Consultant Careers & Degrees How to Become a Consultant

A business consulting career starts with a consultant-based degree such as business or finance. Learn about degrees that can lead to a consulting career.

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Management consultants are sometimes called management analysts. Their job is to look at what an organization does as a whole, then work to increase efficiency in most areas. Specifically, they strive to make a business more profitable, usually by helping the owners cut costs and grow revenue. To get there, they might recommend personnel changes, new systems, alternative practices or new procedures. Most are self-employed and work on a contractual basis. To learn more about what it means to be a management consultant, as well as the work it takes to get there, read on.

What Does a Consultant Do?

Management consultants work to increase efficiency. But that is a very simple way to explain what they really do behind-the-scenes for large companies and organizations. Here's how their days break down.

Consultant Career Basics

The work of a management consultant varies from one project to another; some projects require an entire consulting team, with each person having specialized knowledge in one area. Other projects are smaller and can be handled by an individual consultant. The work involves a great deal of research, looking over internal documents, exploring expense reports, speaking with employees and monitoring day-to-day operations.

Consultant Salaries & Job Growth

Consultant Salaries Across the US

Management consultants in the United States made a median wage of $81,320 per year in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number might be higher or lower depending upon several factors, including experience, educational attainment and geographical location. Here's what to expect from consultant salaries in various states.


Consultant Job Growth

As more organizations seek to save money by becoming more efficient, consultants are expected to be more in demand. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates an increase of 14 percent in employment for management consultants from 2014 to 2024, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Growth is expected to be strong in government agencies, small consulting firms and those that focus on international business. Growth will be driven by particular industries as well, such as information technology or human resources. Those who have specialized expertise, are fluent in a foreign language, have great people skills and have some knowledge of “green” technologies are expected to see the best opportunities.

Steps to Becoming a Consultant

Consultants must typically earn a bachelor's degree in order to be competitive in the field. However, some employers prefer to hire those who have earned their master's degree, specifically the MBA. Here are the steps to reach various consultant careers.

Step 1
Earn a bachelor's degree
Bachelor's degree programs specifically designed for business analysts are rare, however, and many individuals earn their degrees in a related area such as finance, business administration, business management, or accounting. Those students who know the specific field of consultancy they intend to pursue may want to consider a degree in that specific area. For example, someone interested in computer systems may wish to earn a minor in computer science. Other courses of study to consider include marketing, psychology, human resources, engineering, political science and government.
Step 2
Get experience
Work experience is a plus in almost every profession. It is crucial in the field of consultancy and management analysis, however. Prior to graduation, or immediately upon earning a degree, an aspiring consultant or management analyst should pursue an entry-level position with the private business, government agency, or non-profit for which he or she wishes to work. Paid employment for starting positions, particularly those in the private sector, is available. But individuals should also consider non-paying internships as a way to get their foot in the door. Many consultants and analysts enter the profession after years of employment, so new graduates may want to consider beginning their careers in a related field. Work experience and on-the-job training provides a wider range of employment options as professionals look to advance their careers.
Step 3
Earn the master's degree if necessary
Some businesses and government agencies require candidates to hold a master's in business administration (MBA) or a related advanced degree. Master's degree programs in business are popular and can be found at most major universities and many private colleges throughout the United States. Additionally, there are a number of quality distance-learning master's business degree programs available, offered by both well-established traditional institutions and fully-online schools. Students should be always careful, though, and confirm that a program is fully accredited before beginning their course of study.
Step 4
Look to certification
Certification is not required to become a management consultant, but it can provide the holder with an advantage over non-certified job seekers. Certification in the field is offered by a number of professional associations and organizations. One of the best-recognized certification is that of Certified Management Consultant (CMC), offered by the Institute of Management Consultants USA. Candidates for CMC certification must fulfill several requirements, including three years in practice as a full-time consultant, a degree from a four-year college, and the completion of exhaustive written and oral examinations.
Step 5
Continue learning
The more a management consultant knows about all areas of business and management, the better. Many consultants choose to attend stand-alone courses, training sessions, workshops and conferences to stay up-to-date on the latest trends, technologies and information.
Step 6
Go it alone
Consultants who have learned the ropes and have built up a trusting group of clients could consider becoming an independent consultant. This does mean that they won't have the protections and benefits afforded by working for someone else, but it also means they will have a great deal of autonomy and might enjoy even healthier salaries.

Preparing for Consultant Careers: Management Degrees & Programs

When an aspiring police officer chooses to go to school to obtain formal education, a world of possibilities opens up. Here are some of the potential places where the certificate or degree can be earned.

