Skip to main content

8 Ways to Maximize Your MBA Starting Salary

November 2, 2021

The Master of Business Administration is the gold standard business degree for good reason. Its impact on graduates’ prospects and professional status tends to be substantial—including when it comes to salary. According to the 2021 Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) Corporate Recruiters Survey, starting salaries for new MBA graduates in 2021 averaged $115,000. That’s a staggering 77 percent higher than the average annual salary for those holding a bachelor’s degree, whose average starting salaries are around $65,000. Additionally, many newly hired MBAs receive signing bonuses and according to U.S. News & World Report, those signing bonuses typically add up to more than $18,000.

This article, which references data from the GMAC survey throughout, digs deeper into the many benefits of earning an MBA, how to leverage a graduate business degree in your quest to earn more, and what makes Howard University School of Business alumni so successful—even when they earn their MBAs online.

There are many compelling reasons to pursue an MBA

The advantages of having an MBA are manifold, but the most significant among them may be the fact that simply having an MBA will boost your hireability. After a predictable drop in demand during the COVID pandemic, corporate recruiters report that hiring of recently minted MBAs is on the rise and returning to pre-pandemic levels. Most expect future demand for MBAs to remain level or increase over the next five years. In other words, the job market for Master of Business Administration holders is robust and likely to stay that way.

“In 2020, the average Howard MBA graduate made a $115,500 base salary, and more than 84 percent of job seekers had accepted a position within three months post-graduation.”

Additionally, MBAs who graduate from business schools with large and active alumni networks can access support, mentorship, and opportunities unavailable to business bachelor’s degree holders. Howard University School of Business alumni can tap into an extensive and proud alumni network that reaches across the globe regardless of how they study, which means that earning an MBA online will still open doors that would otherwise be closed to you.

That said, earning an MBA certainly can—and typically does—result in higher salaries and better opportunities, and many MBAs pursue this degree for precisely those reasons. If you are among them, there are ways you can ensure your starting MBA salary is as high as possible and maximize the ROI, or return on investment, of your degree.

8 ways to maximize your starting MBA salary

1. Aim for a career in technology

Many of the highest-paying jobs for MBA graduates are in this thriving sector and there is plenty of demand. About 96 percent of technology sector recruiters told GMAC they expected to hire MBAs in 2021; that’s up from 80 percent in 2019 and 89 percent in 2020. People assume that working in tech requires engineering skills or a background in computer science, but 68 percent of tech recruiters report that leaders in their organization have graduate business degrees.

According to the GMAC survey, technology recruiters are most interested in the following skills among their MBA recruits: communication, strategic thinking, motivation and leadership, interpersonal skills, and decision-making. Tech companies often seek managers who are business experts, not technology experts, and GMAC found that MBAs often earn more than other hires.

Trends indicate that opportunities in technology for MBAs are growing rapidly, suggesting demand will continue to drive median starting salaries for MBAs—and signing bonuses—up. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, MBA salaries for technology managers already average more than $150,000, and the highest-paid technology managers earn more than $200,000.

2. Consider consulting as an alternative career path

Management consulting is the highest-paying career track for MBAs, and after technology, consulting is the industry most likely to hire MBAs. GMAC found that 95 percent of recruiters in consulting organizations expected to hire MBAs in 2021, up from 76 percent in 2020. Additionally, 72 percent of consulting recruiters expect their companies will grow in the next year, and nearly half predict there will be an increase in demand for MBAs in the next five years.

Many business schools don’t offer dedicated management consulting MBA concentration tracks because the key skills consultants need—problem-solving skills, analytics skills, business management skills, strategic thinking skills, and teambuilding skills—are covered in great depth in traditional Master of Business Administration programs.

3. Concentrate on developing highly marketable skills

Fundamental business skills are important but may not help you stand out or earn more than the average MBA salary in competitive markets. When GMAC asked recruiters which skills are most important for MBA graduates to develop, the most common answers included interpersonal skills, leadership skills, decision-making skills, and skills related to strategy and systems. Believe it or not, employers often have a tough time finding MBA graduates with soft skills. A Skills Gap survey conducted by the Financial Times found that employers look for but seldom find interpersonal skills and resiliency in MBA grads. You should obviously study global business, business analytics, financial management, and economics in business school, but be sure to also take the time to develop the kinds of soft and non-technical skills that will help you stand out.

4. Focus on growing your professional network

Who you know will matter more than what you know throughout your career, which is why it’s in your best interest to choose an on-campus or online MBA program that provides plenty of opportunities to interact with accomplished peers, prestigious faculty, and business leaders—and add them to your professional network before graduation. Networking is more important than many MBA candidates realize. According to research conducted by LinkedIn, 70 percent of professionals are hired by companies where they have a personal or business connection. Networks are involved in as many as 85 percent of hiring decisions.

