Duke University MBAs see starting pay crack $175,000 for the first time

BY Sydney LakeNovember 02, 2021, 7:37 PM
Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in April 2007.
Jim R. Bounds—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Duke University Fuqua School of Business offers one of the most competitive full-time MBA programs with an acceptance rate of only 19%; Fortune ranks it as the No. 11 program in the U.S. The school also produces high-income earners. In 2021, Fuqua grads earned an all-time high average salary of $141,109, plus an average signing bonus of $34,958. 

That $175,000-plus starting salary is 52% higher than the average salary of $115,000 that recruiters reported paying all MBA grads. Fuqua also saw an increase in job acceptances—at 96% in 2021, up from 91% the prior year—a statistic that’s “quite remarkable,” notes Sheryle Dirks, Fuqua associate dean for career management.

“The resilience necessary for each Fuqua student to secure their desired position during the turbulence of 2021 tells an important story: not only about them, but also about the strength of our faculty, curriculum, experiential learning, recruiting, and career resources,” Dirks wrote in Fuqua’s 2021 employment report. “In a challenging year, our students thrived.”

A combined 59% of Fuqua’s latest class went into either consulting (32%) or tech (27%) jobs after graduation, and starting salaries for these roles increased by 3% to 5% compared with those offered the year before. Generally speaking, consulting and tech companies shell out the most money for MBA grads, so it’s no surprise that Fuqua saw a nice pop in its salary stats this year. 

But what makes a Fuqua MBA so attractive to these consulting and tech companies?

MBA grads are ‘perfectly suited’ for consulting jobs

Two of the three top employers of Fuqua’s 2021 class were the Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey & Co.—both powerhouses in the consulting world. These firms pay a base salary of $165,000 to newly minted MBAs, according to Management Consulted, a company that offers prep and training for professionals entering the consulting industry. This aligns with Fuqua’s reported average salary of $158,293 for consulting jobs.

“These starting salaries have been steadily increasing over the past few years,” Don Lowman, a senior client partner and global leader of Korn Ferry’s Global Total Rewards business, tells Fortune. Consulting firms are “finding themselves competing more and more for some of the same top talent being recruited by investment banks and private equity firms, which are also premium payers to top MBA grads.”

What Fuqua doesn’t report, though, are the lucrative bonuses new consultants make. According to Management Consulted, McKinsey hires can make an additional $35,000 in performance bonuses and $30,000 for a signing bonus—bringing total compensation to a whopping $230,000 for their first year out of grad school. Similarly, new BCG hires can make $41,250 for a performance bonus and $30,000 for a signing bonus, cashing in at a total of $236,250.

“Consulting firms expect a lot from their employees, and providing bonuses is one way to motivate them to perform at the highest levels,” Lowman says. Retention is also important, so bonuses will not only serve as an incentive to “perform well during the year, but also to remain with the company so that they can collect additional compensation for the hard work they put in all year,” he adds.

The total salary for MBA grads who go into consulting is more than double the $90,000 paycheck for colleagues who only have a bachelor’s degree, according to Management Consulted. So why are consulting firms paying so much more for MBA grads?

“Consulting firms value this real-world experience in their new hires, along with the disciplined analytical problem-solving that MBAs learn as they complete their degrees,” Lowman says. “For many MBAs, the education and training they receive—and the case studies they complete in teams—is perfectly suited for the way they will operate as consultants.” 

MBA grads also come in with several years of work experience plus the graduate degree, which Lowman adds commands a “substantial pay premium” versus candidates who only have a bachelor’s degree.

Duke’s ‘collaborative environment’ mirrors that of tech companies

Despite the high concentration of top tech firms on the West Coast, Duke University, located in Durham, N.C., produces plenty of tech-focused MBA grads. In 2021, more than one-quarter of Fuqua MBA grads took tech jobs right after graduation, and the average starting salary was $134,360. 

Duke doesn’t provide bonus data for these jobs, but other top business schools like Stanford University Graduate School of Business report some MBA grads who go into the tech field rake in tens of thousands more each year in bonuses. MBA grads who pursue tech careers make about 20% to 25% more than undergrad hires, Keith Feinberg, a director of permanent placement services with Robert Half, previously told Fortune.

Tech has been a growing field for Duke grads—and it’s expected to continue because the “collaborative culture at most tech companies mirrors the culture of teamwork and collaboration at Fuqua,” according to the school’s 2021 employment report. Many Duke MBA grads go into tech marketing, operations, and finance roles—and product management jobs are “becoming one of the most in-demand tech functions” for grads, the school reported.

“We have seen large tech companies like Amazon, IBM, and Cisco even extend product manager offers to MBAs who do not have a tech background, either academic or in pre-MBA experiences,” according to the latest Fuqua employment report. In 2021, Amazon hired 33 Fuqua grads, including Nursultan Kenzhebayev, who was hired by the tech giant as a senior vendor manager.

Kenzhebayev credits Duke’s experiential learning opportunities, including a mentored program with a Fuqua alum–founded tech startup, as valuable and interesting to Amazon.

“It was rewarding to work with, and be coached by, the industry insiders,” he said in the 2021 employment report, adding that the chief operating officer of the startup company he worked with mentored him, and access to senior leadership was easy.

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