First, let’s take a minute to talk about school selection. If you’ve started doing your school research, you might feel like all the schools seem amazing and pretty much the same based on their websites. How are you supposed to choose between Stern and Columbia? Or Darden and Tuck? How different are they, really?
Here’s why you need to look past the rankings and the stereotypes. We’ve had clients come to us absolutely set on a school, only to realize that that school doesn’t even offer what they’re looking for.
It’s really easy to get caught up in the rankings, but you want to make sure that once you’re there, the program is going to help you achieve your dreams. We talk about this at length with our clients, but this is why it’s so important to network with the schools early on in the process – to learn what they offer, what current students say about the program, and what opportunities in your industry of interest exist post-MBA.
But before you start asking questions, we want to arm you with all the information you need to know!
Below, you’ll find data we compiled from the Placement Reports of the top 30 MBA programs. With it, we looked at where MBAs end up – which functions, which industries, and which companies – and sorted through it to make it really easy for you to start distinguishing between MBA programs that seem similar. Keep reading to see what we found!
So, here’s a list of surprises and confirmed stereotypes we found
We know a lot of people are tempted to make MBA decisions based on stereotypes, so we tested those stereotypes with cold hard data from schools.
Here are some stereotypes we busted:
- You need to be on the West Coast to recruit for tech jobs. Tech is a huge industry for MBA recruitment, with the Top 30 schools sending an average of 1% of their students into technology. And it turns out that the schools that send the highest numbers of students into tech are Kellogg (137), Harvard (106), Wharton (101), and Columbia (98). This is where school size and company relationships might play a bigger role than geography!
- Kellogg is THE school for marketing. While Kellogg is a great school for marketing and brand management, they actually send a higher percentage of students to consulting (37%) than marketing (10%). The schools that send the highest percentage of students into marketing overall are UW Foster (33%) and Indiana Kelley (29%). UW Foster also sends the highest percentage of students into tech (53%), so a lot of students are likely going into tech or product marketing. Indiana Kelley sends the second-highest percentage of students into consumer goods (10%), so Kelley’s marketing grads are likely going into brand management, which makes sense because there are so many consumer goods companies based nearby in the
- If you want to go into entertainment, you need to study in Los Angeles. LA-based USC Marshall and UCLA Anderson send the highest percentages of graduates into Media / Entertainment (11% and 5% respectively), but you
can be on either coast and nab offers in entertainment. The schools that send the highest number of students into the industry are USC Marshall (20), Columbia (20), UCLA Anderson (13), and Harvard (11).
- Stanford is THE school for entrepreneurship. While Stanford had the highest percentage of graduates starting their own businesses (18%) of the 15 schools that reported this data, Harvard actually had more entrepreneurs (61 to Stanford’s 41). Keep in mind, though, that if you’re interested in entrepreneurship, you should not base your decision only on placement data
– check out the entrepreneurship / new venture resources and curriculum that schools offer!
- Most Yale students go into the public Consulting is a huge industry at Yale – Yale sends the fourth-highest percentage of students into consulting (37%) and only sends 2.5% of grads into nonprofit work, despite its reputation for social sector leadership.
And some stereotypes that we confirmed:
- If you want to go into finance, get as close to New York as you can. The schools that send the highest percentage of students into the financial services industry are Wharton (36.2%), Cornell Johnson (34%), Harvard (34%), Stanford (34%), Stern (33.5%), and Columbia (33.2%). The Wall Street Proximity Finance advantage is
- If you want to go into energy, get thee to Texas. Rice Jones sends both the highest number (12) and highest percentage (12.8%) of graduates into the Petroleum / Energy industry, followed by UT McCombs (11 / 5.1%), and UNC Kenan-Flagler (11 / 0%).
- You should consider going to school in the region where you want to At 28 of the Top 30 schools, more grads stayed in the same region as the school than moved to any other region. The two exceptions were Kellogg and CMU Tepper, which sent 33% and 28% of grads to the West Coast, respectively. That said, the West Coast is somewhat accessible, no matter where you go to school – each Top 30 school sent >10% of grads to the West Coast! Check out the Additional Charts section of the Appendix for school-by- school details about geography.
· Graduates of higher-ranked schools land bigger post-MBA starting
salaries. This is true… but not as drastic as you might think! The average median salary for the Top 10 schools was $148,000, and the average salary for schools ranked 11-30 was $128,975 (this was a mix of median and mean salaries, depending on what each school reported). So yes, graduates of higher-ranked schools earn more, but take heart – on average, the difference really isn’t that significant! Check out the Additional Charts section of the Appendix for more details about salary by school.
We know it’s tempting to make MBA decisions based on stereotypes — just make sure you do your research to validate whether they’re true or not first!! (Check out this video from Angela for tips about how to research business schools!)
1. Industry and Function
When you start to think about all the options available to you, it’s easy to get distracted and confused and overwhelmed. There are so many different things you
could do after your MBA. How can you make sense of them and make a choice you’re confident about? Well, let’s start by getting familiar with industries and functions, which we’ll use to define different career options.
First, let’s talk industry
Each job has a function and an industry. Industry is about the company you work for and what it does – for instance, consumer packaged goods (CPG), oil & gas, and technology are three different industries. But there’s some additional nuance to consider too:
- A lot of new, young companies work across multiple Think of Uber, PayPal, or Airbnb – those are all tech companies, but they’re also transportation, finance (fintech, for those in the know), and hospitality companies, respectively.
