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How Much Does an MBA Increase Your Salary?

Here at Transparent, we are often asked whether an MBA degree is “worth it” for prospective students, and as MBA alumni ourselves we have often wondered how exactly to quantify the value of our degrees. Fortunately, our TransparentCareer platform specializes in gathering and sharing data on employee compensation and cultural values, particularly for the graduate business market. By analyzing users’ reported pre-MBA and post-MBA annualized salaries, we were able to quantify the increase in salary for MBAs as a whole and then break down that data even further to look at industry-specific changes.

The Data and Results

For this analysis, we focused on MBA students from the graduating classes of 2009 to 2018, and looked at user-reported pre-MBA salary (up to five years prior to entering school) and post-MBA salary (up to five years after graduating). We included all schools included on the platform, with the highest concentration coming from US-based business schools ranked within the top 15.

This analysis incorporated 11,444 salary data points, 44.9% of which reflected pre-MBA salaries and 55.1% reflected post-MBA salaries.

The top line results are clear about the value of the MBA degree: with an average pre-MBA salary $79,505 and an average post-MBA salary of $116,248, our data suggests than an MBA degree confers an immediate increase of $36,742 in annualized salary – a nearly 50% increase in compensation.

Salary Increases by Industry

This substantial growth in salary holds true across the board when comparing pre-MBA and post-MBA compensation, but we decided to break it down further by looking at the industries where salary growth is most (and least) pronounced. Out of 34 industries, here are the top ten in terms of gross salary increase:

  1. Consulting: $46,414 Increase (+53.85%)
  2. Food, Beverage, & Tobacco: $41,249 Increase (+65.40%)
  3. Investment Management: $38,844 Increase (+47.07%)
  4. Private Equity: $37,739 Increase (+38.35%)
  5. Technology, Internet, & Ecommerce: $36,763 Increase (+43.18%)
  6. Insurance: $36,685 Increase (+49.17%)
  7. Agriculture & Forestry: $36,530 Increase (+49.70%)
  8. Printing & Publishing: $35,004 Increase (+60.01%)
  9. Investment Banking: $33,661 Increase (+36.43%)
  10. Retail: $33,258 Increase (+44.44%)

As you might be able to tell, only the top 5 industries on our list come in with a salary increase greater than the overall average among 34 analyzed industries, suggesting that the large number of candidates entering into industries like consulting, tech, and investment management are driving the overall average much higher. If we look at five of the lowest gross salary increases, we can see that – while salary increases across the board regardless of industry – the increases at lower tiers are significantly less enticing:

  • Accounting & Audit: $20,994 Increase (+30.89%)
  • Restaurants, Hotels, Tourism, & Hospitality:  $14,982 Increase (+21.86%)
  • Education: $14,826 Increase (+24.84%)
  • Government, Military, & Politics: $12,985 Increase (+16.72%)
  • Law: $8,138 Increase (+8.37%)

As you can see, candidates in these industries do not realize nearly as much of the value of the degree as their colleagues in more traditional MBA industries. In other words, while you will get paid slightly more, an MBA is not likely to serve as a boon to your career in law or government service.

How to Use this Data

For those considering graduate business school, there is good news: the degree is still well worth the price of admission, especially at top-tier schools. This is especially true for students looking to enter powerhouse MBA recruiting industries like finance and consulting, where graduates can pay off their six-figure student loans in less than 3 years using only the additional salary they earned by completing their MBA. On the other end of the spectrum, MBAs who plan to enter less traditional industries will still see their pay increase materially, but should expect a payback period closer to 10 years than 3 years.

It’s also important to keep in mind that these sorts of short-term analyses are useful only up to a point – your own experience will vary dramatically depending on your profile, your aspirations, and your particular set of circumstances. Not everyone who enters consulting will see such a drastic pay bump, nor will all lawyers see such scant returns from getting an MBA. These high-level averages can serve as guideposts for your career planning, but you’re the one who has to plot the course.