The smartest guys came from/are going to Consulting

I expect a fair amount of MS but I have to share a general observation in my MBA program. 

I have noticed that generally the smartest guys in class either came from Consulting or are going to Consulting. Now, the definition of smart can be contentious but in MBA circles it seems that "smart" means eloquent, speaks often in class and makes insightful comments. 

Are people noticing the same? What do you read of this, if anything?

WSO Elite Modeling Package

  • 6 courses to mastery: Excel, Financial Statement, LBO, M&A, Valuation and DCF
  • Elite instructors from top BB investment banks and private equity megafunds
  • Includes Company DB + Video Library Access (1 year)

Comments (84)

Mar 15, 2021 - 8:51am

In what way do you define "smart"? I've noticed that ex- and soon-to-be consultants tend to be extroverted and big talkers, hence may come off as more impressive or smart. Pound for pound on a pure raw intellects level-wise, I see little difference. There are smart people across all top MBA classes. Not everyone chooses to do consulting and isn't using it to become a COO/CEO 15 years down the road.

Float like a butterfly, sting like the bee.
  • 9
  • VP in IB - Ind
Mar 15, 2021 - 11:42am

The "smartest" people go to be either quants or SWE/PMs in tech. They are creatures of few words and much autism. The smartest are oft not the loudest.

Learn More

300+ video lessons across 6 modeling courses taught by elite practitioners at the top investment banks and private equity funds -- Excel Modeling -- Financial Statement Modeling -- M&A Modeling -- LBO Modeling -- DCF and Valuation Modeling -- ALL INCLUDED + 2 Huge Bonuses.

Learn more
Mar 15, 2021 - 9:41am

There may be a bit of selection bias. Fewer and fewer of the top finance professionals aged 24-30 are going to business school because doing so is somewhat of a waste of time and money for their career. There are still some old school firms which require MBAs, but for the most part nowadays if you are good you can move straight to VP without any MBA. So then the majority of people in "finance" going to an MBA program aren't the best in their field.

Mar 15, 2021 - 11:36am

I am very gung-ho about going to an MBA program, but I agree with this entirely. I would say 80% of the smartest people in finance are staying in PE/Quant/HF. The other 20% are doing it to stay at their MF, or because they went to a non-target, did very well at MF PE/HF but want to improve their pedigree by going to HSW. The latter is surprisingly common. 

Whereas I would argue that the overwhelming majority of top consultants go to MBA programs. That's why you would see such a split. 

Mar 15, 2021 - 11:41am

Yes but if they fall in the latter bucket (i.e. are top performing at their MF with a return offer post MBA), they really view their MBA as a 2 year holiday sprinkled with some networking, most of them rarely care much about the classes and the amount of professor schmoozing that others do to get top grades or recommendations to firms that some professors may have. 

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Ind
Mar 15, 2021 - 11:19am

The Smartest Guys Stay Away From Mediocre MBA Programs

Mar 15, 2021 - 11:28am

I've noticed the opposite: we hired a team of the "best" consultants when our plant workers tried to unionize and these geniuses didn't even approve of my use of police trained hound dogs. I could have gotten better results from that Simpson fellow and his pea-brained friends. So unless Chief Wiggum decides he can suddenly tell me what to do (even though I essentially pay his salary), I will be staying far, far away from consultants!

Most Helpful
  • Associate 2 in IB - Gen
Mar 15, 2021 - 11:55am

My impression wasn't that they were smarter, but that they were much more likely to be corporate kool aid drinker types. So the consultants would speak up in class, be more involved in activities etc. The IB people were much more cynical - thinking the classes were mostly bullshit and seeing the whole thing in a very transactional way (i'm paying $200k for a career in PE/IB, that's it).

  • Business School in IB - Gen
Mar 15, 2021 - 1:03pm

Bingo. IB/PE kids focus on getting the job and then enjoy themselves before the grind starts again. Usually, that does not involve school activities/class.

