What are the Academic Backgrounds of Consultants?

Just curious to know about the general academic backgrounds of consultants. In my university, there are three specializations: public accounting, finance, and management. (The management specialist also includes concentrations in Marketing, International Business, Strategy, etc.)

For a student who is considering consulting as a career, which specialization will give the most relevant training and knowledge base? Do I even need to be a business major to go into consulting?

Comments (61)

Jan 14, 2018

The only requirements on your degree are a high GPA and some proof of quantitative acumen. Typically the most common majors will be business/economics (mostly due to self-selection), engineering, and a swath of liberal arts.

If you're intent on picking one of those three specializations, I would stay away from marketing, because it tends to give an impression of fluffyness rather than quantitative rigour (and I don't agree with that impression).

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Jan 15, 2018

@AllStateRap approximately how high should your GPA be? And also how do they view GPA-extracurricular balance (which one do they prefer)?

Jan 15, 2018

3.5 is pretty much the universal cut off. Then GPA preference will depend on your school/major and which firm you're applying to. 3.7+ will probably make you competitive everywhere unless you're applying from a non-target with a fluffy major.

Why do you think there has to be a trade off between ECs and grades? Unless you are an outlier case (think D1 student athlete or you run your own business that you're about to sell for $500k) you probably won't get any pity from resume reviewers.

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Jan 15, 2018

lmao true the really competitive firms are ruthless.

Jan 28, 2018

All of my marketing courses have been awful, like common sense things and giving names to things that you already knew existed but didn't have a name for it in your head.

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Feb 1, 2018

To add to this I would say that you should take something your interested in. Your more likely to succeed and it's more authentic. Plus if you don't get into consulting you won't have suffered through years of misery that didn't pay off because let's face it - the odds are against everyone.

I can't imagine the interviewer being impressed when you tell a story about your major and it being "I took this major because I heard most consultants take it".

You might as well start the interview with "well I'm not very original or creative or different or much of a leader nor do I have any intellectual depth or curiosity" - which btw represents the majority of what they are looking for.

The guy/girl who spent a decade getting a PHD in pirate studies and has an interesting story will beat you if you both get the same gmat and did the same on the case because they are more interesting.

If your thinking this way maybe accounting is a better major as a back-up career choice.

Sorry to be frank about it - it's a tough industry and a tough interview process and I don't want to sugarcoat it. Though this is from the perspective of post-MBA associate MBB interview prep.

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Feb 3, 2018

.

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Feb 11, 2018

Physics is actually one of the most brilliant and elegant ways of thinking out there. I ended up doing engineering + MBA in finance. Finance is interesting because it's more numerical although the typical level of analysis tends to be far less than you'd see in engineering studies. In engineering you sort of can't be wrong when you estimate things so there's also learning about a relationship with appropriate conservation...though in finance there is definitely a more pronounced acceptance of risk and uncertainty beyond what you'd get in engineering-based courses. But yeah entirely besides the point...

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Feb 27, 2018

Wizard,

Question(s): If you don't mind, may I ask your age? Also, how long after you got your (I assume BS in physics) degree prior to going back for the MBA? Did you find the MBA to add significant cache' to your resume'?

I've a BSEE with some grad courses under my belt, and was in the field for ~ 20 years, but have considered going back for an MBA. Just trying to determine whether I want to drop the cash for the degree and whether it will pay off over time.

I'm 50 w/a pretty healthy retirement acct already. Don't know if it is worth even considering going back to school, other than for my own enjoyment, which I have considered. In the financial field now, but spent many years on the road as an engineer.

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Feb 27, 2018

The value of the MBA peaks at 30. I won't say my age but I'll say I'm close to the peak value age. We had someone in our class who was more senior in their career and he dropped out because it just wasn't for him. He just wanted to do it for interest. It's a lot of work to just do out of interest and imo if your 50 it's difficult to justify the value because you have 15 working years left as opposed to 35 for someone who is 30. Typically MBAs have between 2-7 years experience so I'm in that ballpark as well. Executive MBAs are set up more for those later in their careers so if you do look into MBAs I would recommend that as it may be more your peer group. Allthough that being said if it's something you really want to do then go for it. Just be sure to know what your getting into imo as it's a very expensive and time consuming application process to just figure out it's not for you and drop out of... in terms of resume - it also depends what feild your going into. The engineering industry I don' think cares very much though mba later might make more sense as typically before management level you need that 20 years. Career switching is hard at 30 so I'm assuming near impossible at 50 so it probably won't help with that. It's a useful degree though I would recommend the EMBA if anything. To answer your question, given my particular situation the MBA has been very useful and a good investment - but it really depends on what you want to do and who's viewing your resume. Sometimes (believe it or not) employers actually don't like MBAs (mostly some companies in engineering field) and it's actually a negative thing.

