For many MBA graduates, pursuing a career in management consulting is a natural next step after completing their studies. In this article, we provide a ranking of the best MBA programs for students who want to go into consulting and join one of the world’s top-3 firms. We also take a broad look at the MBA hiring landscape in consulting and provide some guidance on how to join McKinsey, BCG or Bain (MBB) as an MBA graduate.
- In our analysis of the best MBA programs for graduates who want to go into consulting and join an MBB firm, Kellogg School of Management in Chicago emerged as the top business school, with INSEAD and The Wharton School in second and third place respectively.
- It’s not necessary to have an MBA to either get into management consulting or join McKinsey, BCG or Bain. There are three other routes through which candidates can join the firms.
- There are a number of reasons why management consulting is a good choice for MBA graduates, including generous compensation, rapid career progression and attractive exit opportunities.
- Globally, MBA hiring is most prevalent at McKinsey, BCG and Bain in the US and – to a lesser extent – in the Middle East, the UK and Canada.
- There are two routes through which MBA candidates can apply to McKinsey, BCG or Bain: during their studies as a summer intern and at the end of their MBA programs.
- To stand out from the crowd, an MBA candidate’s application to a top consulting firm should include evidence of academic excellence, numerical ability, strong undergraduate performance, selective internships or work experience, people skills, and a track record of impact.
What are the best MBAs for a consulting career?
To identify the best MBA programs for individuals who want to join McKinsey, BCG or Bain, we analyzed the LinkedIn profiles of more than 1,000 MBB consultants who joined the firms as MBA hires in 2022, along with data provided by the business schools.
To compute this ranking, we considered two criteria:
- The percentage of students seeking employment who joined a consulting firm within three months of completing their MBA studies
- Of those, the percentage who joined McKinsey, BCG or Bain
The top-10 business schools for joining McKinsey, BCG or Bain
|Graduates seeking employment who joined consulting
|Graduates who joined consulting who joined MBB
|Kellogg School of Management
|The Wharton School
|The University of Chicago Booth School of Business
|MIT Sloan School of Management
|The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth
|London Business School
|Duke’s Fuqua School of Business
|Columbia Business School
|NYU Stern School of Business
* Harvard Business School and University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business are not included in the ranking, as the schools were unable to provide the supporting data. However, our LinkedIn analysis indicates that only a small proportion of graduates from these schools go on to join McKinsey, BCG or Bain.
In addition to the ranking of MBA programs above, we can also draw the following insights from our analysis:
Kellogg School of Management tops our ranking, with the third-highest proportion of students going into consulting and, among these, the second-highest percentage who make it to MBB
In order to achieve results like these, a business school must attract a high number of top-quality MBA students who are interested in a consulting career, and then provide them with robust interview preparation. Kellogg, which has long been known as a strong option for aspiring consultants, appears to succeed on both counts.
According to our analysis of MBB hiring in the US, the total number of consultants hired into the firms’ Chicago offices was second only to the number of new hires in New York. It’s therefore unsurprising that so many future McKinsey, BCG and Bain consultants choose to complete their MBA studies at a prestigious business school in Chicago.
Kellogg provides a robust and highly structured seven-week case training program, which underpins the interview preparation of all its MBA students who want to pursue a career in consulting.
INSEAD’s one-year program produces the highest number of MBB consultants
INSEAD is the world’s top business school when it comes to the number of graduates seeking employment who join McKinsey, BCG and Bain, with 260 hires in the year of our analysis. For those who want to make such a move, the school’s one-year program is a less costly option than the two-year alternatives at other business schools.
In our analysis of MBB hiring around the world, we saw that INSEAD’s MBA graduates join the firms in a wide variety of locations. These include countries in Europe and the Middle East, as well as Australia and various destinations within the US. INSEAD is therefore more international in terms of the destinations of its graduate consultants than business schools in the US.
The Wharton School produces the largest percentage of consultants who join McKinsey, BCG or Bain
The percentage of Wharton MBA graduates who went into consulting (23%) was among the smallest of the schools in our study. However, the proportion of these graduates who joined McKinsey, BCG or Bain was the highest, at 81%. This indicates that while only around a quarter of Wharton’s MBA graduates choose consulting as a career, most of those who do so are successful in landing an offer from one of the world’s top-3 firms. This underlines the quality of both Wharton’s student pool and the case interview preparation it provides to aspiring consultants.
