Consulting: Who’s Happier – MBAs Or Undergrads?


“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

By “interest”, Benjamin Franklin doesn’t just mean money. There is autonomy and options – a chance to be who you are and do what you love. At the end of the day, those conditions bring happiness, the kind that seeps into every aspect of your life.

In business, consulting is a destination career. You get to work alongside talented peers and influential executives on impactful projects. Even more, you’re exposed to a variety of industries and issues, so you’re constantly learning and becoming more valuable. While learning comes in many forms, the happiest consultants are often the ones who’ve invested the most in their formal education.


That’s certainly the takeaway from data shared exclusively with Poets&Quants from Firsthand, an industry intelligence platform. Parsed from the Vault Consulting 50 ranking, the data showed MBA-trained consultants showed higher satisfaction across every Quality of Work and Life dimension measured by Vault.

Where you are and what you do in a company often determines your experience in any organization. Fact is, MBA consultants enjoy greater responsibilities and leadership opportunities (and the trust and latitude that comes with them) than peers who only hold a Bachelor’s degree. That difference in experience shows up when MBA and Bachelor’s-only consultants answered Firsthand’s questions about their consulting firms. Using a 1-10 scale – with 10 being the highest score – MBAs produced higher average scores than their Undergraduate peers every single time.

In fact, the gap was .50 of a point or more in 11 dimensions (and that doesn’t count two dimensions where the difference was .487 and .489 of a point). The biggest difference could be found in International Opportunities, an area scaled back after COVID turned consulting into an increasingly online vocation. Here, MBAs gave their firms a 7.596 average. In contrast, Bachelor’s degree holders posted a 6.700 – good for a .896 point difference. For both groups, International Opportunities resulted in the lowest averages overall.


For most consultants, the importance of international travel pales in comparison to Compensation. For the latter, the difference is .76 of a point (8.451 vs. 7.691) – with Compensation pulling just the 9th-highest score among MBAs. Those gaps persist in other areas where Bachelor’s degree holders feel shortchanged compared to MBAs according to the Firsthand data. These include Internal Mobility (-.700), Client Interaction (-.622), and Level of Challenge (-.608). On top of that, there is a .50 of a point difference between MBAs and Bachelor’s degree holders in Formal Training (8.297 vs. 7.768), Benefits (8.463 vs. 7.899), and Formal Training (8.617 vs. 8.077).

As a whole, MBA and Undergraduate consultants’ scores tend to align more closely in big picture measures. The smallest difference involved Business Outlook, where they were just .246 of a point apart. Innovation in Industry (.252) and Firm Leadership (.275) also produced similar scores. On a positive note, both segments gave high marks to direct management. Among MBAs, Supervisor Relationships scored an 8.999 – the 4th-highest score in the group. For Bachelor’s degree holders, it merited their 3rd-highest mark at 8.748 – just .251 of a point behind MBAs.

Among MBAs, the highest scores were doled out to Client Interaction (9.138), Business Outlook (9.137), Firm Leadership (9.086), and Supervisor Relationships (8.999). Bachelor’s degree holders gave their top score to Firm Leadership (8.811), which was followed by Supervisor Relationships (8.748), Firm Culture (8.589), Client Interactions (8.561), and Informal Training and Mentoring (8.551).


This year, Firsthand also rolled out several diversity dimensions. Both segments reserved their best scores for Diversity with Regard to Women (8.732 for MBAs and 8.455 for Undergrads). Their lowest scores also targeted the same area: Diversity with Regard to Individuals with Disabilities (7.989 vs. 7.369). Overall Diversity earned middle of the road marks (8.477 vs. 7.933).

Consultants holding MBAs and Bachelor’s degrees weren’t the only ones surveyed by Firsthand. 30.5% of the sample consists of PhDs, Master’s degree holders, and JDs. When their responses are piled into the mix, the highest score goes to Business Outlook (8.978), Firm Leadership (8.978), Supervisor Relationships (8.843), and Client Interaction (8.796) – slightly askew from the rankings handed down by MBAs and Bachelor’s degree holders.

So how do these numbers compare to the past? Looking back to the Vault Consulting 50 data sample from 2017, MBAs have seen scores decline in four dimensions, headed by Level of Challenge (-.308). Despite outreach efforts by consulting firms, Overall Diversity lost ground by -.128 among MBAs. And that Diversity number was down by .346 of a point among Bachelor’s degree holders – a sign that firms’ efforts in this area could still use work.

In the MBA segment, the biggest improvements could be found in Benefits (+.261), Compensation (+.241), Innovation n Industry (+.220), and Promotion Policies (+.207). Overall, the biggest improvement came in the Bachelor’s degree segment, where the International Opportunities score jumped by .522 of a point. Still, undergrads gave their employers lower scores in 12 dimensions in 2023 compared to 2017. The biggest drop involved the Level of Challenge, which fell by .406 of a point. Survey respondents were also less enthused about Work-Life Balance (-.265) and Work Hours (-.215) – a particularly dangerous combination considering Compensation (-.111) was also an issue.


In the MBA sample, 68% of respondents were male and 28% female, with another 4% declining to answer. 60.8% of respondents were White and 16.8% Asian, with the remainder of the sample including Hispanics (6.4%) and African-Americans (3.6%). The remainder chose not to answer or fit into a category below 1%. The survey results were derived from 2,599 MBA respondents.

The Bachelor’s degree sample was comprised of 3,248 respondents, divided between 53.3% men and 43.6% women (among those who answered). White respondents made up 66.9% of the sample, followed by Asians (15.6%), Hispanics (5.1%), and African-Americans (2.4%).

Overall, the sample included 8,419 respondents, including a 58.7%-to-37.6% split between men and women. White respondents amassed a 62.5% share, followed by Asians (17.8%), Hispanics (5.5%), and African-Americans (3.3%).

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