Mar 16, 2021 - 11:11am

Lol @ "corporate kool aid drinkers." Yes I just can't motivate myself to get excited at these add-value buzzwordy classes (i'm still in UG but I have some similar classes like that. So theoretical)

  • 1
Mar 16, 2021 - 4:39pm

This is the only correct opinion - at my school (granted a non target) all the consulting tools loved to tell everyone they were going into consulting and running for student body president and dumb shit like that. IB kids only discussed this stuff with other IB kids and otherwise did their own thing, did the bare minimum to get a 3.8+ GPA and moved along on their way

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Ind
Mar 17, 2021 - 2:06pm

no question this is the case. Consulting at big shops is college 2.0 - gf works at one, I'm at a BB. I can't believe the amount of 'everyone hold hands and sing kumbaya' BS that goes on at these places. The difference in cultural atmosphere between a place where they give you a career counselor and goodiebags with company branded Alexa speakers and crap every few weeks is just such a far cry from the sink or swim 90+ hr per week 2 year bootcamp that is BB IB cannot be overstated

Mar 15, 2021 - 2:30pm

So not HBS or GSB? Really hard to justify leaving for 2 years for MBA working in finance. I personally am 24 and have slightly better WLB and less total comp working in PC vs PE, but the opportunity cost would still be $600k+ to get an MBA, so if I'm going to waste 2 years doing that it better be well worth it. Would say it's likely just the quality of finance students in your MBA program are not the best. Anecdotally too, I have noticed that Kellogg ex finance students have not been the best, so if you're in Kellogg specifically that may have something to do with it 

  • Intern in IB - Gen
Mar 17, 2021 - 1:36am

Consultants are glorified temps

Sounds like you are trying to justify your life choices to make yourself feel better

Mar 15, 2021 - 1:46pm

I think you're conflating "comes off as smarter" to actual iq. You have no way of really knowing the latter and I'd argue that if you're actually smart, you wouldn't go into IB or consulting. IB/consulting is for high-conscientiousness middle-wits. Let's not kid ourselves. 

To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.

  • 4
Mar 15, 2021 - 2:43pm

Agreed its not a perfect yardstick but just taking it FWIW since we do not have a better yardstick. it also happens to be the most commonly used yardstick at least in MBA circles.

  • Intern in IB - Ind
Mar 15, 2021 - 4:48pm

I'd actually agree with your statement but for dif reasons.  The people going consulting as a whole def have higher gmats and come from better undergrads than the kids going banking.  Noticed this immediately (>50% of banking kids don't even list their gmat on their resume which to me means less than 720 or else you'd list it).  Also strongly agree with the post above about that group being bigger corporate koolaid drinkers.  Also trends much more SJW in consulting.

  • Associate 2 in IB - Gen
Mar 15, 2021 - 5:24pm


I'd actually agree with your statement but for dif reasons.  The people going consulting as a whole def have higher gmats and come from better undergrads than the kids going banking.  Noticed this immediately (>50% of banking kids don't even list their gmat on their resume which to me means less than 720 or else you'd list it).  Also strongly agree with the post above about that group being bigger corporate koolaid drinkers.  Also trends much more SJW in consulting.

I go to one of Wharton/Booth/Columbia if that matters. 

Generally agreed with this. Wouldn't surprise me if consulting GMATs/backgrounds were better largely because there just aren't as many good firms. Proper comparison would probably be with the people who landed GS/MS/EVR etc. 

Consulting is definitely much more SJWy. Part of this is probably demographics, with a much higher % of women choosing consulting. The IB people had more of a fratbro vibe and had an infatuation with stories of "old Wall Street" in the 80s/90s. Leads to a bit of put-on douchiness (a culture similar to the finance meme pages). But hey, i'll take that over phony "woke capital" shit from people whose job involves telling megacorps to fire poor people and hire poorer people in Asia.

Mar 15, 2021 - 5:56pm

Didn't read the thread, but the ex-consultants always put way too much shit on their slides. No one's got time to read all that fluff


Mar 15, 2021 - 6:44pm

from what my older brother tells me (he's at a non HSW M7), outside of those who are sponsored by their MBB, the overwhelming majority of people who go to b-school having no idea what they want to pursue gun for consulting. Whereas most of the finance types have been interested in XYZ role for a few years. 

Take that as you will. 

  • Analyst 1 in Consulting
Mar 15, 2021 - 7:31pm

At undergrad, what I have noticed is that most cookie-cutter "smart" (as in good academics) and pedigreed people go to MBB (you rarely see something else than top targets/targets + top grades), whereas IB attracts more grinder and hustler types with multiple internships but less impressive schools and academics.

Having seen both sides, I can confirm that both types are pretty retarded, not going to lie, the most impressive people I have met are all PhDs/Quants/Start-up Founders etc. 

  • Analyst 2 in IB-M&A
Mar 15, 2021 - 10:59pm

It's been my experience that the smartest in the room rarely speak up unless they have to. The one's who speak often typically either have something to prove or are obsequious to the point of being slaves to the system. Some of these people are "smart" too, but not usually in the sense of natural intelligence / talent.          

