In the world of business, Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree salaries are generally much higher than salaries of people in comparable roles who don’t have an MBA. The median starting salary for MBA graduates at US companies in 2021 was projected to be $115,000, according to a 2021 corporate recruiters survey from the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC). That’s $40,000 higher than projections for direct-from-industry hires, and $50,000 higher than job candidates with a bachelor’s degree .
Average MBA starting salary data does vary across surveys. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Winter 2021 Salary Survey projected a lower average MBA starting salary of $87,966  and US News & World Report calculated an average starting salary for the class of 2021 to be $95,370 base salary and $105,684 including bonuses , while the Forté Foundation’s analysis of 2020 MBA salaries found that graduates earned a more generous average between $133,511 and $144,956 within two years of leaving their program .
In this article, we'll break down average MBA salary by factors including:
Years of work experience
We'll also offer data that examines average MBA salary increases and salary growth over time.
There are a number of factors that can influence the amount of money you can anticipate earning after getting your MBA, including area of industry, job location, the school you graduate from, and years of experience.
Here, we’ll break down how each of those four factors can impact earning potential—and how you may be able to maximize yours—so that you can better estimate how your MBA may boost your salary.
Certain areas of business tend to offer higher salaries. According to US News & World Report, the industries with the highest average starting salaries are :
|Industry||Average MBA starting salary|
Of all the industries they analyzed, nonprofit ($90,381) and government ($87,675) tended to be lower paying. Even still, these lower-paying industries average higher than the US national average annual salary across all industries, about $58,260, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) .
If you are hoping to maximize your post-MBA salary in a specific industry, it can be helpful to seek MBA programs that are recognized for their commitment to that specific industry and to tailor your coursework to meet any industry requirements. For example, if you are hoping to work in consulting, seek programs that offer a consulting major or specialization to further hone your skills in that area.
Where you are can influence the amount of money you make. Generally, local cost of living and local industry demand are two factors that may impact salary.
According to ZipRecruiter, which reports an average MBA salary of $82,721 in the US, the ten states with the highest average MBA salaries are :
|US state||Average MBA salary|
However, this analysis is guided by salary data primarily retrieved from jobs listed on ZipRecruiter. Many MBA programs offer career placement and networking services that allow graduates and hiring companies to connect via channels outside of the traditional job-posting websites, so this data set likely only represents one portion of the MBA degree job market.
Still, as you consider your post-MBA career options, it can be useful to consider where your industry of choice is concentrated, as there will likely be more financially competitive opportunities in those areas.
Additionally, consider the local cost of living. Making more money in an area with a high cost of living may result in a similar lifestyle as making less money in an area with a low cost of living.
Having a certain school’s name on your resume may help boost your chances at securing a higher-paying job. This factor may be due to the caliber of the MBA program or the school’s career placement and networking opportunities, among other reasons.
According to US News & World Report, these schools reported the highest average starting salary with bonuses for their 2021 full-time MBA graduates :
|School attended||Average MBA starting salary and bonus|
|New York University (Stern)||$181,803|
|University of Chicago (Booth)||$180,044|
|University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)||$178,692|
|University of Virginia (Darden)||$176,167|
|Cornell University (Johnson)||$173,185|
|Duke University (Fuqua)||$172,627|
|Northwestern University (Kellogg)||$171,528|
Keep in mind that these are averages and there are graduates from each of these programs who make significantly less money—often those in lower-paying industries or locations. Additionally, many schools outside of this top ten list still report above-average salaries.
For a more complete understanding of MBA salaries of graduates from a specific school, search for the school’s employment report. Often released annually, MBA programs report job details for their most recent graduating class, including statistics like average salary, which may be broken down further by industry, location, and specific employers.
Employment reports can be a useful reference as you consider which MBA programs might be a good fit for you because they can offer insight into the job functions each program focuses on, as well as potential networking avenues.
In any industry, people with more work experience are well-positioned to make more money than those with less experience. This is also true of people who get an MBA degree: graduates with more work experience tend to make more money than those with less experience. For comparison, we can look to people who graduate from Executive MBA (EMBA) programs.
According to the Executive MBA Council, EMBA candidates enter their programs with an average of over 14 years of work experience, including just under nine years of management experience. By the end of their program, graduates reported an average salary (including bonuses) of $190,989, up from an average of $166,549 at the start of their program .
This post-MBA salary is noticeably greater than even the highest reported average MBA salary, $144,956 per the Forté Foundation, in part because full-time MBA candidates typically average around five years of work experience.
