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Wall Street Bound: The Future 1%

October 16, 2012
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It’s no secret that pursuing a career in finance can lead to a lucrative salary. The Occupy Movement put a spotlight on the high earners from Wall Street, but there remains plenty of money to be made in the finance sector. As the numbers show, graduating from a top MBA program and heading to a finance firm or private fund will put you on the fast track to becoming a future member of the 1%.

As part of NerdWallet’s MBA Comparison Tool, we gathered salary data from among the top business schools in the country. Our analysis consistently found that the highest earners pursued specialty roles in finance, such as investment banking or private equity. Although not all programs break down salary figures by specialty, 11 of the top schools, such as Stanford, Harvard, and Wharton, provided full details of their finance graduates.

Specialty Finance Graduates Earn More Than Any Other Category

Across all 48 schools, the average MBA graduate entering a finance role earned a compensation package of $121,832, which includes a base salary of $93,146 and $28,626 signing bonus. Looking at the 11 schools that break down finance by specialty, the total average financial compensation jumps to $138,479. These 11 schools also send, on average, 37% of their graduating class into finance-related jobs, compared to 25% across the other schools in the study.

Students graduating to jobs in Private Equity, Venture Capital, or Hedge Funds earn the most: on average $153,561. Investment Bankers may earn the lowest base salary among finance specialties, but compensation is boosted by the highest average signing bonus at $41,679.

Cardinal on Top: Stanford Grads Are Highest Paid

Stanford’s finance grads led all other MBA programs with an average starting salary of $171,152. This is over $13,000 more than Harvard, the next highest school at $157,500. Although not highest in every finance category, Stanford produces more Private Equity/VC/Hedge Fund students than any other school, averaging 20% of the graduating class. With an average compensation of $182,485, these students are the true bread-winners among MBA graduates:

Rank  MBA Program Base Salary Signing Bonus Total Compensation
1  Stanford University $131,209 $33,943 $171,152
2  Harvard University $117,500 $40,000 $157,500
3  Northwestern University – Kellogg $112,214 $33,029 $145,243
4  University of Pennsylvania – Wharton $106,018 $37,021 $143,039
5  Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Sloan $100,838 $36,185 $137,023
6  University of Chicago – Booth $98,333 $38,333 $136,667
7  University of California, Berkeley – Haas $106,875 $29,522 $136,397
8  Columbia University $102,925 $32,528 $135,453
9  University of Virginia – Darden $97,168 $26,922 $124,090
10  University of California, Los Angeles – Anderson $98,147 $31,987 $130,134
11  New York University – Stern $96,830 $32,171 $129,001

The 11 MBA Programs included in the calculations above provided detailed breakdown of financial specialties.

Notes on study methodology:  Data was sourced directly from the American Bar Association and from schools’ own websites. Salary information was not available for all schools researched. All reported figures represent data that has been averaged over two or three years to normalize for annual fluctuations.