Mar 16, 2021 - 2:15am

IB person here who likes to shit on consulting a lot so hopefully I can provide some balance lol. Honestly like anything, OP's question is pretty nuanced and defining "smart" is highly contentious/subjective. I will say like a similar poster above that consulting seems to me to draw more types who are keenly interested in going into C-level work or politics in the long run. Names that come to mind are folks like Mitt Romney and Pete Buttigieg - super smart people who would've been successful anywhere but gravitated to consulting simply because it's a great stepping stone for such careers (and even Romney is arguably more of a finance guy - but he still started with consulting!) Obviously people of their caliber/ambition would've very likely had great success in IB or other similar professions, but let's be honest - IB provides a narrower set of universal "exit ops" in life. If you do IB, you'll very likely be doing something finance related with your career. And yes, consulting attracts its fair share of Kool Aid drinkers and insufferable people who think the nitty gritty of consulting is actually stimulating/value add. But it seems to me that if your end goal is maximizing potential for success as a C-level exec, politician, or similar role, consulting is your best bet.

Not to say those people are necessarily smarter than finance folks! While there's virtually zero chance of it happening for me, I find myself personally much more intrigued by the likes of people like Stephen Schwarzman and Ray Dalio who have leveraged tremendous success in the financial sector into becoming highly influential in politics, global affairs, etc. I would consider these people start, too! Ultimately neither group (Romney's vs Schwarzman's) strike me as inherently smarter than another, but who's to say. It certainly makes for interesting debates :)

  • Intern in IB - Gen
Mar 16, 2021 - 4:37am

From my undergrad semi-target, the kids that manage to break into MBB/T2 are all really well-spoken and come off as smarter than the average IB kid who just has to really memorize technicals. Not to say that the top BB/EB kid isn't smart but consulting kids have to actually learn to case and problem-solve.

Mar 16, 2021 - 10:03am

Not really surprising consultants give off this impression, it's literally their skillset. Persuasion, articulation, reading the room, not saying dumb shit, gaining buy-in, public speech timing/delivery, sales, etc. Their occupation relies on them making positive impressions, but recognize this is just an impression based on socializing norms. 

The problem when defining "Smart" is the way people bend the definition to fit whatever preconception they choose. To me "Smart" = IQ, nothing more or less. The qualities you've mentioned don't particularly align with IQ though. This is my interpretation of the qualities you've mentioned:
Speaks often = extraversion (not related to IQ at all)
Insightful comments = you'd have to be more specific
Eloquence = verbal intelligence (a component used when measuring IQ, so you're partially correct here)

The odds of the person with charisma, eloquence, etc. also being the highest IQ in the room? Not impossible but not the most probable. But based on your definition of smart, it's not totally surprising a consultant strikes you this way.

Just had my trade dispute rejected by Schwab for a loss of 35k. This single issue alone should be a gigantic red flag to anyone who trades on their platform.

If they have a system error, and you do not video record your trading (they actually said this), they will not honour their fuck up. Switching everything away from them. Fuck this company.

  • 1
  • Analyst 1 in IB - Ind
Mar 16, 2021 - 1:20pm

Yeah at my undergrad, the consultants were a bit "nerdier" / way more likely to sit in front and engage in class. They were also noticeably more racially and socioeconomically diverse. On the other hand, the IB ppl were way more "fratty" / exclusive / likely to sit in the back of the class. They were also much more likely to come from preppy high schools and wealthy families.

I'm an IB guy and will concede that generally speaking, consultants have more raw intellectual "prowess" than bankers. I think a big reason is the difference in each industry's respective interview process and how they select candidates (consulting interviews involve more critical thinking / way less memorization, and their hiring process is way less about networking / who you know).

Obviously there are plenty of exceptions, but this is just my overall ~opinionated~ observation in a nutshell (I went to a public semi-target / target in the south).

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Ind
Mar 16, 2021 - 4:33pm

I think that's an overgeneralization of both groups. I know about as many nerdy people in banking as "frat types" (as you put it), your job in IB is literally to sit in front of a computer all day and all night. Consulting is way more focused on external engagement with clients. Presumably, the greek life crowd is pretty socially outgoing. Also, think that the class engagement varies from person to person, you are right that consulting attracts the type of people who like to talk a lot, but I would argue that can often not be very insightful. Would categorize the group of people as highly likely to participate and be engaged but also most likely to regurgitate from the reading/discussion materials. Like the people who are very involved in student government and the internal politics of things that simply don't matter. Let's be real, it sounds like you are talking about an undergraduate business school experience (which is what I'm basing my experience on as well), none of the discussions being had in Strategy 101 class are very insightful, to begin with.