Feb 27, 2018

Wizard,

Thank you for the response. Regarding your statement about the engineering industry, you're correct in the sense that age isn't really an issue. But, the MBA puts you on a career path that I chose not to pursue while still in engineering. Plus, if I wanted to have the MBA paid for by the company, I'd be committing myself to, I think, five additional years of service with them.

I appreciate your honesty and candor. I assumed I was too old, and frankly, I don't want it as badly as I suspect I would need to in order to be successful. The information is quite useful as I intend to share it with my youngest son, who is going to start pursuing his accounting degree this fall and he intends to pursue an MBA shortly thereafter.

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Jan 15, 2018

If you're studying business, I would either take finance and add general management electives or management (international business and/or strategy concentration) with quant-heavy electives such as financial analysis, advanced statistics for business (e.g. econometrics), quantitative economics classes (e.g. advanced microeconomics).

With that you would cover business basics quite well while showing quantitative aptitude/ skills.

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Jan 16, 2018

@Ruhm is consulting heavy on quantitative analysis?

Jan 17, 2018

It depends, obviously. I found that some FS/ supply chain modelling can be very quantitative, while an org/ PMO project is likely to be very fluffy. The more quantitative projects can indeed be quite heavy on the analysis side, and most consultancies would want to make sure you can handle that without major issues.

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Feb 27, 2018

I'd go with option 1 - people generally don't care about minors (because they're sometimes as little as 4 classes), and you're only considered somewhat knowledgeable about a topic if you major in it. I think option 1 will give you the business background and the ability to credibly say you're interested in life science when they ask for your story.

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there" - Will Rogers

Feb 27, 2018

Any of them as long as you can keep up a high GPA - #1 is probably the easiest. If you know you're defUnitedly interested in consulting, makes sense to explore Business degree. But you could break into MC with any of the backgrounds.

MBA ad com will not be concerned with your degree. In fact, bio undergrad is probably a lot less common and potentially would stand out. But they'll just look at your GPA and move on.

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Best Response
Jan 28, 2018

Qualitative major here. It's posisble without much quant if you know how to play the game, but I never got a look from Bain and I'm positive it's because of my lack of quant skills.

If I could design a "consulting" major, it would incorporate Poetry (learning to be economical with words); English (learning prosaic writing); Philosophy (learning to structure arguments); Economics (for the obvious basic economics principles); Corporate Finance (useful for working with corporations especially if you ever have a DD); Org Change (learning about resistance to change is key if you ever want a client to implement anything); and a foreign language so you can get staffed overseas and collect all the pay bonuses that brings.

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Feb 27, 2018

To be more specific; Corporate Strategy Consulting

Feb 27, 2018

the latter. double in 1.) business strategy and economic management and 2) finance. Get a good gpa and you'll be in good shape

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Feb 27, 2018

Don't waste your time in Management, it's not a real degree.

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Feb 27, 2018

I would suggest management on the condition it has good and useful modules. Some business schools suck and have modules such as: history of management, strategy (very theoretical) etc. If you have the option to take modules such as intro to finance, basic accounting, game theory or some form of analytics then management works for consulting. And since management varies form B-school to B-school (as mentioned) list the modules you take on your CV

Feb 27, 2018

Probably Finance, Business Strat, and Management

Jan 28, 2018

I was at a boutique life sciences management consulting firm, so this is a little different in as much as there is a large degree of self-selection. At the analyst level everyone had a STEM degree, usually bio, with some chem. Also there were a fair number of advanced degree people at that level (mix of PharmD and PhD mostly). At the consultant level and beyond backgrounds were more diverse and we had some folks without STEM backgrounds. The firm would look at Econ/Business degrees, but most folks selected out, due to the pharma/life sciences focus. My friends who went to generalist shops had a wide variety of degrees ranging from Econ to engineering to psych, the only commonalities were high grades, target school and strong soft skills.

