Earning a Master of Business Administration means an individual has successfully completed a rigorous course of study, but it also usually means a professional will be able to supercharge their earnings potential.
In fact, according to projections for 2020, the typical MBA grad will earn upwards of $20,000 more than individuals with lower-level business degrees. Many publications have attempted to quantify the average salary that MBA-holders can expect, but there are many factors that play a role in how much an MBA grad can expect to earn.
Let’s take a look at the biggest influences on a MBA grad’s expected salary, what pay is connected with some common jobs and how new grads can position themselves for the best possible income for years to come.
Except where noted, our data comes from an analysis of salary figures published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Payscale, Glassdoor and Indeed.
Factors That Influence Salary
Several factors play a huge role in influencing the salary a person with an MBA can expect to earn. Here’s a look at which factors have the biggest impact:
- School: The prestige of certain educational institutions can make an MBA worth more (or less), and one analysis found that the highest average MBA salary was connected to a degree from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
- Specialization: Some of the most in-demand roles, including those in healthcare administration or data analysis, require specialized education and training, but for those who have the chops to excel, it may be possible to leverage a specialty into an especially high salary.
- Professional experience: Earning an MBA is a signal that you are serious about self-improvement and learning all you can about the industry you work in, but the most sought-after grads will also have some real-world experience they can rely on when the going gets tough. Employers are almost always willing to pay a great deal more for workers with years of experience.
- Job function: Not all MBAs will end up with executive-level jobs, but individuals who are responsible for overseeing departments and managing others take on greater responsibilities and, therefore, command higher wages.
- Geography: Certain areas of the country have a much higher cost of living, and wages tend to reflect that, particularly for those who have earned professional degrees like the MBA. But it’s important to remember that it’s important to strike a balance between salary and cost of living.
- Previous degrees: Similarly to the importance of experience and depending on the job you’re after, the degrees you earned before your MBA could be very important, as that could signal a lifelong dedication to a particular area.
- Industry: Not all areas of the economy are equal, even for those who have earned an MBA. Some sectors have notoriously low wages, like government or nonprofits, though for people with a passion for certain industries, that may not be a stumbling block.
Top 20 MBA Jobs & What They Pay
For individuals with an MBA, the potential is great to work in pretty much any field, from the heavily business-oriented to roles that skew more creative and everything in between. While the ideal role depends largely on a person’s individual interests and their educational background, there are several lucrative positions that tend to draw more MBAs than others.
Here’s a look at the top 20 MBA jobs, what they involve and what you can expect to earn:
These professionals maintain financial records and conduct calculations for companies or private clients, and this could include balancing the books, creating cash-flow reports, conducting billing and invoicing functions and generating income forecasts. Certification as a public accountant may be necessary for some roles.
Average salary: $60,800
Top employers for accountants include Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers and other accounting firms, and these professionals can expect to earn a premium in New York and Los Angeles, where salaries are about 14% higher than the national average.
In a finance-forward role, budget analysts are responsible for assessing the past expenditures and projected budgets to assess the status of funding levels as well as budgeted goals. But they also need to be adept enough to present their findings and get buy-in from peers and others.
Average salary: $68,500
Top employers include branches of the U.S. military, transit companies and public boards, such as school systems. Budget analysts in Washington, D.C., make about 28% higher than the national average, and those in nearby Arlington, Virginia, earn about 24% more.
Business Operations Manager
A business operations manager could oversee a department, or in some smaller organizations, they may make up their own departments. They often have an expansive portfolio of responsibilities, including overseeing the daily function of a business to ensure all aspects of operations are running smoothly.
Average salary: $94,100
Top employers include retailers like Old Navy, tech companies like Amazon and IBM and educational systems. These professionals earn a 44% higher-than-average salary in San Francisco and much lower salaries in Denver.
Chief Executive Officer
The highest ranking employee in most companies, the chief executive officer is, as the saying goes, where the buck stops. A CEO is in charge of an entire organization, overseeing every department, setting goals and often serving as the public face of a company.
Average salary: $130,650
While most are self-employed and may have founded the companies they work in, top employers for CEO openings include nonprofits, healthcare organizations and religious groups. They’ll earn a premium in New York (+31%) and San Francisco (+29%).
Chief Information Officer
Most often an executive-level, or C-suite, role, chief information officers serve as the head of organizations’ operations related to computers, information technology, data systems, network security and other related areas. They assess technology needs across the organization and implement and monitor plans to address those needs, supervising all members of IT teams across the company.
Average salary: $130,800
Top employers of CIOs across the country include branches of the U.S. military, manufacturing and engineering firms and educational systems. Wages for this role are highest in New York (+31%) and Los Angeles (+21%).
In a role that bridges administration and technology, database administrators ensure that organizations are efficiently gathering, storing and organizing data. This could mean designing new systems or improving upon existing ones. They should have a good deal of hands-on technology experience for these roles.
Average salary: $81,800
Top employers include retailers, banks, military contractors and insurance firms, and these jobs tend to be most lucrative in Texas, where the average DBA earns about 13% more.
Often a C-level position, finance directors are responsible for overseeing the fiscal health of organizations. They often oversee business, accounting and other finance-related departments, establish financial strategies and provide guidance to ensure long-term revenue growth.
Average salary: $120,500
Top employers include retailers, nonprofits and financial services companies. Finance directors earn their highest wages in San Francisco, where they can expect to make 38% more than the average national wage for this role.
Financial analysts study trends and past performance and develop projections and recommendations with regards to marketplace moves, investments and other economic factors of interest to their employers or private clients.
Average salary: $73,100
The list of top employers for this role is dominated by companies in the financial sector like J.P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo. Financial analysts in New York (+12%), Seattle (+11%) and Houston (+9%) earn more than average.
Health Policy Analyst
Health policy analysts research and analyze past and present conditions with regard to healthcare and medical systems and outcomes and make recommendations about legislation and administrative changes that can improve healthcare delivery.
Average salary: $89,800
Employers for health policy analysts largely include government agencies like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services and research groups like Mathematica Policy Research, and wages are highest in two epicenters of the American public health establishment, Baltimore (+12%) and Atlanta (+11%).
Healthcare administrators may be in charge of one department or functional team within a healthcare organization, such as nursing or assistants, or they may be in charge of the operations of an entire medical facility. They most often serve in upper management roles, overseeing staffing decisions, analyzing market conditions and managing all day-to-day operations.
Average salary: $83,100
As one would expect, the roster of common types of employers for this role is dominated by medical groups like DaVita and Kaiser Permanente, but jobs also are often found in branches of the U.S. military. Chicago offers the best salary boost for healthcare administrators, with an average wage 37% higher than counterparts across the country.
Also known as Directors of Human Resources or Chief HR Officers, HR Directors are tasked with overseeing HR systems, handling employee relations, ensuring compliance with regulations, managing budgets, assessing staffing needs, hiring employees, designing training programs, and developing compensation plans.
Average salary: $100,800
Information Systems Manager
Information systems managers serve as mid-level managers within information technology departments, though at some smaller organizations, they may serve in more administrative and expansive roles. They are in charge of planning and installing upgrades to hardware and software and ensuring that all technology-related services are up and running, usually managing a team of IT professionals.
Average salary: $112,850
The most common type of employer for this role is a military branch, and wages are highest in the Boston area (+34%).
Management analysts study how teams, departments and entire companies function and design and implement updates to how teams function aimed at improving efficiency, effectiveness and the cohesion of a workforce.
Average salary: $75,000
Common types of employers include governments, military branches and huge multinational corporations, and salaries tend to be highest in Washington, D.C. (+20%) and Arlington, Virginia (+16%).
Market Research Analyst
Market research analysts provide the foundation of a company’s plans with regards to how it sells its products and services by conducting research and gathering data on consumers and possible customers.
Average salary: $58,300
Top employers include statistics companies like Ipsos and Nielsen, and wages tend to be higher in San Francisco (+13%) and Boston (+8%) but lower in Los Angeles (-2%) and Washington, D.C. (-4%).
Often an executive-level position in many companies, marketing directors are responsible for managing all aspects of the marketing teams and departments within an organization. This includes submitting and managing budgets, hiring and firing staff, writing and enforcing a variety of policies, and recommending changes to enhance profitability and effectiveness.
Average salary: $110,130
Top employers include Microsoft, Disney and AT&T, and salaries in Silicon Valley are by far the highest, about 61% above average for all marketing directors in the U.S.
