental in developing the calculator.

“While there is a certain amount of interest in student selectivity and GMAT scores, the big question is how do graduating students fare? Our biggest finding is that low debt and return on investment are really, really important to prospective students.”


The numbers may be all over the place but, generally, they mostly go up — according to the DOE, anyway. Last year, using College Scorecard data via the Foster Calculator that ran up to 2019, P&Q calculated the total debt burden at its top 10 schools — Wharton, Chicago Booth, Stanford GSB, Northwestern Kellogg, HBS, MIT Sloan, Columbia, Yale, Dartmouth Tuck, and Berkeley Haas — as $635,991; this year, looking at the same schools (despite not all of them ranking in the top 10) through 2020, we find the total increased by 4% to $661,548.

Of the nine schools with available data — Haas is one of a handful of top-50 B-schools for which the Scorecard has no data — the average MBA debt burden was $70,665 in 2019. It increased to $73,505 in 2020.

Across the P&Q top 25, the total debt in 2019 was $1,970,368, increasing 5.5% to $2,078,328 a year later. The average for 24 schools grew from $82,099 to $86,597. (Note: As with the top 10, for the purposes of this comparison we used the same 25 schools, meaning current top-25 schools Florida Warrington and Vanderbilt Owen were not included.)

The biggest debt number across all 50 schools was at Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management, at $116,730; the smallest, as mentioned above, was at Harvard Business School, at $25,555. HBS had the Scorecard’s smallest debt last year as well, at $25,083.

Six schools were above $100K in debt in 2020, up from four schools in 2019, with three more at $95K or more. Conversely, the group of schools below $40K shrank to just four from 13 in that span. Thirty-six schools saw increases between the two years, including 16 of the P&Q top 25 and six of the top 10, averaging 10.6%; in all, 10 schools saw double-digit increases. The biggest jump was 77.6% at Georgetown McDonough School of Business, to $108,170; UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School also saw a big increase, 50.6% to $96,011.

Of the 19 schools with decreases in the College Scorecard debt tabulation, eight were in the P&Q top 25 and four in the top 10, averaging 4.2%. The biggest was 16.5% (to $31,324) at Northeastern D’Amore-McKim School of Business; the biggest in the top 25 was at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, 9.2% to $58,547. Only two schools — Northeastern and Rochester Simon Business School, down 10.6% to $48,298 — saw double-digit drop-offs.

See pages 2 and 3 for complete College Scorecard data for 63 top U.S. B-schools.


2024 P&Q Rank School Average Indebtedness – 2023 (US News) Average Indebtedness – 2022 (US News) YOY Change Percent of Class of 2023 Graduating With Debt (US News) Percent of Class of 2022 Graduating With Debt (US News) YOY Change
5 Yale SOM $121,225 $104,882 15.6% 41% 44% -3
6 Duke (Fuqua) $111,907 $105,084 6.5% 56% 56% None
23 Emory (Goizueta) $102,316 $95,094 7.6% 54% 59% -5
20 North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler) $101,350 $107,994 -6.2% 50% 65% -15
Source: U.S. News & World Report 


The main problem with the U.S. News collection of debt data is a severe lack of data. Of the P&Q top 10, only three schools —Harvard, Yale, and Duke Fuqua School of Business — reported average indebtedness amounts. Those three and Stanford GSB were the only schools in the top 10 to report the percentage of MBAs graduating with debt.

The problem persists across the top 25. Last year, only a dozen schools reported debt data to the magazine, with a total debt amount of $1,095,216 and an average of $91,268. This year, that fell to 11 schools, with a total of $959,380 and an average of $87,216. That’s a 12.4% decline in total debt and a 4.4% decline in average. Since we used the same 11 schools year to year in the interests of making an apples-to-apples comparison, it does appear that debt fell, at least according to this source.

Widening the lens, across the 63 schools analyzed by P&Q, 37 provided debt data to U.S. News (up from 36 last year). Four schools had six-figure debt, all in the top 25, up from six last year (also all in the top 25). Year-to-year comparisons were possible for 34 schools: Of them, 18 saw their debt rise, with an average increase of 20.8%. Thirteen schools saw double-digit increases; the biggest was at Arizona State Carey School of Business, 92.9% to $39,640.

Of the 16 schools where debt fell, the average decline was 14.1%. Eight schools had double-digit declines; the biggest was at South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business, where grads’ debt decreased by 34.7% to $33,206. Also notable: Fordham Gabelli School of Business, where debt fell 32.3% to $29,042.



U.S. News also reports the percentage of MBAs who graduate with debt, which is equally under-reported, particularly in the upper echelons. This year, 39 schools of 63 reported this number, up from 38 schools the previous year. Using the same top 25 as last year (despite changes in rankings), we find that the average debt percentage for 13 schools in 2023 was 44.6%, down from 48.4% at 14 schools in 2022. In the top 50-plus schools, the average debt rate at 39 schools was 39.3%, down from 42.9% at 38 schools.

The total number of schools with over 50% in debt was 11 in 2022, including seven in the top 25; in 2023, that number dropped to seven schools and five in the top 25.

More data:

  • Biggest debt rate in the top 25: 57% at UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business; notably, 56% at HBS and Duke Fuqua. In 2022, the biggest in the top 25 was 65% at UNC Kenan-Flagler;
  • Biggest debt rate in the top 50+: 66% at Rochester Simon, which also had the biggest rate in 2022: 71%;
  • Smallest debt rate in the top 25: 21% at Washington Foster, which also had the smallest rate in 2022: 36%;
  • Smallest debt rate in the top 50+: 15% at UMass-Amherst Isenberg School of Management, which also had among the lowest rates in 2022: 20%. Georgia Terry also had a very low rate in 2023: 17%. The lowest rate in 2022 was at Arizona State Carey: 17%.

See pages 2 and 3 for complete College Scorecard data for 63 top U.S. B-schools, and pages 4 and 5 for U.S. News data for the same schools. See pages 6 and 7 for tuition rates and starting MBA pay at the 63 schools.

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