The path to the corner office (or, perhaps, a cubbyhole at a consulting firm) seems to be clearer than it has been in years. Business school graduates' job prospects are improving and are as good as they've been since 2003, according to a new survey.
Fully 92 percent of 2012 graduates from business and management graduate programs worldwide were employed three months after graduation, according to the 2013 Alumni Perspectives Survey from the Graduate Management Admission Council, the organization that administers the GMAT business and management school entrance exam. That share of employed graduates is up by six percentage points from 2011.
The results of the survey come from 4,444 alumni respondents who graduated between the years of 2000 and 2012, including 834 alumni who graduated in 2012. Though results can vary year to year based on which schools and students in which regions of the world participate, the survey overall portends good things for business school students, says a council spokesperson.
"In general, I think it's good news overall. Results in from graduates of schools in different countries were up, and I think things are just getting better," says Tracey Briggs, acting director of media relations at the council.
And those students, by and large, are not working as baristas; the survey reports 76 percent of graduates believe they would not have their current jobs without their graduate degrees. That share is barely changed from last year's survey, which registered 75 percent. Still, past surveys indicate today's graduates are more underemployed than they were last decade. In 2005, 82 percent of graduates reported their graduate degrees were essential.
There is, however, a lot more to gauging the health of the job market than simple survey figures. Jonathan Masland, co-director of the career development office at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, agrees hiring has been solid recently, but adds that he considers it promising that some students are not taking jobs immediately after graduation. Rather, these graduates are undertaking "very challenging job searches," as he puts it, in search of the perfect job, rather than settling for whatever comes along.
"They kind of found their mission and they were not willing to let up. I think that's actually a sign of strength for the economy," he says, because it indicates students are optimistic their ideal jobs are out there for the taking. That's a marked change from the post-crisis business school job hunt, he says.
"Two years ago, you weren't saying, 'I'm going to hold out for my perfect job,'" says Masland. "You were getting a job."
Whatever jobs graduates are finding these days, however, the pay isn't satisfying students the way it used to. Only 77 percent of all 2012 graduates said their salaries "met or exceeded" their expectations, compared with 82 percent in 2011. Median starting salaries vary greatly by region, from around $28,000 in Central Asia to $105,000 in Europe. In the U.S., it was nearly$83,000, a small change from 2011's reported median of $81,000, when adjusted for inflation. That's around $30,000 higher than the national median household income.
Perhaps the most interesting trend reflected in the survey, however, has more to do with what students do in school than what they do afterward. In 2002, only one percent of survey respondents graduated from non-MBA programs. Last year, 10 percent did—a small minority, but also representing tenfold growth by this measure. According to Briggs, non-MBA programs that offer specialized master's degrees in areas like accounting and marketing communications are areas of major growth and are bringing in new kinds of people, including younger, less experienced students and more women.
"It's a very interesting trend. They're drawing a very different population into business schools," she says.