Consulting: Who’s Happier – MBAs Or Undergrads?

MBAs are sacrificing two years of pay and progress for a reason. Or, in their cases, a slew of reasons: more money, more control, more respect, more options.

Yes, an MBA is a stamp of approval – proof that a graduate has mastered the fundamentals and ready for take on anything.  That’s particularly true with consulting, which has always held special sway with MBAs. Here, there is a never-ending spiral of new people, projects, and problems. They’re constantly learning – and they’re never too far from the c-suite, either. Sure, MBAs earn more in consulting. In most cases, they start as senior associates instead of lowly analysts. Does the time and tuition they devoted to business school actually make them happier consultants?

Actually, it really does.

And Vault Career Intelligence has the data to prove it!


This week, Vault released its Vault Consulting 50 Ranking. Completed by North American consultants, 70% of the ranking is based on Quality of Life and Work measures. These include Compensation, Work Hours, Business Outlook, Internal Mobility, Firm Culture, and Training. This year’s survey included responses from 2,500 MBAs and 3,616 respondents who held Bachelor’s degrees only. The results were decisive: MBAs reported being happier in all 22 measures surveyed by Vault.

The results are based on a 10 point scale, where 10 is the highest possible score. Here, MBA consultants collectively gave their highest marks to Client Interaction with a 9.069 average – a clear sign that MBAs are completing substantive work that gets the attention of key leaders. Supervisor Relationships (8.867) and Firm Leadership (8.846) were also scored highly by MBA consultants, a further indicator that MBAs are enjoying the confidence and respect of their superiors.

That’s not to say there aren’t red flags according to MBAs. The Vault survey was conducted this fall after COVID had left many consultants in work-from-home situations. As a likely result, International Opportunities scores suffered…to the tune of a 7.268 score (the third lowest score in any category or segment). Beyond that, you could surmise that some MBAs may feel stymied in consulting. In the Internal Mobility category, for example, MBAs delivered their second-lowest average at 7.678 – an average that is over .90 of a point below the sample as a whole. Work Hours (7.80) and Compensation (7.947) also rank among MBAs’ lowest scores. Translation: Maybe the demands of consulting are starting to eclipse the return for MBAs.


Bachelor’s degree holders share similar concerns. Like MBAs, travel is a concern; their 6.911 International Opportunities average is the lowest in the entire 2021 Vault Consulting 50 survey. Work-Life Balance produced the second-lowest score in this segment. This category’s 7.475 score suggests that consultants who lack graduate degree are struggling to carve out free time outside their responsibilities. This likelihood is further reinforced by this pool’s low scoring of Work Hours (7.615).

Which categories elicited the highest scores from consultants who hold only undergraduate degrees? In many ways, this segment overlaps MBAs in unexpected ways. The highest score (8.685) comes in Supervisor Relationships. In other words, a higher degree does not necessarily confer greater respect. Like MBAs, Bachelor’s degree holders give high marks to their employers for Leadership (8.677) and Client Interaction (8.576), meaning this segment is also enjoying more opportunities and bearing greater responsibilities.

What are the biggest differences between MBAs and Bachelor’s degree holders? In terms of Client Interaction, MBAs score their satisfaction nearly a half point (.493) higher. The same is true for Compensation (+.480). Among MBAs, the Level of Challenge (+.442) and Internal Mobility (+.390) are also demonstrably better as a whole.


MBAs also fare well against the survey respondents as a whole, where advanced degrees include holders of MBAs and Master’s and Ph.D. degrees. In this comparison, MBA score better in 17 of 22 categories. The biggest gap: MBA scores were 1.828 points better than the full graduate sample in Supervisor Relationships. In addition, MBAs outpaced all survey takers by a point or more in Level of Challenge, Client Interaction, and Travel Requirements. That said, MBAs scores fell below the sample in the areas of International Opportunities by 1.454 points and Internal Mobility by .913 of a point. Work Hours, Promotion Policies, and Work-Life Balance were the other areas where MBAs lagged behind.

Bachelor’s degree holders fared better against the entire survey sample. Their scores were lower in 14 out of 22 categories. That includes International Opportunities (-1.811), Internal Mobility (-1.303), and Promotion Policies (-.808). At the same time, the segment performs well against all consultants in Supervisor Relationships (+1.646), Travel Requirements (+1.123), Level of Challenge (+.613), and Client Relationships (+.573).

Want to see how MBA consultant scores have changed over the past 5 years? Go to the next page for 2017-2021 data from Vault for all three survey segments on quality of life and work.

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