Investing

Another Record MBA Pay Year At Harvard Business School

BY: JOHN A. BYRNE

Graduating in the midst of the pandemic, Harvard Business School MBAs set yet another record in median pay. The total median compensation for an HBS grad this year reached $173,500. The total including sign-on bonuses and other guaranteed first-year compensation was less than a percent of an increase over last year’s $172,090 yet nevertheless a new record for MBA graduates.

Even so, the pandemic clearly had an impact on the employment rate, even at Harvard. Three months after graduation, nearly one in five graduates had yet to land a job. Some 90% of them had a job offer in hand, down four percentage points from a year earlier, but only 83% had accepted their offers, down five percentage points from 88% in 2019.

That trend of higher pay and fewer job offers and acceptances has played out at one business school after another this year, as the outbreak of the coronavirus led many companies to freeze their hiring plans and in some cases claw back offers they had already made to forthcoming MBA graduates (see below). Harvard’s 2020 employment report is coming out more than six weeks later than typical due to disruptions caused by the pandemic. Last year, HBS released its accounting for its latest graduating class on Nov. 1.

BIGGEST PAY DAYS WENT TO MBAS WHO GRAVITATED TO JOBS WITH HEDGE FUNDS, CONSULTING FIRMS & PE AND VC SHOPS

The starting total pay for a Harvard MBA included a median salary of $150,000, a $30,ooo sign-on bonus, received by 60% of the class, and median other guaranteed compensation of $50,000, reported by 11% of the graduates. Median salaries saw a slight increase from $148,750 last year, while signing bonuses were at the same $30,000 level, though slightly fewer 2019 grads received them, 57% last year. Other guaranteed compensation, meantime, slipped from $52,000, a median sum reported by 12% of the Class of 2019. Total median pay includes base salary, sign-on bonus and other guaranteed compensation, adjusted for the percentages of graduates receiving a signing bonus and other guaranteed pay.

Of course, pay often reflects both the career paths chosen by students as well as the location of those jobs. At the top end of the pay scale in the most lucrative positions was the 7% of the latest class to head into hedge funds and investment management jobs. The median total compensation for those Harvard MBAs totaled $203,307, with median salaries of $152,682, sign-on bonuses of $27,500, reported by 54% of the students, and a massive $132,500 in other guaranteed comp landed by 27% of the grads. Even so, this year’s total for the hedge fund crowd is below last year’s $211,350 in compensation, though the percentage of Harvard grads going into the field nearly doubled from 2019’s 4%.

Once again, consulting continues to prove that it is a very lucrative industry for MBAs. The total median pay for graduates who ventured into the likes of McKinsey, Bain, BCG and other consulting firms from Harvard was $195,336. Those accepted offers were composed of a starting salary of $165,000, a $30,000 signing bonus, given to 95% of those going into the field, and other guaranteed comp of $20,400, reported by 9% of the students. The consulting crowd managed to do a bit better than the Class of 2019 which accepted consulting jobs at $194,880 in total pay.

DUE LARGELY TO THE PANDEMIC, EARLY CAREER CHOICES NARROWED

The consulting total even outpaced the median compensation for graduates who landed jobs in private equity, venture capital and buyout firms. In that field, total pay came to $186,609, a sum that reflects a $160,000 starting salary, a $25,000 sign-on bonus, reported by a third of the graduates, and $111,500 first-year guaranteed comp, landned by 16%. This year’s PE/VC total pay numbers were down along with hedge funds from last year’s $194,000 in total median comp.

Unlike many of its peer schools, Harvard does not list the lowest and highest salaries by its graduates, instead preferring to post the median salary at the 25th and 75th percentiles. This year the highest 75th percentile bases listed were $200,000 in private equity and venture capital, $182,500 in energy, and $175,000 in hedge funds/investment management, highly diversified manufacturing. The lowest 25th percentile base salaries of $100,000 were in government and no-profits. 

One obvious, though less discerned, trend due to COVID is the narrowing of career options that were available to the Class of 2022. As the job market tightened, more MBA graduates fled to the tried-and-true MBA industries, financial services and consulting. At HBS this year, 58% of all the MBAs took jobs in those two fields, up from 50% last year. Some 34% of the class accepted offers from financial services, up five full percentage points from the 29% of the Class of 2019 that went into financial services. Consulting, meantime, claimed 24% of this year’s Harvard MBAs, up three percentage points over the 21% who went that route last year. Technology slipped to 19% from 20% in 2019, even though median starting salaries increased by $5,000 to $140,000 (see below chart).

As is often the case, MBAs who pursued a career in financial services went into a wide variety of financial segments.The single largest chunk at Harvard–22%–headed into private equity, venture capital and buyout firms. That was up from 20% last year. Roughly 7% of the grads landed jobs in hedge funds and investment management firms, nearly double the 4$ of the Class of 2019 that chose jobs in those industry segments. Just 3% of this year’s class went into investment banking, down slightly from 4% in 2019. A single percent went into “other financial services,” same as last year.