Undergraduate Programs & Degrees


The business degree is designed to provide a broad base of knowledge to students, including courses in finance, marketing, organizational behavior, statistics, accounting, business law and more. This well-rounded undergraduate degree can also be specialized a bit with electives that build on the knowledge offered in the core courses. Typical classes might include:


The bachelor's degree in psychology can provide a strong overview of how individuals and groups think and act, which are vital points to consider when advising a company on how to handle personnel issues. This understanding of human behavior might be especially advantageous to the consultant who intends to work with government entities, including social services. Typical classes include:

Graduate Business Program Admission Requirements

Though some consultants may only need a bachelor's degree, some might find that employers prefer those who have earned the MBA. In a competitive field, every edge counts, which is why those who hold a bachelor's degree might want to consider pursing the master's in business administration. Typical admissions requirements are listed below; however, students should always check with the admissions office of the school they want to attend to get a detailed list of what they will have to provide.

  • Completed application
  • Application fee
  • GRE test scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement or essay
  • Proven work experience
  • Official undergraduate transcript

Consultant Degrees: Courses & Requirements

The most common degrees for consultants are found at the bachelor's and master's degree levels. Keep in mind that the bachelor's degree can be in almost anything, as long as it relates to business, psychology, accounting and the like – all topics that will be informative for the aspiring consultant. Here's what to expect from the degree options.

Bachelor's Business Consultant Degrees

Time to Complete:

Four years of full-time study

Degree Requirements

Most bachelor's degree programs are comprised of 120-130 credits. In addition to general education courses, students will take courses in their chosen major and minor. Keep in mind that there is wide latitude in choosing an appropriate major for consultant careers.

Why it's different

Students have an enormous amount of choice when it comes to an appropriate bachelor's degree. However, it might be advantageous to look toward a degree that fits in with a certain career aspiration – for instance, those who want to work as consultants for schools might want to earn a degree in education.

Who this program is good for

Consultants must have a bachelor's degree, at minimum, to find work in a competitive field. For those who aren't sure which degree they might want to pursue, a degree in business – an informative “catch-all” field that touches on numerous topics – might be ideal.

Courses typically found in a bachelor's business program include:

Management Concepts

This course focuses on the concepts and techniques that make up the cornerstones of management, and follow the development of management principles as they are integrated into management theory.

Skills Gained

  • Planning, organizing and leading a group
  • Controlling a project from start to finish
  • Theories of management and practical application in the workplace

Business Ethics

Students will learn how business challenges can be handled from an ethical standpoint, including real-world case analysis.

Skills Gained

  • Ethics of decision-making and policy development
  • Proper human resource management
  • Creating an open and ethical working atmosphere

Principles of Economics

Students learn about micro and macro-economic principles and concepts and how to translate those into real-world application for businesses.

Skills Gained

  • Understanding of government economy and international trade
  • How economics factor into business decisions
  • Understanding of costs, diminishing returns and the marginal principle

Business and Society

Primary and secondary stakeholders, ethics and social responsibility, and organizational activities are discussed in this class.

Skills Gained

  • Understanding how society and globalization affect business strategies
  • How stakeholders influence business decisions
  • Social responsibilities of stakeholders

Master of Business Administration

Time to Complete:

Two years of full-time study, but accelerated degrees are available

Degree Requirements

Most MBA programs consist of about 50 credits; the number of credits required varies, but typically a student can expect two years of study. Many MBA programs are offered online to allow students to continue working while pursuing their education.

Why it's different

The MBA is considered a terminal degree for those in the business world. Consultants who hold the MBA might see a distinct hiring or advancement advantage over colleagues who have only the bachelor's degree.

Who this program is good for

The MBA is ideal for those who want to continue working as a consultant but want to focus strongly on one particular area of business; the MBA can be specialized to allow for that targeted training.

Students may expect to find the following classes in the MBA program:

Financial Reporting and Analysis

This course looks at corporate performance as based on financial reports, how to analyze the reports, and what to look for in financial statements to ensure legality and adherence to regulations.

Skills Gained

  • Understanding of accounting standards
  • How taxes factor into financial analysis
  • Reading, interpreting and analyzing financial documents

Management Information Systems

This course provides a strong overview of MIS and how to effectively run a business-wide operation.

Skills Gained

  • Managing IT as a strategic resource
  • Understanding the role of the CIO
  • Process engineering, planning, governance and communication

Statistics for Managerial Decision-Making

This course familiarizes students with statistical theory, business systems analysis and improvements.

Skills Gained

  • Understanding probabilities
  • Using common software
  • Decision analysis based on a variety of simulations

Corporate Organization

Focuses on general management of businesses and organizations, including identifying solutions to complex problems and choosing how to implement those solutions.

