Like most people in private equity, I come from an investment banking background. But I have to hand it to consultants – the majority of them are extremely bright and actually end up doing a better job once in private equity. It turns out that moving logos around for two years in investment banking is not always adequate training to invest in businesses. On the other hand, consultants tend to immediately do a great job with the diligence aspects of work and are well trained to handle abstract data-oriented problems.
After working a couple of years in the workforce, my intuition is that the kind of people that go into investment banking are quite similar to the kind that go into consulting.
At the end of the day, most bankers and consultants tend to just be highly motivated business people that want to have career optionality and make lots of money. Many people people in consulting pursue buyside roles after realizing that they could be making 3 or 4 times as much money while doing relatively similar work.
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But what I think ends up greatly influencing people’s initial decisions to pursue finance or consulting is the school they went to. The school you go to is likely to be the biggest determinant in your career opportunities and some schools are much better at recruiting at finance vs. consulting.
Traditionally prestigious Ivy league schools like Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia are dominant all around. But other schools like NYU and my alma mater, Ivey, place significantly better in finance.
In this post, we’re going to apply a data driven approach to determine what the target schools are for management consulting. We’re going to employ a similar approach to what we used for the investment banking target school list.
One note: we are only looking at MBB consultants in this screen. MBB refers to McKinsey, BCG and Bain, which are commonly understood to be the top 3 consulting firms globally.
I don’t think it’s controversial to say that these firms are a clear tier ahead of their competition. These firms charge their clients higher fees, pay their employees more, and generally have better exit opportunities. I actually originally included Oliver Wyman in this screen, but my guilty conscience ended up overpowering my desire for a more egalitarian society.
Here was our approach:
Aggregate all MBB Employees in the world (~95k people)
We collected profiles from LinkedIn using the help of a mechanical turk program and a proprietary data provider.
We collected the profiles of anyone who worked at McKinsey, BCG or Bain.
We are most interested in who the target schools are today, so we only looked at people who graduated between 2014 and 2020.
This resulted in ~95k global profiles around the world.
Screen for North American Consultant Roles (~8k people)
Next, we filtered for employees in the U.S. and Canada. Our view is that most of the attractive MBB consulting roles are in these countries. We also only have work experience in North America, so we didn’t feel comfortable validating and commenting on schools from around the globe. Maybe we'll add an EU version down the road.
We then screened for job title, only selecting junior and mid-level consultant titles. We included the following: Associate Consultant, Senior Associate Consultant, Business Analyst, Senior Business Analyst, Associate, Consultant, Senior Consultant.
Consultant titles are way more confusing than investment banking ones – there is definitely less uniformity across people’s LinkedIn titles, but we think this filter is good enough.
Screen for Undergraduates (~3k people)
Finally, we screened only for consultants with an undergraduate degree. We filtered out anyone with a master’s degree, MBA, doctorate, etc. We did this for data integrity purposes and to make it easier to compare the pure, unadulterated undergraduate schools. It becomes hard to isolate for pure undergraduate strength if you include any people with masters degrees.
I recognize that this actually filters out a lot of people. There are truly a lot of people who end up doing a 1 or 2 years masters program immediately after their undergraduate program that end up going into consulting. However, we chose to still apply this filter to clean the data up.
We were left with ~3k U.S. and Canadian management consultants who graduated between 2014 and 2020 and worked at one of McKinsey, BCG, and Bain. These are some of the brightest minds in the world – the future leaders of tomorrow!
Management Consulting Target Schools
With the hefty disclaimer on data out of the way, let’s finally tickle the insatiable part of our brain that rewards us for feelings of esteem and prestige.
After surveying the data, we cut the schools into four tiers. Relative to investment banking, this list of consulting target schools has much less obvious break points. We have still tiered the schools to make the data more easily digestible.
Top Targets – Harvard and University of Pennsylvania have placed ~2x the amount of people into MBB than the following targets. Their dominance in MBB consulting is extremely impressive.
Targets – There is a crop of elite schools (and somehow UC Berkeley slid in here) that solidly place into MBB every year. We set the cut-off at 80 hires per year. This tier includes the usual suspects like Yale, Stanford, and Princeton.
Weaker Targets – We set the bracket for this tier between 50 and 80 hires. We could’ve easily cut this differently, but we think this tier is the last one where you still see the impact of traditional prestige.
Semi- / Non-Targets – Schools with fewer than 50 hires over the past 7 years.
Harvard and University of Pennsylvania stand alone on this zenith of capitalist expression. These two schools fetch twice as many hires into MBB than the next crop. Considering how well they also do in investment banking and private equity recruiting, I think it’s safe to assume that Harvard and University of Pennsylvania are the best overall schools when it comes to undergraduate business recruiting. This data also suggests that consulting is relatively more popular than investment banking at Harvard, given how there are meaningfully more MBB hires at Harvard than investment bankers.
This tier of schools all have very respectable placement figures and consistently place into MBB. 80-100 placements over 7 years means that these schools all send roughly 10-15 students into these top firms every year. All of these schools have relatively even representation at all of the MBB firms. These schools are respectable colleges that tend to do well in every business category.
