Do Top-Ranked Business Schools Lead to Top-Paying Jobs?

Article Icon Article
Monday, January 28, 2019
By Barbara Coward
Image by iStock
We chat with business school graduates to find out if the highest ranked business schools really lead to the highest-paying jobs.

You would be hard-pressed to find a business school website that doesn’t mention a passion for educating students who will make a positive difference in the world or change society for the better. Without doubt, the business sector can solve some of the toughest challenges of our time on a scale that surpasses the public sector.

That said, money still matters. While you don’t want to say in an application essay that your primary motivation for an MBA is to make a fortune, the fact remains that a good business education is expensive, and a top-paying job will enable you to do more for yourself—and others.

Kathe Pratt, a U.S. military veteran and alumna of the University of South Carolina Darla Moore School of Business, says that she would not be making the salary she’s commanding in the private sector without her MBA.

“Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does provide a certain level of comfort that leads to a good life,” she explains. “We were able to buy a house last year and afford a lifestyle where we don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck. I’ve lived that life.”

How much of a good life can an MBA afford? One alumna, who asked for her name to remain confidential, was making 130,000 USD after graduation. Five years out, she’s at 300,000 USD (and she went to a prominent program but not a super-prestigious one).

Tim Jackson, an alumnus of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business who works in sales and marketing at a global media company, says that a “fairly substantial promotion” would not have been offered without his having an MBA (his undergraduate degree was in broadcasting and cinematic arts).

“There are so many layers that involve pay in a specific job, but I do think the ranking of the school is a differentiator, particularly in multinational corporations,” says Jackson. “Geographic location can also make a difference. International executives from some cultures are very focused on name of school. If you go to the ’wrong‘ school from undergrad and beyond, you’re stuck in middle management and you won’t go anywhere. That will certainly influence your earnings potential.”

Meanwhile, Valerie Olson, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business, argues that a top-ranked MBA is absolutely correlated to compensation. “The brand gives you that bargaining chip to negotiate a higher salary,” says the project manager at Target. “Companies pay a premium for brand names in the marketplace and the prestige that comes with a top-ranked school.”

The former field operations manager leveraged her MBA to negotiate a 22% increase in salary as she moved from field operations to a corporate role. An important caveat, she says, is that your compensation can actually decrease when you move from store operations to the corporate side.

“If I didn’t have my MBA, I would have had to take a 30-40 percent pay cut to get into my current corporate role.”

Eli Greiner-Quiett, who happens to be another Mendoza alum, explains why top-ranked business schools often lead to top-paying jobs. “It’s prestige,” she says. “We did a search for a chief investment officer, and one candidate had an MBA from Kellogg School of Management and an undergraduate degree from Duke University. Other applicants had bachelor’s and master’s degrees but not from top-name schools. One person on the search committee who advocated for this candidate exclaimed with excitement, ’But they went to Duke! They went to Kellogg!’”

It’s common sense that companies will pay a premium to successful job applicants from top-ranked schools, she adds. “The company is ‘selling’ the school’s high-ranked position to their clients. It’s something the employer is proud to say.”

Lawrence Linker, Founder of Singapore based MBA Admissions Consulting Firm, MBA Link, agrees that an MBA from a top school leads to a top paying job.

"I think in our modesty and desire not to misrepresent, those of us who work in MBA Admissions can be too shy about proclaiming the simple fact that if you attend a top ranked MBA program, you are almost guaranteed to have an opportunity for a six-figure salary,” says Lawrence. “Interestingly enough, I've always found that the MBA prospects most skeptical of the earning potential of an MBA degree are those who are currently on the lower end of the salary spectrum. It's ironic to me that, in my experience, those who are the most cynical are actually those who have the most to gain!”  

Business school gatekeepers have some thoughts on this topic as well.

Clear Admit's Alex Brown, a former senior associate director of admissions at The Wharton School, says top-ranked business schools provide greater access to opportunities for the very top jobs in private equity, venture capital, the big three consulting firms of McKinsey, Bain, and Boston Consulting Group, tech jobs, and the top investment banks. These positions often pay the highest compensation. Once you move beyond these careers, things are less straightforward.”

The former dean of graduate admissions at Babson College answers the question from another angle. “I would have to say the industry and type of job you land after graduation will have equal if not stronger impact on your salary than simply your newly acquired MBA brand,” says Petia Whitmore, who is also a Babson alumna. “I worked with admirable young entrepreneurs who launched amazing businesses and initially drew very low salaries. Does this disprove the correlation that top business schools lead to top salaries? No. It just shows that your post-MBA salary is the answer to a much more complex equation.”

Greiner-Quiett concurs that the business school-job correlation is not completely straightforward.

“On the hiring side, I do think that well-known schools have an influence, but they aren’t always the deciding factor,” she says. “There are a lot of factors that go into compensation, and it’s tough to have conclusive evidence in that regard.

While these alums show that higher compensation does correlate to career happiness, it’s also important to remember that money isn’t all that matters. An MBA has long been a promise for greater professional satisfaction – and that is priceless.

AACSB International is providing this information in order to help prospective students understand the nuances among different rankings and how they are calculated. AACSB does not support or endorse any specific ranking methodology and encourages students to consider AACSB accreditation as part of their search criteria when evaluating business school programs for fit, quality of education, and career success.

Additionally, salary and job position post-MBA or graduate business degree completion is dependent on individual circumstances. Obtaining these degrees does not guarantee automatic placement and salary increase.

Barbara Coward
Founder, Enrollment Strategies
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
Subscribe to LINK, AACSB's weekly newsletter!
AACSB LINK—Leading Insights, News, and Knowledge—is an email newsletter that brings members and subscribers the newest, most relevant information in global business education.
Sign up for AACSB's LINK email newsletter.
Our members and subscribers receive Leading Insights, News, and Knowledge in global business education.
Thank you for subscribing to AACSB LINK! We look forward to keeping you up to date on global business education.
Weekly, no spam ever, unsubscribe when you want.