How Much Is An MBA Degree Really Worth?

By John A. Byrne | Small Business

LinkedIn Influencer, John A. Byrne, published this post originally on LinkedIn. 

What’s an MBA degree really worth? And how much more money does an MBA from Harvard, Stanford or Wharton get you over a career than one from Texas A&M, Ohio State, or the University of Iowa?

Those are questions that perplex and confound many who are deciding whether to get the degree and, if so, where to get it from. Not everyone can get into the most highly selective business schools. So many candidates have to face the question over whether it’s worth getting the MBA from a second- or even third-tier school.

A new analysis done exclusively for Poets&Quants by PayScale, which collects salary data from individuals through online pay comparison tools, shows that the MBA–even from schools that lack global or national caché–delivers hefty seven-figure income over a 20-year period. PayScale used its database of MBA graduates at the top 50 U.S. schools to calculate an estimate of median pay and bonus over the entire 20-year span.

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The numbers are conservative. They do not include stock-based compensation of any kind, the cash value of retirements benefits, or other non-cash benefits, such as health care. The estimates are for base salary, cash bonuses and profit sharing in today’s dollars over a 20-year period from from 1994 to 2014. They are not a projection of future earnings. But the estimates show that the MBA degree–despite all the second-guessing over its value since the Great Recession–is one of the surest paths to a lucrative career.

For the most part, the results are exactly what you would expect: The highly ranked, big brand schools tend to deliver the highest earnings over a 20-year period. Harvard Business School’s MBAs come out on top, with median income of $3.233,000. Stanford MBA holders are next with $3,011,000, and Wharton comes in third with $2,989,000. Harvard MBAs, in fact, earned nearly twice as much as MBAs from Texas A&M’s Mays Business School who pull in $1,781,820 over 20 years.

“It is not surprising that where you get your MBA has a strong association with your income potential,” says Robert Bruner, dean of the University of Virginia’s Darden School. “There is a winners-take-all self-reinforcing cycle in higher education: certain schools attract excellent student talent, which in turn attracts intense recruiter activity and high-salary offers. The employment results make it easier for those schools to attract excellent student talent…and the cycle continues.”

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Here are the top ten:

1. Harvard Business School: $3,233,000

2. Stanford Graduate School of Business: $3,011,000

3. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton): $2,989,000

4. UC-Berkeley (Haas): $2,858,000

5. Columbia Business School: $2,796,000

6. MIT (Sloan): $2,858,000

7. University of Virginia (Darden): $2,705,000

8. Dartmouth College (Tuck): $2,703,000

9. New York University (Stern): $2,639,000

10. UCLA (Anderson): $2,593,000

To see the 20-year income numbers for the next 40 business schools and additional analysis, check out the article on PoetsandQuants.com.

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