Top US MBA Programs for ROI by Region |

Top US MBA Programs for ROI by Region

By Francesca Di

Updated March 13, 2021 Updated March 13, 2021


Return on investment (ROI) is an important factor in deciding where to go to business school. After all, any top MBA or masters program requires an overwhelming investment of time and money. You want to know it is going to be worth it – eventually.

Ever-increasing tuition in the United States puts ROI data at a premium. On the bright side, American MBA programs dominate the list of highest average salaries in the QS Return on Investment Report: Full-Time MBA 2018. Stanford Graduate School of Business ($140,600), Harvard Business School ($135,000), and University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School ($125,000) top the global list.

Now for the bad news: US business schools fail to even crack the top 19 for shortest payback period. Still, it is not the worst in the world. The US’s average payback period of 55 months falls between Europe (39 months) and Asia-Pacific (61 months).

Because most people consider geography in tandem with ROI when deciding on MBA programs, consider this breakdown of best b-schools for ROI by US region:




No. 1 Stanford Graduate School of Business

Stanford GSB is the overwhelming favorite in the US when it comes to ROI. It ranks No. 1 for 10-year ROI on both the global and US/Canada list. You can compare its $1,023,150 to US No. 2, University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, with $826,300. The distance between the two is staggering. The incredible ROI is at least in part attributed to geography. Stanford is in the heart of Silicon Valley, where the latest in technology is born and raised. Business opportunities abound, and nearby recruiters are seeking new hires with the kinds of skills produced at a top MBA program.

Of those MBA graduates seeking employment, 90% had found jobs three months after graduation, according to 2015-16 employment report, the latest one available. What is most relevant to ROI is the base salaries offered to Stanford MBAs. The school reports mean and median base salaries were record-breaking in 2016. The $140,600 average and $136,000 median were 5% above those of 2015. 

In addition, the business school is part of Stanford University, one of the Ivy League, the best of the best universities and colleges in the United States. Students from the business school can take classes outside their own school and seek partnerships with others on campus. Some do so and pursue entrepreneurship.

While the GSB encourages students to launch new businesses after graduation, they provide them with resources and support to prepare for that day. Of course, even those who pass on either launching a start-up or working for one, are among the most sought-after candidates for positions in the traditional MBA fields of finance, consulting, and marketing, according to the employment report.

Also, Stanford and other West Coast programs tend to have diverse student bodies and connections abroad, which allow students to travel and broaden horizons. Indeed, Stanford requires the Global Experience, which has students immersing themselves in different cultures and business environments around the world.  Nowadays, recruiters are looking for leaders with an understanding of cultures and businesses beyond US borders. As a result, these programs continue to shine with recruiters.  



University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business and UCLA Anderson School of Management

The West Coast is also home to two other top MBA programs – University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business and UCLA Anderson School of Management. Both these schools rank well among US programs for salary in the Return on Investment Report: Full-Time MBA 2018. Haas is No. 10 in the US/Canada for highest average salary with $122,500. While Anderson does not make it to the regional list, it is 17th in the world for highest salary and not far behind with $118,200. 

Again, both programs are close enough to the tech hub to attract recruiters from hot brands, such as Google and Facebook. But they are also popular with traditional MBA recruiters. Haas is well known for its emphasis on collaboration, as demonstrated by the high marks it received for culture and classmates in the Economist’s annual survey. This makes graduates more appealing to MBA recruiters, who are seeking team players. 

Anderson offers students technologically advanced classrooms and resources. Plus, it is known for being able to connect students with alumni and others who can serve as mentors or help them advance their careers. All this aligns with the needs of recruiters who want help easily tracking exceptional talent and are looking for hires who understand how to best use technology.



Willamette University Atkinson Graduate School of Management

Of course, the West Coast is more than just California. One of the lesser-known options that surfaced in the Return on Investment Report: Full-time MBA 2018 is Willamette University Atkinson Graduate School of Management in Salem, Ore. Ranking No. 1 for salary uplift both in the US and globally, its 223% pulverizes the average of 64%. One of the differentiators of this program is its Early Career/Career Change MBA program for younger students. 

Earning an MBA before counterparts in other schools allows students the chance to earn a higher salary for a larger portion of their career. In addition, the estimated education and living costs for the 2017-2018 academic year are between $52,211 and $56,211. In comparison, Stanford GSB estimates it is costing single full-time MBA students between $112,797 and $114,936 for the 2017- 2018 academic year. Clearly, when it comes to potential for earning compared to amount of investment, Atkinson has an advantage for at least the short term. 




Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business

The East Coast, particularly the Northeast, has long been famous for its institutions of higher learning. Because New York City is the capital of finance in the US and arguably the world, many business school students are drawn to earning a graduate degree in the region.

Among area schools, Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business in Pittsburgh ranks highest for ROI. With $816,525, Tepper comes in sixth globally and third in the US/Canada for 10-year ROI. Once the country’s industrial capital, Pittsburgh is having a renaissance of sorts lately as reported in outlets, such as CNN, Forbes, and NPR. After the steel industry’s downturn, the city is coming back to life with new opportunities in technology.

At the same time, CMU’s Tepper School provides a data-driven curriculum, which is a good fit for the new economy. Graduates display a deftness with numbers that makes them attractive to recruiters looking for big data analysis, consulting, and of course financial genius. 

