The Best Business Schools for Consulting
If you are a prospective MBA applicant looking to business school as a way to enter or accelerate your career in the consulting industry, you are certainly not alone. According to the 2018 Prospective Student Survey conducted by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), consulting is once again the most sought-after postgraduate industry, with 34 percent of applicants surveyed citing consulting firms as their destination of choice. The consulting function jumped in popularity this year as well. Nearly one in three—compared to one in four in 2017— indicated it as their chosen job function. The other two popular target job functions include marketing/sales (28 percent) and finance/accounting (33 percent).
With so many MBA graduates vying for roles in the consulting field, one of the best ways to distinguish yourself is by going to one of the business schools best known for training top-notch consultants. Of course, this requires thorough research and a deep knowledge of individual school programs. Lucky for you, Clear Admit has done some of the legwork to determine the top MBA programs for consulting.
Consulting Continues to Be a Top Draw for MBAs
Finance—and investment banking in particular—took a hit following the financial crash of 2008. And the tech sector has been gaining ground as a top destination for MBA grads. But along the way, the consulting industry has held its own, with MBAs clamoring to work for both towering giants in the field as well as at an increasing number of boutique firms now in the marketplace.
What’s the allure?
Management consulting has been one of the most coveted career paths for fresh MBA grads for ages. And though the technology industry has been stealing some grads from the consulting industry’s traditional slice of the pie in recent years, the most recent MBA employment reports reveal that consulting is still popular at certain schools.
The opportunity to work with a range of clients comprised of many of the world’s most celebrated businesses across industries—tech included—is part of the appeal of consulting. In many ways, a top consulting gig allows MBA grads to continue their management education while getting paid for it—and further honing their skills and expertise by helping solve a wide variety of business challenges.
And, not for nothing, breaking into elite consulting firms is a highly competitive pursuit—one that almost assures that your colleagues will be smart, driven people you’ll get a lot out of working with. Top salaries don’t hurt either. Recent MBA graduates taking jobs at firms like McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and Bain & Company—known as ‘the MBB firms’ in industry parlance—reported base salaries in 2017 of between $147,000 to $152,500, with additional signing bonuses of $30,000, according to managementconsulted.com, an online resource for the consulting industry.
We have organized our examination of the best business schools for consulting, by first looking at which schools are best for targeting the elite consulting firms. We then look at which schools send the most students to consulting firms, as a proportion of their student bodies.
How to Break into McKinsey and Company, Bain & Company, and Boston Consulting Group (MBB): Best MBA Programs for Consulting Careers
With starting salaries in the $147,000 to $153,000 range and a customary $30,000 signing bonus on top of that, it’s no wonder so many business school students target the prestige consulting firms known as the “MBB”—McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and Bain & Company—as their post-MBA landing pads. That $177,000+ annual compensation package can quickly cut any MBA loan debt you may have taken on down to size.
Where the top consulting firms are choosing to find their talent reflects on the quality of the education those schools’ students are getting. In many ways, the hiring practices of the MBB can serve as a gold star standard of sorts for MBA programs.
Elite Firms Hire Grads from Elite Business Schools
The crème de la crème of leading business school talent has headed toward the top consulting firms for decades—and performed well there—creating a virtuous circle of sorts in which the firms’ appetite for such talent only grows. And while we are focusing on MBB as elite consulting firms, we should note that a host of other consulting firms—Deloitte, A.T. Kearney, Accenture, Strategy&, and Oliver Wyman among others—are also highly prized post-MBA destinations. See the second part of this article for our analysis of schools that place well in consulting when we include the other strategy consulting firms alongside MBB.
MBB or Bust!
Now, let’s drill into employment reports to see which schools are sending the most graduates to McKinsey, BCG, and Bain in particular. At both INSEAD and LBS, the top three consulting firms were also the top three recruiters. At INSEAD, McKinsey snapped up 130 (another 52 returned to the company, as they had worked there pre-MBA), followed by Bain with 86 (21 returning), and BCG with 71 (26 returning) among the D’16 and J’17 graduating classes. Of the 432-student 2017 graduating class at LBS, McKinsey took 37, BCG took 36, and Bain took 35, together accounting for 26 percent of all hires.
At Northwestern / Kellogg, 106 students headed off to the three leading firms. McKinsey hired 40 and BCG scooped up 36 Kellogg graduates while Bain didn’t trail too far behind, wooing 28.
At Chicago Booth, 17.7 percent of all hires in the Class of 2018 headed off to one of the three, with McKinsey taking 39 graduates alone. And at MIT Sloan, 15.2 percent of grads were MBB-bound, 22 students off to McKinsey, 24 to BCG, and 15 to Bain. And at Columbia, out of 727 students. McKinsey hired 55, BCG hired 21, and Bain took on 22. Not to be overlooked, MBB accounted for three of the top eight employers at Duke / Fuqua, hiring 17 (McKinsey), 9 (BCG), and 9 (Bain) students.
So, in truth MBB dominate MBA recruiting at the majority of the most elite business schools, both in the United States and elsewhere. Harvard Business School (HBS) does not release specific details about how many students are hired by individual firms. But we know that 25 percent of the Class of 2018 who were actively seeking employment upon graduation went into the consulting industry. As widely renowned for its case study teaching methodology as HBS is—and with deep alumni ties to all three MBB firms—you can be sure a healthy number were headed to MBB.
Stanford GSB Sees a Moderate Dip in 2018 Grads Choosing Consulting
Like HBS, Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) does not disclose the number of students hired by individual recruiting firms. So, here’s what we do know about the Palo Alto school: Of the most recent graduating class, 18 percent headed into the consulting industry, down from just 20 percent the year prior. Twenty-four percent took on a consulting function after graduation. Technology hires, meanwhile, jumped 8 percentage points to 33 percent. Finance lured 31 percent of the most recent GSB grads. In commenting on their employment results this year, Stanford highlighted, “Stanford MBA students and graduates were hired by a record 421 organizations, a 40% jump from 8 years ago. A signal of the sheer breadth of Stanford GSB employers, 94% hired just 1 or 2 students.”
The school does disclose salary data for the industry as a whole, specifically that the median base salary for consulting-bound grads was $151,400, with an additional median signing bonus of $25,000. These figures are on par with the HBS and Chicago Booth Classes of 2018, whose consulting grads averaged a $150,000 salary and $25,000 signing bonus, which suggest that the prestige consulting firms are also those hiring the lion’s share of GSB grads.
At Wharton, Consulting is a Solid Choice
A quarter of Wharton 2018 graduates chose to enter the consulting industry and reported a median salary of $150,000—the same as HBS and Chicago Booth. Nearly 30 percent took on a consulting/strategy role post-MBA. Like HBS and Stanford GSB, Wharton does not disclose the number of students hired by individual recruiting firms. Overall, however, consulting is a popular choice of the Class of 2018—second only to financial services, which took in 37 percent of recent graduates.
While Wharton may not send quite as high of a percentage of graduates into consulting as some schools, the overall volume remains quite high due to the size of the student body – and that means a very established pipeline exists. At the larger programs, including Wharton, INSEAD, and HBS, it’s easy for a student to call up an alum at any of the firms—an explicit advantage of their class size.
The Buzz from Bain
Keith Bevans, global head of consultant recruiting at Bain, confirms his firm’s predilection for graduates from top programs, adding that he has noted common threads between them. “We hire the same type of person from different cities and countries and schools. They tend to be very smart, very passionate, maniacally focused on making a difference in whatever they are doing,” he says.
“Of course, the largest schools tend to have more people. Harvard Business School, INSEAD—they will always be big schools for us because when you look at the size of the program and the percentage that go into consulting, that’s where the people are,” he adds.
Bevans’ insights all suggest that the above data can indeed help steer you toward the business schools most likely to help you break into the MBB firms. But he also noted that Bain ended up hiring from about 60 different schools when he last looked at the data. “Our hiring is concentrated at the best business schools, but the truth is we are looking for the best talent we can find from all sources,” he says.
So in summary, it’s likely no surprise that the best business schools for landing jobs at MBB are closely correlated to overall business school rankings, with the M7 (Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT, Kellogg, Chicago, and Columbia) all prominent feeders, and the top two programs in Europe (INSEAD and LBS).
Beyond MBB: Choosing the Best MBA for Consulting
Now that we’ve looked at which schools send the most students to the elite consulting firms, we wanted to explore, in detail, three schools and the offerings these schools have for candidates seeking consulting careers. The three schools we have chosen, Darden, Kellogg, and INSEAD, send the highest proportion of their students into consulting, two of the schools, INSEAD and Kellogg, were highlighted earlier as feeders to MBB consulting.
Consulting at UVA Darden
The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business sent more of its MBA graduates into consulting than any other leading U.S. school, with 34 percent of the Class of 2017 pursuing work in the consulting industry and 35 percent choosing a consulting function. By comparison, Harvard Business School (HBS) sent 25 percent of its 2018 graduates into consulting, and Stanford Graduate School of Business sent just 18 percent.
In terms of pay, the average base salary for a Darden MBA heading into consulting was $142,241 with an average signing bonus of $28,118. This is the highest average salary for all Darden MBAs.
Darden’s Classroom, Curriculum, and Professors
As for how Darden trains its MBAs to enter a career in consulting, the school offers a career track concentration in strategy consulting. This concentration is designed to immerse MBA students into the consulting process by helping them identify and deepen their consulting skill sets.
