Consulting: Who’s Happier – MBAs Or Undergrads?

The numbers don’t lie. It pays off for aspiring consultants to do an MBA — literally.

Take McKinsey & Company. MBA compensation starts at $175,000. according to the data collected by Management Consulted. As first-year consultants, MBAs also receive a $30,000 signing bonus. This does not include the potential to earn a performance bonus of up to $45,000. Bachelor graduates? They start with an average of $100,000 at McKinsey. They only charge $5,000 for the signing bonus, with the performance bonus capped at $30,000.

That’s a big difference – and the gap is widening over time.


Pay isn’t the only benefit MBAs enjoy in consulting. When it comes to opportunity, influence, and job satisfaction, MBAs leave their consulting peers in the dust. That’s one conclusion from this year’s Vault Consulting 50 First-hand. Shared in survey data exclusively with Poets and how manyMBAs achieved higher satisfaction scores on all dimensions measured by Firsthand, including training, work-life balance, internal mobility, and organizational culture.

The data comes from the Vault Consulting 50 ranking, which surveyed practicing consultants to rate their employers on these dimensions. This year, 2,713 college graduates – most of them MBAs – were included in the survey sample. In contrast, 3,140 survey participants only had a bachelor’s degree. Conducted last fall, the survey asked respondents to rate their company on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest possible score) on 20 dimensions. Overall, the Vault Consulting 50 is designed to rank consulting firms using a methodology that heavily weighs metrics such as prestige, compensation, long-term prospects, and level of Xhallenge. Taken together, this data is also a health check — a state of the industry that reflects where companies are meeting expectations and lagging behind.

Business Outlook received the highest score among MBAs. Here they gave their companies an average of 9,450 – a vote of confidence in the long-term value of the services they provide their customers. They also rated their companies high in customer engagement, which came in at 9,322. The message here: MBAs enjoy access to client leadership and feel their efforts are having an impact. At the same time, MBAs mostly gave 9s and 10s in Supervisor Relationships (9,194) and Firm Leadership (9,149). This is another indication of the high regard they are held by company leadership, along with their confidence in their companies’ capabilities and mission.


However, MBA respondents also show a certain dissatisfaction in certain dimensions. They gave their lowest average – 7,708 – to International Opportunities. That’s hardly a surprise given how travel has been restricted in response to COVID. However, less travel does not mean better conditions. MBAs gave the second-lowest grades for working hours (8.020), health and wellness (8.312), and work-life balance (8.343). In other words, the legendary consulting needs have simply shifted online or on-site as customer needs have only increased in response to issues like supply chain bottlenecks and digital disruption.

Ironically, bachelor’s graduates enjoy similar perks. Like MBAs, they gave Business Outlook their highest score, which was 9.186. They also ranked leadership (8,886), managerial relationships (8,849), and customer relationships (8,700) among their top 4 for the same reason. The similarities didn’t stop there. Both bachelor’s and MBA graduates reserved their lowest grades for International Opportunities, which averaged 6.872 for the former. Hours worked (7,740) and health and wellness (7,814) were also concerns shared by both segments. Bachelor graduates, on the other hand, were more likely to complain about salary and career paths. Exhibit A: Their second lowest score (7.64) was for internal mobility, a dissatisfaction with the career paths available to them. In addition, they gave the reward an average of 7.805 – 0.617 points lower than MBAs.

That’s not the only gap between MBAs and bachelor’s degrees. While international opportunities are a sore point for both, bachelor’s degree holders score 0.836 points lower than MBA graduates. The same is true for health and well-being (-.677) and customer interactions (-.622). True to form, MBAs gave higher grades for Internal Mobility (+0.632), Level of Challenge (+0.610), and Promotion Policies (+0.563).


Despite these hiccups, advisors have good feelings about their prospects. Just look at how the averages have changed since 2021. Last year, MBA respondents gave their companies higher scores on all 20 dimensions—and 19 for bachelor’s graduates.

For MBAs, the biggest improvement was in Business Outlook, which saw an average increase of 0.680 points. Internal Mobility (+0.568) and Benefits (+0.513) also increased by over half a point, closely followed by Promotion Policies (+0.488) and Compensation (+0.467). The improvements were less dramatic for bachelor’s graduates. Here, the largest gains were in compensation (+0.330), internal mobility (+0.326) and benefits (+0.310) – all signs that companies are devoting more time and resources to their junior staff.

These numbers follow a larger five-year trend. Looking back at the 2017 Vault Consulting 50 survey, MBAs improved their scores on 19 out of 20 dimensions. However, the improvements are less pronounced than last year. For MBAs, Business Outlook has increased by 0.438 points over the past five years (though less than the 0.758 point improvement from 2021-2022). For similar stories, see Benefits (+.374), Promotion Policies (+.351), and Internal Mobility (+.331). The only dimension that has lost ground among MBAs? That would be Level of Challenge, where the average has slipped from 9.077 to 8.936 over the past five years.

Want to see how MBA advisor scores have changed over the past 5 years? The next page provides data from Vault for 2017-2022 for all three Quality of Life and Work survey segments.

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