MBA hopefuls often apply to business school with the expectation that obtaining the degree will help them advance in their career.

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 upon graduation. 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 2021 corporate recruiters survey, projected that 2021 MBA recipients who accepted job offers would receive a median base salary of $115,000 — the same amount given to 2020 grads who were hired before the negative economic ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic had materialized.

“Nine in ten corporate recruiters expect the demand for business school graduates to increase or remain stable in the next five years — an indicator that graduate management talent is integral to organizational growth plans,” GMAC said in its survey findings.

Highest Average MBA Salary

Among the 131 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 2021 graduates was $105,684.

At the 10 MBA programs where grads received the highest compensation, which are all among the top 15 highest-ranked programs in the 2023 U.S. News Best Business Schools rankings, the overall average base salary and signing bonus was $175,789.

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 $55,755.

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 that are more than triple that of grads of the lowest-ranked schools.

Among the 131 ranked schools that supplied salary data to U.S. News, the average base salary among 2021 MBA grads was $95,370, while among the 111 ranked schools that supplied signing bonus figures above $0, the average bonus was $12,172.

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.

At some schools, MBA graduates receive base salaries and signing bonuses that are far under and far above the average among all ranked schools. For example, base salaries for MBA grads of New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business ranged from $60,000 to $230,000 in 2021, while bonuses for those grads went from $5,000 to $85,000.

MBA recipients in the workforce are often eligible for performance bonuses if they meet certain targets, and they may also receive stock options.

Average MBA Salary by Industry

MBA compensation varies based not only on where a graduate earned his or her degree, but also on the chosen industry.

On average, MBA grads who enter the consulting industry command the highest base salaries, and those who work in government tend to be paid the lowest base salaries.

U.S. News data shows that a recent MBA grad who works in the consulting industry typically receives an average salary nearly $60,000 higher than a counterpart in the government sector. These salary averages are weighted averages, meaning that salary figures from B-schools that send a large number of graduates into a particular industry are weighted more heavily than salary figures from schools that send a small number of grads into a field.

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.

Compared with other ranked MBA programs, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in California had the fourth-highest average salary and bonus — $176,956 — for 2021 graduates. However, 57 business schools that provided data to U.S. News had higher employment rates for their alumni within three months of graduation than Stanford, which had a three-month employment rate of about 92%.

But MBA grads don’t necessarily have to spend a significant amount of time searching for high-paying jobs. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School boasted the third-highest average salary and bonus package of any ranked MBA program for 2021 alumni — $178,692 — with a three-month-employment rate of 97% that surpassed most other B-schools.

Highest MBA Employment Rates by Program

Five schools listed in the U.S. News Best Business Schools rankings reported that all of their 2021 graduates found jobs within three months of graduation, but these schools are exceptions to the norm.

Among the 134 ranked full-time MBA programs that supplied employment rate data to U.S. News, the average employment rate for 2021 graduates three months after graduation was 84.6%. But three-month employment rates at these schools varied widely, ranging from a high of 100% to a low of 38.2%.

Only 52 of these 134 business schools had at least 50 MBA graduates in 2020 who sought employment, and within this subset of full-time programs, the average three-month employment rate was 90%.

The map below displays employment rates at business schools that not only had 50 or more job-seeking graduates in 2021, but also saw at least 95% of these alumni in jobs within three months of their graduation day. There are just 21 business schools that achieved this.

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.