If you want an MBA education, be prepared to pay big money. The top 15 business schools in the US charge tuition of $130,000 or higher for a two-year degree. Below that tier, however, there are some relative “bargains” for students interested in pursuing finance careers, including the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs, Emory University’s Goizueta, Indiana University’s Kelley and Washington University in St. Louis’s Olin.
The highest paying finance jobs go to MBA graduates from elite schools Harvard, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton. However, there’s a cluster of programs whose alumni can earn a very respectable $100k-plus in finance. Those schools include the aforementioned Emory Goizueta, WashU Olin and Indiana Kelley, as well as the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler and Cornell University’s Johnson.
MBA programs with the most generous financial-aid packages
More than 25% of tuition is covered by aid at top-tier programs including Stanford, Harvard, Northwestern University’s Kellogg and New York University’s Stern. However, that percentage is closer to 40% at next-tier schools such as Indiana Kelley and WashU Olin.
Furthermore, more than 60% of students receive some financial aid at University of Chicago Booth, NYU Stern and the University of California at Los Angeles’ Anderson. Indiana Kelley raises the bar to nearly 70%.
MBA courses with good financial services job-placement records
Leading schools in terms of percentage of their MBA grads who enter finance include Harvard, Chicago Booth, Wharton and NYU Stern, all with 33% or higher.
However, there’s a cluster of less-celebrated programs where the finance sector still hires more than 25% of the class – Georgetown University’s McDonough, Cornell Johnson and UNC Kenan-Flagler.
And if you’re really looking for sleepers, consider two lower-profile MBA programs that appear among the US News top-ranked finance programs: the University of Rochester’s Simon and Creighton University’s Heider.
How to play your non-top-tier MBA
All is not lost if you can’t crack the upper echelon of business schools. With focus, determination and chutzpah, there are a number of ways that future bankers and private equity professionals can land top finance jobs.
- Beef up your resume and transcript. Especially if you lack an undergrad degree in business, you should pursue an internship in finance before you apply to business school. If you find that difficult, consider programs like the New York School of Finance that combine classroom studies with attractive – albeit unpaid – internships on Wall Street. Or you can earn a CFA or take finance courses online from ranked business schools such as UC Berkeley-Hass and UCLA Anderson.
- Build valuable relationships. Use social media to connect with alumni from your undergrad alma mater and/or business school who are working at the banks or other firms that you want to pursue. Study the profiles of MBA faculty to see if they have ties to potential employers in finance. Research and attend annual finance and private equity events, such as the Harvard Finance Conference and the Wharton Private Equity Conference where you can rub elbows with professionals from your targeted employers.
- Go where the money is. The majority of banks and firms that fresh MBA grads want to join are found in New York, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago. Being in those cities means having access to key players and decision makers. Even if you don’t get into a blue-chip program at Columbia, NYU Stern, Stanford, Harvard or Chicago Booth, there are other, less selective but still respectable business schools to consider that offer varying degrees of geographic proximity to one of those major cities.
Target other full-time MBA programs ranked in the US News Top 50 and no more than a half-day’s drive from a major metropolitan area.
For New York, these include Yale, Temple University’s Fox, Pennsylvania State University’s Smeal, Rochester Simon and Rutgers.
For San Francisco, consider Berkeley-Haas and UC Davis.
For Boston, strong next-tier business schools include Dartmouth College’s Tuck, Boston University’s Questrom and Boston College’s Carroll.
For Chicago, good options include the University of Michigan’s Ross, Notre Dame’s Mendoza, the University of Wisconsin, Michigan State University’s Broad and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
- Become more visible. No matter where you matriculate, the Internet can be the great equalizer. Write and publish insightful articles on financial topics. Comment intelligently on the blogs and tweets of industry leaders. Identify and engage with those who you want to know. Start building a social media profile that will become the envy of your counterparts at higher-ranked MBA programs.
Dan Bauer is the CEO and founder of The MBA Exchange, a provider of admissions and career advisory services.
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