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

Anonymous A asked on Nov 24, 2016 - 10 answers

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 Nov 25, 2016
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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

Jacopo
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updated his answer on Nov 13, 2017
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Hi,

The key difference is related to having previous work experience or not.

On the one hand, candidates with pre-experience European Master such as MSc, are interviewed for an entry level position (titles differ by firm: analyst at McKinsey and AT Kearney vs. Associate Consultant at BCG and Bain). On the other hand candidates with MBA (which is a post-experience master) are interviewed for a more senior role (called Associate at McKinsey and AT Kearney vs. Consultant at BCG/Bain).

To answer to your first question, it is true that candidates are tested on the same areas (fit + case) and are expected to check the same skills. Nevertheless, a MBA candidate is expected to go deeper on certain skills (such as structuring the approach and communication) and at the same time to show a higher degree of maturity and independence. As a matter of fact Associates are expected to deliver a more ‘senior’ type of work compared to analysts: on real projects Associates will be more independent and usually own a specific stream and manage 1/2 analysts (hence the difference in salaries). For your ingo, it takes about 1.5/2 years to get to Associate from Analyst.

Regarding previous work experience, it definitely helps on the fit part and on certain skills for the case such as maturity, business sense, knowledge of a specific industry, communication...

I hope this helps, please feel free to contact me for any additional info.

Cheers,

Jacopo

(edited)

Marco
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replied on Nov 24, 2016
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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

Vlad replied on Nov 13, 2017
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Hi,

Agree with the previous comments. I would add several points:

  • At Mckinsey, an associate (post-MBA position) is a short-term role. In a year or so you'll start leading a project as an Associate and after the first successful project, you'll become a JEM - junior Engagement Manager. After leading several successful projects as a JEM you'll get promoted to an Engagement Manager. There is also some flexibility in timing for these 3 roles
  • The analyst is an entry role, well-defined and with a strict time frame

As for the interviews, I would prepare in the same way for both roles. Interview difficulty will be the same, though the acceptance rates depend very much on a country, particular office, and your school:

  1. I've seen many times a situation when BAs were overprepared (case clubs very popular among students), while experienced hires were underprepared (lack of time and information about consulting interviews). In this case, the competition among BAs applicants was much tougher than among associates.
  2. It depends on the org pyramid in the particular office. For example, there may be enough BAs but not enough associates, so the acceptance rates for associates will be higher.
  3. MBA hiring is different for different schools. For example, at Stanford and Harvard, you can meet many people with 2-3 MBB offers, while it's not the case in other business schools. I also can't say that people doing MBA have lots of time to prepare. I believe that brand matters and they hire more people in top schools in general.

Best

Julien replied on Nov 13, 2017

Hi there,

Basically two reasons: experience and education.

Before understanding the differences in salaries, let me recap what undegrad and grad mean, although you may have already come across these terms. To do so, let's look at the US system.

In the US, after graduating from high school, people go to college and pursue undergraduate studies to get a bachelor's degree, typically in four years (not three as in Europe). Once they graduate from college, they're gonna work 2 to 5 years. Then, they apply to graduate schools (Medical, Law, Business etc.) and specialize into one field: MBA is one of the possible options. From that perspective, Europe's MiM programs are sort of pre-experience MBA.

Now, it is true that these MBA candidates bring in valuable experience to consulting firms. They know how to behave in the workplace, they already have a track record than consulting firms can look at, they've been trained etc. In other words, they are less risky candidates. However, experience does not fully capture the reasons behind the salary gap. After all, they can have worked in fields remotely connected to consulting like engineering (although you could arguably find transferable skills in any field).

The main reasons MBA candidates are aggressively pursued by consulting firms is that they got an MBA. Consulting firms, rightfully I think, believe MBA education is superior to other pre-experience program. A well-seasonsed public is more demanding and challenging: course content is of high-quality. Plus, not all but many MBAs are well-regarded and prestigious, and the admission process is very selective, much more so than for undergad. Hence, MBA applicants demonstrated they had what it took to get into these top schools.

Hope it was helpful,

Kind regards,

Julien

Guennael
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replied on Nov 25, 2016
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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

Elias
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replied on Nov 28, 2016
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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

Anonymous A replied on Nov 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!