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MBA Salary | Why Bilingual MBAs Get Paid 22% More

US MBA students who learn an additional language earn bigger starting salaries after graduation, according to new research

Sat Feb 5 2022

It started with a simple question: Do bilingual MBA grads make as much money as those that only speak English? 

It was a random salary question asked by a commenter on a YouTube video my business partner and I were watching during a break from work, but it left us scratching our heads. 

In the end, curiosity got the best of us and we decided to look at the MBA salary data ourselves. The result? Not only do bilingual MBAs earn as much as monolingual MBAs, they actually make more. 

In the United States, MBA graduates who speak more than one language earn 22% more for their post-MBA starting salary.

MBA salary data for bilingual MBAs

To run our MBA salary analysis, we pulled pay data for bilingual MBAs from multiple sources, including Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and Glassdoor. We looked at five major metropolitan areas in the US: Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Miami. 

We zeroed in specifically on the starting pay for MBA job postings requiring just 0 to 2 years of experience and the requisite that the candidate speak a second language. The most sought after language was Spanish, with Mandarin being a close second.

Across 118 postings that fit these criteria, the average annual salary was right around $128,000. 

For comparison purposes, the average starting salary for all MBA grads in 2020 was $105,000, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). 

And, although that data is almost two years old at this point, it is worth noting that the average base pay for MBA graduates actually dropped from $115,000 in 2019. 

This means MBA grad pay has actually been on the decline over the last couple years (likely due to Covid), making the $128,000 figure all the more impressive.

Why do bilingual MBAs earn bigger salaries?

After discovering that bilingual MBA grads on average make more than their monolingual counterparts in the US, the next question is naturally, why? Well, the best we can surmise is that there are three driving reasons behind this disparity. 

Rise of Second Languages In The US

It is beyond dispute that the proportion of second language speakers in the US is on the rise. In 1980, bilinguals made up approximately 10.68% of the US population. 

By comparison, based on the latest ACS survey from 2018, that figure has nearly doubled to 20.55%. This means roughly 63 million people in the US speak a second language. Not only that, for roughly 50 million US residents, English is actually their second language. 

This meteoric rise in bilingual residents means businesses need to accommodate more than just English speakers. From branch managers at banks, to leadership positions in retail, to CPAs, bilingual individuals with business smarts are in demand more than ever. 

Read: What Are The Highest-Paying MBA Jobs?


©HEC Paris FB

No Interpreter Necessary

For those that aren’t in the know, interpreters are not cheap. The average translation service charges anywhere from $45 to $150 per hour, with the typical rate tending to fall on the more expensive end in the context of business dealings. 

This means your 60-minute Zoom call with a manufacturer in Shanghai could cost you a cool $125, on a recurring basis. 

For companies trying to stay lean and save costs where possible, having a business savvy MBA grad that can double as the interpreter provides a number of benefits, with the foremost obviously being cost savings. 

However, having your business point of contact also be the interpreter allows for more fulsome communication. Oftentimes translators play things by the book. They operate within the four corners of their agreement, and translate messages word-for-word. They may fail to understand innuendos or read between the lines—things a savvy bilingual team member might pick up on. 

In short, for companies with globalized operations, when given the opportunity to hire one, a bilingual MBA is always a plus. 

Diversity & Inclusion

Though perhaps not the main driver of this uptick in pay, diversity and inclusion has taken on increased importance in the last few years. Companies have made a strong push to achieve social change, and have become more generally aware of the benefits diverse teams offer.

Given that many bilingual MBAs are often first or second generation US citizens, hiring a bilingual grad offers companies an opportunity for increased diversity among generally homogenous ranks. 

Can you learn a second language during your MBA?

Knowing that bilingual MBA grads make more than their English-only speaking counterparts, and the potential benefits they can offer companies, aspiring MBA candidates might come to the natural conclusion that they want to become fluent in a second language, but don’t know if it’s realistic. 

The short answer is, it is. Language learning programs like Rocket Spanish and Babbel have made it easier than ever. Leveraging machine learning, memory science, and adaptive algorithms, these apps are more effective and easier to use than ever before. 

With lessons that take only a few minutes to complete, and mobile apps that you can download on your smartphone, learning a second language has never been more obtainable.

And the realty is you don’t need to be a master of your second language. If you can converse at an intermediate level of fluency, that’s enough to get the job done. This will enable you to handle accounts in emerging markets and tackle any overseas business trips the company asks you to attend.  

In short, whether you’re just entering business school or have been in the professional world for a few years, there is one thing you can do that will consistently land you better pay and more opportunities: learn to speak a second language. 

John Ross, JD, MSA, CPA (inactive) is a corporate attorney and former CPA. John serves as an expert on the advisory panel of Test Prep Insight, an online education company that curates test prep content for professional exams such as the GMAT and LSAT. 

Next Read:

What Is The Average MBA Salary In The USA?