Separately, while banking interviews are bullshit, consulting interviews are too. Similar to above, at the surface level, they seem like they are testing for creativity but they are not. They test a baseline level of mental math capability, similar to what you'd get in banking interviews. The actual solutions/ideas portion is mostly regurgitation from interview to interview using recycled frameworks.

Ultimately, it comes down to the person, and think it's hard to generalize or take an average or somewhat diverse industry. There are very smart people in both groups, but the smartest people usually end up doing SWE / Quant / Academic Research.

Adding in my hot take though, one observation I've had is consultants are very dogmatic about protecting their firm/company/brand but banking analysts will very quickly throw those things under the bus usually while complaining. Consultants will be first to tell you that the work they are doing is quite important and meaningful to clients while most IB analysts I know will tell you over a beer how dumb the work they do is and that may just be a result of cynicism.

Mar 16, 2021 - 2:54pm

You're mixing up smart people with people who talk well, which are completely different. I'd even say, the smartest people are actually usually bad at talking cause they realize it's a waste of time and you could do something productive instead of talking ("you learn nothing when you talk" - Dalai Lama). And people who're good at running their tongue (i.e. consultants) usually don't know shit cause all they do is talk.

Also, smart people usually don't need MBA, and they're smart enough to realize how stupid it is to pay $200k to sit in a classroom and talk about nothing instead of actually learning stuff while working and getting paid $200k.

  • Associate 1 in IB - Gen
Mar 16, 2021 - 3:04pm

Boomer-tier take. You get an MBA because you aren't in IB/Consulting and you want to be in IB/Consulting and you can't without getting an MBA

Mar 16, 2021 - 4:02pm

I think the OP concedes that the definition of "smart" can be tricky. It is hard to have a universally accepted definition of "smart" since it only takes a contextual meaning. In MBA circles however that seems to be the generally accepted definition.

  • Associate 1 in IB - Gen
Mar 16, 2021 - 4:17pm


I think the OP concedes that the definition of "smart" can be tricky. It is hard to have a universally accepted definition of "smart" since it only takes a contextual meaning. In MBA circles however that seems to be the generally accepted definition.

I was in an MBA circle and the IB people generally thought that made you an annoying tool, not smart. The sort of person who posts multi-paragraph humble brag shit on linkedin and is obnoxious to work with on group assignments. We showed up late, coasted on grade nondisclosure, and spent 2nd semester first year and all second year drinking and traveling. 

Mar 17, 2021 - 12:48am

Are they really intelligent, or do they just use complex multi-syllabic ( see what I did there)  words and talk like some chick from the valley? While also displaying a false sense of passion that's  so dramatized it's fucking annoying?? 

  • 2
  • Intern in IB - Gen
Mar 17, 2021 - 2:00am

Maybe your entire MBA circle isn't that intelligent... most intelligent people in finance/consulting are at hedge funds

  • Analyst 3+ in IB - Ind
Mar 17, 2021 - 3:38am

Going to be honest here. I am a top bucket BB analyst with a 4.0 from a top undergrad B school. I tried recruiting for consulting my senior year. Did around 50+ cases (which was way more than others around me did to secure offers). Even then, I was able to solve the practice cases maybe 40-50% of the time. Somehow, I was just never able to get a hang of the frameworks to the point where I could get through a case easily.

I was also absolutely terrible at the approximation parts of the cases (I have a really bad sense of measurement and realized that the cases required common sense application, which I was just terrible at). Was so close to a Tier 2 Consulting offer when I had 5 minutes alone in a room to figure out how to approximate how many people could fit inside a blimp. I had absolutely no idea how big a blimp was and thought blimps were just full of air. But I had started to realize through practice cases that for these approximation questions, if you just say that you know how much something measures or weighs "from personal experience", they'll usually buy it and won't ask further. This only worked half the time as I was just so bad at measuring or weighing things that people would even question my "personal experience" when I knew I was just lying about it cuz I came from a weird family and didn't do many things people consider normal (camping, scubadiving, etc.). So I remember the partners walked into the room to see how I thought about it. I basically made up a number of people like 75 people could fit. They both looked at each other and asked where I got that from. I said "personal experience." They both just said nothing and remained confused the rest of the interview. I of course didn't get the offer. 

