Consulting: Who’s Happier – MBAs Or Undergrads?

The numbers don’t lie. For aspiring consultants, it pays to get an MBA — literally.

Take McKinsey & Company. MBA pay starts out at $175K. according to data collected by Management Consulted. As first-year consultants, MBAs also pull in a $30K signing bonus. That doesn’t count the potential to earn up to $45K in performance bonus. Bachelor’s degree holders? They average $100K to start at McKinsey. They command just $5K for signing bonus, with performance bonus capped at $30K.

That’s a big difference — and the gap only widens over time.


Pay isn’t the only advantage that MBAs enjoy in consulting. When it comes to opportunity, influence, and job satisfaction, MBAs leave their consulting peers in the dust. That’s one takeaway from this year’s Vault Consulting 50 from Firsthand. In survey data shared exclusively with Poets&Quants, MBAs produced higher satisfaction scores in every dimension measured by Firsthand, including Training, Work-Life Balance, Internal Mobility, and Firm Culture.

The data was pulled from the Vault Consulting 50 ranking, which tapped practicing consultants to evaluate their employers across these dimensions. This year, 2,713 advanced degree holders — the majority being MBAs — were included in the survey sample. In contrast, 3,140 survey takers held a Bachelor’s degree only. Conducted last fall, the survey asked respondents to score their firm in 20 dimensions using a 1-10 scale (where 10 is the highest possible score). Overall, the Vault Consulting 50 is designed to rank consulting firms, using a methodology that heavily weighs measures like Prestige, Compensation, Long-Term Outlook, and Level of Xhallenge. Taken together, this data is also a health check  — a state of the industry that reflects where firms are meeting expectations and falling short.

Among MBAs, the highest score was conferred onto Business Outlook. Here, they gave their firms a 9.450 average — a vote of confidence in the long-term value of the services they provide to clients. They also scored their firms high in Client Interaction, which came in at 9.322. The message here: MBAs enjoy access to client leadership and feel their efforts are making an impact. At the same time, MBAs gave mostly 9’s and 10’s in Supervisor Relationships (9.194) and Firm Leadership (9.149). This is another indication of the high regard they are held by leadership, along with their confidence in their firms’ capabilities and mission.


However, MBA respondents also show some dissatisfaction in certain dimensions. They gave their lowest average — 7.708 — to International Opportunities. That’s hardly a surprise given how travel has been curtailed in response to COVID. Less travel doesn’t mean better conditions, however. MBAs gave their next lowest marks to Work Hours (8.020), Health and Wellness (8.312), and Work-Life Balance (8.343). In other words, the legendary demands of consulting have simply shifted online or onsite as client needs have only increased in response to issues like supply chain bottlenecks and digital disruption.

Ironically, Bachelor’s degree holders enjoy similar perks. Like MBAs, they gave their highest score to Business Outlook, which came in at 9.186. By the same token, they also ranked Firm Leadership (8.886), Supervisor Relationships (8.849), and Client Relationships (8.700) among their Top 4. The similarities didn’t stop there. Both Bachelor’s holders and MBAs reserved their lowest marks for International Opportunities, which averaged 6.872 for the former. Work Hours (7.740) and Health and Wellness (7.814) were also concerns shared by both segments. However, Bachelor’s holders were more likely to bemoan pay and career paths. Exhibit A: Their second-lowest score (7.64)  involved Internal Mobility, a discontent with upward career paths available to them. In addition, they gave Compensation a 7.805 average — .617 of a point lower than MBAs.

That’s not the only divide between MBAs and Bachelor’s degree holders. While International Opportunities are a sore spot for both, Bachelor’s holders score it at .836 of a point lower than MBAs. The same is true for Health and Wellness (-.677) and Client Interactions (-.622). True to form, MBAs gave higher marks to Internal Mobility (+.632), Level of Challenge (+.610), and Promotion Policies (+.563).


Despite these hiccups, consultants are feeling good about their prospects. Just look at how averages changed since 2021. Over the past year, MBA respondents gave their firms higher scores in all 20 dimensions — and the number is 19 among Bachelor’s degree holders.

For MBAs, the biggest improvement involved Business Outlook, whose average jumped by .680 of a point. Internal Mobility (+.568) and Benefits (+.513) also climbed by over a half-point, followed closely by Promotion Policies (+.488) and Compensation (+.467). The improvements were less dramatic among Bachelor’s degree holders. Here, the highest gains involved Compensation (+.330), Internal Mobility (+.326), and Benefits (+.310) — all signs that firms are devoting greater time and resources to its junior ranks.

These numbers follow a larger five-year trend. Looking back at the Vault Consulting 50 survey from 2017, MBAs have seen their scores rise in 19 of 20 dimensions. However, the improvements have been less pronounced than those made over the past year. Among MBAs, Business Outlook rose by .438 of a point over the past five years (though less than the .758 of a point improvement from 2021 to 2022). You’ll find similar stories with Benefits (+.374), Promotion Policies (+.351), and Internal Mobility (+.331). The only dimension that lost ground among MBAs? That would be Level of Challenge, where the average slipped from 9.077 to 8.936 over the past five years.

Want to see how MBA consultant scores have changed over the past 5 years? Go to the next page for 2017-2022 data from Vault for all three survey segments on quality of life and work.

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