What to Major in for Consulting
Whether you're applying for college, deciding on a major to declare, or looking to switch majors, this article is for you. Learn what skills you need to succeed in consulting and the degrees that will teach you them.
Posted October 30, 2023
Many people enter college with no idea of what they want to do. Others go in knowing exactly what career they wish to pursue. Still, some go in thinking they will do one thing, only to end up switching later on. Whatever bucket you’re in, most students choose a major that they believe will directly deposit them in the career of their choice so that they’ll have the skills and knowledge to succeed.
Consulting is a very popular industry for undergraduates because of its very generous entry-level compensation, opportunities for travel, and varied exit options. For this reason, consulting has only become more competitive and, therefore, more difficult to break into. One way to distinguish yourself is by studying a relevant field in college.
As a disclaimer, there is no one path toward any job as there are many different ways to learn the requisite skills. However, there are paths that are easier or more direct. The majors recommended in this article will provide you with the most relevant knowledge for management consulting.
If you’re currently applying to colleges or are further down the line and applying to consulting internships, the best way to make your candidacy stand out is by working one-on-one with a coach. Browse all of our college admissions coaches here and our consulting coaches here.
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What Skills Do You Need to Be a Consultant?
In order to know what majors are the best for consulting, you need to know what skills consultants need to have. On a high level, consultants are solving the business problems of their clients. On a day-to-day basis, this translates into running numbers, testing hypotheses, working with a team, and communicating findings to clients.
Interested in what consultants do? Read A Day in the Life of a Management Consultant.
Here are five important skills that consultants need to be able to do well in order to succeed.
Data and Information Analytics
All consultants, and especially entry-level ones, will be required to understand and synthesize lots of information, find actionable points of interest within it, and then communicate those findings.
Listening + Observation
As a consultant, you’re trying to help clients with problems that they have already tried and failed to solve. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be there. The firm is also in a valuable position as an objective third-party. You are able to step back and view the company’s inner workings in a way that people within the company simply cannot.
People skills encompass several other traits including communication, empathy, and charisma. The role of a consultant can be difficult; you’re going into someone else’s workplace and telling them how to improve. That’s not an easy task. If you’re able to garner trust in yourself, your work, and your firm, your job will be much easier and you’ll find the client more cooperative.
Though a bit ambiguous, this skill is central to the entire job function of consulting. Your primary task is problem-solving for clients. What does this mean? Well, it involves finding the causes and effects of different situations, understanding how they connect to each other, and then finding interesting ways to alleviate the unwanted effects.
Optimization + Risk Management
For management consulting specifically, the majority of time is typically spent on optimizing business processes and managing risk. This is accomplished through evaluating north star metrics and key performance indicators, and then adjusting projects to make sure that they’re being prioritized for those end goals. As a consultant, you need to have a clear idea of what the best end goals are and know how to raze the right projects.
When readjusting strategies and trying new things, there is always a risk. As such, another integral part of consulting is understanding as much of the risk beforehand, monitoring it, and being proactive in alleviating any potential negative side effects. Both optimization and risk management come hand-in-hand with the everyday tasks of a consultant.
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Best Majors for Consulting
Now that you know what a consultant needs to be able to do, let’s jump into some of the majors that will teach you these skills as part of the coursework.
Economics is a good major for consultants for several reasons. First, it demonstrates a clear interest in business. Second, it’s heavily quantitative, as is consulting. Third, you learn a lot about the environment in which businesses either succeed or fail. At the macro and micro levels, you’ll understand what a company needs to thrive.
There are a lot of Econ majors who pursue consulting, however, so try and differentiate your candidacy by choosing an interesting major, gaining more unique work experience, working on different projects, or participating in other extracurriculars.
One of the most directly relevant majors, finance will help you deeply understand the numbers that are pivotal to a company’s health. Furthermore, that understanding will be concrete and not theoretical, meaning you’ll have an easier time communicating the importance and interpretation of findings in the data.
Majors similar to finance are just as relevant. For example, accounting and business administration teach students similar skills of how to understand financial statements (to varying levels), project management, teamwork, and the role that money plays in day-to-day business decisions.
Depending on the type of consulting you’re planning on doing, you likely won’t go too deep into technical statistics, although the occasional regression and Bayesian model will be helpful. Instead, majoring in statistics will provide you with a general acuteness for numbers and numerical analysis. You’ll understand how to find patterns and connections in data, which is incredibly important in consulting.
With a major like consulting, it’s typically valuable to combine it with a more business-centric minor. There is quite a bit of probability involved in financial models, through profit and loss analyses, market demands and pricing sensitivity estimates, and valuations. Business coursework will give you the ability to translate your statistical skills into a language that is understood by clients.
The best way to prepare for a career in consulting is to work with someone with experience in the industry. They can provide guidance on firm-specific interviews, casing, coffee chats, salary negotiation, promotions, and much more. Here are a couple of our most popular consulting coaches, browse all of them here.
4. Political Science/Law
These more liberal arts-focused majors teach students how to speak and write persuasively and negotiate conflict, both of which are integral to working with consulting clients. Though you’ll deal far less with numbers, these skills are as important for your potential day-to-day tasks. Additionally, you’ll learn how to think analytically through different points of view. Lawyers have to be able to read a given situation from multiple perspectives, which is exactly what you’ll do with your client's problems.
Like with statistics, you may find it helpful to take an economics, finance, or other business minor in order to learn the skills that you won’t find in the humanities. For example, you’ll want to feel comfortable with Excel, financial statements, and profit/valuation models.
5. Specialty Major
There are many different kinds of specific consulting industries and if these are your goal, then you should gain experience in those areas. For example, IT is a popular area of consulting. For this, a major like computer science, information systems, data analytics, or cybersecurity will set you up better for success than a business one.
Additionally, there is healthcare/biotech consulting. For this area, you may want to study biology or a similar discipline. Another growing field is sustainability consulting. Depending on your interests, a major related to energy would likely give you the most relevant knowledge and skills.
Lastly, engineering majors are incredibly helpful for a vast majority of careers, including consulting. Many management consultants with experience in engineering are employed by the government to help with important public projects. You’ll also be able to work with clients that have a more technical product. Studying engineering demonstrates a foundational competency with mathematics, which as mentioned above, is key to many consulting tasks.
Where Can I Start?
At the end of the day, your background is less important than the concrete, specific skills that you bring to the table. Top consulting firms are looking for diverse candidates. If everyone studied the same thing at the same few schools, no one would have a different perspective. On top of classwork for your major, think about whether you are learning analytical skills, problem-solving, creative thinking, leadership, and some kind of numbers analysis. Showing that you have what it takes to actually do the job will get you closer to being hired than choosing the right major.
As mentioned, the best way to start preparing for a career in consulting is to work with a coach or mentor who can help you figure out your networking strategy, learn case interviews, practice behavioral interviews, understand the skills you need to know, and much more. See all of our consulting coaches here and our college admissions coaches here.
Here are several other articles you may find interesting:
- How to Network for Management Consulting
- Top 3 Tactics to Ace Your Case Interview
- A Comprehensive Guide to McKinsey & Co., Boston Consulting Group, and Bain & Co.
- How to Get an Interview at Bain & Co.
- From No Offers to Multiple Offers--How to Take Your Casing to the Next Level
- A Day in the Life of a Management Consultant
- An Expert’s Guide to Resumes: 5 Tips to Make You Stand Out
- Best 30 Free Resources to Get Into Management Consulting
- How to Negotiate Your Salary - with Example Emails
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