Limited time offer -> Mini-MBA Online (Free Course)

Former McKinsey consultant shares MBA application tips for management consulting applicants

MBA application tips for management consulting applicants

For the world outside admiring your career as a management consultant, you’ve already arrived in life.

You hobnob with the CxOs, pile on air miles, live in 5-star hotels, have all the bells and whistles such as a TUMI case and more.

That can be an outsider’s view of what life as a management consultant is all about. But you know better. [Read Life as a McKinsey Consultant]

The crazy speed with which you have to learn a new sector, countless hours spent poring over esoteric and sometimes heavily technical documents, making 50+ versions of one PowerPoint slide, getting feedback every day, not buckling under pressure from both your manager and the client – the list goes on and on.

This proverbial trial-by-fire if you may, while agonizing at times, gives you a lot of qualities and strengths.

That’s what an MBB (read McKinsey, BCG, Bain) or being at other top tier consulting firms (read AT Kearney, Accenture, EY, PwC and others) offers.

The good news is, MBA adcoms have a reasonably good insider’s view and not just the outsider view of what consulting is about.

Another good news is that consulting candidates outrank most others at nearly all top bschools. Just see this table:

School % Consultants in class of 2023 Industry rank *
HBS 17% 1
Stanford 19% 2
Wharton 23% 1

Source: MBA Crystal Ball Research

* The industry rank in the table indicates relative position of Consulting across the various sectors candidates come from.

Now for the not-so-good news. From the premise we’ve set above, every consultant at a top firm will have impressive experience to boot.

That kind of experience is likely to stoke your ambition and hence, one finds consultants making a beeline for the top schools more than most.

Not surprisingly then, the competition is intense within this rarefied league. How then you may ask, can you stand out and make yourself heard above amongst the pool of top performers?

As a former McKinsey consultant who now helps many consultants get into the most selective and elite business schools in the world, I will be sharing several insights from my decade-long experience as an international MBA admissions consultant.

The tips in this article are meant for MBA applicants who are already working in the management consulting industry, as opposed to those who wish to get into a consulting career after an MBA.

Same but different

At a glance, every management consulting project may appear impressive, with multi-million-dollar impact.

However, when you are the one driving it, you know that each project is a new battle, with its challenges, learnings and that unique sense of satisfaction of helping a client do something they were struggling with. This then is the key.

While you have to make sure adcoms understand you’ve done ‘same’ projects as those done by your peers, make sure you help them ‘live’ through these, exactly the way you have.

This has to be done by livening up your resume and not just your application essays since the latter can only cover very few projects.

Don’t skim over your work with mere numbers (of course, don’t ignore those; for each project, a number outcome is expected from a consultant) but bring them to life and make them human.

Differentiate and initiate

While the above point was all about belonging, about articulating the difference in your work that appears similar to others on face value, this point is about actually doing something different than the rest.

And arguably, this is tough to do since consulting work is highly differentiated to begin with.

As a junior undergrad resource, you may not always have the opportunity or freedom to do new things either.

Having worked with several consultants though, we know this is possible and more often than not, all it takes is pushing yourself and making yourself available.

Whether it is helping a senior Partner in your firm set up a new practice (read industry/functional vertical) or getting a new client onboard or simply helping your firm in start a new knowledge initiative, the list can really be endless.

The endnote on this is to always look for things that don’t have a precedent. Making that work is hard and adcoms know that which is exactly why it makes a lot more impact than simply going with the flow.

Get a life

As a strategy consultant, you are no stranger to crazy work hours. It is natural that you’d want to relax at the first opportunity you get, or a weekend that you get to yourself.

There is no respite though if you are aiming high since adcoms expect you to have a life outside of work.

That doesn’t mean just having a large social circle of friends that you can party with at the drop of a hat of course.

It means doing something meaningful and building an extracurriculars repertoire.

But don’t make it a chore, something you are doing merely to stand out or boost your admit prospects.

There is no right answer here and you don’t have to necessarily do volunteer work if that doesn’t excite you.

Be true to yourself, find your interests and passions, indulge in them knowing why do schools care about extracurriculars so that you channelize your efforts correctly.

Remember, this is an often-neglected aspect of your candidature but can be a vital tiebreaker when everything else looks similar.

Show you belong

Belong to the school you are applying to. This is a relatively unique challenge for top tier consultants where the school you are applying to may not always believe you’ll join them if they give you an admit.

Call it the curse of being an overachiever but yield (candidates joined over candidates offered) is an important metric schools have to manage.

As a way to do this, plan your application journey well. This is not your typical 2 week due diligence assignment which you can ace simply by sacrificing your weekends or working extra hours.

Don’t rely simple on the school website. Take the effort to connect with the school community and make sure the adcoms get a sense of comfort that you won’t just take the admit and never turn up.

Don’t lose sight of the basics

This is sort of a given but important to highlight.

Being in a top consulting firm means that you carry the baggage of expectation when it comes to the objective parameters of the profile i.e. GPA, GMAT and a top school pedigree.

In most cases, the last two parameters are taking care of by the punishing selection process that consulting firms deploy.

Which brings us to the GMAT score. Typically, in any MBA classroom, you’d find consulting candidates’ averages to be a lot higher than the overall class.

This is an area where you’d want to belong rather than having to justify. Do not leave any stone unturned on this front.

In essence, while it’s great that you have are in consulting, think of it as a coupon or say an application fee waiver, and not an actual admit.

It gives you a clear advantage, but it is critical to tie everything together in a compelling manner so that your MBA application can stand out.

Make sure that every component (MBA essays, recommendations, resume, interview) does complete justice in highlighting your accomplishments as well as potential. [Read How to write MBA essays]

That’s where we can help – in building a personalized roadmap to differentiate you from the thousands of other management consultants competing for the same seat.

Send us an email, if you are planning to get professional help in taking your career to the next level: info at mbacrystalball dot com

Also read:
From an Ivy League MBA School (Columbia) to McKinsey
Management consulting resume tips for McKinsey, Deloitte, BCG, Bain
How to get an interview at McKinsey, Bain, BCG
McKinsey vs BCG vs Bain vs Big 4 (Deloitte, EY, KPMG, PwC): Differences & similarities
Strategy consulting job without an MBA degree or relevant experience

Mini-MBA | Start here | Success stories | Reality check | Knowledgebase | Scholarships | Services

Serious about higher ed? Follow us:


Manish Gupta
About Manish Gupta
Chief Consulting Officer at MBA Crystal Ball, ex-McKinsey, IIT & ISB topper. MG can help you get into the top B-schools. Read more about this top MBA admissions consultant. Connect with MG on Linkedin, Facebook or Email: mcb [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

2 thoughts on “Former McKinsey consultant shares MBA application tips for management consulting applicants”

  1. Hi @manish
    thank you for the wonderful article
    just wondering if this is true even for a boutique management consulting firm, or this perspective is only for the MBB consulting

    • @shreyus, it’s true for boutique too but in that case, you have to do even more since the brand recall won’t be there. That’s an area to explicitly address and overcome.


Leave a Comment