MBA Salary Guide for Business Majors

Business executives collaborating in office
Grady Reese / Getty Images. Grady Reese / Getty Images

Applicants rarely mention money when they tell admissions boards why they want an MBA, but salary expectations are often a huge draw when it comes to getting a business degree. Business school tuition is notoriously expensive, and most applicants want to see a return on their investment.

Factors That Influence MBA Salaries

There are a lot of different factors that can influence the amount of money MBA grads earn.

For example, the industry that students work in after graduation has a significant impact on salaries. MBA grads tend to earn the most in consulting, marketing, operations, general management, and finance industries. However, salaries can vary wildly within a single industry. On the low end, marketing professionals can earn about $50,000, and on the high end, they can earn $200,000+.

The company that you choose to work for has an impact on salary as well. For example, the salary offer you get from a modest start-up on a shoestring budget is going to be much smaller than a salary offer that you get from Goldman Sachs or another company known for offering high starting salaries to MBA grads. If you want a big salary, you may have to consider applying to a big company. Taking a job overseas can also be lucrative.

Job level can have just as much of an impact as the industry and company you choose to work for.

For example, an entry-level position is going to pay less than a C-level position. Entry-level positions fall on the lowest level in the workplace hierarchy. C-level, also known as C-suite, positions fall on the upper level in the workplace hierarchy and include chief executive positions like chief executive officer (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO), chief operating officer (COO), and chief information officer (CIO).

Median MBA Salary

The Graduate Management Admission Council conducts an annual survey of corporate recruiters, who share information about starting salary offers for new MBA grads. According to the most recent survey, the median starting salary for MBA grads is $100,000. This is a nice round number that reflects base salary. In other words, it does not take other perks like sign-on bonuses, year-end bonuses, and stock options into account. These perks can add up to big money for MBAs. One MBA who graduated recently from Stanford, reported to Poets & Quants that he expected to see a year-end bonus worth more than $500,000.

If you are wondering whether or not an MBA will really help you to improve your salary, you may be interested to know that the $100,000 figure reported by corporate recruiters to the Graduate Management Admission Council is almost double the $55,000 median annual starting salary that corporate recruiters report for grads with a bachelor's degree.

MBA Cost vs. Projected Salary

The school that you graduate from can also have an impact on your salary. For example, students who graduate with an MBA degree from Harvard Business School are able to command a much higher salary that students who graduate with an MBA degree from the University of Phoenix.

The reputation of the school matters; recruiters take notice of schools that are known for providing a quality education and turn their nose up at schools that do not share that reputation.

In general, the higher ranked a school is, the higher the salary expectations are for grads. Of course, that rule doesn’t always hold among business schools with the most stellar rankings. For example, it is possible for a grad from a #20 school to receive a better offer that a grad from a #5 school.

It is important to keep in mind that higher-ranked business schools often come with higher tuition tags. Cost is a factor for most MBA applicants. You will have to determine what you can afford and consider the return on investment to determine if it is "worth it" to get an MBA from a high-priced school. To kick start your research, let's compare the average student debt at some of the country's top-ranked business schools with the average starting salary for MBAs who graduate from those schools (as reported to U.S. News).

Source: U.S. News
U.S. News RankingSchool NameAverage Student DebtAverage Starting Salary
#1Harvard Business School$86,375$134,701
#4Stanford Graduate School of Business$80,091 $140,553
#7University of California - Berkeley (Haas) $87,546 $122,488
#12New York University (Stern)$120,924$120,924
#17University of Texas - Austin (McCombs) $59,860$113,481
#20  Emory University (Goizueta)$73,178$116,658