For MBA students who decided to go to business school over the past five years, it’s been an amazing time, rich with career opportunities and increasingly handsome pay. If anything, the value of the MBA itself has been confirmed again and again as one of the very few degrees that brings an immediate payoff.
For the Class of 2014, starting pay packages and job placement rates are at either record or near-record levels. Indeed, at some of the super elite schools, the job offer rates may seem somewhat lower than a casual observer might expect. It’s only because the MBA job market has become so frothy that graduates of a handful of very prestigious schools have become ever more choosy and are holding out for the perfect opportunity, highly confident it will come.
Starting salaries of $110,000 to $125,000 are now the median at 16 top U.S. schools, ranging from Harvard where the median was $125,000 to the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business where the median was $110,000. Median sign-on bonuses–now given to the vast majority of MBA graduates from top schools–are $25,000. And all these numbers tend to be highly conservative because they do not include increasingly common year-end bonuses, tuition reimbursement, stock grants and relocation expenses. The graduates of several top European schools, including such key players as London Business School, INSEAD and IESE Business School in Spain, are also in that upper range.
Most importantly, the placement rates at these schools are virtually near full employment, a massive turnaround from the numbers posted in the depth of the recession in 2009 and 2010. Last year, a remarkable 98% of the MBAs from Emory, Wharton and Chicago had job offers three months after graduation. None of the top schools had placement rates below 90% at the three-month mark.
At Emory’s Goizueta Business School, where its job offer rate at graduation was higher than any other MBA program at 90.4% and equal to the very best rate of 98%, it was a landmark year. “2014 was a very strong year for the MBA job market and Goizueta,” says Wendy Tsung, associate dean of MBA Career Services at Goizueta. “Last year, our top hiring partners extended more offers on campus and we also saw a 15% increase in new companies recruiting on campus. 2015 has been just as strong, especially in consulting and financial services. This is a good time to be graduating from an MBA program.”
Another telling statistic about the demand for MBAs: The starting pay packages being landed at such schools at the University of Texas’ McCombs School and Vanderbilt University’s Owen School are nearly as much as those at the highest ranked elite schools. McCombs grads reported starting salaries of $105,000 this year, while Owen MBAs hit the $100,000 mark. That’s just $20,000 or $25,000 lower than the $125,000 commanded by Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton MBAs. If you adjusted those numbers to account for pay and cost of living in the wider markets of Austin and Nashville and again for industry choices, the difference in MBA starting pay would be negligible.
For graduates of the Class of 2015, it looks only to get better and in all likelihood could be the single best year in history to graduate with an MBA. In fact, the latest research is suggesting that the demand for MBA talent is so great that major corporate recruiters are now reaching deeper into the pool at second tier schools ranked between 20 and 100. Another sign of good fortune is that the most significant increase in recruiting is coming from financial services, a sector that is likely to boost overall salaries and bonuses as it competes more aggressively for the best grads at top schools.
This recent release of the MBA Career Services & Employer Alliance survey found that 64% of the responding schools have seen increased recruiting for full-time jobs, up 23% over last fall. And more than three-quarters reported an increase in full-time job postings. At B-schools ranked from 21 to 50, the increases in on-campus recruiting were nothing but massive, with 81% reporting increases. That compares with 57% of schools ranked from 1 to 20 reporting increases, while 67% of those ranked 51 to 100 reported increases.
“2014 was a very strong year for MBA employment and the increases noted by the majority of participating schools suggest that the 2015 results will be even better,” says Damian Zikakis, director of career services at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. It’s highly possible that this year will be the best year to ever graduate with an MBA degree, even better than the 1980s and 1990s when business school education had its biggest gains.
While there can never be a 100% guarantee of placement in the job a graduate most wants, it’s just about as close as it can get to that ideal. “Placement in our tradition MBA program is probably as robust as ever, with over 95% of the graduates reporting employment success within 90 days of graduation at the top 10 schools,” says Paul Danos, dean of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. “And the total pay packages are exceeding pre-crash levels.”
Average starting salaries at Danos’ school hit $117,860 last year, up 2.5% from $115,031 a year earlier. Average signing bonuses–reported by 87% of the class–were $28,712, while other guaranteed compensation averaged $34,431. For a graduating student who collected all three forms of compensation, the average would have totaled a whopping $181,003–to start.
Fast Company & BusinessWeek Former Editor