After graduating from college, I worked for one of the Big 4 consulting firms. From the day I started, I was told that the ultimate goal for all of us newly minted grads was to go on to business school and hopefully rejoin the firm. Based on my personal observations, there was not a single consultant, of those who applied, who had any trouble getting into at least one of the top ten schools. Now obviously, this is a small sample to draw conclusions from (only about 18 to 20 people), but it got me thinking about the incredible valuable of having a reputable consulting firm on your MBA application.
Most admissions directors and admissions consultants will tell you that it simply doesn’t matter. They say that schools seek a diverse admissions pool from all industries. And even if you were a consultant, you would need to work hard to distinguish yourself from all the other consultants in the applications pool. My gut and experience, however, leads me to believe that consultants get a slight edge over other applicants.
Let’s assume for a moment that the three major factors affecting your chances of admission are:
Strong Undergraduate Grades
Interesting Post-Graduate Employment
A High GMAT Score
If you’re a consultant, you probably already have two of the three. You probably wouldn’t have gotten into consulting without good grades. Given the project-oriented nature of the industry, it’s likely that at least some of your projects were unique and interesting. I think this is the key difference between a consulting applicant and a non-consulting applicant. For consultants, you apply as if you have two pieces of the application puzzle already in the bag. So you can focus on improving your GMAT score, which is the easiest of the three components to change. Non-consulting applicants have a greater need to pay attention to one of the other two, grades or employment history, which are obviously much more difficult to change.
The fact that consultants start thinking about an MBA earlier gives them another advantage. Getting a head start on the GMAT, asking for recommendations, or writing your essays early, can be the difference between getting into a school or getting a rejection letter. It’s almost as if it becomes part of their DNA when they start. All these firms essentially tell you: “You will work here for three to four years. Then, you will go to business school.” Consulting firms also tend to be much more supportive of an associate’s MBA desires compared to other industries where they may prefer that you stay put. And let’s not forget one other very big advantage: Because consulting associates work in organizations largely populated by people with MBA from top schools, they also have ready access to inside information from colleagues and managers who have made it past the admissions offices of the very best schools.
Another compelling issue is MBA job placement. While it varies across schools, by and large, MBA graduates as a whole choose to go into consulting more than any other field, especially since the collapse of the financial services industry. If you think of business schools as investors who pick their candidates like they pick stocks, the ones with consulting experience already would, at a surface level, represent the least risk. A top business school wouldn’t admit you if they didn’t think you could succeed. A consulting background minimizes the risk that a school might end up with a graduate who doesn’t immediately get employed, something that would hurt the school in many MBA rankings. Many of them will go back to their previous employers, making them low-maintenance students from a career services point of view.
If my hunch is true, it would imply that some business schools are more interested in riding the coattails of candidates who are already successful rather than turning their admits into success stories and that they care more about the salaries of their graduates than the diversity of their students.
Does my former consulting background make me complacent about my chances of getting into a top school? Absolutely not. All of my fellow consulting applicants worked their tails off during the admissions season and I intend to do the same. I’m going to assume that consultants have no advantage whatsoever. While I value my consulting experience for what I learned from it, I know I have so much more to offer than a vague job description.
This post is adapted from Random Wok, a blog written by Mako from Silicon Valley. You can read all of his posts at Random Wok.
Previous posts by Mako at PoetsandQuants: