AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
Degrees of freedom.

It doesn’t really matter where you go to business school

By Amy X. Wang

Fret as they may over brand names and rankings competition, students at the majority of America’s graduate-level business schools will likely do just fine for themselves.

US News and World Report, which puts together yearly rankings of colleges and graduate schools based on details like tuition, academic research citations, and post-graduation income, has released new data on business schools that—on first glance—confirms a popular belief: The best schools are Harvard, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and University of Chicago’s Booth school, with a sprinkling of other Ivy League or typically high-profile names rounding out the top of the list.

But when looking at the return on investment (ROI) of various schools, the rankings shift dramatically.

That’s partly because the most so-called “prestigious” schools also charge students higher tuition—meaning that an MBA from a lesser-known school might actually have a better payoff. Below, for instance, are 14 of the top 20 schools in US News’ rankings (six schools did not provide adequate salary data), but reshuffled based on the salary-to-debt ratios of graduates of the class of 2016.

Business school U.S. News rank Average graduate debt Starting graduate salary Salary-to-debt ratio
University of Texas—Austin 17 $59,860 $113,481 1.9
Stanford University 4 (tie) $80,091 $140,553 1.8
Emory University 20 $73,178 $116,658 1.6
Harvard University 1 $86,375 $134,071 1.6
University of California—Los Angeles 15 $80,806 $118,150 1.5
University of California—Berkeley 7 $87,546 $122,488 1.4
Carnegie Mellon University 19 $101,667 $117,717 1.2
University of Virginia 14 $106,710 $122,806 1.2
University of Michigan—Ann Arbor 11 $102,665 $119,959 1.2
University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill 18 $95,582 $111,922 1.2
Duke University 12 (tie) $109,960 $121,283 1.1
Yale University 9 $107,339 $119,146 1.1
New York University 12 (tie) $115,861 $120,924 1.0
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 4 (tie) $121,822 $125,036 1.0

So moderately ranking institutions like the McCombs School of Business at UT-Austin and Emory’s Goizueta Business School normally come in at 17th and 20th, respectively, but soar to the top when it comes to financial payoff.

Needless to say, this doesn’t mean that a person can simply enroll in any business school and reap the same rewards—US News found that students at the very bottom quarter of schools came out with starting salaries of about 5o% of those in the top quarter, and starting salaries can be quite a different matter from peak career salaries—but it does show that brand names are not nearly as important to future wealth as many MBA candidates might think.

When weighing the benefits of a business education at various institutions, there are also many other factors to consider, such as whether the school offers any scholarships (which can significantly increase ROI) and whether you want to rise to the top of corporate America or try making it as an entrepreneur.

And of course, after the degree itself is secured, striking it rich still takes a fair amount of hard work.