- Some big conglomerates work across industries as well, so you’d want to be specific about which part of the company you want to work in – for example, GE works across healthcare, consumer goods, and financial
- Consulting is often considered an industry, but within consulting you can specialize in serving clients from other industries, like retail, CPG, or technology – this is important because different firms and offices within firms will have different profiles of which industries they
As you’re narrowing down your target industry, be specific. Do you want to work at a technology company that makes a product, or at a retail company that sells the product? Or do you know you want to be at a company that does both, like Apple?
What industries excite you? What industries do you read articles about? That can help you start narrowing down where you want to be.
The next way to think about career options is by function
Function is about your role and what you do day to day – your responsibilities, your expertise and what impact you have within your company. For instance, someone working in Marketing at Apple has a very different job from someone working in Finance at Apple, even though they’re at the same company.
Some functions are common across all industries, like Strategy, Finance, Marketing, and Operations. Think of the titles in the C-Suite (CMO, CFO, COO), which are all the heads of various functions within a company.
However, there are WAY more functions than that, and they are often specialized depending on the industry the company is in. You could work in Product Management, Product Marketing, Design, Business Development, Partnerships, or Fundraising. Many companies also have Leadership Development Programs that involve working across a series of functions, to prepare those employees to take on General Management positions in the future.
The more specific you can be about your target function, the better. Ideally, you’ll want to find the actual name of a role at a company to make sure it exists and to get a sense of what the role is like. For instance, if you want to be a Product Manager at Airbnb, awesome! They have 20+ different postings for Product Manager jobs, and by looking through those postings, you can get a sense of whether you’d enjoy working in that function.
Now, let’s put it all together!
When you write your career game plan, you’ll want to talk about your future jobs as a combination of industry and function. To help you visually see your post-MBA options, here’s a partial, high-level industry / function matrix:
You can see the industries down the side and functions across the top. Note that Consulting and Investment Banking are both an industry and a function. Any job you apply for will fall into one box in the white area – it will typically map to one industry and one function. Each job will be a combination of both.
Keep in mind, this is simplified and very high-level – within each industry and function, there are more granular distinctions to make. Within tech, there are companies that do consumer tech, software as service, hardware, software, etc. And similarly, with functions – within Finance you’ve got Business Development, Accounting, Mergers and Acquisitions, Risk Management, etc.
As you’re writing your personal statement – and thinking about what MBA is best for you – knowing what industry and function you hope to enter post-MBA is a must. And you’ll knock it out of the park if you can name specific roles at specific companies you’re interested in! It will show that you not only know what you want, but you’ve already started doing the work to get there. Schools will love you for that!
Before we move on, a quick pro tip: When you put together your career plan for your application, think about changing only one axis at a time – changing either your function or your industry, but not both.
This is to make your job pivot feel credible to schools in your application, and it may add an interim job in between your current role and your longer-term dream job.
Why is this important? Keep in mind that even in the career-pivoting world of MBA programs, companies tend to want to hire folks who already have some applicable experience. Once you get to school, though, you can ask yourself what you really want to do and make a plan to get there.
So, what jobs does an MBA actually help you get?
The MBA is a really flexible degree – most programs give you a ton of freedom to take classes that reflect your interests and career goals. One MBA student might specialize in finance, another in HR and people strategy, and another in social impact and nonprofit.
But despite the MBA’s flexibility, there are some core industries and functions where most MBA grads end up – this is a function of where there’s demand for MBAs and the MBA skillset, and which companies have recruiting relationships with business schools.
So, where do most MBAs end up? Check out the charts below, which summarize which industries and functions MBAs go to:
FIGURES 7.1 & 7.2: INDUSTRY PLACEMENT FOR THE CLASS OF 2020
Note: Calculated as the average of all schools’ % offers accepted in each industry
FIGURES 7.3 & 7.4: FUNCTION PLACEMENT FOR THE CLASS OF 2020
Note: Calculated as the average of all schools’ % offers accepted in each function
You can see that most people go into a few industries (consulting, finance, and tech) and a few functions (consulting, finance, and marketing / sales). You might be wondering why consulting and financial services firms are so popular for MBAs year after year:
- They offer some of the best and fastest foundational learning experiences, almost like getting a second MBA (and getting paid for it!) – Angela calls this general human capital. But this comes at a cost, as employees at these firms often have the worst work-life balance. (As a result, many people who join these firms move on to new roles after 5-2 years.)
- They keep your options open. Consultants and financiers get accelerated learning and sometimes exposure to different industries during their work, so they are able to parlay those experiences into a wider range of options So, for folks who aren’t 100% sure what they want to be when they grow up, finance and consulting give them a little more time to figure it out, while still helping them strengthen their professional profile.
- They pay really well. Most of these firms offer base salaries at $125K and above, with attractive sign-on and annual These can be some of the most lucrative compensation packages available immediately post-MBA! (You can learn more about salary ranges in each school’s employment report.)
- They recruit aggressively from MBA programs. Consulting and financial services firms recruit from a ton of business schools and invest a lot in their relationships with MBA Goldman Sachs recruited from 21 different Top 30 MBA campuses in 2020, and BCG recruited from 25!
If you’re interested in those jobs, congrats! You’re walking down a well-worn, predictable, and well-supported path. If you’re interested in a less-common industry or one that isn’t on these charts at all, don’t get discouraged – it’s absolutely possible to leverage your MBA to land a position as a Product Manager
at Airbnb or in strategy at NBCUniversal. Your journey will just be a little different
from your classmates, and we’ll talk about that in the next section!
Now that you know what the hiring landscape looks like at business school, let’s talk a bit about what job searching looks like once you’re on campus and what it’s like to recruit for common and less-common industries and functions.