Still, Massachusetts remains a bastion of intellects. And it is a b-school in Massachusetts – Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management – that ranks next highest for 10-year ROI in the region.

At No. 7 globally for 10-year ROI with $788,950, Sloan is known for its analytical, numbers-driven curriculum. In addition, the school has long been applauded for helping business students partner with engineers on the cutting edge of technology. At a time when start-ups and small businesses are driving economic growth, these qualities are appealing.



Yale, New York University Stern School of Business, Yale School of Management, and Harvard Business School

Other programs worth mentioning in this region include Yale School of Management, New York University Stern School of Business, and Harvard Business School. All three are among the top of the 10-year ROI list.

Yale, No. 12 on the global list with $749,400, was ahead of its time by long ago offering business students options for doing good while doing well with sustainable and social-focused business study. Its joint degree with the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies points to the school’s commitment to the subject.

In the center of Greenwich Village in downtown Manhattan, Stern, coming in 13th on the global list with $746,925, is blocks away from Wall Street. Students and graduates alike have easy access to unique internship and job opportunities because of their home field advantage.

At No. 20 on the global 10-year ROI list with $706,000, Harvard Business School – besides being part of Harvard – is well-known for producing graduates who can hit the ground running.



Babson College Olin School of Business

Among lesser-known programs, Babson College Olin School of Business and University of Connecticut School of Business provide more bang for your buck. Specifically, Olin, which is known for its Entrepreneurial Thought & Action program, ranks third among US programs for payback period. Its 31 months for payback is much quicker than the average 55 months. University of Connecticut, with 36 months, ranks ninth on the same payback list. In addition, U Conn, as it is sometimes called, comes in third for salary uplift globally with 171% compared to the average 64%.




University of Michigan Ross School of Business

University of Michigan Ross School of Business is tops in this region. It places fifth globally for its 10-year ROI with $826,300. Located in Ann Arbor, west of Detroit, the university and business school have strong ties to the community.

Of employers of University of Michigan alumni, 42% are in the Ann Arbor area. Considered a college town, Ann Arbor offers a strong sense of community, which means students have a chance to develop a solid network. One alumna who works at Amazon has boasted about how the company recruits more Ross MBAs than others, according to the school’s website.  

The business school is also known for the research its professors conduct. It is among the top 10 business schools in North America for the amount of research professors churn out, according to the University of Dallas Naveen Jindal School of Management ranking.

While that might not seem like it would contribute to ROI, intellectual property can enhance a school’s prestige. In addition, some researchers develop strong ties to industry, which could mean connecting students and alumni with potential mentors, partners, and employers.



Indiana University Kelley School of Business and University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Gies College of Business

Another strong contender from the region, which also appears on the list of top schools for 10-year ROI, is Indiana University Kelley School of Business. It ranks 15th, with $729,175, for global 10-year ROI. Recruiters say Kelley grads have a positive attitude and confidence in their skillset, according to the school website. The school credits its “real-world, applicable education.”

Based on a strong showing for payback period and salary uplift, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Gies College of Business is worth consideration, too.  It comes in second among US programs for salary uplift with 176%, compared to the average 74%. At Gies, you’ll find emphases on a global mindset and use of technology.

MBA students take a global consulting trip to Brazil, China, India, or South Africa. The school promotes its market information lab as being one of the most highly-utilized university finance labs in the US. In addition, it says the Illinois MakerLab is the world’s first 3D printing lab in a business school.




Emory University Goizueta Business School

Emory University Goizueta Business School in Atlanta, Ga. places tenth in the 10-year global ROI ranking and fifth in the one for the US and Canada with $755,150. Atlanta is an interesting city that is home to Coca-Cola, which has strong links to the school. In fact, it is named for the company’s former president, Roberto C. Goizueta.

Certainly, the b-school’s home in Atlanta is among its greatest assets.  A visit to the school’s website reveals that it differentiates itself by hiring faculty members who “shape the global marketplace” through their research. In addition, it offers a curriculum described as a blend of theory and practice.



Georgia Institute of Technology Scheller College of Business

Georgia Institute of Technology Scheller College of Business, with $724,775, places 16th among the top programs in the world for 10-year ROI. Because the university is focused on technology (it’s in the name), the business school makes a point of putting tech at the center of its curriculum, according to the school’s website.

Publications in the US have recognized the school for strong job placement numbers in the full-time MBA program. In fact, 95% of those seeking a job found one three months after graduation. And the average starting base salary is $108,088, according to the latest available employment report.



Stars of the South

These top two programs, however, are not the only bright spots in the south. Southern business schools rise to the top of the shortest payback period in US/Canada.

University of Tulsa Collins College of Business comes in first place with 30 months for payback. In addition, University of South Carolina Darla Moore School of Business, University of Texas at Dallas Naveen Jindal School of Management, University of Georgia Terry College of Business, and Texas A&M University Mays Business School all appear towards the top of the US/Canada payback list.

Often, people feel limited in their business school options. They think they have to go to one of the few big name schools or it won’t be worth it. What the ROI Report reveals is that there are a slew of MBA programs that can increase your earnings and jumpstart your career. You just have to look to find the one that is right for you.



This article was originally published in November 2017 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Written by

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website