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Feb 27, 2018

With a 3.1, I think you would probably have difficulty getting into the audit or tax team. Based on what you just indicated, I think it is highly unlikely that you would even get to the interview stage for any big 4 consulting.

Perhaps you could described your CV a little more in depth, and then it is easier to evaluate what needs to be done.

You could accept your current job offer, however, it is not going to be an easy road ahead. Firstly, what kind of consulting do you hope to transition to? IT consulting is no S&O. I'm not sure how you are going to transition from a finance analyst position.

Secondly, from experience of myself and my peers, for PwC consulting, Deloitte S&O and EY performance improvement. 1 year in industry does not equal to 1 year in consulting. If you are going to transition in, you might realize that your peers (Class of 2015) are far ahead of you.

Lastly, MC usually has a unstated requirement of an MBA, how does your timeline fit in? Isn't it a wiser move to target a top mba programme, then leverage it and transition to MC.

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Feb 27, 2018

If you have been on the forum long enough, you'll notice that there are a few success stories where the OP received an offer in BB IBD, Big 3 Consulting, etc.

Having a low gpa is definitely going to hinder your chances, but it does not mean it would be impossible. As long as you network properly, the chances are there. Without networking, don't even get your hopes up about an interview.

Feb 11, 2018

No business major needed for general consulting. Having said that, for specific sectors you need to specialise e.g. no one will take you seriously in life science consulting without a medical background.
Other sectors have specialisation that can help but are not 100% required e.g. engineering for aerospace or political science for political consulting

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Feb 27, 2018

Not delusional, I was a hard science major with 0 business experience, just tutoring and research and am at MBB now.

Feb 27, 2018

Hi I'm in the same boat at you. It's nice to hear someone like Starpoints get the job done though. Would you mind given us an explanation of how you made the transition?

Feb 27, 2018

how many undergrad hires have experience in consulting... cmon son.

Feb 27, 2018

In my start class I had a bunch of science, psychology, and history majors. Not as many Business majors as I would have thought, but it makes sense. Rarely does anyone have consulting experience prior to joining consulting. Really the only thing you need to work on is telling a story about why consulting, and what lead to decide to pursue it.

Also, prepare for case interviews. Definitely tough if you've never come across one, and there don't test your technical or business knowledge, but your problem-solving skills and reasoning, which is essentially all consulting is.

Hugo

Feb 27, 2018
Hugo Stiglitz:

In my start class I had a bunch of science, psychology, and history majors. Not as many Business majors as I would have thought, but it makes sense. Rarely does anyone have consulting experience prior to joining consulting. Really the only thing you need to work on is telling a story about why consulting, and what lead to decide to pursue it.

Also, prepare for case interviews. Definitely tough if you've never come across one, and there don't test your technical or business knowledge, but your problem-solving skills and reasoning, which is essentially all consulting is.

Couldn't agree more. It's all about how you spin your past endeavours to relate to your carefully thought out response to the most basic question, "Why consulting?"

Your major and grades are a huge asset. Use them.

Feb 27, 2018

Have you looked at a smaller/boutique firm? Did you do ANY internships at all throughout your college?An alternative approach is going into the industry for 2 years to gain some "industry experience" and then re-apply as an "industry hire".

clinical research to consultant (newbie to big4)

Feb 27, 2018

What are some of the "boutique firms" can you recommend that I can apply at this point?

Feb 27, 2018

You are a perfect candidate for a prestigious healthcare consulting firm! It can either be a hospital org focused firm, but I was specifically speaking to a life sciences and pharma product portfolio strategy firm (I work at one). We hire almost exclusively those with life science backgrounds from BA, MD, PhD, but of course, have our share of former bankers and MBAs among our ranks.

Feb 27, 2018

Consultants must typically earn a bachelor's degree in order to be competitive in the field. You can secure a degree in finance, business administration, business management, accounting, marketing, psychology, human resources, engineering, political science, computer science etc. However, some employers prefer to hire those who have earned their master's degree, specifically the MBA.

Feb 27, 2018

My take: do something that will challenge you and that you will enjoy. Try to make it have a quantitative element in it. Then do your best to excel and be able to talk about it as a coherent journey for you. Similar story for extracurricular: do something that you enjoy and on which you can have a significant impact. The actual details of things like exactly major and extracurricular choices are not as important as your ability to have an impact in whatever it is you choose to do, as long as those choices challenge you.

