大部分关于MBA毕业生的累计薪酬统计数据都缺乏说服力。管理专业研究生入学考试委员会（Graduate Management Admission Council）报告称，2010年毕业生的平均起薪为78,820美元，其中42%获得了平均15,000美元的签约奖金；但PayScale的研究却发现，2010年MBA毕业生的平均起薪（包括奖金）为61,000美元。PayScale的数据涉及所有拥有MBA学位的人，统计的范围更广，但是，统计对象不仅仅局限于精英毕业生。
The CSC also has to contend with the hurdle of how the data itself is collected. According to the standards, the information must come from a "reliable source," but the criteria for what constitutes a reliable source are loose. It can be a parent, employer or "your personal knowledge" -- leaving room for interpretation, or error.
"I'm not going to tell you every school's employment report is perfect because they're probably not," Wilbur says. But as far as reporting in and open and comparable manner across schools, she says, "We're so much further along than almost any other type of professional degree program."
Aspiring MBAs: What to keep in mind
In most cases, dirty accounting will not skew a B-school's employment picture dramatically. Prospective students should instead be wary of other things, says Al Lee of PayScale, an employment data research firm. Students should look out for what he calls the "happy graduate bias," where unemployed graduates are less likely to report their status than their salaried former classmates.
Would-be MBAs should also note that salary statistics are based on students with jobs -- and a high average salary may not mean that graduates' salaries were higher, but that low-paying jobs were drying up, keeping them from pulling down the average. For example, Lee says, official reports of the overall average salary for college graduates actually went up during the recession because only exceptional students got hired, even though the total number of students with jobs took a dramatic dip.
B-school hopefuls should also look out for the types of people included in the data. Some MBA grads may have high-paying jobs that they're going back to. Others may have years of work experience. The cautious buyer will look at the salary in his industry of choice, independent industry salary data, and -- if the school reports it -- the starting pay based on a person's years of work experience.
Most aggregate salary data for MBA graduates is anything but conclusive. While the Graduate Management Admission Council reports that the median starting salary for 2010 grads was $78,820 -- with 42% receiving a median $15,000 signing bonus, PayScale research indicates that the average 2010 starting MBA salary was $61,000 including bonuses. The PayScale data, which screened for anyone who identified as having an MBA, is drawn from a larger and more inclusive, but probably less elite pool of grads.
"One thing that's absolutely clear is that if you just go to a random MBA program it is not a guaranteed route to a six-figure salary after you finish," Lee says. "The top 20 programs, there's a decent chance that could happen, but once you get out of the top 20, that's just not the case."
Compounding the problem, top programs also tend to offer better and more thorough salary and career reporting statistics. Other schools will often neglect to break down salary data by industry or years of experience. So what to do to hack through the jungle of career stats? Check the sample size, look at the percentage of the class with jobs, and look at what jobs they're getting. Prospective students should do this before singing up for any professional program, and – most important – before taking on debt to pay for it.