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An MBA Degree’s ROI Extends Far Beyond Salary: Career Services Professionals Weigh In

Valued for their versatile skill set, strategic thinking abilities and strong communication skills, MBAs often enjoy significantly higher salaries than their non-MBA peers. In fact, recent data show that, this year, employers plan to offer new MBA hires a median starting salary of $115,000 — markedly higher than the salary for direct-from-industry hires ($95,000) and bachelor’s degree hires ($65,000). 

Jeff McNish
Jeff McNish

“When you earn a graduate degree, and an MBA in particular, you become more valuable in the marketplace,” says Jeff McNish, assistant dean of the Career Center at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. “Our data indicate that when students arrive with an undergraduate degree, three to five years of work experience and perhaps a few promotions, they approximately double their salary after graduating with an MBA.”

Part of the reason for this is the industries and roles MBAs decide to pursue. Often, the difference in compensation is even more pronounced among the ranks of Fortune 100 companies and those in the consulting, finance and technology sectors. According to some metrics, the median salary of MBAs in the consulting industry is twice that of bachelor’s degree holders. 

“Darden graduates who begin their careers in consulting or banking, specifically, receive very high salaries,” McNish says. “That type of work is challenging, but there is great reward.”

Beyond the Financial Return

In addition to the financial ROI of earning an MBA, there are many more benefits that make earning an MBA worth the time, effort and cost. 

Laura Benoit
Laura Benoit

“When considering the return on investment of an MBA, one should look beyond the expected salary increase post-graduation and consider the access to the alumni network, leadership development and exposure to diverse people, ideas and experiences,” says Laura Snow Benoit, who directs DEIB programming for the Career Management Group at the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business

The time spent on campus in an MBA program, along with the intensive and collaborative nature of such programs, fosters deep and long-lasting relationships among students and their peers, as well as alumni of the institution. Fellow students provide critical support, while alumni can serve as an invaluable resource for students interested in exploring different career paths — and both can lead to new opportunities down the road.

“Few things will be more important or valuable than the network you establish and maintain during an MBA program,” Benoit says. 

At Haas, she says, the Career Management Group partners with the Department of Alumni Relations to create opportunities for connection and to integrate alumni’s expertise into much of its programming. “Through events like our annual Underrepresented Minority Networking Night and industry panels, we help students connect directly with alumni to explore different career paths early on in the program,” says Benoit. “Our coaching team also helps you strategize and tailor your networking outreach at each phase of your MBA recruitment and career journey.”

When it comes to building a network, Consortium members experience additional value. With a network of 10,000-plus alumni, more than 600 students, 21 member schools and nearly 90 corporate partner companies, Consortium MBAs gain access to a vast network of working professionals, including executive-level leaders, coaches, entrepreneurs and more. 

“During their MBA experience, students build a powerful network,” McNish says. “These are professional relationships that last for a very long time.”

Honing Your Leadership Skills

Leadership development, Benoit says, is another benefit of MBA programs — and one that McNish believes students should take advantage of to maximize their return on investment, beyond what they’re getting in the classroom. From leading a student organization to participating in case competitions, there are many opportunities for MBAs to engage in leadership development. 

“Student club leadership gives you a chance to lead and create programming. At Darden, students learn how to manage a budget and are part of a leadership team that is similar to running their own businesses,” says McNish. “Students have to attend class and do the academic work, but on top of coursework and career activities, there are all kinds of opportunities in which students can get involved. Those extracurricular pursuits can be life-changing.”

Benoit agrees, adding that these experiences can help you discover your unique leadership style. “An MBA program is likely the only time in your career when you can spend a full two years on intentional leadership development, helping you move from being an individual contributor to a strategic leader,” she says.

Advancing In or Changing Careers

A clear benefit of an MBA — and the most common reasons why people decide to pursue one — is its ability to help you advance in your current career or transition to a new one. “Business schools offer a great experience to do both, whether you’re developing business skills for the first time or you’re enhancing the business skills that you have,” says McNish. “MBA programs prepare you for any challenge you encounter — whether your goals are to pivot careers or advance in your current career.”

“For example,” he adds, “for a student who has worked as an analyst at a bank and wants to continue in the investment banking sector, an MBA enhances that student’s existing skill set — [providing] the technical acumen needed to be a banker and skills like leadership, critical thinking and strategic thinking. By building upon all of these strengths, an MBA crystallizes and enhances that particular student’s career direction.”

The MBA summer internship, McNish notes, is a great opportunity for those interested in switching careers to explore new paths, while getting paid for the experience. “The MBA internship is an excellent way to experiment with a new function or industry that you may be interested in pursuing as a career path,” he says.

An MBA also provides the foundational knowledge and skills necessary to launch a business or grow an existing one, and McNish says many business schools have programming tailored toward these entrepreneurial-minded students. 

Exposure to Diversity

Last but not least, Benoit touts the ability of MBA programs to expose students to a range of people, ideas and experiences, helping build inclusive leadership skills — which are, and will likely continue to be, in high demand. 

“With the rapidly changing world of work and the global nature of many businesses, it is invaluable to have experience working with and understanding people from various backgrounds,” she says. “Centering diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging will continue to be vital for future leaders to serve the needs of diverse populations.”

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