Should You Add a Consulting Specialization to Your MBA?
March 10, 2021
Consulting is one of the specializations most likely to pay off in high post-graduation salaries and high lifetime earnings.
Landing a lucrative consulting gig is one of the more obvious markers of post-MBA success. And while it's possible to join the ranks of management consultants with a traditional MBA, you'll increase your chances of working at one of the Big Three consulting firms—McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain & Company, collectively known as MBB—with a consulting MBA.
Employers love to hire MBAs, which is why the Master of Business Administration is one of the most popular master's degrees. The 10-year ROI for an MBA can be as high as 325 percent. Additionally, signing bonuses are often high for MBA program grads and the market for MBAs tends to be strong.
The ROI for a consulting MBA might be even higher than the average for all MBAs, especially for professionals who graduate from top programs. You don't have to graduate from a top consulting MBA program to become a management consultant, of course, but if your aspirations include earning big bucks at a prestigious consulting firm, earning an MBA in Consulting from a big-name school can't hurt.
In this guide, we answer the question what is a consulting MBA? and cover the following:
- Is consulting a typical MBA concentration?
- What prerequisites do consulting MBA applicants need?
- How much do MBA in Consulting programs typically cost?
- What classes do students pursuing consulting MBAs take?
- How long does it take to get an MBA in Consulting?
- Which schools have the top consulting MBA programs?
- What can I do with an MBA in Consulting?
- How much can I earn with a consulting MBA?
- Why should I choose consulting as an MBA specialization?
Is consulting a typical MBA concentration?
Consulting isn't just a typical MBA specialization; it's also one of the most popular. Management consultants are in demand and well-paid, and their work gives them an insider's look into a variety of industries. Unlike an MBA in Human Resources or an MBA in Healthcare Administration—two degrees associated with precise career trajectories—a consulting MBA can open doors that ultimately lead down many professional pathways, including those that lead into the c-suite. Five percent of CEOs were once management consultants, and companies that are run by executives who were once consultants tend to be more successful.
What prerequisites do consulting MBA applicants need?
While the prerequisite requirements for consulting MBA programs differ from school to school, they're typically the same as the general MBA admissions requirements. Applicants need to have an undergraduate degree from an accredited US college or university. Some programs look specifically for students with business bachelor's degrees, but many don't—particularly where applicants must show proof of significant professional experience. Many programs ask applicants to submit GMAT scores as part of the MBA application, though it's not uncommon for even the most selective programs not to specify a minimum score. Having a high undergraduate GPA is a plus, although again, grades are often less important than personal and professional experience.
The ideal MBA candidate isn't always the smartest person in the room. The strongest candidates are often those who have leadership experience and strong interpersonal skills and have tasted a little success. They're also curious and creative, natural collaborators, resourceful, and tenacious problem-solvers. The admissions process at top consulting MBA programs prioritize personal statements, letters of recommendation, and professional results.
How much do MBA in Consulting programs typically cost?
MBAs are expensive. A consulting MBA from a prestigious business school can cost anywhere from $165,000 to more than $200,000 in total tuition. That's a hefty sum that leads many people to question whether getting an MBA is worth it or if it matters where someone gets their MBA. Both questions are easy to answer. Yes, an MBA is worth it, and yes, it matters where you get your degree—especially when your goal is to work in consulting.
The world's top consulting firms tend to recruit from top-tier business schools. In 2017, for instance, McKinsey & Company hired 400 employees from just eight schools. There's no getting around the fact that to work for one of the Big Three, you will probably need to spend upwards of $150,000 on your MBA. The payoff will be not only a bigger-than-average paycheck but also a lifetime of opportunities.
What classes do students pursuing consulting MBAs take?
MBA in Consulting programs prepare students to advise companies on everything from financial growth and human resources management to operations and tech. Core courses focus on the same kind of foundational business topics that are a part of all MBA programs, but students in them spend more time learning to identify critical problems and roadblocks and analyze those issues in order to design and implement custom solutions.
The typical MBA in Consulting curriculum includes core classes in business and courses that give students the tools they'll need to succeed in management consulting. These include:
- Advanced Competitive Strategy
- Advanced Pricing Strategies
- Asset Valuation
- Business Communication
- Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility
- Business Modeling
- Business Process Analysis
- Capital Budgeting and Corporate Objectives
- Corporate Financial Accounting
- Corporate Governance
- Data Analytics
- Elements of Leadership
- Human Resource Strategy
- Information Systems for Management
- Information technology Strategy
- Managerial Accounting
- Managerial Economics
- Managerial Quantitative Analysis
- Marketing Management
- Negotiation in Business
- Organizational Behavior
- Production & Operations Management
- Organizational Strategy
- Structured Problem-Solving
Every program has a different balance of business classes, courses that address consulting specifically, and electives. In some consulting MBA programs, students choose a sub-concentration (e.g., technology, operations, pricing, or business strategy) that determines which electives they take.
