The Top 10 Degrees for Management Consulting (McKinsey, BCG, Bain)

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Last Updated on January 2, 2024

The world of management consulting is enigmatic, prestigious, and for many, the pinnacle of a career in the business world. Among the giants in this industry, names like McKinsey, BCG, and Bain stand tall, drawing thousands of ambitious individuals every year.

But a lingering query troubles many hopefuls: “What degree should I pursue to optimize my chances of joining these elite ranks?” It’s a question with multiple dimensions and potential answers. This guide ventures beyond the surface, delving into the truths and misconceptions surrounding this topic.

So, whether you’re a student plotting your academic journey or a professional considering a pivot, this exploration promises clarity and guidance on your pathway to consulting greatness.

Debunking the Business Degree Myth

The Unspoken Assumption: In the realm of management consulting, it’s easy to assume that a business degree is the golden ticket. After all, aren’t consultants expected to provide business solutions and strategies?

A Reality Check: This couldn’t be further from the truth. Contrary to popular belief, a business degree is not a prerequisite for success in this field. A staggering statistic to digest is that half of McKinsey’s prized consulting force hails from disciplines outside the conventional business realm.

The McKinsey Paradigm: McKinsey, an industry leader, often highlights a surprising fact in its recruitment campaigns: 50% of its consultants have backgrounds unrelated to business. This isn’t a marketing gimmick; it’s a testament to their belief in diverse thought processes and perspectives enriching their solutions.

Looking Beyond Business: The consulting world is evolving, recognizing the value that diverse academic backgrounds bring to the table. While there’s no denying that many business and analytically inclined graduates (from fields like math or physics) are drawn to consulting, this inclination isn’t necessarily a representation of the hiring blueprint of these firms. In the corridors of top consulting houses, you might just as easily cross paths with experts from theology, political science, and even the arts. Such diversity ensures a melting pot of ideas, fostering innovation and out-of-the-box thinking.

Top 10 Degrees for Aspiring Management Consultants

If we examine the educational backgrounds of professionals in elite consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG, and Bain through a purely statistical lens, these top 10 degrees emerge:

1. BSc in Economics

  • Relevance: Economics majors bring a deep understanding of economic theory and quantitative techniques. This knowledge is crucial for consultants at firms like McKinsey, BCG, and Bain, as they often work with companies in turbulent economic environments.
  • Skills Learned: Economic analysis, statistical modeling, market trend analysis.

2. BSc in Finance

  • Relevance: Finance graduates are experts in financial management and strategic planning, essential for guiding companies through complex financial landscapes.
  • Skills Learned: Financial planning, corporate finance, market analysis.

3. BSc in Business Administration

  • Relevance: This degree offers a broad understanding of business leadership and management, useful for consultants addressing various organizational challenges.
  • Skills Learned: Business strategy, data analysis, leadership.

4. BSc in Accounting

  • Relevance: Accounting graduates are vital for assessing financial health and compliance, key areas of focus in management consulting.
  • Skills Learned: Financial analysis, auditing, regulatory compliance.

5. BSc in Operations Management

  • Relevance: This degree focuses on improving efficiency and sustainability in operations, a growing concern for many businesses.
  • Skills Learned: Process optimization, cost reduction strategies, sustainability integration.

6. BSc in Computer Science

  • Relevance: In an increasingly digital world, the technical expertise of computer science graduates is invaluable for consulting firms tackling technological challenges.
  • Skills Learned: System architecture, software development, data analysis.

7. BSc in Civil Engineering

  • Relevance: Civil engineers play a critical role in infrastructure projects, making them sought-after consultants, especially for government-related projects.
  • Skills Learned: Structural design, project management, regulatory compliance.

8. MBA

  • Relevance: The MBA is the go-to degree for career switchers aiming for management consulting, offering advanced management and organizational skills.
  • Skills Learned: Advanced management, strategic planning, and organizational behavior.

9. Juris Doctor

  • Relevance: Law graduates bring critical thinking and a deep understanding of legal frameworks, valuable in consulting scenarios involving legal complexities.
  • Skills Learned: Legal analysis, critical thinking, persuasive communication.

10. MA in International Relations

  • Relevance: As businesses expand globally, the insight from international relations graduates is crucial for navigating global markets.
  • Skills Learned: Understanding of international politics, economic constraints, and cultural awareness.

This statistical trend underscores the high regard these firms have for specific academic disciplines, which are perceived as instrumental in shaping the analytical, strategic, and problem-solving abilities essential in the consulting world.

Degrees in Economics, Finance, Business Administration, Accounting, and Operations Management, for instance, are particularly prevalent due to their direct relevance in understanding and addressing complex business challenges.

Similarly, degrees in Computer Science, Civil Engineering, an MBA, Juris Doctor, and International Relations are increasingly valued for the unique perspectives and specialized skill sets they bring, especially in an era where technological advancement, legal intricacies, and global interconnectedness play critical roles in business strategy.

This statistical observation, therefore, not only reflects the current educational trends within these top consulting firms but also signals the areas of expertise they prioritize when sculpting their teams to meet the diverse and evolving needs of their clients.

