Schools With The Highest Return For Business Careers

The University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business

The University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business

Along with Cornell, there were other schools where non-business majors working in business earned more than business majors. They included Georgia Tech ($843,000 versus $815,000), Boston College ($815,000 versus $699,000), and Notre Dame ($762,000 versus $745,000). Overall, these schools were outliers in terms of financial return — at least among top flight B-schools. Take Wharton for example: the pay difference between business majors and non-business majors who enter the field is $951,000 to $877,000. At the University of California-Berkeley, among in-state students the difference is a whopping $1,270,000 to $851,000. The dynamic holds true at the University of Virginia ($873,000 versus $642,000) and Georgetown ($979,000 versus $769,000), too.



That’s not to say that non-business majors are at a heavy disadvantage in the marketplace. Tech-savvy students will always be in demand for their ability to bridge strategy with nuts-and-bolts execution. However, many top CEOs began in the liberal arts. Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, majored in Medieval History and Philosophy at Stanford before starting off as a receptionist. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz became a Xerox salesperson after earning a communications degree at Northern Michigan University. Long before taking the reins at American Express, Kenneth Chenault was a lowly history major at Bowdoin College.

In a 2013 essay in Inside Higher Ed, the late Edgar Bronfman, once CEO of the Seagram Corporation, lauded the liberal arts for preparing students to be curious and adaptable, along with nurturing the ability to understand the psychology behind raw information. A history major at Williams College in Montreal, Bronfman advised future business leaders to pursue a liberal arts degree, even at the expense of a business degree.

“The ability to think clearly and critically — to understand what people mean rather than what they say — cannot be monetized, and in life should not be undervalued,” Bronfman wrote. “In all the people who have worked for me over the years, the ones who stood out the most were the people who were able to see beyond the facts and figures before them and understand what they mean in a larger context.”


Brown University

Brown University

However, students cannot underestimate geography in their decision. Among the 20 schools with the highest ROI, 14 were based on the east coast, with three found on the west coast and another four located in the south and the heartland. Fifteen of these 20 schools were also private programs, often with price tags ranging from $225,000 to $250,000. In other words, if you plan to pursue business after majoring in something else, you’ll need to dole out heavier outlays up front to get a larger return over time.

Non-business majors also fared well in marketing and sales careers, to some extent. Brown University grads earned the highest returns on their college investment, coming away with $957,000 over 20 years when financial aid is excluded. That’s a higher return than business majors at Wharton, the University of Virginia, Notre Dame, and Cornell University. It also outpaced what non-business majors were netting after graduating from schools like Stanford and UC-Berkeley.

On the plus side, University of Pennsylvania non-business majors were also popular in the marketing sector, $863,000 over 20 years. However, that was still $5,000 a year less than Wharton business majors made. Stanford ($844,000), UC-Berkeley ($821,000), and Georgia Tech ($815,000) rounded out the top five in marketing.

Business careers also tended to be the highest paying … at least for graduates who held just a bachelor’s degree. The closest competition to business and marketing, according to PayScale, came from engineering. In this category, UC-San Diego grads took home the highest return at $953,000. They were followed by healthcare (Ferris State at $606,000), art (UC-Berkeley at $531,000) and science (UC-Berkeley at $491,000).

To see the earnings data for the highest-paying business and marketing careers, go to the next pages.