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Invest in advancement: Top MBA programs for moving up on Wall Street

  • 8-min read

In the hyper-competitive investment banking industry, a Master’s in Business Administration can be your golden ticket. Read on to find the best MBAs for a Wall St. promotion.

Vector image of business people pursuing an MBA in finance walk across a book bridging a large gap
Feodora Chiosea / Getty Images

Sometimes, you have to spend money to make money. If you’ve been toiling as a low-level analyst and want to get ahead, or you’re angling to break into banking, you may need a boost from a Master’s in Business Administration. An MBA is a time-tested pathway to the elite ranks of banking (and plenty of other industries, but that’s another conversation). 

With hundreds of programs nationwide to choose from, aspiring bankers may wonder what are the best MBA programs for finance? We’ve combed through rankings and reviews to find the top MBA programs for you.

Is an MBA necessary to work at an investment bank?

The short answer is no, but that’s not the whole story. Unlike a career in law or medicine, you do not need a specific degree to work in banking. However, most financial executives and recruiters will tell you it is a very good idea and almost a requirement to join the upper echelon of large banks and boutique firms. 

An MBA gives you a strong foundation in business and finance, and provides an entrée to recruiting and networking in the exclusive banking industry. While you may have a friend advancing with just an undergrad degree, that’s not the norm. If you have designs on working at an investment bank, consider an MBA part of the deal.

What investment banks look for in MBA programs

U.S. News & World Report tracks nearly 500 MBA programs nationwide, but not all b-schools are created equal. Top investment banks typically recruit from the most prestigious programs, where they have strong alumni networks and established ties to administrators and faculty. Banks want students who are qualified to attend these highly selective schools, train under respected faculty, and mingle with their blue-chip alumni. Hiring grads from the best MBA programs for finance assures investment banks they’re bringing in the best and the brightest. 

The top 8 MBA programs for landing a Wall St. promotion

If you have your eye on a plum Wall St. position, it’s time to turn off the new season of “Stranger Things” and start studying for the GMATs. While there are many excellent MBA programs, these eight schools will give you an edge in the elite banking industry. Each boasts a strong MBA finance program. The most prestigious firms and banks can be picky, and they ‌recruit from the very best b-schools. If you score a spot at one of these schools, you’re on your way to Wall St.

We’ve compiled guidance from some of the most trusted publishers, including Poets & Quants, Forbes, and U.S. News & World Report. Tuition data is based on 2021, and admission rates are from 2020 data.  

University of Pennsylvania (The Wharton School)

Annual tuition: $76,000

Admission rate: 23.1%

Widely respected as one of the country’s premier b-schools, Wharton is a sure thing for any aspiring investment banker. Forbes ranks Wharton as the No. 1 overall MBA program and U.S. News & World Report ranks it as co-No. 1 with the University of Chicago’s Booth School. U.S. News also recognizes Wharton as the top finance program. Wharton is a magnet for boutique banking, with 32% of its banking placements going to work at elite shops, according to education advisory firm Menlo Coaching.

University of Chicago (Booth School)

Annual tuition: $74,919

Admission rate: 27.6%

Wherever you look, the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business is consistently a top-five program, with Poets & Quants ranking it as No. 2 and U.S. News awarded Booth a co-No. 1 ranking with Wharton. About 10% of 2020 Booth grads chose a career in banking, and about half of those grads headed to jobs in New York City. Booth students scored an average of 724 on their GMATs, among the highest scores in the country.

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Annual tuition: $74,706

Admission rate: 8.9%

As the premier business school on the West Coast, Stanford’s GSB is one of the most selective programs. Stanford alumni abound in the technology and venture capital industries, but Stanford’s also a hotbed for investment bankers. U.S. News & World Report ranks Stanford GSB as the No. 3 overall MBA program (tied with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School) and as the No. 6 for finance, while Poets & Quants lists it as the nation’s No. 1 program. Stanford MBAs boasted the highest GMAT scores, with students averaging a 733. 

New York University (Stern School of Business)

Annual tuition: $78,700  

Admission rate: 29%

Some schools rank higher, but Stern offers something very few other programs can match: New York City. Located in the center of the finance world, Stern offers unrivaled access to alumni networking and internships, as well as plugged-in faculty. Plus, if you’re already working in New York, you won’t have to uproot your life to get your MBA. Stern makes the top 20 in most rankings, but its finance program is particularly strong, with U.S. News placing it as the No. 3 finance program (compared to a No. 12 overall ranking). In 2020, 20.6% of the Stern graduating class went on to a career in banking, and two-thirds of those students went to work for large banks and firms. Stern students recorded an average score of 723 on their GMATs.

Columbia University (Columbia School of Business)

Annual tuition: $77, 376 

Admission rate: 16.2%

Like NYU’s Stern, the Columbia School of Business offers students entrée to the New York City finance world and the chance to rub elbows with the business elite. Most rankers place Columbia in the top 10 overall MBA programs, and U.S. News ranks it as No. 6 for finance. Aspiring bankers can mingle with Columbia alumni at events, score internships at top firms, and attend workshops with Wall St. vets, making it a strong choice for a path to banking. In fact, 13.1% of Columbia’s 2020 grads went to work in banking, with roughly half joining large banks and 20% choosing boutique shops. Columbia MBAs have the second-highest GMAT marks with an average 732 score. 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloane)

Annual tuition: $78,954 

Admission rate: 21.9%

Most people think of MIT as a technology and science heavyweight, but its MBA program is also top-notch. Rankers place Sloane between the No. 5 and No. 8 positions, and U.S. News awarded it a No. 5 position for finance programs. If you’re interested in a school outside of New York but still in the Northeast Corridor, Sloane is a strong option. It also has the distinction of being the most expensive MBA, with its MBA candidates having a 720 average GMAT score.

Harvard University (Harvard Business School)

Annual tuition: $73,440

Admission rate: 9.2%

Perhaps the best-known b-school in the country, Harvard Business School (or HBS to those in the know) boasts an alumni network that includes a former president, Fortune 500 CEOs, and business tycoons. Many young professionals will take on hefty debt to score a Harvard Business degree. Most rankings place HBS in the top 5, while Forbes and Businessweek place it as high as No. 3. In its listings, U.S. News ranks Harvard as co-No. 3 with Sloane and No. 7 for finance programs. Students’ average GMAT score was 727.

Northwestern University (Kellogg School of Business)

Annual tuition: $76, 368 

Admission rate: 27.9%

In recent years, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School has emerged as a hotbed for aspiring bankers. Kellogg ranks solidly in the top 5 for overall programs, including No. 3 spots on Forbes and Financial Times lists. U.S. News scored it as the No. 3 finance program (tied with Stanford). The bulk of Kellogg’s grads remain in Chicago or head to New York, so it’s a good option to land a big-city position. Kellogg students have an average GMAT score of 727.

Set your Google Map to Wall St.

If you’re lucky enough to secure a spot in a top MBA finance program, put down your deposit and get ready. An MBA from an elite school will give you a leg up (or even two). If you can handle the hefty price tags, we’d say an MBA from a top school is a smart investment.