Many executives say attending business school contributed to their career success. And according to admissions experts, job applicants with MBAs on their resumes stand out to employers so much so that students don’t necessarily need to attend the most prestigious schools to reap significant professional benefits.
An MBA often serves as a gateway to business leadership positions, experts say, and management roles typically involve higher salaries than non-management jobs.
Some business schools give students better odds of finding lucrative employment when they graduate than others. Experts say it’s important to investigate the quality of career services at programs of interest before making a final choice.
The Graduate Management Admission Council’s June 2022 corporate recruiters survey projected that the median starting salary offered to 2022 MBA grads would be $115,000 – the same amount as the past three years. Given the current high rates of inflation, that means the real value of MBA salaries is declining, the GMAC report noted. When adjusted for inflation, the median annual salary for MBAs has declined from a high of $129,000 in 2019 to its current level of $115,000, the report said.
However, in 2022, the projected median starting salary for “experienced, direct from industry hires” was also $115,000, equal to that of new MBA hires and up from $85,000 in 2021, according to the report.
Highest Average MBA Salary
Among the 146 ranked full-time MBA programs that reported salary data to U.S. News in an annual survey, the overall average base salary plus bonus paid to 2022 graduates was $110,879.
At the 10 MBA programs where grads received the highest compensation, which are all among the top 15 highest-ranked programs in the 2023-2024 U.S. News Best Business Schools rankings, the overall average base salary and signing bonus was $193,159, up nearly $20,000 from the previous year among top 10 programs.
Meanwhile, at the 10 ranked MBA programs where compensation is lowest, the majority of which are ranked in the bottom fourth of the full-time programs and listed with a ranking range, the average amounted to $53,511, down more than $2,000 from the previous year among bottom 10 programs.
U.S. News data shows that grads of B-schools with the most sterling academic reputations are, in some cases, paid a salary and bonus more than triple that of grads of the lowest-ranked schools.
While 146 schools reported a combined figure for starting salary and signing bonus, several did not report individual salary or bonus figures. Among the 140 ranked schools that supplied separate starting salary data to U.S. News, the average base salary among 2022 MBA grads was $101,431, while among the 124 ranked schools that supplied signing bonus figures above $0, the average bonus was $20,322.
The Graduate School of Business at Stanford University in California reported the highest average starting salary for 2022 MBA graduates at $182,272. Among the 10 MBA programs where starting salary was the highest, the average amounted to $164,626, compared to an average of $51,971 at the bottom 10 programs.
Of the 77 programs that reported 10 or more graduates earning signing bonuses, the highest average amount went to graduates of the Leonard N. Stern School of Business at New York University, where 177 of the 238 graduates seeking jobs were awarded signing bonuses that averaged $40,936.
It’s possible to be paid an above-average salary and a below-average bonus, or vice versa. Further, some MBA graduates who find jobs do not get signing bonuses.
MBA recipients in the workforce are often eligible for performance bonuses if they meet certain targets, and they may also receive stock options.
Obtaining High-Paying MBA Jobs Often Requires Patience
The schools where graduate pay is highest aren’t necessarily the ones where grads get hired the fastest.
Harvard Business School in Massachusetts reported the highest average salary and bonus – $198,180 – for 2022 graduates. However, of the schools that provided data to U.S. News, 86 reported higher employment rates for their alumni within three months of graduation than Harvard, which had a three-month employment rate of 89.5%.
But MBA grads don’t necessarily have to spend a significant amount of time searching for high-paying jobs. The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, the top-ranked program on the U.S. News Best Business Schools list, reported the fourth-highest salary and bonus package of any ranked MBA program for 2022 alumni – $194,792 – with a three-month employment rate of 95.6% that surpassed most other B-schools.
Highest MBA Employment Rates by Program
Fifteen schools in the business school rankings reported that all of their 2022 graduates found jobs within three months of graduation. Four of those schools reported average starting salary and signing bonus figures over $100,000, ranging between just over $107,000 and just under $162,000. However, these schools are exceptions to the norm.
Among the 149 ranked full-time MBA programs that supplied three-month employment rate data to U.S. News, the average employment rate for 2022 graduates three months after graduation was 86.4%. But three-month employment rates at these schools varied widely, ranging from a high of 100% to a low of 37.5%.
Some graduates don’t have to wait to find a job. Fifteen schools reported that 90% or more of their 2022 graduates were employed by graduation, while a total of 48 schools reported that 80% or more of their graduates were employed at graduation. Graduates of Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in Georgia saw the highest employment rate at graduation – 94.3% – to go along with an average starting salary and signing bonus of $178,976, which ranked inside the top 20 for highest salary plus bonus.
On the low end, four programs reported an employment rate at graduation of less than 20%, with two reporting under 5%. But that isn’t necessarily bad news. For instance, despite just 4.8% of 2022 graduates being employed by graduation, the School of Business at LaSalle University in Pennsylvania reported that 95.2% were employed within three months of graduation.
Capitalizing on the Career Benefits of an MBA
Recent grads say one way to maximize the benefits of an MBA program is to first contemplate career goals.
Having a firm sense of purpose allows prospective students to write MBA application essays that convey conviction and discipline. Admissions officers want to see proof that business school applicants are employable and have leadership potential, some experts say.
It’s critical for MBA applicants to clearly explain why they hope to attend business school in the near future and describe the unique perspective they could bring to a class.
Alumni say business school offers an opportunity for students to advance in their current career path or switch to an entirely different profession. An MBA can pave the way not only for high-profile general management positions at multinational firms, but also for jobs someone might not immediately imagine when considering the degree, such as data analyst positions, leadership roles at technology companies or entrepreneurship positions.
Though MBA programs typically prefer to admit students who have work experience, some programs welcome recent college grads and allow students to gain work experience through B-school courses.