MBA Satisfaction Down In Consulting

In business school, some jobs are considered stopovers, while others are treated as destinations. Consulting definitely falls into the latter bucket. It is the industry that engages the best minds with the most diverse backgrounds. Just sprinkle McKinsey, Bain, or BCG into a conversation: an MBA student’s eyes are bound to light up. No day or assignment are the same for consultant, making them as versatile as they are inventive. The starting pay, which can go as high as $150K, and the off ramps – which generally merge with a c-suite – are even more attractive.

Those are just a few reasons why the popularity of consulting has exploded in top graduate business schools. Exhibit A: Columbia Business School. A decade ago, less than a quarter of its MBA graduates chose consulting to start. Today, that number is 33%. Over that same period that percentage has jumped by 20% and 9.5% at Yale SOM and Chicago Booth respectively. In fact, consulting accounts for a third of hires at nine Top 20 programs in the United States.


That doesn’t mean that MBA consultants are completely satisfied with their choices. In fact, MBA satisfaction scores are the lowest they have been in three years according to Vault. The leading collector of market intelligence for employer ratings and review, Vault produces the Consulting 50, considered the gold standard for measuring the state of the consulting industry. While MBA gave higher marks than peers in nearly all of the 22 quality of life and work categories measured by Vault, the ongoing slide may reflect an increasing disenchantment with the industry.

On the surface, MBAs rank as the happiest consultant population. Overall, MBAs scored higher than their peers in 21 of 22 categories, posting lower satisfaction scores in just Travel Requirements.  This duplicates 2018 survey numbers, where Travel Requirements were again the only category where the overall population produced a higher average score than MBAs.

When MBAs consultants are contrasted against bachelor’s degree holders (i.e. don’t hold an advanced degree), their scores were higher in 20 categories, falling short in just Work Hours and Supervisor Relationships. Again, this number matches the 2018 results. The difference? A year ago, MBAs scored lower in two entirely different categories: Travel Requirements and Vacation Policy.


Still, these numbers mask a shift. In the 2019 Vault satisfaction survey, which was conducted this spring, MBAs averaged an 8.464 score on a 10 point scale, a cut above the overall population (which includes MBAs) which came in at 8.307. It also bested the bachelor’s degree holder segment by an 8.464-to-8.267 margin. However, it represents nearly a .1 of a point drop over the 2018 survey, where MBAs scored their firms at 8.558. It also fell short of MBA satisfaction in the 2017 survey, which stood at 8.500 collectively.

So where are MBAs thriving – and what areas are they seeking improvement. Undoubtedly, MBAs appreciate their access and autonomy, reserving their highest scores for Client Interaction (9.192) and the Ability to Challenge (9.090). They were also more bullish about their firm’s future and leadership, with their next highest scores given to Business Outlook (9.074), Supervisor Relationships (8.867), and Firm Leadership (8.838). MBAs also gave high grades to consulting firms’ Hiring Process (8.631), Informal Training and Mentoring (8.590), and Exit Opportunities (8.558).

MBAs tend to be an ambitious group, particularly when it comes to building their skill sets and looking for ways to increase their exposure to different markets, nations, and roles. That may be one reason why International Opportunities (7.675) and Internal Mobility (7.849) yielded the lowest scores among MBAs – categories that serve as barometers for moving up at a faster clip. At the same time, MBAs were less enthused about Work Hours, which notched a 7.942 score…nearly identical to last year’s 7.946.

Technically, the International Opportunities score represented a .073 uptick over the previous year, with Internal Mobility being .144 of a point lower. Bottom line: MBAs scored their firms lower in 20 of 22 categories compared to the 2018 survey. The biggest drop occurred in the Diversity measure, which fell from 8.665 to 8.338 this year. The caliber of formal training also declined according to MBAs, falling by .226 of a point to 8.156. More telling, MBAs (as a whole) dinged the all-important Compensation category, which dropped nearly .2 of a point to 8.152.


Nitpicky? That may ring when you look back three years to the 2016 Vault MBA Satisfaction survey. Here, scores are lower than the 2019 MBA survey in every category. Two of the biggest turnarounds, according to the data, comes in training, with Formal and Informal Training jumping by .554 and .508 of a point respectively. By the same token, Compensation and Ability to Challenge each rose by .45. While MBAs weren’t enamored with their International Opportunities in the 2019 survey, their prospects have certainly improved in the area, with that average rising from 7.096 to 7.675 over the past three years.

BCG’s new New York office at 10 Hudson Yards – overlooking the Hudson River. Photo by Anthony Collins.

Like MBAs, the overall population was upbeat about the industry, with Business Outlook receiving the highest score to the tune of 8.920. Survey respondents, as a whole, also lauded the consulting industry for Client Interaction (8.879), Ability to Challenge (8.864), and Supervisor Relationships (8.771). Like MBAs, the full sample also reserved their lowest scores for International Opportunities (7.211), Internal Mobility (7.595), and Work Hours (7.820).

A dearth of International Opportunities also plagued consultants without advanced degrees. At 6.974, it was the lowest of any average – even lagging .7 of a point behind the MBA average in this category. That said, the International Opportunities score among bachelor’s degree holders actually reflected a .272 of a point improvement over the 2018 survey. Beyond that, this segment’s highest averages fall in line with MBAs and the overall sample, headed by Business Outlook (8.872), Supervisor Relationships (8.778), Ability to Challenge (8.753), Client Interaction (8.748), Firm Leadership (8.679) and Firm Culture (8.608).


As part of an exclusive partnership with Poets&Quants, Vault broke down the survey data for its North American Consulting 50 ranking, which included over 17,000 respondents. Overall, 9,012 respondents furnished their education level, which included 2,558 MBAs. 69.2% of this group was male, with 69.39% being Caucasian. 19.31% of MBAs responding were Asian followed by Hispanic (4.48%) and African-American (2.55%) respondents.

Another 3,972 of respondents held only a bachelor’s degrees – a segment comprised of 60% males and 72.23% Caucasians. Asians (17.51%), Hispanics (4%), and African Americans (1.9%) represented the next largest segment of undergrads. Overall, 62.6% of all North American respondents were males, with Caucasians (70.5%), Asians (18.9%), Hispanics (4.1%), and African American (2.1%) representing the largest ethnic populations.

To see how the satisfaction rates of MBAs fare against their consulting peers, see the charts on the next page.  




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