Darden is also known for its case study method of teaching and learning. This method confronts Darden MBA students with challenging, real-life business situations and teaches them how to analyze each situation to come up with a solution—just as they will be called upon to do in a consulting career. Over the course of MBA students’ two years at Darden, they’ll complete in more than 500 case studies on a variety of topics, industries, and diverse environments.
As for Darden’s faculty, many of the school’s professors have an in-depth knowledge of consulting with a breadth of research dedicated to all facets of the field. For example, Sasa Zorc, who recently earned his Ph.D. in decision sciences from INSEAD in Singapore, started teaching “Decision Analysis” to first-year students in 2018. The second-year elective, “Management Decision Models” is taught by Samuel Bodily, a professor of business administration and consultant to many corporations, utilities and government agencies. And Scott. C. Beardsley, Darden dean since 2015, spent 26 years at McKinsey & Company before joining the school.
Outside the Classroom
Darden is home to the Consulting Club, a student organization designed to support students interested in the consulting industry. The club regularly holds events such as consulting industry panels, networking 101, consulting conferences, case competitions, mock interview sessions, internship preparation workshops, and more. And many large consulting companies are club sponsors, including Deloitte, AT Kearney, Bain & Company, EY, and Accenture.
In addition, there are a variety of consulting projects for MBAs to participate in. These projects help MBAs learn how to develop business plans, create financial forecasts, and perform marketing analysis. For each project, teams of three to six students will work with corporations, global businesses, or non-profit organizations to provide strategy evaluation and planning services.
INSEAD MBA for Consulting
In terms of sheer numbers, no school sends more students into consulting jobs than INSEAD. According to the school’s latest 2017 MBA employment report, 49 percent of INSEAD MBAs took a job in the management consulting sector. That’s a whopping 416 students accepting a position as a consultant—almost half of the 875 students who provided details for the employment report.
INSEAD’s MBA graduates took jobs with such companies as McKinsey (which hired 130 INSEAD grads in 2017), BCG (71), Bain (86), Strategy& (18), and Accenture (36). And it’s no wonder the major players like INSEAD. Many alumni hold prominent positions such as chairmen, CEO, or senior leader at these same top consulting firms.
As for where these consulting grads work, they’re spread out around the world. Nearly 130 consulting graduates took jobs in Western Europe, 58 of those in the United Kingdom. Another 75 graduates headed off to consulting offices in Asia Pacific, including 23 in Singapore and 21 in Australia. The United Arab Emirates remained attractive to INSEAD consulting grads, as the location drew 46.
INSEAD also features an alliance with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, allowing INSEAD students to spend one of their five periods studying at the U.S. school. INSEAD has a similar campus exchange with Kellogg as well. These exchanges afford INSEAD students access to those schools’ career management centers as well, which can be especially valuable in terms of making connections to U.S. recruiters for students who are interested in working in consulting in the United States after graduation.
In terms of what its consulting grads command in salary, INSEAD also shows strong numbers, albeit lower than Kellogg and Darden—though this simply reflects the reality of lower salaries in Europe and outside of the United States I general. For 2017, the overall mean salary in consulting was $109,000 USD, the overall median salary was $107,500 USD, and the overall annual median sign-on bonus was $25,100, with 75 percent of salaries coming with a sign-on bonus and 87 percent with a performance bonus around $23,400.
Proud of its success in helping career switchers enter new industries, INSEAD shares data about how many of its graduates heading into consulting started out there and how many used business school to make a pivot. Of those graduates taking jobs in consulting after INSEAD, 71 percent held pre-MBA roles in consulting. But 36 percent of those who were financial services professionals also successfully switched to consulting, as did 30 percent of former technology, media, and telecommunications professionals and 44 percent of former corporate sector professionals.
How Consulting Is Taught at INSEAD
INSEAD’s accelerated 10-month MBA is composed of five, eight-week periods built around core courses and electives and concluding with an exam, essay, and/or project. There is no preferred teaching method at INSEAD; instead, individual professors choose the method they feel is best. However, no matter the teaching style or technique, each class is sure to have lively exchange opportunities and diverse study groups.
In terms of core courses, students will start out their first eight weeks with an “Introduction to Strategy” course and will continue their learning into the next period with “Process & Operations Management.” As for electives, over a dozen courses are offered under the Strategy heading including the “Strategy Lab,” which provides MBA students with a practitioner’s view of how consultants tackle projects.
Who Trains Consultants at INSEAD
There are more than 25 resident strategy professors across INSEAD’s three campuses, as well as around a dozen visiting faculty members. Of these, several are former consultants, bringing experience straight from the trenches at McKinsey, Monitor Deloitte, and Accenture, among other leading firms.
