University of Pennsylvania

The decision to pursue a business degree is a difficult one to make. The main factor to consider for most people, though, is fairly simple: Is this a good financial move?

Answering that question can be complicated. The average age of people attending business school is around 26 or 27, according to Bloomberg Business, which means someone with a bachelor's degree could be five years into his or her career before taking a two-year break to pursue a business degree. That means forgoing two years of salary and paying two years of tuition, all with the hopes of making that money back (and then some) in the future.

At StartClass, we wanted to see which of the country's top MBA programs offer the best 10-year return on investment. To accomplish this, we first used our Smart Rank system to identify the top 50 business schools. Smart Rank is determined by the weighted average of business school rankings by five publications — U.S. News, Bloomberg, the Economist, the Financial Times and Forbes — along with some other school factors, such as acceptance rate, post-graduation salary and average GMAT score.

Once we had our list of 50 schools, we used the reported median salary of full-time workers ages 25 and older with bachelor's degrees. That's $57,252, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This comes from a December 2015 report and reflects 2014 salary information. We used this wage as our assumed pre-MBA salary.

Then, we used a 3 percent salary increase rate based on an August 2015 report by CNN Money that states the base pay raises for 2016 will be 3 percent. We then calculated the projected 10-year salary of someone without a business degree and subtracted that total from the projected 10-year salary of a business school graduate from each of the top 50 schools. The schools are ranked according to the difference between their 10-year new salary and their 10-year pre-MBA salary. Numbers are not adjusted for inflation and do not take into account sign-on bonuses and other compensation or qualitative gains, such as networking and skills.

For each school, we used the total out-of-state cost of the MBA program, according to the most recent data from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. For public schools, this number was slightly higher than in-state cost, but schools don't make breakdowns of their students' residence available, so we were unable to use a more accurate figure. Because of the lower cost of attendance, in-state students at public schools featured in this ranking can expect an even higher ROI than what's listed. Average salary information for each program comes from the schools' individual websites. Cost does not consider loan interest or expenses like rent, food or other transportation.

Some studies rank MBA programs based on one-year ROI, but we believe this is too short of a timeframe to fully weigh the monetary benefit of going to business school. Our 10-year projections aim to provide a clearer picture of which top programs provide the best bang for your buck.

#25. Arizona State University Carey School of Business

Total out-of-state program cost: $67,693

Average salary of graduates: $98,093

10-year ROI: 249 percent

#24. NYU Stern Business School

Total out-of-state program cost: $131,402

Average salary of graduates: $112,096

10-year ROI: 250 percent

#23. Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management

Total out-of-state program cost: $130,418

Average salary of graduates: $113,000

10-year ROI: 255 percent

#22. Penn State University Smeal College of Business

Total out-of-state program cost: $71,536

Average salary of graduates: $100,000

10-year ROI: 256 percent

#21. University of Washington Foster School of Business

Total out-of-state program cost: $80,316

Average salary of graduates: $102,722

10-year ROI: 260 percent

#20. UNC Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School

Total out-of-state program cost: $107,994

Average salary of graduates: $109,390

10-year ROI: 262 percent

#19. University of Texas Austin McCombs School of Business

Total out-of-state program cost: $97,664

Average salary of graduates: $107,272

10-year ROI: 263 percent

#18. Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business

Total out-of-state program cost: $79,448

Average salary of graduates: $103,454

10-year ROI: 266 percent

#17. Duke University Fuqua School of Business

Total out-of-state program cost: $109,844

Average salary of graduates: $111,000

10-year ROI: 268 percent

#16. UCLA Anderson School of Management

Total out-of-state program cost: $109,540

Average salary of graduates: $111,000

10-year ROI: 268 percent

#15. Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management

Total out-of-state program cost: $109,744

Average salary of graduates: $111,000

10-year ROI: 268 percent

#14. Emory University Goizueta Business School

Total out-of-state program cost: $93,168

Average salary of graduates: $107,220

10-year ROI: 269 percent

#13. Texas A&M University Mays Business School

Total out-of-state program cost: $52,468

Average salary of graduates: $98,000

10-year ROI: 271 percent

#12. University of Virginia Darden School of Business

Total out-of-state program cost: $111,800

Average salary of graduates: $112,257

10-year ROI: 272 percent

#11. Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business

Total out-of-state program cost: $115,000

Average salary of graduates: $114,000

10-year ROI: 277 percent

#10. Columbia Business School

Total out-of-state program cost: $135,637

Average salary of graduates: $119,400

10-year ROI: 279 percent

#9. University of Michigan Ross School of Business

Total out-of-state program cost: $114,789

Average salary of graduates: $115,315

10-year ROI: 284 percent

#8. MIT Sloan Business School

Total out-of-state program cost: $131,250

Average salary of graduates: $119,639

10-year ROI: 285 percent

#7. University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Total out-of-state program cost: $127,960

Average salary of graduates: $120,000

10-year ROI: 290 percent

#6. Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business

Total out-of-state program cost: $114,465

Average salary of graduates: $117,860

10-year ROI: 296 percent

#5. University of Pennsylvania Wharton Business School

Total out-of-state program cost: $141,740

Average salary of graduates: $125,000

10-year ROI: 297 percent

#4. UC Berkeley Haas School of Business

Total out-of-state program cost: $119,443

Average salary of graduates: $120,000

10-year ROI: 300 percent

#3. BYU Marriott School of Management

Total out-of-state program cost: $22,560

Average salary of graduates: $97,000

10-year ROI: 320 percent

#2. Harvard Business School

Total out-of-state program cost: $122,450

Average salary of graduates: $125,000

10-year ROI: 320 percent

#1. Stanford Graduate School of Business

Total out-of-state program cost: $119,100

Average salary of graduates: $125,000

10-year ROI: 325 percent

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