P&Q’s Ranking: Starting Salaries & Bonuses For Business Majors In 2021

Why is business consistently among the most popular majors for undergrads? Hint: it’s not the Excel spreadsheets.

It’s not actually a trick question. Starting salaries are soaring in industries such as investment banking and consulting, and graduates can walk away with an average of $83,980 in salary and signing bonuses with a business degree from one of the top 10 programs. The adjusted compensation for a Wharton first-year graduate averaged $94,894 this year, more than any other school in our latest ranking.

On Thursday (January 27), Poets&Quants released its annual ranking of the Best Undergraduate Business Schools. A major consideration on the ranking is career outcomes of the latest graduating class which accounts for 33.3% of a schools overall score. Career outcomes are measured with three metrics: The percentage of the latest graduating class (the Class of 2021) to gain jobs within 90 days of graduating (weighted 50%); the average salary and bonus for the latest graduating class, adjusted by the percentage of graduates awarded a bonus (weighted 30%) and finally, the percentage of the Class of 2021 that had internships before their senior year (weighted at 20%.) See the full explanation of the ranking methodology here.


Top salaries right after graduation is probably the most compelling argument in favor of a business degree, but not all schools are created equal.

The school with the highest salary of them all is no surprise: Graduates of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School had an average starting salary of $85,345, which was actually down about 1% from last year’s average of $86,217. Wharton has topped the highest salaries list for the last several years.

Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, which last year had the fifth-highest average salary, saw a 9% increase in 2021 – enough to almost, but not quite, catch Wharton. Georgetown graduates averaged $85,213, just $132 behind Wharton.

Graduates at NYU’s Stern School of Business and Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management also saw an increase in average starting salaries of 2% and 3.84% respectively. Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business saw an 8% increase, averaging $73,054 in 2021 – enough to break into the top 10 schools for salary. See table below.


Salaries at the lower end of the spectrum look more like salaries typical of a new college graduate. Ithaca College had an average salary of $32,275, the lowest of all 95 schools in the ranking. At University of Wisconsin (Lubar), average salaries dropped 16.47% from 2020 to $51,500.

Salary data was not available for American University (Kogod).



Signing bonus for new graduates can help send starting compensation packages to new heights. And there was no higher average bonus than at Wharton, which soared to $12,073 this year, up $488 from 2020. Graduates of Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, which ranked 83 out of 95 schools, snagged the third highest bonus at $11,112, up $1,447 from last year.

But the real trend in 2021 at schools with the top bonuses is the decline in the percent of students receiving a bonus at all. The average bonus at the top 10 bonus schools is $10,711, up about $500 from last year. However, the average percentage of students getting a bonus is down 7.58% from last year.



With average starting salaries, starting bonuses and percent of students receiving a bonus we estimate overall adjusted compensation. To calculate this metric, we multiplied the average signing bonus with the percentage of graduates receiving a signing bonus, then we added back the average starting salary.
Wharton again comes out on top. Its 2021 graduates had an adjusted compensation of $94,894, $3,000 higher than the next highest school.

Graduates of all schools in the top 10 in this metric had average first-year earnings of at least $73,000.


NEXT PAGE: Schools with the highest employment and internship rates

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