Networking after graduation is equally important. Many members of prominent business school alumni associations hold influential positions in industries as diverse as healthcare, tech, financial services, and entertainment. Do not ignore the power of connection. Take advantage of networking events, career services presentations, job boards, and other resources that can make your job search more successful and improve your chances of boosting your starting salary.

5. Explore high-growth job markets

While 72 percent of US recruiters expect their companies to grow in 2021, you can improve your chances of landing a top-paying role straight out of an MBA program by considering opportunities overseas. International demand for MBAs is almost as high—68 percent of recruiters in the Asia-Pacific region and 64 percent of recruiters in Europe foresee growth at their companies—and may exceed domestic demand in the future. The GMAC survey found that 54 percent of European recruiters expected demand for business graduate students to increase in the next five years, compared with 34 percent in the United States, which may drive international business management salaries higher than domestic MBA salaries.

That’s not the only reason to look into global business opportunities, however. Research shows that graduating MBAs explore international career opportunities because they see the potential for greater job satisfaction, they’re excited about cross-cultural experiences, or they can earn better benefits.

6. Factor cost of living into your salary calculations

There are numerous lists of the best states for MBA degree graduates and the best cities for MBA graduates on the internet, and these often point to areas where MBAs earn the most. You shouldn’t limit your job search to those states and cities, however, because the cost of living matters as much as the amount in your paycheck when it comes to quality of life.

Suppose you get post-MBA job offers in New York City and in Omaha, Nebraska. The New York offer may be significantly higher than the Omaha offer, but will that extra income translate into more wealth? Food costs in Omaha are 31 percent lower, transportation costs are 25 percent lower, and entertainment costs are 34 percent lower. Housing costs are 85 percent lower than in New York City, which means your salary will go a lot farther in Omaha. There may be other reasons to choose New York over Omaha—if your business is finance, for example, New York is where you’ll meet more major players and find the most opportunities—but consider that a six-figure MBA salary doesn’t necessarily mean more money in the bank in expensive cities.

7. Look for internal advancement opportunities

More than half the recruiters in the GMAC survey agreed that b-school graduates are frequently fast-tracked into upper-level management positions in their organizations. It’s not unusual for MBAs to be promoted before graduation. A 2018 survey by the Executive MBA Council (EMBAC) found that more than half of business school students surveyed took on new responsibilities at work while enrolled and many of those received promotions. Financial Times data from the same year suggests almost two-thirds of MBA alumni at ranked schools doubled their salaries relatively quickly after graduation without necessarily changing companies. The key is to make sure your managers and professional mentors are aware that you’re pursuing an MBA and that you’re ready to take on new opportunities.

8. Graduate from a top MBA program

For better or for worse, hiring managers take university reputation into account when vetting job candidates and preparing offers. An MBA from a highly ranked business school can be a powerful endorsement—one that signals your intelligence, competency, drive, and commitment. It can also be the differentiating factor when you’re looking for opportunities in competitive markets.

Fortune reports that “In 2020, the average Howard MBA graduate made a $115,500 base salary, and more than 84 percent of job seekers had accepted a position within three months post-graduation.” Compare that to the average salary of under $54,000 for graduates of lower-ranked business schools and it becomes abundantly clear how big a difference attending a well-regarded program can make.

What it’s like to pursue an MBA online at Howard University

MBA students choose Howard for various reasons but chief among them is its reputation for excellence. Howard University ranks #2 in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, #45 among best U.S. business schools, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Howard is #1 on The Princeton Review’s list of greatest resources for minority students and #3 on its list of most competitive business school students. It is also the only HBCU ranked on Bloomberg Businessweek’s top U.S. Schools.

Job placement is one of Howard University School of Business’ major strengths. Its MBAs are highly sought out by recruiters from leading corporations, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. In fact, the university’s lasting partnerships with companies across industries put it on the same level as top-20 MBA programs when it comes to post-graduation career and professional development. Howard’s Career Center is an excellent resource for students studying general management and entrepreneurship.

It doesn’t matter whether students pursue the Howard MBA on campus or online—degree candidates receive a high-touch experience regardless of degree format. Small class sizes make the remote learning environment feel close-knit and supportive. Professors are accessible and go out of their way to help students achieve their professional goals. And Howard University School of Business’ 100 percent online program delivers the same excellent academics and MBA career support for which its traditional program is renowned, but with the convenience of a remote format that lets students continue working and meeting other obligations. As Online MBA candidate Krystal Brockett puts it, “Everyone at Howard wants you to succeed.”

Given all that, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that pursuing an MBA at Howard is yet another way to maximize your starting MBA salary. Not only does Howard have the lowest tuition of any top Washington, DC business school but it also provides a significant amount of financial assistance to its students. That means a Master of Business Administration from Howard University School of Business is accessible and can give you the resources you need to fulfill your greatest ambitions.

Download a brochure and learn more about Howard University School of Business online Master's programs.