Choosing the Best Business School for Consulting

best business school 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 2017 Prospective Student Survey conducted by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), consulting is once again the most sought-after postgraduate industry, with 33 percent of applicants surveyed citing consulting firms as their destination of choice. The consulting function, too, is a top draw. One in four indicated it as their chosen job function, after just marketing/sales (30 percent) and finance/accounting (28 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.

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? Part of it is the diverse work. Consultants get to think creatively and solve problems, analyze both the big picture and the details, and work on teams juggling multiple assignments. Top salaries don’t hurt either. Recent MBA graduates taking jobs at firms like McKinsey & CompanyBoston 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 $25,000, according to managementconsulted.com, an online resource for the consulting industry.

Choosing the Best Business School for Consulting

Determining which leading business school will best prepare you for a career in consulting requires looking at a range of factors. A logical place to start is by examining career outcomes at individual schools, both in terms of summer internships and full-time jobs. If possible with the available data, you also want to get a sense of how well a school has done placing career-switchers, namely those without prior consulting experience, in coveted consulting roles, since barriers for entry for these grads are understandably higher than for their counterparts who have already worked in the field.

It can also be instructive to see which of the powerhouse consulting firms donate to which leading business schools. Finally, it helps to understand how a given school goes about teaching its students to be consultants, what role experiential learning plays, whether you can hope to learn directly from superstar professors in the field, and what extracurricular resources are in place to help you land your dream consulting gig.

Consulting at UVA Darden

The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business sent more of its MBA graduates into consulting than any other U.S. school, with 38 percent of the Class of 2016 pursuing work in the consulting industry and 38 percent choosing a consulting function. By comparison, Harvard Business School (HBS) sent 25 percent of its 2016 graduates into consulting, and Stanford Graduate School of Business sent just 16 percent.

As for the top recruiting companies at Darden, Boston Consulting Group snapped up 18 members of the Class of 2016, followed by McKinsey & Company (14), PwC (13), and Accenture (10).

In terms of pay, the average base salary for a Darden MBA heading into consulting was $135,771 with a signing bonus of $26,927. While this isn’t the highest salary in the industry—it falls a few thousand dollars short of offers reported by students at schools like Kellogg School of Management—it 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, Samuel E. Bodily, a professor of business administration, teaches “Decision Analysis” to first-year students and “Management Decision Models” to second-year students while also consulting with 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 also 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 For Consulting

In terms of sheer numbers, no school sends more students into consulting jobs than INSEAD. According to the school’s latest 2016 MBA employment report, 46 percent of INSEAD MBAs took a job in the consulting sector and 48 percent assumed a consulting function. That’s a whopping 479 students accepting a position as a consultant—almost half of the 999 students who filled out the employment report.

INSEAD’s MBA graduates took jobs with such companies as McKinsey (which hired 125 INSEAD grads in 2016), BCG (67), Bain (48), Strategy& (24), and Accenture (16). 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. More than 100 consulting graduates took jobs in Western Europe, 41 of those in the United Kingdom. Another 83 graduates headed off to consulting offices in Asia Pacific, including 23 each in Singapore and Australia. But the single most attractive country for INSEAD consulting grads was the United Arab Emirates, which drew 42.

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. For 2016, the overall mean salary in consulting was $107,300 USD, the overall median salary was $109,500 USD, and the overall annual median sign-on bonus was $25,000, with 76 percent of salaries coming with a sign-on bonus and 83 percent with a performance bonus around $24,500.

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, 67 percent held pre-MBA roles in consulting. But 34 percent of those who were financial services professionals also successfully switched to consulting, as did 56 percent of former technology, media, and telecommunications professionals and 38 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 Group, 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. It also publishes the INSEAD Consulting Club Handbook, free to Consulting Club members, which offers an overview of the industry, profiles of individual firms, and sample cover letters, résumés, interview tips, and practice case questions.

INSEAD also features regular consulting case competitions, including the A.T. Kearney Global Prize Competition. As many as 15 teams from INSEAD compete against each other, with winners advancing to represent INSEAD in a regional competition against seven other European business schools. The winning European school then battles the winning North American school for the Global Prize.

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 2016, 33 percent of Kellogg’s graduates headed off to jobs at leading consulting firms, down just slightly from the last four years, during which the school sent 35 to 36 percent into the field.

Top hirers for the Kellogg Class of 2016 include the most prestigious consulting firms around, with McKinsey taking 43 Kellogg grads, Bain & Company hiring 24, BCG snapping up 25, and Deloitte wooing 21. If summer internships are any indication—and they often are—the Class of 2017 can hope to do equally as well.

In terms of pay, the average base salary for 2016 Kellogg graduates headed into consulting was $138,204, and the median was $145,000. The average signing bonus was $29,193.

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 Ph.D.

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

For the purposes of this post, we’ve focused our attention on Darden, INSEAD, and Kellogg, but that is in no way meant to suggest that these three schools are the only ones you should consider if 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.

In 2016, Emory University’s Goizueta Business School sent 38 percent of its MBA graduates into a consulting career. 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.

And at Columbia Business School, McKinsey, Bain, and BCG between them took 118 CBS grads in 2016. All told, an impressive 38.1 percent of the CBS class went into consulting that year. Students can hone their consulting skills while in school by participating in the student-run Columbia Small Business Consulting Program, which matches MBA students with local small businesses and nonprofit organizations for semester-long consulting engagements.

MIT Sloan’s School of Management, for its part, sent 30.5 percent of its 2016 MBA class into consulting. A key to this are the 15 Action Learning Labs where students work side by side with corporate and nonprofit partners to apply their classroom knowledge to high-impact business challenges. The labs cover a variety of topics from analytics to entrepreneurship, healthcare to China.

At Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business31 percent of its 2017 MBA graduates went into consulting post graduation by function and 21 percent by industry. As for who hired these graduates, 16 went to McKinsey & Company, 11 to Bain & Company, and 8 to BCG. As for where students have the opportunity to hone their skills, there’s the Tuck Student Consulting Service, or TSCS, 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.

And the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School offers its students a Global Consulting Practicum each spring. As part of this 1.5-credit course, student teams work with groups from one of 11 international partner schools to support a client’s entrance into or growth in the North American market, traveling to the client’s site during winter break and returning to Wharton to work on the project. Wharton’s student-run Consulting Club also hosts an annual Consulting Conference that brings together industry leaders and experts as keynote speakers and panelists. This year’s keynote firms include Deloitte and Strategy&.

All of this is to say that many of the leading business schools have proven strengths in consulting. We hope through this post 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.

This article has been edited and republished with permissions from Clear Admit.

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