MBA ROI in the US & Canada: What Have We Learned? |

MBA ROI in the US & Canada: What Have We Learned?

By Tim Dhoul

Updated July 3, 2019 Updated July 3, 2019

An MBA degree is an investment in yourself and your future. It is therefore imperative that prospective students consider what the return on this investment might be before making a financial commitment to return to education.

Understanding this return, which we refer to as MBA ROI, can help firstly in deciding whether an MBA is the right option for you and secondly, in providing an indication into the specific programs and business schools that stand the best chance of satisfying any MBA ROI expectations you may already hold.

predicting MBA ROI
That’s the underlying motive behind QS’s latest research publication – an MBA ROI report for all those interested in studying at a business school in either the US or Canada, and on a full-time basis.

In a nutshell, the report calculates how much more an MBA graduate can expect to earn than they would likely have earned without an MBA and weighs this against the investment one really makes in an MBA. After all, aside from the program costs incurred, studying full time means that you’ll also be forgoing a salary for a program’s duration, which is most often two years across North America.  

In total, the anticipated financial outcomes of taking an MBA at 85 leading institutions, of which 75 are in the US and 10 can be found in Canada, have been analyzed. So, without further ado, here’s a roundup of what we found out:

Payback time on an MBA degree in the US & Canada

It takes less than four years (44 months), on average, for graduates to recoup their initial investment through improved earning power. This ‘payback period’ is the average time it takes for the difference between post-MBA salary levels and likely earnings for those without the degree to cover both program cost and salary forgone.

There is, naturally, some variety between the MBA degree programs available at different schools. Five business schools in the study record a payback period that is under two and half years (30 months) and for one, Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, the calculations see graduates recoup their outlay in less than two years. 

Post-MBA salary average and uplift on pre-program earnings

The average post-MBA salary level (achieved on graduating) across all 85 business schools included in the study is US$91,417 and represents a 75% uplift on the average pre-MBA salary level of US$52,723.

However, the study finds that graduates double their money or more at 19% of the schools surveyed, with York University’s Schulich School of Business recording the highest MBA salary uplift at 138%. 

Financial return of US$500k for an MBA graduate after 10 years

An initial boost in salary and covering the costs of your education is one thing, but the full extent of MBA ROI is meant to play out over the entirety of your career thereafter. When it comes to looking at the fortunes of an MBA graduate 10 years on from graduation, the study finds them to be financially better off by approximately US$500,000, on average.

In this, the highest 10-year return on an MBA degree in Canada comes from the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business, for which the analysis shows a difference in earnings of US$645,000. However, this is some distance behind the US$1,076,000 difference seen at Stanford GSB, the highest 10-year ROI recorded for an MBA degree taken in the US.

MBA ROI smashes the million-dollar threshold after 20 years

MBA ROI after 20 years
After a further 10 years, the difference in holding the qualification becomes all the more pronounced, as the MBA graduate completing studies at one of these 85 institutions can anticipate being an average of US$2.57 million better off in salary and bonus earnings than they would likely be without it. However, here it’s worth allowing for as much as a 20% margin of error, in view of the problems inherent in making any economic forecast that looks as far ahead into the future as this.

Stanford GSB continues to top the pile for ROI some 20 years on, by this analysis, ahead of Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan and the Wharton School. But, there are 28 business schools that yield an MBA ROI in excess of US$3 million - that’s a third of the total and a figure that certainly ought to provide a useful indication for any prospective student.

Of course, ROI is about a great deal more than the finances involved – the potential the MBA degree can offer with regards to taking greater control over your career’s direction and progression, and in allowing an MBA graduate to embark on a more rewarding professional life, will arguably prove more valuable. However, the costs involved in studying at a reputable institution – the ones that can really effect a change in career outcomes – ensure that finance will always remain an integral part of a student’s return on investment.     

For more details about the study’s findings and methodology as well as for information on individual business schools in the US and Canada, download the QS Return on Investment – North American Full-Time MBA 2015 in full for free.

This article was originally published in December 2015 . It was last updated in July 2019

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Written by

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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