Why Wharton MBA salaries just hit a new record

BY Sydney LakeNovember 11, 2021, 5:16 PM
The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. (Photo by John Greim—LightRocket/Getty Images)

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania is one of the most competitive full-time MBA programs in the U.S.—and for good reason. Fortune ranks Wharton as having the third-best MBA program in the U.S., which has a lot to do with its graduates’ career outcomes. 

On Nov. 9, Wharton announced that its latest graduating class had earned the school’s highest-ever median base salary at $155,000, according to its 2021 MBA careers report. What’s more, 99% of Wharton’s 2021 grads received a job offer right after earning their MBA. And this has a lot to do with the growing demand for MBA graduates, says Maryellen Reilly, deputy vice dean of Wharton’s MBA program. 

“The job market was keen to hiring MBAs and knew that to compete they had to be able to pay more,” she tells Fortune. “Everybody’s chasing a pretty finite number of MBAs. It was kind of across the board that salaries went up, but certainly led by banks and consulting firms.”

The school didn’t share data on bonuses that its grads earned, but it’s likely that many people earned more than $200,000 immediately after graduation based on the industries they pursued, according to previous reporting by Fortune. The top three industries among Wharton’s 2021 MBA class were financial services (35.1%), consulting (27.2%), and technology (18.1%). That’s the highest share of technology job placements to date, the school reported.

“Wharton’s a very collaborative place. Our students are learning from each other as much as they’re learning from the faculty,” Reilly says. “All of that factors into both their job search, but then their success when they start to interview and intern.”

Consulting, finance, and tech pay up

Wharton has long been a top producer of MBA grads who are looking to go into finance roles, but many of students previously pursued more traditional paths like investment banking. During the past few years, however, Wharton has seen a “real diversification of students working in finance,” with more grads going into private equity and venture capital professions—the cash cows of the finance industry.

While Wharton students who pursued investment banking this year made a $150,000 base salary, on average, those grads who went into private equity or venture capital earned between $157,500 and $167,500. Wharton doesn’t report bonus figures, but other top business schools like Stanford University Graduate School of Business report that students who take private equity jobs have a total compensation of $400,000-plus immediately after graduation. That reflects the high-stakes nature of the industry, Sameer Kamat, founder of MBA Crystal Ball and author of Beyond the MBA Hype, previously told Fortune.

“Among all the post-MBA careers, finance and strategy stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of the impact they can have on the businesses they work with,” Kamat said. “The cost of failure is even higher. A wrong investment can mean several million dollars down the drain.”

Wharton MBA grads who go into consulting roles also have high earnings potential. These 2021 grads earned, on average, $165,000 as a base salary, and likely earned tens of thousands more in bonuses—assuming they’re treated like graduates from other top business school programs. Salaries for consulting jobs have also been inching up over the years due to demand for MBA talent, according to previous reporting from Fortune

Wharton has seen more of its students pursuing tech careers; in 2021, nearly 20% of its grads took a job in the industry. The school reported tech grads’ base salaries at $141,000, but data from other top business school programs suggests these students are likely earning closer to $200,000 with bonuses. Generally, tech salaries are about 20% to 25% higher for MBA grads as opposed to undergrad hires, Keith Feinberg, a director of permanent placement services with Robert Half, previously told Fortune.

How Wharton stayed successful during COVID-19

The class of 2021 arguably had the most disrupted MBA experience of all business school students during the past few years. Wharton’s campus shut down in the spring of their first year, and students didn’t return to a hybrid model until their second year of school. Their internship processes were disrupted due to the financial crisis. Many students didn’t lock down an internship until spring 2021, when they would have traditionally taken one on during the summer of 2020. 

To combat the challenges the class of 2021 faced, Wharton’s career services launched Alumni Supporting Careers (ASC), a program in which alumni were invited to participate in mentoring and recruiting efforts. Alumni could help in three ways: post a job if one was available at their company, hold one-on-one conversations with students, and record programming on topics including industry insights and job-hunting guidance for students to use to navigate the unprecedented time. Students found solace in speaking with alumni who had graduated around the time of the 2008 financial crisis, Reilly says.

The class of 2021 is going to have an impact on the world because they had to be resilient in a way that [other classes] didn’t have to,” Reilly says. “They dealt with so much uncertainty.”

See how the schools you’re considering fared in Fortune’s rankings of the best executive, full-time, and online MBA programs.