MechE/CS sounds great, as do all of the other options.

Feb 27, 2018

I agree with prior post to go with what you are most interested/excited in vs. trying to optimize for a consulting role. Getting the job is about showing you are a bright, energetic student and leader who has the interpersonal skills to translate well to business. It is not about financial or other business content. To me - granted biased as an engineer - I like the ME/CS combo. MBB, like everyone else, are looking for people who can go deep on quantitative analysis but can put the questions into a strategic context and communicate the insights to non-expert business people. ME/CS seems to pay into that and also gives quite a nice natural industry breadth. That said, if you really want to do quant finance go for it. Remember, the joint probability that you (A) get a MBB job + (B) stay in MBB for your entire career is really, really low so don't let that drive your decision. Study what you enjoy and where your strengths lie and consider what would give you the broadest option set over the next 20-30 years.

Feb 27, 2018

Do whatever will give you a GPA closest to a 4.0 its the simple.

If you think you can get a 3.8+ with that double major great, if not single major in one or the other, or even worse if you don't think you can get a great GPA and do all the networking, EC's major in something simpler and learn the CS on the side.

"It is better to have a friendship based on business, than a business based on friendship." - Rockefeller.

"Live fast, die hard. Leave a good looking body." - Navy SEAL

Feb 27, 2018

If you perform well, nobody will care. If you're at the bottom of your class, some might be tempted to say 'look at this kid's background, this isn't surprising.' What you do at work will always trump what you did at school.

Feb 27, 2018

people will judge you primarily by how good of a worker you are. when you're at one of these firms, you realize really quickly that there are some people with extremely prestigious degrees who are literally dumb as rocks. others who aren't as dumb, but still people you don't want to be working with, because they've got their heads shoved so far up their asses they can't see daylight.

and then there are some with "bad" degrees who are extremely bright; and others with poor degrees whom you suspect only got there cuz of connections.

if you're hard to work with and not bright/capable of doing a good job, your degree will compound the issue. if, on the other hand, you aren't...nobody will care.

that being said, you'll still probably feel a bit of a chip on your shoulder. i definitely noticed it from some colleagues with your kind of background; but hey, everybody has their issues. i think it was mostly in their head, not in everybody else's.

the one caveat i would make is that i don't know how this changes your ability to rise to partner though, since that is mostly sales and convincing your clients to pay you 300k to do 3 weeks of work. at that level, having an impressive degree would help, i suspect, but i don't know.

Feb 27, 2018

Not sure who you think frequents these forums, but there are just as many "non-target" v. whatever. Look, most people searching for these jobs at the MBA or undergrad level are very ambitious and bright: true, a degree from a "top" institution makes you much more mobile (bigger alumni base, traditions, reputation, brand, etc.), but trust me, once you get into it, it is what you do that people will be reminded of.

I've only been working a couple months now, and already I've seen a kid from Yale get canned just as fast as a kid from Lehigh U. Maybe you won't know the same people, etc. but you can fix the background things by being personable, having a good sense of humor, etc. The prestige falls away fast if you can't show you can do the work.

Feb 27, 2018

you can get an interview with any major

Feb 27, 2018

Won't matter.

Feb 27, 2018

thanks for answering so quickly...

as long as I'm asking...does anyone know anything about exit ops for people doing entertainment consulting?

Feb 27, 2018

Id assume working the entertainment industry...though I dont know if you can specialize that quickly right away at a big consulting firm, especially in a field as small as entertainment. Id assume you'd have to do your fair share of financial services, tech, etc consulting as well

and I agree...your major wont matter

Feb 27, 2018

Major doesn't matter much for consulting...unless your major was "Investment Banking Only"

Feb 27, 2018

For the record, major does matter. This thread is 8 years old. Much more competitive now.

Feb 27, 2018

Just my opinion, and take it with a grain of salt as I am still in undergrad, but I think that you'd be better served by using the extra time you'd put into the double major into networking and hustling to make connections instead. Especially coming from a non-target.

Feb 27, 2018

That's the way I'm leaning... I appreciate the feedback.

-Cheers

Feb 27, 2018

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Feb 27, 2018

-Cheers

Feb 27, 2018
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