Operations Research Analyst
Operations research analysts usually fill a very mathematical and statistics-oriented function in organizations, using advanced tools, including models and algorithms, to help their employers make better decisions and solve complex problems across a range of departments and functions.
Average salary: $80,700
The roster of top employers for this role is dominated by branches of the U.S. military and major government contractors like Northrop Grumman and Booz Allen Hamilton. In addition to a cluster of higher-wage offerings in the Washington, D.C., area, operations research analyst jobs in Huntsville, Alabama pay about 10% higher than the average wage for this role.
Senior Product Manager
A senior product manager controls and manages all aspects of the lifecycle of a product, beginning from the genesis of the idea for a product through design and production and to market, including receiving customer feedback and making improvements. They generally provide a single contact point for many departments and disparate teams.
Average salary: $113,600
Top employers include manufacturers like General Electric, tech companies like Oracle and retailers like Amazon, and salaries tend to be higher on the West Coast.
A project manager’s day-to-day duties will depend on their industry and employer, but they are responsible for planning, crafting, executing and monitoring a project from start to finish, ensuring it is completed on time and within budget.
Average salary: $83,700
The most plentiful area for project managers to find jobs is in construction, but other top employers include Kaiser Permanente, IBM and Cisco Systems. Salaries are highest in Washington, D.C., where the typical project manager earns about 14% more than their counterparts elsewhere in the U.S.
Sports Operations Director
Operations directors for sports teams, leagues and collegiate athletics departments create facility-related policies and procedures, oversee event scheduling and coordination, and make decisions on vendors and suppliers for teams and arenas.
Average salary: $101,300
Top employers include nonprofits, professional sports teams and collegiate associations, and salaries are highest in the San Francisco area (+34%).
Supply Chain Manager
Critical in our increasingly delivery-focused world, supply chain managers oversee and manage an organization’s entire supply chain, including projecting incoming and outgoing materials. They ensure maximum efficiency and productivity from beginning to end.
Average salary: $78,500
Top employers across the country include manufacturers like Frito-Lay, PepsiCo and Procter & Gamble, retailers like Amazon and military contractors. Salaries are highest in Houston (+10%) and Chicago (+8%).
MBA Job Search Tips
While earning an MBA will usually make a job candidate more attractive, finding a great job is never easy. What should MBA graduates do to ensure they’re finding the right job with the right company? Here are are our seven best tips:
- Start small, but widen your scope: Networking will always be the best way to find a great job, and you should definitely start by asking people you know and trust if they are aware of any roles that you’d be good for. But you can’t just rely on your network to do the work for you, and you should plan to expand your scope beyond the people already in your orbit.
- Be willing to pay your dues: It’s tempting after you earn an MBA to assume you’ll be in charge (and have that corner office), but if there’s a particular company or industry you’re dying to work in, you might need to accept a role that you’re overqualified for — but that’ll give you a chance to blow everyone away.
- Assume everything is negotiable: You’ve certainly prepared yourself to haggle over your salary, but don’t stop there. Bargain for more vacation time, suggest a work schedule that’s better for your personal life, or make sure you get the best office.
- Show them numbers: No doubt your MBA program included robust education in statistics. Maybe you even had some projects that revolved around using metrics to sell an imaginary product; well now you’re the product, but instead of imaginary metrics, you have actual stats about yourself you can pitch to employers.
- Start early, and look often: Even if you’re just beginning your MBA journey, it can’t hurt to see what the current employment situation is for the people who have the degree you’ll be earning. This could even spark ideas for classes you might want to take to land that ideal job, and you should be checking regularly so you can keep on top of emerging workforce trends.
- Realize it’s OK to say no (if you can): Even if an interview goes well and you get offered a job, remember that you don’t have to take it — unless your financial situation is dire. But if you have the fiscal freedom, it’s OK to wait for a better fit to come along. Or you might be able to leverage that offer into a better one elsewhere or even with the same company.
- Embrace the unknown: Earning an MBA is the start of something, not the end of it. Of course, it might feel like the culmination of a long journey, but the truth is that completing your MBA is only the beginning of a new path for you, and finding a great job might require a leap of faith like moving to a new part of the country or shifting industries.
Completing an MBA program is an exciting and challenging prospect, but it’s not without its risks. Many programs require a huge financial investment, and they all require a huge time investment. For those with the skill set and drive to improve their business acumen, an MBA could be just the first step on a satisfying new journey.