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If more money means more problems, one Wharton graduate may be in trouble.

With a $350,000 starting salary, a Wharton graduate — who now works at a private equity firm — became the highest paid first-year Master in Business Administration graduate in the country last year.

In contrast, the median base salary for the class was $110,000 – less than a third of the top earner’s salary.

These figures come from the Wharton MBA career report, an annual summary of the employment of the most recent graduating class. The report, which gets its data from student surveys, includes information on compensation, location of employment and the industries in which the graduates now work.

According to management professor Matthew Bidwell, it is both the characteristics of the individual and of the job itself that lead to large starting salaries. Private equity, he said, particularly lends itself to high compensation.

“These [private equity] firms tend to have reasonably few people managing very large sums of money,” said Bidwell, whose research focuses on employment. “As you get more senior, each person potentially has quite a substantial impact on the success or the failure of the fund.”

Furthermore, past experience, often with the same firm, bolsters employers’ confidence in a particular job candidate, Bidwell said.

Many MBAs bring prior work experience — either full-time jobs or past internships — as they search for jobs upon graduation.

According to Jane Finkle, a career consultant who works for career-advising firm Career Visions, employers may also be looking increasingly to younger talent.

“I think that we’re at a stage in our economy where we need new ideas,” Finkle said. “We need innovation.”

Companies may therefore be more and more interested in younger employees, who bring an awareness of trends as well as technical skills, she said.

The $350,000 salary earned by last year’s graduate is not even a record for the Wharton MBA program — in the class of 2009, the top-earning graduate landed a $420,000 base salary.

These salaries reflect the fact that, though the recession led to salary decreases in many areas of the economy, Wall Street’s top earners remained relatively unaffected, Bidwell said.

“There’s a lot of business still going on and there’s the potential to make huge amounts of money,” he said. “Firms are willing to throw large amounts of cash at those people who they think will be most successful.”

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