Do you need an MBA for consulting?
While MBA hiring is a significant recruitment channel for McKinsey, BCG and Bain in certain parts of the world, it’s not necessary to have an MBA to get into management consulting. In fact, in our analysis of top routes into MBB offices around the world, we found that in the US – the location in which MBA hiring was most prevalent – only 35% of the candidates who joined a top consulting firm held an MBA.
How to get into consulting without an MBA
In our analysis, the other 65% of successful candidates came through the firms’ three other hiring channels:
- Pre-experience student hiring – for candidates who have recently completed an undergraduate or non-MBA master’s degree.
- Advanced degree hiring – for candidates who have recently completed a PhD, law degree or medical degree.
- Professional experienced hiring – for candidates who are qualified by professional experience, including those who are seeking to move to a top-3 consulting firm from the Big 4 or another tier-2 firm.
Why is management consulting a good choice after an MBA?
Consulting is a natural route for MBA graduates
The work of a consultant provides MBA graduates with the opportunity to apply everything they learned during their studies to multiple problems, industries and functions. Having demonstrated a keen interest in business and problem solving by completing an MBA, these candidates are also highly likely to possess some of the skills required for success in management consulting.
MBA hires receive generous compensation
Top consulting firms recognize the potential of MBA candidates and hire them at a more senior level than those who have recently completed undergraduate studies or a different type of master’s degree. For MBA hires, this translates into generous compensation, which could be used to repay any size of student loan promptly.
In the US, the average total compensation for an MBB consultant at this level is $220-225K. In addition, McKinsey, BCG and Bain typically offer MBA hires a sign-on bonus of $30K, which can be paid as a tax-deductible tuition reimbursement. This also means that MBA hires can be promoted to the position of Project Manager – a role of significant responsibility on the consulting career path – after just two years.
Rapid career progression and attractive exit opportunities are available
Top-tier management consulting firms offer MBA graduates rapid career progression, with the opportunity to progress to the next level of the consulting career path every two years. At McKinsey, BCG or Bain, a high-performing MBA hire could expect to progress to Partner level in just six to eight years.
When consultants leave the profession, they do so with an abundance of highly desirable transferable skills, along with experience that could allow them to work in almost any function or industry. As a result, a variety of attractive exit opportunities – many of which are at senior executive level – are available to former consultants.
Joining a top consulting firm as an MBA graduate therefore provides a faster route to the upper echelons of a large corporation than simply joining a company directly after business school.
Where is MBA hiring in management consulting most prevalent?
In our analysis of MBB hiring around the world, we found that a significant percentage of MBA hires (35%) were made in the US.
Interestingly, 23% of these successful candidates held undergraduate degrees from international universities. Meanwhile, seven of the 60 MBA programs attended by this group were located outside of the US. The MBA hiring channel is therefore a credible route for international candidates to join McKinsey, BCG or Bain in the US.
Our research indicates that MBA hiring is also common – although to a lesser extent – in MBB offices in the Middle East (23%), the UK (21%) and Canada (20%). In other locations, however, MBA hiring only accounted for a very small proportion (2-5%) of total consultants hired.
How to get into consulting after an MBA
So what does it take to get into a top consulting firm like McKinsey, BCG or Bain after completing an MBA? Here we take a look at the MBA hiring process and how to prepare a standout application.
How MBA hiring works at McKinsey, BCG and Bain
Top consulting firms have a vested interest in connecting with the best MBA candidates as early as possible, as competition among organizations for the programs’ top graduates tends to be fierce.
MBA candidates have the opportunity to learn more about life at a top consulting firm and to demonstrate their interest in management consulting before their MBA studies even begin. The top-3 firms all offer summer programs for students who are about to embark on MBAs: McKinsey Early Access, BCG Unlock and ExperienceBain.
