The best business schools in the country

In the wake of years of American economic uncertainty, many individuals working top finance jobs have begun to place a lesser priority on higher education. However, Forbes reports that most grads at elite schools are still satisfied with their investment into their Masters of Business Administration degrees – even if market downturns have left them waiting longer than usual to recoup their tuition costs via new jobs and higher wages.

"My post-MBA career started with a nightmare, as I joined Lehman Brothers and the bank imploded within three weeks," Petr Ostapenko, who earned a degree from the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, told Forbes. "I got pushed back a few years in my career development, but I still don't regret my MBA for a second."

These degrees can still help individuals working finance careers earn an edge on their competition for new jobs. Fred Staudmyer, Director of Career Management at the Johnson School of Cornell University, spoke to Forbes for a different report, noting that hiring of MBA holders is still very consistent in some fields of finance. 

"Consulting is still a huge draw for MBAs and there's still lots of work", Staudmyer told the news outlet. "Wall Street is somewhat less of a draw than in the past and there are fewer jobs there, particularly in sales and trading. Students are still very interested in finance and financial services, but not as many are signing up for investment banking."

More companies are planning to hire recent MBAs during 2013 than they had during the past year – 75 percent expect to this year, while only 71 percent planned to during 2012 – according to a report from the Graduate Management Admission Council. Companies are also planning to increase the average number of new MBA hires, with respondents to the GMAC poll projecting an average of 14.6 such new workers during 2013. Companies had projected hiring less than 12 MBA holders on average during 2012.

Additionally, GMAC reports that MBA graduates earn higher average starting salaries than other master's degree graduates in the U.S.: $95,000 which is up from the $90,000 average recorded during 2012. That's $42,000 more than average holder of a bachelor's degree. 

Forbes recently ranked the top MBA programs in the nation, based upon the return on investment the degree can provide. They found that the top 25 programs in the U.S. still pay off for the individuals who invest in them – even if it doesn't occur as promptly as it had in years past. Based on the salaries earned by individuals who obtained their MBA during 2008, here are the top five business schools in the nation:

Stanford University
Stanford University may be the hardest school to get into in the whole country – according to Forbes, it accepts only seven percent of applicants, making it more selective than any other university. However, it's also the best place to obtain your MBA. Stanford grads had the highest salaries of all polled respondents after five years in the workforce. They moved up from an average pre-MBA salary of $80,000 in 2008 to a post-graduation average salary of $221,000 in 2012.

The Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago
The Booth School ranked third during 2012, but has moved up in the rankings, becoming the second-best place for a finance student to obtain their MBA. Students at this school moved up from an average pre-MBA salary of $76,000 to $200,000 in 2012, after their graduation. Forbes notes that four out of five 2012 Booth graduates went into either finance or consulting jobs. 

Harvard Business School
Harvard was ranked as the third best place to get your MBA this year, falling a few spots after having been ranked first by Forbes during 2011. The average student earned $80,000 per year before going for their MBA at Harvard, and was making $205,000 in 2012, after their graduation. 

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
Students at the Wharton school saw similar increases after earning their MBA: the average Pennsylvania student was earning $80,000 before they enrolled in the program, and $205,000 per year after their graduation. Wharton is one of the oldest business schools in the world, having been founded in 1881, according to Forbes. 

Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University
Students enrolled at the Kellogg school also earned a healthy salary boost as a result of their MBA education. Forbes reports that the average student at this school was making $73,000 before they studied for their MBA, and $176,000 afterwards, in 2012. Many of these individuals went into consulting: 42 percent took jobs in that field after graduation, the second-most of any American school on Forbes' list.