Is Business School Worth It? Maximizing Your MBA Experience

Are you wondering if pursuing a business school education is worth it? In this article, we'll explore the benefits of business school and provide practical tips on how to make the most out of your MBA. When is an MBA the right move? LinkedIn’s data scientists and editors parsed the data to identify the top jobs, industries and regions for MBA graduates — and help answer a key question for those considering B-school: Is it worth the time and money, even in today’s uncertain job market?

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MBA grads have a leg up in the workforce

Business school isn’t cheap. A full-time degree at a top program like the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School cost upwards of $118,000 in 2022. That price tag has been steadily climbing over the past several years. And it doesn’t include the cost of lavish hobnobbing full-time MBA students at elite schools tend to do, from skiing in Telluride to relaxing on yachts off the coast of Croatia. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the student debt among the most competitive MBA programs can range anywhere from $41,000 to $170,000.

But that sizable investment can pay off, depending on what you are looking to do after graduation. The MBA’s career-boosting potential truly stands out for those who are looking to join the corporate world, according to LinkedIn data. And that power is only growing.

MBA grads from the class of 2008 were 73% more likely to secure a VP role within 10 years of graduation than those with a bachelor’s alone. And the MBA class of 2012 was 139% more likely to rise to the VP level compared to their BA-holding peers in the decade after graduation.

Entrepreneur and consulting veteran Brian Goffman has seen firsthand how an MBA can pay off over the long term. He attended Harvard Business School in the 1990s after spending several years working as a consultant at McKinsey. Following graduation, he went on to found, run and sell a marketing company. Goffman then moved into VP roles at a handful of large companies including Samsung and LinkedIn. He’s now back at McKinsey in a VP-level leadership role.

Business school tends to give students tools “that are relevant for a director, VP or CEO,” skills that may not be applicable in a graduate’s first role out of school, Goffman said. The true benefit of the degree becomes apparent once graduates are further in their career.

“You could argue that if you work for two years, you could end up in the exact same place you got hired at out of business school,” Goffman said. But, he added, “five years later, the people who have the MBA are ahead. Some of it's the network, some of it’s what they learned.”

Elite MBA programs get grads to VP, director roles faster

Not all MBA programs have the same career-accelerating effect. Graduates of the most competitive programs — including HBS, Wharton and Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business — reach director and VP roles faster than MBA grads as a whole across most industries. In the professional services and tech worlds, graduates of top programs reach director roles two years faster than the typical B-school grad, according to LinkedIn data.

Graduates of top programs aren’t just more likely to get promoted, they’re more likely to get their foot in the door to begin with. According to a LinkedIn analysis using the Poets & Quants’ top 100 MBA programs list, the overwhelming majority of students who graduated from top programs between 2018 and 2021 had jobs lined up within six months of graduating. By contrast, only 48% of all MBA graduates secured a job by December of their graduation year during that same time period.

Tuck had the highest job placement rate between 2018 and 2021, with 90% of grads landing positions within six months of graduation. Stephen Pidgeon, executive director of career services at Tuck, credits the program’s “well-resourced” career services team for its job placement success. Landing a job, he said, starts before a student even steps on campus for the first time, with early and often career pathing conversations.

Graduates from the most competitive programs are also likely to come out of the gate making more money than their peers. The median starting salary for new MBA hires across all schools was $115,000 in 2022, according to the latest Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) survey. A separate analysis from Poets & Quants found that figure is likely much higher when only considering the most prestigious programs. Tuck, for example, self-reported a median starting salary of $205,000 for recent graduates.

What do MBA graduates do with their degree, and where do they go?

Business school curricula vary from program to program, but just about every MBA offering aims to prepare its graduates for management, whether managing projects, people or some combination of the two.

“Students looking to develop skills around influence often have unique opportunities to do so during business school,” between case study competitions and collaborating on group projects, said Liza Kirkpatrick, assistant dean of career services at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.
B-school’s emphasis on management skills directly translates to the kind of grads pursue.  Project manager was the most common job for 2022 MBA graduates, according to LinkedIn data. Product manager and program manager also ranked high among the top jobs for MBA grads, ranking No. 4 and No. 5 respectively. 

