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Can You Get into Consulting Without an MBA? Three Degrees to Get the Job

Dec 16, 2019
From undergrad to MBA, learn about the different degrees and timelines you can leverage to enter the management consulting industry

By Heream Yang

Consulting was the most popular career choice for Vanderbilt’s record-setting MBA Class of 2019, with 31% of graduates entering top consulting firms all across the country. It is no surprise that consulting is such a popular career choice, considering the excellent opportunity it offers for broad industry exposure through solving the world’s most challenging business problems.

Management consulting is a versatile field with many different entry points, from undergrad to MBA and beyond. To learn more about landing a job at the best consulting firms, we spoke with Cherrie Wilkerson, Assistant Dean for Young Professional Programs, and Emily Anderson, Senior Director at the Career Management Center. Here is their advice on breaking into top management consulting firms using three different degrees:

Undergraduate

Cherrie Wilkerson

Undergraduate students have two main points of entry into consulting: junior-year internship recruiting and senior-year full-time recruiting, both of which kick off in early fall, shortly after school swings into session. While summer internships are often a stepping stone to full-time offers, students who don’t receive internship offers can leverage their junior-year summer to gain valuable work experience and fine-tune their case prep skills to successfully pivot from internship rejection to full-time offer acceptance.

The earlier that undergrad students discover their interest in management consulting, the better. Preparation for a successful recruiting process begins as soon as students step foot on campus. According to Wilkerson, here are some steps undergraduates should take to nab an offer at the top consulting firms:

  • Keep up your GPA: “You need to have it in your mind (that) most consulting firms are looking for a great GPA that demonstrates how hard you are willing to work.”
  • Strengthen your quantitative skills: “(Consulting firms) like to see evidence of quantitative skills. Engineering, mathematics, and economics all demonstrate that you’re not afraid of numbers and don’t mind being quantitative and analytical.”
  • Become a leader: “It’s not just a matter of being a member of an organization, but having a leadership role in the organization outside of your normal coursework is important.”
  • Think like a consultant: “You must excel under pressure and think analytically through an unstructured problem. Frankly, if you bomb (the case interview), it really doesn’t matter about those other (factors)… Start thinking about what the firms are looking for… and practice thinking analytically.”

One-Year Masters Program

Students who don’t discover their interest in management consulting until later in their undergraduate years can get a second chance at recruiting through a one-year business masters program like Vanderbilt’s own Master of Science in Finance and Master of Marketing. Since these one-year programs don’t have a summer break for internships, students usually recruit right into a full-time consulting role. According to Wilkerson, there are several advantages to recruiting at the master’s level:

  • Accelerated opportunities for career progression: “You are still competing for an entry-level position into consulting, but a Bain recruiter I spoke with said, ‘We expect our Masters students to progress more quickly once they’re in the firm.’”
  • Personalized career coaching: “When you go to a program like Owen’s, particularly our Masters of Finance and Master of Marketing, you get a chance to get coached up by our career coaches. Our coverage is 10 to 1 what most undergraduate schools can do, so those career coaches know you inside out.”
  • MBA-level quantitative skills: “For students who have a very broad liberal arts background and don’t have the quantitative skills, both of our programs in Marketing and Finance allow you to enhance those at an MBA level.”
  • Second chance at GPA and involvement: “If your GPA was not stellar, or you weren’t involved in school, you have a chance to do that here at Owen… where you’re taking MBA-level classes.”

MBA

Emily Anderson

Similar to undergraduates, MBA students have two main points of entry into management consulting: first-year internship recruiting and second-year full-time recruiting. Applications to firms are typically due in late fall, with interviews kicking off in January. However, recruiting preparation begins well before students start school in the fall. Anderson walks us through the preparation process for recruiting at top consulting firms as an MBA student:

  • Maximize your summer: “You don’t have to demonstrate knowledge early, but you do need to demonstrate a basic understanding of the industry and what they are looking for in you as a candidate… We work primarily in that early time period as a facilitator to help people understand what the process is going to look like as it goes along, and to get you ready on the basics with your résumé and the expectation of how you need to present yourself.”
  • Case, case, and case again: “We bring Mark Cosentino (Case in Point), David Ohrvall (MBACASE), and Lewis Lin (Impact Interview) to campus… Our consulting club is very active in having the process down and the availability for practice because you can learn the theory, but the only way to really be good at casing is to do a lot of cases. So (they) developed case books and sessions where people get to practice and have their interviews critiqued. They also do a case certification, so students can opt in, and if you do 30 cases, you get to case with alums.”
  • Know the firm and network strategically: “Some firms are much more networking-driven. Deloitte would be on the high end of that. They really value your ability to make connections… Bain is looking at your credentials, and they want to see excellence and academics and work experience. Networking is nice to have, but they’re going to evaluate you, at least initially, much more on how you come across on your resume.”
  • Keep up with business news: “Having a basic understanding of the economic drivers is always important, so we try to encourage people to set up news alerts through the major national newspapers, reading more in-depth through articles, like in The Economist or Financial Times.”

Management consulting offers a fantastic opportunity to gain broad exposure to the business world, whether right out of undergrad or after business school. Aspiring consultants seeking to refine quantitative skills and gain access to an extensive alumni network, personalized career coaching, and supportive peer mentorship should consider applying to a one-year masters or MBA program for a strategic boost in the recruiting process.

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