Analyst in Consulting or Banking – Getting into a top MBA

Analysts Chances of Getting into Business SchoolMBA Admissions Committees look for candidates from a variety of backgrounds in order to bring different professional perspectives to the class mix and to meet the needs of a variety of employers who recruit on campus.

The following analysis discusses the odds that an Analyst from consulting has of getting admitted to a top MBA program using the hypothetical scenario of a second-year analyst at McKinsey. The same logic could be applied to a candidate working as an analyst at a bulge-bracket bank.

If you have aspirations to attend a top 10 business school, landing that Analyst role at McKinsey after you graduate college can be both a blessing and a curse.

Becoming McKinsey Analyst means you’ve already passed through the firm’s internal recruiting process. Business schools are familiar with the quality standards McKinsey holds its employees to because the schools have long-standing relationships with the firm due to the fact that many of McKinsey’s Analysts go on to attend top MBA programs and McKinsey recruits the entirety of its Associate staff from these same programs. So in that sense being an Analyst is an advantage in the MBA application process because you already have that first nod of approval from McKinsey. Business schools are aware of what the Analyst role entails at McKinsey and that makes it easier for them to benchmark your performance against other people in similar roles.

But being an Analyst can also be a curse. The top schools take between 20-25% of their incoming class from consulting. Bear in mind that not all these people are traditional management consultants, some may be internal consultants and some may have just chosen the dropdown ‘Consultant’ on the application because in their view it best describes their role.

Let’s look at Harvard and Stanford both with 20% of the class from Consulting:

Harvard 935 class size | 935*0.2=187 people
Let’s assume half of the consulting admits come from Bain, BCG or McKinsey = 94
If the school accepts candidates in equal proportion from each firm, there are about 31 Analysts from McKinsey accepted at HBS each year.

Stanford 410 class size | 410*0.2=82 people
Let’s assume half of the consulting admits come from Bain, BCG or McKinsey = 41
That works out to about 13 Analysts from McKinsey accepted at the GSB each year.

McKinsey has 106 global offices. On average let’s say each office hires 6 new analysts per year (some offices are quite large…others are quite small). 106*6=636 new analysts per year.

Probability of getting into HBS assuming that half of the analysts in a given promotion apply to HBS
636/2=318
31/318=0.09 = 9%

Actual acceptance rate at HBS 11%

Probability of getting into Stanford assuming that half of the analysts in a given promotion apply to Stanford
636/2=318
13/318=0.04 = 4%

Actual acceptance rate at Stanford 6%

Now the actual acceptance rate is 11% at HBS and 6% at Stanford….so if you accept all my assumptions, then your probability of getting into business school is actually worse if you are an Analyst at McKinsey than if you weren’t.

The reality is that immediately post-undergrad it seems like you have a leg up on everyone else when you land that job at McKinsey (or Bain, BCG, Goldman, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan etc.). In reality the advantage of such roles is that they provide you with future options and value that you might not have as readily benefited from had you gone directly into a sector specific role. You can a) transition to an analyst or associate role in an industry you’ve come into contact with through consulting; b) apply for an MBA; c) benefit from the McKinsey brand value and exposure to diverse business problems and client facing skills. The thing is that these analyst roles are well defined and very ‘cookie cutter’. It’s hard to differentiate yourself from your McKinsey cohort of overachievers. That means you really need to be the best of the best (or at least have an MBA application that presents you as such) in order to land those coveted spots at HBS and Stanford. Some of the top schools have now begun asking recommenders to divulge how many candidates they are recommending for an MBA each year and to rank the candidates! So chose your recommender wisely.

Candidates who took a less conventional road post-undergrad benefit from a unique storyline and don’t find themselves competing with fellow analysts.  That said, your overall probability of getting into AT LEAST one top-10 business school is probability better if you are a McKinsey Analyst (this implies that the person applies to 3+ schools in a given year).

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