Consulting MBA students do more than take classes, however. They also solve real-life business challenges for real-life companies and nonprofit organizations, participate in research, and complete one or more internships. Many colleges and universities make sure that MBA candidates have ample opportunities to attend consulting conferences, take part in case competitions, network, attend training sessions, and work with career coaches.
How long does it take to get an MBA in Consulting?
Full-time MBA in Consulting programs require a full-time commitment generally last two years, but there are also accelerated full-time MBA programs that last a year or even less and part-time MBA programs that can last three years or more. Consulting tracks at top business schools frequently require students to make a full-time, two-year commitment. In some, working is discouraged. In a few, it's actually prohibited.
Which schools have the top consulting MBA programs?
Some top MBA programs with consulting specializations, concentrations, and tracks include:
- Columbia University's Columbia Business School
- Cornell University's SC Johnson College of Business
- Duke University's Fuqua School of Business
- Harvard University's Harvard Business School
- Stanford University's Graduate School of Business
- The University of Michigan - Ann Arbor's Stephen M. Ross School of Business
- University of California - Los Angeles's Anderson School of Management
- University of Chicago's Booth School of Business
- University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business
- University of Rochester's William E. Simon School of Business
- University of Virginia's Darden School of Business
You don't need to attend one of the above schools to become a consultant, but it's worth looking into where noteworthy consulting firms do most of their recruiting before settling on a program.
What can I do with an MBA in Consulting?
The quick answer is a lot. If you don't specialize during your time in an MBA program, you may spend the early years of your post-MBA career helping companies in lots of different industries address lots of different kinds of business challenges. That work experience, along with the practical work you do in your MBA program, will help you discover your area of expertise. You might advise a rapidly-growing nonprofit on how to structure operations for maximum efficiency, help a Silicon Valley startup achieve financial solvency, or devise an internal communications policy for a large corporation.
The MBB firms represent the Holy Trinity of employers in consulting, but opportunities also about at Deloitte, Accenture, Strategy&, A.T. Kearney, Booz Allen Hamilton, Oliver Wyman, and PwC Advisory. Some management consultants prefer to work for smaller boutique firms that specialize in a specific business area like operations or tech, or work primarily with companies in one industry. Some management consultants take the road less traveled and hang out a shingle after earning an MBA.
How much can I earn with a consulting MBA?
The average salary associated with earning an MBA in Consulting is about $100,000, which may not seem like big money in professional circles. Keep in mind that this figure is cobbled together using salary data associated with all kinds of job titles tangentially associated with consulting. Business analysts and project managers earn less than $80,000. Strategy consultants earn more than $130,000. Both are factored in. How much you can earn with a consulting degree will depend largely on what you do with it.
Getting into a highly ranked program can significantly increase your income. The school you ultimately choose will have a substantial impact on your post-graduation salary and your lifetime earning potential. Graduate from one of the best business schools (i.e., highest-ranked) and you will probably earn close to $140,000. If your diploma from a top school turns into a position with a prestigious management consulting firm, you'll earn even more. According to Management Consulted, MBB consultants earn $165,000 to start. Enrolling in a program with big-ticket tuition is a lot less scary when you can be reasonably sure you'll have recruiters knocking down your door before you even graduate.
Why should I choose consulting as an MBA specialization?
The obvious answer is that consulting is an exceedingly lucrative MBA specialization. Six-figure salaries are the norm in consultancy, and there's a pretty stable market for consultants.
The less obvious answer is that this career path is fun. Sure, it's not for everyone. The hours are long, and the job itself is stressful. For a particular breed of puzzle-loving, analytical problem-solvers, however, working in consulting can feel like play. No two days are alike. You'll get to peek into the inner workings of different companies and industries, meet compelling people, and tackle all kinds of stimulating business challenges.
You should be aware that many top b-schools don't offer consulting as an official MBA concentration. At some of those, students can create de facto specialization tracks by choosing electives related to consulting. At others, students get what is essentially the same education by choosing a strategy or strategic management concentration. Still other schools don't offer any consulting concentrations but have the name recognition that helps students advance in consulting careers. The bottom line is that you'll need an MBA to become a consultant. An MBA in Consulting is the obvious choice as well as a smart choice, but it's not the only choice.