If you are purely interested in the top MBB target schools in the US, we have covered you with this article.

the image depicts students at their graduation ceremony that will move on to careers for top consulting firms such as McKinsey, BCG, and Bain

What Really Matters? Excellence and Skill Set

Besides specific degrees and academic backgrounds, consulting firms also take into account several other key factors when evaluating the suitability and overall fit of candidates. These factors include:

Excellence Over Everything: In the hyper-competitive landscape of management consulting, where talent pools overflow with brilliance, merely having a degree isn’t enough. What truly differentiates candidates is excellence. No matter your field of study, being recognized as one of the best within your cohort becomes paramount.

The University Edge: While the specific major might hold lesser weight, the institution you graduate from can significantly influence your consulting aspirations. Top-tier consulting firms have their list of preferred universities and business schools, often termed ‘target schools’. These are institutions known for their rigorous curriculum, stellar faculty, and history of producing top-notch graduates. Securing a degree from these places can potentially give you an edge, as recruitment drives are frequently conducted here.

Beyond the Classroom: Your journey to landing a role in a prestigious consulting firm isn’t limited to academic achievements. Firms seek well-rounded individuals who bring a plethora of experiences to the table. This includes professional stints that demonstrate your skill set in real-world settings, international experiences that showcase your adaptability, and extracurricular involvements that reflect your passions, leadership, and teamwork capabilities.

Degrees and Geographies: One important nuance to understand is the variation in degree prerequisites across different consulting firm branches. While one office might welcome candidates with a bachelor’s degree, another, perhaps in a different country or region, might have a minimum criterion set at a master’s level. Doing thorough research on the specific requirements of the region or office you’re eyeing can be the difference between a successful application and an overlooked one.

In a nutshell, while the academic angle remains significant, it’s the amalgamation of excellence, university reputation, diverse experiences, and alignment with specific regional requirements that paints a complete picture for potential consultants.

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The Evolving Consulting Landscape

Riding the Wave of Transformation: Consulting, like many industries, isn’t impervious to the rapid advancements in technology and the changing dynamics of the business world. With the meteoric rise of digitization and a broader array of project domains, the very nature of consulting roles is undergoing a significant shift.

The Age of Specialization: Gone are the days when consulting was a one-size-fits-all profession. As firms cater to the more specialized needs of their clients, they are on the lookout for niche experts. Data scientists, once mostly associated with tech companies, are now integral to consulting teams, offering insights driven by advanced analytics. Similarly, designers, with their expertise in user experience and interface, play pivotal roles in projects focusing on digital transformation or customer experience enhancement. These specialized roles underscore the industry’s adaptability and its commitment to delivering the best solutions in an ever-complex world.

Holding the Fort – The Generalist Consultants: Notwithstanding the emergence of specialized roles, the heart and soul of consulting firms continue to be the generalist consultants. These are the professionals equipped with a broad skill set, capable of diving into varied projects across sectors. Their versatility, analytical prowess, and problem-solving abilities allow them to navigate challenges, irrespective of the industry. It’s no surprise, then, that they constitute an overwhelming 90% of the hiring base in top consulting firms. Their enduring relevance in the consulting ecosystem is a testament to the timeless value of holistic business acumen and adaptability.

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Getting the Edge with Professional Guidance

For those looking to break into the consulting world, professional assistance can significantly up your chances.

  • Resume and Cover Letter Services: Tailor your application with insights from ex-McKinsey consultants and resume screeners.
  • Recruiting Test Guidance: Prepare and practice for the most common consulting recruiting tests with our dedicated products.
  • Case Practice: Hone your interview and problem-solving skills to succeed in interviews with top firms like McKinsey, BCG, and Bain with our tailored product offering for each challenge of a case.
  • Consulting Interview Coaching Program: Our program boasts a satisfaction rate of 100%, with 9 out of 10 candidates landing their desired offers.
  • Ready-for-McKinsey Video Academy: An extensive 40-part video series designed to prepare you for success in the consulting world.

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Outlook

In the intricate tapestry of the management consulting industry, it’s not just the threads of business degrees that weave success stories. Instead, it’s a blend of dedication, the pursuit of excellence, and the honing of diverse skill sets that truly creates an impactful narrative. While the journey to the consulting apex might seem daunting, it is by no means prescriptive. Whether you come from a business school, a liberal arts college, or a technical institute, the door to consulting is ajar for those equipped with the right expertise, preparation, and passion.

The evolving landscape of consulting, with its myriad roles and shifting paradigms, underscores one fundamental truth: adaptability is key. From specialized roles emerging at the crossroads of technology and business to the evergreen generalist consultants, the industry continues to be a melting pot of opportunities.

In closing, if you’re an aspirant with dreams of making a mark in the consulting world, remember: the path may be demanding, but with commitment, the right mentorship, and a resilient spirit, a fulfilling consulting career awaits you. Embrace the challenges, arm yourself with knowledge, and let your passion be the guiding light. The illustrious world of management consulting beckons.

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