Which American MBA graduates earn top dollar by industry?

Highest paying MBA industry
BoF Professional Students and Young Entrepreneurs learn from the inspiring panelists at TOPSHOP & The Business of Fashion Host Inside the Industry on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Source: Nicholas Hunt/AFP

With the average cost of a two-year MBA programme exceeding US$60,000, it pays to know which concentration will give you what you expect to gain from graduate school.

If one of those outcomes is a higher salary, Poets & Quants’ recent data on top business schools and the average base pay graduates took home in 2018 according to industry should come in useful.

No Industry Business School Average base pay for 2018 (US$)
1 Other occupations New York University Stern School of Business $176,923
2 Finance Stanford Graduate School of Business $159,397
3 Consulting Stanford Graduate School of Business $142,151
4 Operations Wharton $140,462
5 Marketing Stanford Graduate School of Business $138,863
6 General Management Stanford Graduate School of Business $137,578

Overall, the highest paychecks are in the catch-all category of “Other Occupations”. NYU Stern’s “unique concentrations” in areas like retail, luxury, and real estate are credited for this. Beware, however, that since there are different specialisations swept under this category, an apples-to-apples pay comparison between programmes is difficult to produce.

The highest base ceiling recorded for this concentration was by MIT Sloan (US$250,000) followed by Wharton (US$225,000) and California-Berkeley Haas School of Business (US$200,000).

At second place is finance. For the class of 2018, Stanford again takes the top spot with an average base pay of US$159,397, a figure slightly lower than the US$161,097 recorded last year. It’s the highest average base reported to US News. The base ceiling at four schools – Stanford, Harvard, Wharton and Columbia – starts at a whopping US$300,000, trumping those recorded in the category of ‘Other Occupations’.

A piece of advice once given by Katie Bardaro, lead analyst at, is to “be aware of [the difference between] what is common in your field and what is desired in your field”.

An MBA is practically a requirement in finance, even at a junior level. So it makes economic sense to invest in one if you’re looking for positions such as financial analysts, finance manager, chief finance office and portfolio managers.

Consulting comes in third, with Stanford grads again reporting the highest base pay. Within this concentration, 32 MBA programmes reported base pay averages of US$120,000 or more with Dartmouth Tuck, Columbia Business School and the Wharton School crossing the US$140,000 mark. But its highest base ceiling is still nowhere close to those reported in finance. Only Harvard, Wharton and Columbia reported base ceilings of US$200,000 – that’s US$100,000 less than finance.

In fourth to sixth position are operations, marketing and general management, in that order. These three concentrations recorded an average base pay starting from US$137,578, twenty percent less than the average base pay reported for ‘Other Occupations’.

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