Many of these roles are in-office positions. About 17% of all mid to senior level job postings on LinkedIn are for remote or hybrid roles these days. And only 13.5% of project manager job postings are for remote positions. This tracks with industry norms for two sectors hiring up a large share of project managers: construction and manufacturing.

Other top roles for MBAs may offer more flexibility, particularly those in industries like tech and professional services. About 34% of job postings for financial analysts are hybrid or remote, along with 29.6% of accountant postings and 45% of product manager postings. 

Hsu, who is now a product manager at TikTok, keeps a hybrid schedule. And she lives in Los Angeles, one of the top spots for MBA grads, according to LinkedIn data.

Large, coastal metro areas are the most popular landing spots for MBA graduates, with New York hiring the most B-school grads in 2022. Financial analyst and investment banking roles are among the most common jobs for MBA graduates in the Big Apple. Professional services jobs, meanwhile, are more common just about everywhere else in the U.S., including No. 2 Chicago and No. 3 Boston. 

MBA graduates interested in tech and media are continuing to head West in large numbers, particularly to No. 6 San Francisco and No. 10 Seattle. But San Francisco has been slipping in these rankings for MBA graduates over the past five years. In 2018, it landed at No. 2 behind New York.

Tech workers’ shift away from San Francisco in recent years is a reflection of a larger, pandemic-fueled exodus from the Bay Area. Tech employees took advantage of the freedoms of remote work and searched for a lower cost of living. And recent grads looking into tech have increasingly come to expect remote or hybrid work to be on the table.

How to decide if B-school is right in an uncertain economy

Jobseekers of all kinds have been on an economic rollercoaster over the past few years. Employers across industries staffed up quickly in the wake of pandemic-era stimulus measures. But those heady days are over, with many employers pulling back on hiring and some engaging in layoffs amid broader economic concerns. 

The slowdown is affecting MBAs, with LinkedIn data showing hiring for B-school grads down by 37% in April when compared to the previous year. Major consulting firms, which are among the top recruiters of B-school grads, have delayed the start dates of some of this year’s graduating cohort to spring 2024. Bain & Company has even been offering incentives to MBAs to put off their starts — $40,000 to work for a non-profit or $30,000 to learn a new language.   

In this climate, is heading to business school a good call? 

Demand for MBA grads right now may be soft, but such times are often ideal moments to consider graduate school. 

MBA admissions consultant Rachel Beck said heading to business school when the economic outlook is murky could be the “perfect” timing. “You’re in hiding for a defined amount of time,” she said, and the tides often change by the time you graduate. 

During the Great Recession, a record number of graduate management programs reported a bump in applications, according to GMAC. And some B-schools are currently looking to smooth the path to application for those who have been affected by today’s economic volatility. Kellogg and Tuck have even waived GMAT and GRE exam requirements for laid-off workers. 

A waived exam requirement, however, isn’t a good enough reason to apply, according to Kellogg’s Kirkpatrick. Pursuing an MBA is only an effective career boosting strategy if you know what you want to get out of it, she said, adding that an MBA is not a quick fix. “The full impact of an MBA can take a few years to come to fruition,” Kirkpatrick warned, echoing Goffman. 

Top jobs for MBA graduates:

  1. Project manager
  2. Financial analyst
  3. Accountant
  4. Product manager
  5. Program manager

Top U.S. cities for MBA graduates:

  1. New York
  2. Chicago
  3. Boston
  4. Dallas-Fort Worth
  5. Los Angeles
  6. San Francisco
  7. Washington, D.C.
  8. Atlanta
  9. Houston
  10. Seattle
Data and analysis in this report was provided by LinkedIn Economic Graph researchers Carl Shan, Pingyu He, Caroline Liongosari and Nikhil Gahlawat.