The last thing we want to do is create unrealistic expectations about what you’ll make when you get an MBA from a highly selective, top ranked school. But these numbers—the highest base salaries, signing bonuses and other compensation—reported by the Class of 2013 are enough to drop your jaw.
The highest reported salary last year? At Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, one MBA landed a base salary of $370,000.
The highest signing bonus? At both Harvard Business School and Wharton, there were graduating MBAs who were handed $200,000 each just to sign an employment contract.
And the highest “other compensation”—that catchall phrase to describe a guaranteed year-end bonus? At Stanford, a Class of 2013 MBA nailed down $337,500.
SMU & Notre Dame MBAs land $200k base salaries
At eight U.S. business schools, the highest paid MBAs pulled down base salaries of a quarter of a million dollars or more—to start. Even at MBA programs that are generally not considered among the truly elite, there was eye-popping pay. At both Southern Methodist University’s Cox School and Notre Dame University’s Mendoza School, there were graduates last year who landed base salaries of $200,000 each. At Rice University’s Jones School, one MBA reported “other compensation” of $200,000. One employer paid a Penn State MBA $115,000 for a sign-on bonus alone.
We’re glad we didn’t run this story on April 1st because most people would have thought it was an April Fools joke. But of course these are all “special cases,” people who often went to business school when they actually didn’t need to do so. They already have the experience and track record to get an employer to make the offer you can’t refuse. In most cases, the highest pay was reported by MBAs who ventured into finance in the Northeast, mainly for jobs at hedge funds and private equity firms. But there also were a number of consultants, general management and marketing types, as well as operations experts who landed the big money.
We’ve run the highs and lows before for a much smaller set of elite business schools. This is the first time we are publishing this data for the larger universe of the top 50 U.S. schools and also including some MBA programs, including Harvard Business School and Yale University’s School of Management, that don’t publish this data in their official employment reports.
2013 was a very good year for MBAs
Overall, 2013, the fourth year in a row of an MBA jobs recovery from the economic implosion of 2008-2009, the big exceptional pay package didn’t seem all that rare. At Northwestern, for example, besides the $375K investment management job, presumably at a hedge fund, there was a $350,000 base salary hire by a private equity firm, a $225,000 base salary for an MBA who went into the energy industry, and a $206,000 base for an MBA who took a job in “transportation services.” Kellogg grads who went into venture capital and consulting also landed awfully rich pay packages with base salaries of $175,000 each. None of those sums include sign-on bonuses or other guaranteed compensation which would further enlarge all those high numbers.
Truth is, total compensation packages–including sign-on bonuses, guaranteed year-end bonuses, tuition reimbursements, and equity interests–are more elusive. Very few schools report total comp for the highest paid members of their graduating classes. But in some cases, guaranteed other compensation—which schools generally report out separately—can be as high or higher than base pay. At Wharton, for example, a 2013 graduating MBA got a guaranteed year-end bonus of $260,000. Another received tuition reimbursement of $150,000, while one Whartonite was handed $100,000 to sign an employment contract. The University of Virginia’s Darden School also reported that the highest sign-on and guaranteed year-end bonuses were in six-figures as well.