Harvard MBAs Flee Wall Street, Take Pay Cut

Photograph by Scott Eells/Bloomberg

An MBA from Harvard Business School may have lost a bit of its shine—about $5,000 worth.

The median salary for the school’s 2013 graduates dropped by that amount from the median for last year’s class, according to preliminary career data published by the school. By graduation in May, 15 percent of the class had not received a job offer, compared with 11 percent in 2012, says Christine Van Dae, manager of market intelligence at the school.

Like many business schools, Harvard polls students throughout the year, and some are harder to get in touch with than others or fail to respond, so the snapshot of MBA job placement at graduation is likely to change over the summer. Because of the improving economy, Van Dae says, graduates had more confidence waiting for the right opportunity rather than taking the first job that came along.  “We just don’t know what we’ll see with the final numbers three months after graduation,” Van Dae says.

The fact that fewer students went into financial services, one of the highest-paid industries for MBA graduates, might be part of the reason for the salary dip. Financial service companies hired 27 percent of the Harvard Class of 2013 by graduation, down from final figures of 45 percent in 2008 and 35 percent in 2012. Technology companies, meanwhile, picked up 18 percent of the class by graduation, up from final figures of 7 percent in 2008 and 12 percent in 2012.

Wall Street, once considered the default destination for many Harvard MBA graduates, has lost much of its appeal since the financial crisis began in 2008. Layoffs, salary and hiring cuts, and the perception of greed have turned off many students.

Tech companies aren’t the only ones benefiting from this shift. Consulting, which is the only other industry with salaries comparable to those in financial services, also has seen an uptick in recent years. Twenty-five percent of the Harvard Class of 2013 went into consulting, according to the preliminary data, compared with 21 percent in 2008. The share of graduates taking consulting jobs has hovered between 25 percent and 28 percent in the years since then, according to the final tallies.

Industries paying the most lucrative salaries to 2013 Harvard grads include consulting and venture capital, both with median salaries of $135,000, according to the preliminary data. Graduates taking jobs at hedge funds had a median salary of $138,000, while those headed into private equity reported a median of $150,000.

Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business also recently released preliminary career data for its Class of 2013, which showed that the majority of graduates went into consulting and financial services, but the number of MBAs receiving job offers by graduation had dropped significantly. Fuqua grads, on the other hand, saw their median salary rise 2.5 percent.

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