I also just couldn't keep up with the pace of the case interviews either. If you gave me a couple extra minutes per question (rather than 10 seconds), I would be able to reason through the case and ask the right questions. With such little time each question, I'd basically just try to ask all the questions from the frameworks until they said something that helped me out. Somehow, the people who ended up getting consulting offers after just a few cases, were able to get through a case and within seconds, ask the best questions to the point where it felt like they were reading through the answer key or something. 

Got to say though. All of the people from my undergrad B school who got consulting offers in their junior and senior years, especially at MBB and Tier 2 consulting firms, were far and away the smartest / most intellectually gifted people at my school. They were the ones with the 4.0s who were genuinely smart and things just came naturally to them (at least it felt like that to me). They were always the ones raising their hands in class and had the best answers that the teacher was exactly looking for or had never even thought about. Those were the consultants.

Meanwhile, I am an investment banker. I got my 4.0 by studying really hard, always going to office hours and basically developing such great relationships with professors that many times, even when I wasn't doing well in the class, they would somehow still give me an A in the class. I also just networked a ton for my banking interviews and memorized the heck out of the various technicals (while also understanding the concepts where applicable), and after 30+ on-campus and off-campus interviews, I finally landed an IB offer. Even in banking, I've been most successful by grinding long hours and being proactive, along with developing great relationships with seniors to the point where even though my output may not always be the best, I still would get an "A" because they respected my grind, effort and genuine good-spirited nature towards my work. 

Consulting and Investment Banking are two of the most competitive fields in business that prepare you for a successful career in anything you do in the future. Yet, their career philosophies differ so much. I've gotten to where I am today only through extreme effort and persistence. Maybe it makes sense now why I am an investment banker. 

  • Intern in IB - Ind
Mar 17, 2021 - 5:43am

I basically made up a number of people like 75 people could fit. They both looked at each other and asked where I got that from. I said "personal experience." 

I'm dead at the idea of knowing 75 bodies fit inside a blimp from personal experience LOL

  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Mar 19, 2021 - 3:27am

So I remember the partners walked into the room to see how I thought about it. I basically made up a number of people like 75 people could fit. They both looked at each other and asked where I got that from. I said "personal experience." They both just said nothing and remained confused the rest of the interview. I of course didn't get the offer. 


  • Associate 2 in IB-M&A
Mar 17, 2021 - 2:17pm

Cases aren't hard. This is oversimplification, but the entire prep process involves memorizing a few frameworks, then practicing enough cases so you feel comfortable modifying a framework. Through that practice, you see more frameworks and you start to build your mental model of how to approach a problem. You also need to learn how to ask narrow questions to test your frameworks, or to ask questions to help you estimate key numbers so that you can get to a solution. 

I'm oversimplifying it a bit, but you're literally making up the solution as you go. You're just using common sense. Not all cases are the same - some are designed to give narrow answers, but its diff than banking where there's 1 defined answer to most questions.

Also OP's perception of intelligence is going to wane quickly when he/she leaves bschool and realizes that the work quality, network and ascension up the ladder is a better metric for intelligence than whether someone prepared for a case the night before. 

  • Summer Associate in IB - Ind
Mar 19, 2021 - 12:01pm

I've noticed that they're the biggest try-hards in class but I wouldn't say the smartest. They seem to take class much more seriously than finance students but that might be because most people go into consulting because they have no clue what they want to do with their life, so it makes sense that they want to broaden their experience while in school. 

Mar 20, 2021 - 4:10pm

This is such a bad take, just delete your post honestly. Everyone knows consultants just like to hear themselves talk and are usually the loudest in the room, definitely doesn't mean they are the "smartest", maybe just well-connected and willing to do all that travelling shit.

You want to meet smart? Look at the quant field for one thing. You have to be knowledgeable about math, finance/business, AND computer programming, and with trading you need to understand game theory and human psychology while having superior quantitative reasoning/logic and a complete mastery of numeracy.

Tell me straight to my face that an MBB consultant is smarter than an IMO gold medalist or a PhD graduate from MIT, I'll wait right here.

Start Discussion

Total Avg Compensation

April 2021 Investment Banking

  • Director/MD (9) $911
  • Vice President (32) $350
  • Associates (180) $232
  • 2nd Year Analyst (102) $151
  • 3rd+ Year Analyst (25) $146
  • Intern/Summer Associate (95) $145
  • 1st Year Analyst (387) $131
  • Intern/Summer Analyst (315) $82