Once a candidate’s MBA studies are under way, there are two routes through which they can apply to the firms:
Joining as a summer intern during their MBA studies
Most MBA hires at McKinsey, BCG and Bain complete a summer internship at their chosen firm during their MBA studies. Summer internships give candidates the opportunity to gain invaluable experience, while allowing the firms to identify top talent.
Interns are paid very well for the two-month period they spend at the firm and many candidates put this income towards paying for the cost of their MBA. Even more appealingly, most interns are offered a full-time position with the firm at the end of their internship.
Joining at the end of their MBA studies
MBA candidates who do not complete a summer internship at a top consulting firm have the opportunity to apply during the final year of their MBA studies. However, this approach is slightly riskier than joining as a summer intern.
Each year the firms have an ‘MBA recruitment target’: a limited number of MBA hires they are required to make, a certain number of which must come from their pool of summer interns. When it comes to candidates who wait until their final year of study to apply, the firms are only able to hire for the remaining number of places in their target.
In the event of a recruitment downturn within the firms, there are even fewer places available for MBA candidates who apply at the end of their studies.
How to stand out as an MBA candidate
While there are certain MBA programs that position candidates well for a career in consulting, it takes far more than an MBA from a particular business school to stand out from the crowd and earn the attention of MBB recruiters. A strong application will include the following additional elements:
Evidence of academic excellence and numerical ability
Top consulting firms aim to recruit candidates who are among the ‘cream of the crop’ of their MBA programs. When possible, you should therefore include the details of your grades in your application, along with any academic awards or scholarships you received.
Numeracy and analysis are among the top technical skills of consulting. Sharing the details of either your performance in a quantitative degree, such as Science or Engineering, or relevant test scores, such as SATs or the GMAT, will provide recruiters with evidence that you have these skills. As building models is an important part of the analytical work of a consultant, you should highlight any experience you have of doing this, particularly in Excel.
Evidence of strong undergraduate performance
Along with a candidate’s MBA degree, relevant test scores, professional experience and many other factors, top consulting firms also take their undergraduate grade and class position into account. However, this carries far less weight for MBA candidates than it does for pre-experienced students, who have only recently completed their undergraduate studies.
Selective internships or work experience
If you worked for a selective employer or completed a sought-after internship during your MBA or undergraduate studies, you should include these details in your application and provide evidence that you performed well. This evidence could include:
- achieving impressive results
- receiving a high end-of-year performance rating
- being promoted earlier than the norm
- being the youngest person in your role
- having an unusual scope of responsibilities
- being offered a permanent position after an internship
Focus on illustrating the impact you had, rather than simply stating what you did, and don’t be afraid to remove less relevant experience from your resume to make space for these valuable details. If an employer you worked for isn’t particularly well known, include a line in your resume to describe the organization and its aims.
Evidence of people skills
Consulting is a client-facing job. Firms are therefore looking for evidence of a candidate’s ability to interact and communicate with others – including senior executives – in a mature and nuanced way.
This is normally an area of strength for MBA graduates, and among the reasons why top consulting firms hire them. The firms recognize and value the experience that MBA candidates have of working in a business environment, communicating effectively and managing client relationships.
There are several ways that you can provide evidence of this in your application:
- Demonstrating your teamwork and leadership abilities, perhaps through examples of joining a committee or sports team, or being elected to lead a group.
- Demonstrating your ability to persuade and influence others, perhaps through examples of managing client relationships at work, being exposed to senior stakeholders or convincing others of something important.
- Demonstrating your communication skills, perhaps through examples of public speaking or debating experience, or writing for publications. Submitting a well-crafted consulting resume and cover letter is also an excellent way to provide evidence of your writing abilities.
A track record of impact
Taking initiative, showing drive and achieving your goals shows consulting firms that you have the potential to contribute to a team and make a difference. You can provide evidence of this in your application by highlighting any outstanding results you’ve achieved in your work experience, academic pursuits or extracurricular activities. Be sure to quantify or benchmark these results to make their significance clear to recruiters.
If you’re an MBA student or recent graduate, and a career in management consulting sounds like it might be right for you, you can learn more in our complete guide to the management consulting industry. And if you’re preparing to apply to a top consulting firm, the resume and cover letter templates and specialized advice in our Free Resume Course for MBA candidates will help you get your application in great shape.