Two INSEAD professors, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, authored a best-selling book called Blue Ocean Strategy, which spawned the 2007 launch of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute. The institute offers several programs and electives that support the development of aspiring consultants, including a mini-elective, “Blue Ocean Strategy Simulation,” that lets students apply the trademark Blue Ocean Strategy toward managing a fictional company.
Beyond the Classroom at INSEAD
INSEAD’s accelerated 10-month program can make it hard for some student groups to gel, but despite this obstacle, the INSEAD Consulting Club seems to have an active campus presence. Much like at Darden, the Consulting Club at INSEAD provides resources to help INSEAD students prepare for consulting interviews and careers, including workshops, networking, and recruiting events with consulting firms.
Consulting at Kellogg
The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University sends more of its MBAs to consulting jobs each year than many other leading U.S. business schools. Upon graduation in 2017, 33 percent of Kellogg’s graduates headed off to jobs at leading consulting firms, which matches the 2016 figure.
Top hirers for the full-time Kellogg Class of 2017 include the most prestigious consulting firms around, with McKinsey taking 40 Kellogg grads, Bain & Company hiring 28, and BCG snapping up 36. If summer internships are any indication—and they often are—the Class of 2018 can hope to do equally as well.
In terms of pay, the average base salary for 2017 Kellogg graduates headed into consulting was $142,988, and the median was $147,000. The average signing bonus was $27,072.
Kellogg’s Classroom, Curriculum, and Professors
As for how consultants are trained at Kellogg, the school offers its students not one but two consulting majors and two pathways to choose from as they prepare for consulting careers. Its broad Operations major appeals to students interested in general management as well as those interested in functional areas of operations or supply chain management. On the other hand, the Strategy major combines analytical thinking with rigorous attention to detail to look at firm behavior, market structure, and organizational design. Finally the Data Analytics and Growth and Scaling pathways allow MBAs to dive deep into analytics and business growth for more experiential learning.
In addition to deep subject-matter expertise and path-breaking research, many Kellogg faculty members bring strong ties to consulting firms. William Garret, who is a clinical assistant professor of management, worked as a McKinsey consultant before coming to Kellogg. Florian Zettelmeyer, the faculty director of the Program on Data Analytics, worked for McKinsey before obtaining his PhD.
Beyond the Kellogg Classroom
Kellogg’s strength in training would-be consultants extends well beyond the classroom. The Kellogg Consulting Club is one of the largest student organizations at the school, counting several hundred full-time students as members each year. Through training sessions, panels, a speaker series, and a mentorship program, the club helps students decide whether a management consulting career is right for them, prepare for the management consulting job search, convert summer internships into full-time offers, and choose between multiple offers.
Each fall, the club holds dozens of training sessions and workshops, providing mock interviews and resume review with second-year students, as well as more than 50 events in which practicing consultants come to campus to share first hand with students what a consultant’s work is really like. These events drew representatives from McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Deloitte, Accenture, and others.
In addition to the robust offerings of the student-led Consulting Club, Kellogg also is home to the General Motors Research Center for Strategy in Management, which supports ongoing research on business strategy, and the Kellogg Team and Group Research Center, whose research focuses on understanding and improving the performance of teams in organizations.
Annual conferences and other speaker events round out the consulting-focused extracurricular offerings at Kellogg, along with case competitions that have been hosted by both BCG and Deloitte in recent years as part of their recruiting calendar.
Consulting Strengths Extend Beyond Darden, INSEAD, and Kellogg
We have highlighted both the leading MBA Programs for MBB, along with a detailed exploration of Darden, INSEAD, and Kellogg, but that is in no way meant to suggest that other leading MBA Programs are not well equipped to provide your pathway to your career choice is consulting. Indeed, there are many other schools that command the attention of consulting recruiters and send dozens of their graduates into high-paying consulting roles.
At Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, 38 percent of its 2017 MBA graduates went into strategy consulting post-graduation by function and 33 percent by industry. As for where students have the opportunity to hone their skills, there’s the Tuck Community Consulting, or TCC, which provides hands-on consulting experience through short-term projects as well as a series of workshops. There’s also the Tuck Global Consultancy (TGC) elective, which has seen TGC teams work with almost 100 organizations to complete almost 150 projects across more than 45 countries.
In 2017, Emory University’s Goizueta Business School sent 42 percent of its MBA graduates into a consulting function and 38 percent by industry. To prepare its students for this, Emory offers five separate consulting concentrations including in healthcare consulting, management consulting, marketing consulting, operations consulting, and strategy consulting. Each of these concentrations comes with more than a dozen elective courses covering a variety of topics from forecasting and predictive analytics to negotiations and consumer behavior.
All of this is to say that many of the leading business schools have proven strengths in consulting. We hope to have helped you get a better understanding of how to compare and contrast the consulting offerings at different top schools as you narrow in on the choice that makes the most sense for your individual goals.