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MBA Salary: Individual Countries and Expectations vs. Reality

MBA salary targets versus reality

Last week, TopMBA.com took a look at the MBA salary levels being targeted by applicants in differing regions of the world, comparing these ambitions to the actual salaries given to MBA graduates in 2014.

But, how does the gap between prospective MBA students’ targets and the reality of what’s on offer vary between individual countries?

Below, you can find the answer to this question for a selection of the world’s 20 most popular MBA study destinations from the QS TopMBA.com Applicant Survey 2015.

These target salaries are then compared to 2014’s average MBA salaries, as reported by MBA employers in each country (from the QS TopMBA Jobs & Salary Trends Report 2014/15).  

MBA salary expectations versus reality, table A

Sources: 2014 and 2015 editions of the QS TopMBA.com Applicant Survey, and the QS TopMBA Jobs & Salary Trends Report 2014/15

Target MBA salaries in France the most realistic among preferred study destinations

Among these popular places of study, the narrowest gap between expectations and reality comes from applicants in France, where an US$8k drop to the average figure targeted - compared to last year - brings it to within US$15,200 of the actual MBA salaries on offer in the European nation.

Only prospective MBA students in Canada recorded a drop in expectations as sizeable as those in France and, in the case of Canada, this can be linked quite clearly to the fact that the current earnings of respondents have also fallen in the past year. Although the fall is by a solitary US$1,000, this goes against the trend found in every other country on this list, bar Italy.   

It therefore follows that where respondents’ current earnings have increased the most, we see the largest rise in MBA salary expectations. That comes from China where applicants have been buoyed into supplying an average target salary in 2015 that is less than half of the average amount handed out by the country’s MBA employers in 2014, leaving a gap of more than US$80k. 

Other notable rises in salary levels targeted by MBA hopefuls in individual countries come from the US, Switzerland and the UK – all nations in which respondents are telling us that they earn more than their peers from the previous year. Switzerland produces comfortably the highest target figure, at US$177k, but this is also the country with the highest MBA salary level for 2014. Still, these applicants are still erring significantly on the side of the unrealistic, as are those in the US and UK. However, if MBA salaries continue to rise in these mature job markets, perhaps these hopefuls will not be quite so far short of their ambitions by the time they graduate.

In addition, it must be pointed out that these comparisons assume applicants want to stay in the country in which they are currently – which is clearly not the case for a large number of prospective MBA students looking to both study and secure positions abroad.    

Magical realism from prospective MBA students in Latin America

However, it is outside the top 20 MBA study destinations that the narrowest gap between prospective MBA students’ salary expectations and the reality can be found. Two countries in Spanish-speaking Latin America lead the way, with a US$65k average target from those in Chile coming in US$20k lower than last year’s equivalent figure and falling just US$5.5k short of the MBA salaries’ average reported by employers in the country last year. Conversely, expectations from those in Mexico have risen a touch - no doubt because of a strong increase to reported current earnings - yet the gap remains only US$11,300k above the average forthcoming from the country’s employers in 2014. Applicants in Brazil don’t follow quite the same pattern as their regional neighbors, largely because their target figure continues to exceed the US$100k threshold at a time when MBA salaries in the US$60-70k bracket are more the norm – as they are in both Chile and Mexico.   

MBA salary expectations versus reality, table B

Sources: 2014 and 2015 editions of the QS TopMBA.com Applicant Survey, and the QS TopMBA Jobs & Salary Trends Report 2014/15

Elsewhere, the gaps found between expectation and reality in Japan and South Korea resemble those found among applicants in Canada, Germany and Italy. Respondents in Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, leave us with a figure that is second only to China in terms of its optimism. 

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Written by Tim Dhoul

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).

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