It’s worth noting that consulting seems to be relatively more popular at some of the traditionally prestigious schools. Schools in this tier like Stanford, MIT, and Duke are much lower on the investment banking target school list.
These "Weaker Target" schools have all placed between 50 and 80 hires into MBB over the past 7 years. This tier is filled with the other traditionally strong schools and includes Columbia, Vanderbilt, and Georgetown. In this tier, we start to notice that some schools have a disproportionate amount of placements into a specific firm (e.g. Columbia placing the majority of people into McKinsey).
We categorized this last tier as fewer than 50 hires over the past 7 years. That equates to roughly 7 or 8 hires per year, which is perhaps 2 or 3 students into each MBB firm every year.
Although this data is likely not 100% representative, I think this underscores how competitive it can be to break into a top consulting firm. These semi-targets are still reasonably good schools and the notion that only the top 7 or 8 consulting hopefuls from each school will break into MBB each year is a relatively bleak one.
At this "Semi-Target" tier, we also see that some schools have significantly stronger relationships with different firms. USC for example has virtually no presence at McKinsey. When a school only places 7 or 8 hires per year, hiring trends can be heavily influenced by a group of vocal alumni or a strong relationship at a specific firm.
As an aside, I think this is also why investment banking is relatively more popular and why many once hopeful consultants end up pivoting to finance. It’s hard to bet everything on a consulting role if your school only sends a few people per year to the top firms.
The McKinsey %
For your reference, we’ve also highlighted every school’s “McKinsey %”, with the belief that McKinsey is indeed the best and most coveted firm to place at. In reality, this data point doesn’t reveal anything too insightful. Perhaps it shows us that some of the weaker schools have more lopsided relationships with the different firms, but I don’t think having a meaningfully higher McKinsey % is the sign of a much better school.
Everyone Else (Non-Targets)
When you review the data, you see there are also a handful of schools that only have between 10-15 hires into MBB over the past 7 years. Schools that barely miss the cut include Southern Methodist, Johns Hopkins, and Williams. If your school is in this range, the statistics are pretty bleak because it implies that only 1 or 2 people per year are getting hired into MBB. There is a much higher onus to be outstanding at those schools to stand out.
Management Consulting Target Schools per Capita
By popular demand, we’ve also compared the number of hires in this data with the size of each school.
The argument we get (mostly from jilted NESCACs who are embarrassed to be outranked by Brigham Young) is that we should weigh the size of each school to determine how “easy” it is to place into a firm. I think it’s a reasonable take, so we’ve conducted that screen below.
However, all things being equal, it’s still our belief that it’s better to be at a larger school for the following reasons:
A larger school generally means a larger alumni base and a greater volume of people you can reach out to.
Larger school means larger student community, so you have more people chasing similar goals. This makes it easier to organize investment clubs, stock pitches, study sessions, etc.
Anecdotally I’ve seen that it’s easier for firms to target larger schools from an expected value perspective. It’s easier to take a trip to NYU knowing that every single person in Stern is going to show up to your info session vs. going to a small liberal arts college where you might get 10 to 20 keen folks who are also juggling offers elsewhere.
We are using the overall annual class size per CollegeData to conduct this screen.
I do think that using the annual class size poses some issues of its own, but I think it's the best we can do without overcomplicating things.
For the Per Capita %, we are taking the total number of hires, dividing it by the annual class size, then dividing that number by 7 because this data includes 7 years of hires.
Harvard’s dominance becomes even more apparent in this screen. Their per capita % is nearly double that of the remaining top schools.
Most of the target schools have roughly the same ranking as they did in the previous screen, reinforcing the notion that these are just extremely good schools. Most of these schools also have much smaller student bodies when compared to state schools.
We see by far the biggest improvement to small liberal arts colleges. Claremont-McKenna is launched into the top 10 and we also see Williams, Amherst and Davidson on this list now. It’s exceedingly true that these schools perform excellently on a per capita basis. The NESCAC schools in particular all do great for consulting.
What might be concerning about these small liberal arts colleges is that the actual numbers are still relatively low – Claremont McKenna for example only has 14 hires over the past 7 years. This implies that you still have to be the top one or two students in order to get an offer.
I think the main takeaway from this second screen is that your chances at MBB are still going to be solid if you go to a small liberal arts college.
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Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan and Yale appear to be the best overall schools when it comes to recruiting for undergraduate consulting jobs.
Overall, the top of the lists for both banking and consulting list are relatively similar. The lists start to deviate more at the semi-target level and I think it’s reasonable to interpret that many schools only do well in one field.
It does seem that traditionally prestigious schools seem to place a bit better into MBB firms than into investment banks. I think this could be because some traditional Ivy league schools don’t have rigorous accounting and finance programs. Finance jobs tend to require a bit more technical understanding from the outset, which gives an opportunity for scrappy schools like NYU, Georgetown, BYU and Boston College to cultivate their skills and land offers.