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Degrees Of Debt: MBAs

Friday, 4 Feb 2011 | 7:12 AM ET

Twenty-six year old Craig Rosen is taking a $100,000 gamble on his future.

That's how much Rosen, a first year MBA student at the University of Southern California, will owe in loans when he graduates.

"Having a bachelor's degree is no longer enough to be competitive in corporate America. A graduate degree is a way to set yourself apart from competition," said Rosen. "I think most students at USC are optimistic that they will be able to find an internship or full time position after this school year ends."

It's the faith that would make almost any law school student envious these days.

Several weeks ago, we took a look at whether going to law school was worth it. Then, just college in general. Now,we're sticking our nose into MBA programs—post-apocalyptic financial crisis.

NetNet got an exclusive sneak peak at the Graduate Management Admission Council's (GMAC) latest 2010 Alumni Perspectives Survey. GMAC, the international nonprofit association of business schools and owner of the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), is expected to release it early next week.

When it comes to higher learning, MBA degrees appear to be best in class. GMAC reports 93% of the respondents in its latest poll are employed.

It surveyed 3,490 business school graduates, mostly with MBA degrees. GMAC finds the average median salary for all respondents was $94,542 in 2010 with bonus compensation of $17,565. The median salary in 2009 was $91,300 with bonus compensation of $15,000

Those working in the field since 2000 earned a median salary of $131,000 with bonus compensation of $32,000.

Those salaries come at a price. Tuition at many of the top business schools exceed than $50,000 a year. If you have to take out loans, most will need an iron stomach to take on this degree of debt in an economy that's still on the mend.

Natalya Kasatova is carrying $65,000 in business school loan debt. She graduated last Spring with an MBA degree from New York University's Stern School of Business.

Despite the cost, she says going to business school full-time was well worth it. Kasatova was recruited by IBM Global Business Services as a student.

"I am absolutely certain the MBA degree allowed me to change my career path and obtain a job in one of the largest companies in the world. I wouldn't be able to become a senior consult in such a short period of time," said Kasatova.

Stern School of Business MBA graduate Brett Gering feels the same way.

Gering, who works at Thomson Reuters, said, "I wish I had done it ten years ago."

Like Kasatova and Gering, Stephanie Smeriglio received her degree from Stern. But, she is not sure yet if her MBA degree was worth it.

She attended school while working in a digital advertising agency. She owes $25,000 in student loans. Her company picked up the rest of the tab.

"My liberal arts undergraduate degree prepared me for many things, but I did not feel as savvy in the hard business skills side of things," said Smerigli. "I work for a smaller entrepreneurial company now and really thought I would benefit from a stronger business background."

Lee Miller, the author of the book Get More Money on Your Next Job... in Any Economy, teaches in Seton Hall University's MBA program. He says students who went to business school during the financial crisis made a good move.

According to Miller, accounting firms, technology companies and in sales have been on the prowl for new employees with MBAs.

"It's very different than a year ago. Most feel like the job market is getting better," said Miller.

We'll get more clues on the health of the overall employment picture today when the government releases its January employment report. It will break at 8:30am ET on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

Stephanie is Squawk Box producer and senior NetNet retail correspondent. Follow her on twitter @StephLandsman

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