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What's better for my future consulting career: Masters or MBA?

Anonymous A

Hello,

I'm gonna finish my Bachelors next year and at the moment I'm thinking which career steps to take afterwards.

Should I continue with a M.A./M.Sc. program or get some work experience and later join an MBA program?

Do big consultancy firms value MBAs more? Do I have much better options for my career path and promotions with an MBA (plus much higher entry salary)?

What are the reasons to choose one or the other?

If someone has some opinions or experience on this, I would really appreciate it!

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Francesco replied on 11/25/2016
Ex BCG | MBB Specialist | #1 Expert for meetings done (800+) and recommendation rate (100%)

Hi Anonymous.

That’s an interesting question. Since it is not clear whether you are referring to consulting work experience or not, I would assume you have three options:

Option 1: Go for a Master and then consulting (and potentially an MBA later)

Option 2: Go for a consulting work experience and then do an MBA and continue consulting

Option 3: Go for a non-consulting work experience and then do an MBA to join consulting

I would consider four variables to take a decision, in order of importance:

  1. What would you enjoy most right now between studying or going to work
  2. Degree of interest in consulting
  3. Possible limitations of a choice on future opportunities in consulting
  4. MBA cost coverage

Let's see them in details.

Step 1: Studying vs working

If you have clear what you would like to do more between studying or working for a specific company, I would go of course for the option representing that. If you are neutral I would move to Step 2

Step 2: Degree of interest in consulting

If you are 100% sure about consulting, I would take Option 2 – there are no real reason to delay you career in consulting and spending money and time in a Master or doing an unrelated job; if you are still unsure whether consulting is the right thing for you, you may consider doing an internship to understand it. If that’s not an option, you may consider Option 1, 2 or 3, taking into account the following steps.

Step 3: Limitations for future career in consulting

Option 1 does not give you any limitation (you may still do an MBA if you want and if you don't want so your internal career may be similar substituting the MBA with 1 or 2 years in the firm) neither of course Option 2. Option 3 though makes more difficult for you to join a consulting firm, as there are less openings for post MBAs compared to new graduates, and only for top selected MBAs.

Step 4: MBA cost

Here Options 1 and 2 are the winners as well. For top performers, indeed, a firm may pay for your MBA. That’s far more difficult in Option 3, and if that happens, the non-consulting firm will ask you to stay with the firm for some time after the MBA, making more difficult your transition to consulting.

As for your question on MBAs and careers:

  • An MBA would usually allow you to join a company at a position equivalent to someone without an MBA and more years of experience, so yes, it has value
  • If you are already in the firm and decide not to go for one, as mentioned, you may subsitute that with one or two years in the firm and have the same career progression. However, everything equal, as mentioned by Guennael, the MBA may allow you to have more options for career path and promotions compared to one or two additional years in the firm in case of career change, and for sure a broader network to benefit from.

Best,

Francesco

Marco
Expert
replied on 11/24/2016
Interview specific coaching: company you are applying to; 1st or 2nd round; your professional background and more

Based on my personal experience: go for the work experience + MBA option.

If you join a top tier consulting firm right after you Bachelors, you will have good chances of getting them to sponsor your MBA after 2/3 years of work and, after that, salary and career options are really sweet.

If you don't make it into consulting, get some relevant working experience and you will still have the chance to get an MBA at some point, which will increase your chances of making it into consulting later in your career.

To answer your second question: yes, consulting firms value MBAs more. All of the top tier strategy consulting firms aim at increasing the number of MBAs working for them and they do it by having MBA-specific recruiting resources and career paths. The entry salary is obviously one of the main levers they use and it can easily be twice the amount you made before doing an MBA.

Hope this helps,

Marco

Guennael replied on 11/25/2016
Ex-MBB, BCG/Bain/Experienced Hire specialist

I need to take issue with a specific comment above: "To answer your second question: yes, consulting firms value MBAs more. All of the top tier strategy consulting firms aim at increasing the number of MBAs working for them and they do it by having MBA-specific recruiting resources and career paths"

=> No, absolutely not. MBB will always get as many MBAs as they want. What they can't get enough of, are the MDs, the PhDs... They want and need diversity which MBAs cannot provide. (I am an MBA btw, just one of many). Further, at least in the US but I suspect this would be true in most every country, every consultant gets the same offer regardless of degree. Heck, even an undergrad who gets promoted to consultant after 2 years as an associate will get the same consultant salary that Harvard or Stanford MBAs would get

Guennael replied on 11/24/2016
Ex-MBB, BCG/Bain/Experienced Hire specialist

Big consultancies just want good people, regardless of their degree. If they feel you are good but need specific business training, they'll give it to you. The MBA will probably give you more options if you end up not going through consulting, but my recommendation is for you to study something you like and would make you happy with or without consulting.

Btw - at least for MBB, and I suspect for the vast majority of consultancies, the degree doesn't change your salary. I know Accenture if France was an exception in the late 90s, not sure if they still do that - but typically, every new consultant across a country will have the exact same starting salary regardless of degree... and often regardless of office / cost of living.

Elias
Expert
replied on 11/28/2016
Experienced consultant, now running own consulting business

Hi,

one thing I haven't spotted in the discussion:

To me the answer depends on your BSc. / MSc. degree. Lets not forget that the MBA was designed for non-business people (i.e. engineers) to train them for management positions where they would need some business know-how.

So if you already have an MSc in Business Adminstration / Management etc. from a good school, getting an MBA on top of that is a waste of time and money in my view. You will not learn much new or even be surprised how basic some of the stuff is MBAs learn in comparison to some more advanced courses you took during your Masters. Of course, the network aspect (at least in a top tier MBA program) is still important and valuable, but is it worth all that time and money (+ the opportunity cost of not working)?

If you are an engineer, a social scientist etc. it might make a lot more sense to go for a MBA, as it is a good way to get you up to speed on the necessary business adminstration skills.

Cheers,

Elias

Marco
Expert
replied on 11/25/2016
Interview specific coaching: company you are applying to; 1st or 2nd round; your professional background and more

Hi Guennael,

I completely agree with your point on MDs and PHDs but I wouldn't say MBAs necessarly bring less diversity than them.

I didn't find much "standardization" in the career path of my classmates during the MBA: they ranged from consulting to journalism to medicine, just to give you a few examples. Imagine someone worked 3/4 years in chemical engineering or in the R&D department of a pharma company or in an NGO, do they bring specific technical knowledge and wide expertise in a specific sector? They usually do and I think a consulting firm would value them to be as diverse as PHDs.

In terms of salary, it's true that the driver is your level within the company and not your education, my comparison was intended to be between the pre-MBA and the post-MBA salary. Don't forget the signing bonus though, which a person that gets promoted from consultant to associate (just to give you an example) doesn't get, whilst an MBA does. Even though it's a one-off payment it can be as big as 25-30% of your annual salary.

Best,

marco

Anonymous A replied on 11/25/2016

Wow, thank you so much for all the answers!

Especially the point studying vs. working made me notice that actually I would like to study more for now before I start working. But somehow I also feel the pressure to start working to start my career...and the option to join a top tier consultancy now and get them to sponsor my MBA would be kinda nice...

I guess I still need some time to figure out what I want^^, but it's really helpful to get some input! Thanks again!