Economic factors can also impact salaries, and MBA degree starting salaries are in a slight recovery period as the business world continues to navigate the global pandemic. Typically, MBA salaries increase every year, however, there was a dip in 2020 as the pandemic ramped up and the class of 2020 entered the job market. Despite a $10,000 salary drop in 2020, GMAC predicted salaries would return to 2019 levels in 2021 .
Many MBA graduates enter their program with a few years of work experience, so assessing average salary increase can be a useful gauge if you’re unfamiliar with typical industry salaries.
In 2019, TransparentCareer analyzed salary insights from MBA graduates between 2009 to 2018 and found that MBA graduates increased their salaries by an average of $36,742, from $79,505 before seeking their degree to $116,248 after earning their degree .
The industries with the greatest salary increase were:
|Industry||Average salary increase|
|Food, beverage, and tobacco||+$41,249|
|Technology, internet, and ecommerce||+$36,763|
The industries with the lowest salary increase—but an increase nonetheless—were:
|Industry||Average salary increase|
|Accounting and audit||+$20,994|
|Restaurants, hotels, tourism, and hospitality||+$14,982|
|Government, military, and politics||+$12,985|
MBA graduates are poised for a positive salary trajectory in the years following graduation. According to research from the Forté Foundation, the average MBA salary after three to five years is between $151,951 and $172,469. These two numbers represent averages for women and men, respectively .
While the gender salary gap has, overall, narrowed from 39 percent in 2016 to 20 percent in 2020, that gap tends to widen as careers progress. Here is a breakdown of average MBA salaries for men and women over time . (This survey did not specify data for people outside of those two gender categories.)
|Years of experience||Average salary (women)||Average salary (men)|
Legally, companies cannot offer lower salaries on the basis of identity factors such as gender or race, and organizations like the Forté Foundation are working to help reduce biases ingrained in the system that cause such compensation gaps.
Overall MBA compensation is often more than just salary. Many MBA candidates receive job offers with compensation packages that include a base salary along with a signing bonus, a performance bonus, stock options, or other benefits:
A base salary is an annual compensation distributed through paychecks received at regular intervals.
A signing bonus is a one-time compensation received upon accepting a job offer. Companies may pay this in one lump sum, or they may distribute the bonus in a few installments.
A performance bonus is an additional compensation received upon reaching established goals or targets.
Stock options are the ability to buy a company’s public stock at a discounted rate. At a private company, compensation packages may include equity, which is owning a financial stake in the company.
Other benefits may include things like profit sharing, tuition reimbursement, 401(k) plans, and offerings along those lines.
Considering the entire compensation package beyond the base salary can boost total earnings by tens of thousands of dollars. US News & World Report surveyed salary data from 131 business schools and found that, of the 111 schools that reported graduates receiving signing bonuses, the average signing bonus for 2021 MBA graduates was $12,172 .
Meanwhile, stock and equity options open up the potential for significant long-term gains.
If you are ready to further explore how an MBA might advance your career, consider the iMBA from the University of Illinois Gies College of Business, a competitively ranked education at a breakthrough price with a global alumni network, available on Coursera. Start taking courses for free through specializations in Digital Marketing, Strategic Leadership and Management, Financial Management, and more.
1. Graduate Management Admission Council. “Demand of Graduate Management Talent: And Salary Trends, https://www.gmac.com/-/media/files/gmac/research/employment-outlook/2021_crs-demand-of-gm-talent.pdf." Accessed April 21, 2022.
2. National Association of Colleges and Employers. “NACE Salary Survey Executive Summary: Winter 2021, https://www.naceweb.org/uploadedfiles/files/2021/publication/executive-summary/2021-nace-salary-survey-winter-executive-summary.pdf." Accessed April 21, 2022.
3. US News & World Report. "Find MBAs That Lead to Employment, High Salaries, https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/articles/mba-salary-jobs." Accessed April 21, 2022.
4. Forté Foundation. “Experiences and Outcomes of the MBA by Gender and Race, http://www.fortefoundation.org/site/DocServer/Forte_-_2021_MBA_Research_Findings_-_September_2021.pdf." Accessed April 21, 2022.
5. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “May 2021 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#00-0000." Accessed April 21, 2022.
6. ZipRecruiter. "What Is the Average MBA Salary by State, https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/What-Is-the-Average-MBA-Salary-by-State." Accessed April 21, 2022.
7. Executive MBA Council. “Research in Context: Industry insights, https://www.embac.org/research-in-context.html." Accessed April 21, 2022.
8. Transparent Career. “How Much Does an MBA Increase Your Salary?, https://blog.transparentcareer.com/how-much-does-an-mba-increase-your-salary/." Accessed April 21, 2022.
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