Do I Need More Prestige for a top MBA?

Current 3rd year Associate at a boutique consulting firm (think FTI/Huron/Navigant) doing client-facing technical/financial consulting work. Planning to apply for my MBA next fall and I'm targeting Tuck, Kellogg, INSEAD and will probably apply to Harvard/Stanford to test my luck. I'm coming from a non-target undergrad and feeling concerned that my current company may not be prestigious enough to help me get into a top MBA program, especially since to my knowledge my company doesn't send many (any?) people to top MBA programs.

So I'm thinking of making a job switch and looking at 4 options:

  1. Lateral to Deloitte – I'd be doing the same thing I am now, just at a new company (interviewing)
  2. Lateral to Accenture – I'd be doing the same work or may try to go into their Education practice 
  3. Unicorn Startup – not a household name startup but still well-funded. I'd have more of a change management role so it would be a non-technical consulting role that's still client facing (interviewing)
  4. Stay at current company but move to the Education practice – doing similar work but only for Education-related clients. I'm interested and passionate about education but worried about how much the company prestige factor matters to adcoms.

TLDR: Do I need to switch companies to get into a good MBA program? Or is my boutique tech consulting experience enough (assuming the rest of my application is solid)?

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Comments (8)

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Ind
Jun 9, 2021 - 1:04pm

Your GMAT and dealflow is far more important than being at Big4/ACN vs a semi respected boutique. Difference between a 750 and 720 GMAT will make a larger impact than lateralling to one of those firms. 

Jun 9, 2021 - 2:10pm

I agree with the above poster that GMAT is the most important element of the application. However, in terms of work experience, moving to the unicorn startup might be a smart move. The reason is you're currently in the consultant bucket, which is uber competitive. You'll be competing with MBB/T2 consultants (most of them came from target schools). Working at a unicorn will add something interesting to your profile and the startup bucket is nowhere near as cutthroat as the consultant bucket.  

Jun 9, 2021 - 8:24pm

I agree with Peaky_Blinders with the most part - with the exception of moving to a unicorn start-up. 

Let me start by saying this - Prestige of the employer can both work in your favor and hurt you. Imagine if you apply to INSEAD - if you move to Deloitte/Accenture, you will be at a prestigious company for sure, but you will be at an overrepresented application bucket. A lot of consultants apply - so as much as the prestige matters, you will just be another person in that bucket. 
Now I disagree with Peaky on the unicorn start-up move. You shouldn't change jobs just because of applying to an MBA. INSEAD for example - has an essay on why you made the move you did and you need to have a story that flows to that decision and your INSEAD MBA goals. Next, if you are new to a company - the future supervisors giving an LoR won't know you as much as your current supervisors. You need to stay at a position long enough where the management knows you well, and you get some leadership experience. Leading a team, being a senior person, training the team, etc... These things look better on an application (Leadership skills) than going to another unicorn start-up. 

It all depends on your timeline on when you are expecting to move, but if it is in the next year or so - I suggest staying put and getting yourself involved with your current firm in a leadership capacity.

Jun 9, 2021 - 10:36pm

I agree. My post failed to consider the timeline. If OP wants to apply in a year or so, then moving to any firm is a pretty bad idea because he won't have enough time to make a significant impact there. However, if he's dead set on applying for an MBA several years down the line, I strongly believe that going to the unicorn startup would be the best move out of his four options. If OP is anywhere near a decent writer, he should be able to write a persuasive story about why he made the switch, especially because going from consulting to startup is not that unusual of a career decision. 

  • Associate 1 in IB - Ind
Jun 9, 2021 - 11:12pm

You'd be surprised at the percentage (75%+) of people with non-prestigious backgrounds at non-H/S M7 schools.  Kill the gmat and you're fine. 

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  • Consultant in Consulting
Jun 10, 2021 - 9:42am

Maybe that's true of Harvard and Wharton, but Stanford is a bit too small and selective to take people with non-prestige backgrounds unless they also have jaw dropping accomplishments.

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