Skills Gained

  • Pinpointing the source of problems
  • Management of solutions
  • Action-oriented general management tactics

Consultant Career Concentrations

Those who choose to work as a consultant can expect to have many doors opened to them, depending upon their particular area of concentration or expertise. These are some of the careers that management consultants might choose.


2015 median wage: $67,190

The work of an auditor includes preparing and examining financial records, ensuring that all financial documents are accurate, assessing financial operations and implementing ways to make it run more smoothly, and keeping up with new laws that impact taxes and other payments.

Budget Analyst

2015 median wage: $71,590

These analysts look over the expense reports, payments, receipts, inventory lists and more to ensure that a company is running at peak financial performance. They prepare budget reports for various areas of the business and find ways in which spending can be curtailed.

Cost Estimator

2015 median wage: $60,390

When a company wants to build a new building, expand a department or otherwise drop a large amount of money into a project, cost estimators work to ensure the best possible financial advantages. They estimate the time, money, materials and personnel needed to complete a project and deliver a final budget to their clients.

Market Research Analyst

2015 median wage: $62,150

These individuals work with certain products and services, exploring the market and gauging what the best price points might be for those items or services. Their research informs companies on what people are buying, who is buying it, and what price they are willing to pay.

Survey Researchers

2015 median wage: $53,920

These researchers create surveys that focus on a particular product, brand or service, and then find the proper audience to take the survey and provide answers. Those answers are then analyzed and compiled into reports that inform businesses and organizations of their next innovation or change.

Management Consultant

2015 median wage: $81,320

Also known as management analysts, these individuals delve into all aspects of an organization to determine where changes might be made that will lead to a healthier company. This might include changes in finance, operations, personnel and more.

Components of a Successful Consultant Careers: Skills, Credentials & Technology

Successful consultants have certain things in common, including a particular set of skills and traits. They learn to use certain technologies to their advantage, and earn credentials that help them stand out to employers. Here's what they need.


  • Time Management

    Efficient use of time is imperative, especially when the clock is ticking on a deadline. It's also vitally important for independent consultants who are juggling more than one client at a time.

  • Problem-Solving

    Consultants are hired to solve problems, so one of the most important traits is an innate ability to look at the issues laid out before them and come up with solid solutions that take into account all the client's concerns.

  • An Analytical Mind

    There are many components to figuring out management solutions; consultants must be able to pull all the pieces together and analyze them both individually and collectively with an eye toward making it all work together.

  • Excellent Communication

    Consultants provide both written and spoken presentations for clients, and must do so in a way that their solutions can be understood by everyone, regardless of their background. Being able to communicate to groups and one-on-one is a very important skill.


  • Computers
  • Video projectors
  • Removable media drives
  • Fund accounting software
  • StataCorp Stata (statistical software)
  • Oracle WebLogic Server
  • MicroStrategy
  • Information Builders WebFOCUS
  • Google Analytics
  • Microsoft Publisher
  • IBM Cognos ReportNet


Management consultants are not required to have certain credentials to conduct their work; however, the field is competitive, which means that every advantage counts. Those who have a nice list of credentials on their resume are more likely to get hired or see better pay. The most common credential is the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) designation, offered through the Institute of Management Consultants USA.

The CMC is awarded on three levels: Basic is designed for those who have been in the business for anywhere from three to nine years, Experienced is designed for those with a decade or more of experience, and Management is designed for those with at least 20 years of experience as well as at least three years of consulting.

To earn the CMC, applicants must submit an application, submit at least five satisfactory client reviews, pass an oral and written examination, and meet the education and experience requirements for their chosen level of credential. The process can take as little as two months. The credential must be updated every three years.

Related Careers at a Glance

Top Executives


Median Salary (2015):


Education/Training Required:

Bachelor's degree

Operations Research Analysts


Median Salary (2015):


Education/Training Required:

Bachelor's degree

Financial Managers


Median Salary (2015):


Education/Training Required:

Bachelor's degree



Median Salary (2015):


Education/Training Required:

Master's degree

Administrative Services Managers


Median Salary (2015):


Education/Training Required:

Bachelor's degree

Financial Analyst


Median Salary (2015):


Education/Training Required:

Bachelor's degree

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do Related Occupations Make?

If you're interested in how to become a consultant, you might also be interested in related professions. Working as an accountant, budget analyst, financial analyst, or cost estimator might be on your radar. If that's the case, you can peruse the list of related occupations below, which includes average salaries:

Banking Career Resources

Consulting Cafe

This popular community is a gathering place for consultants and provides information such as articles, resources and a forum.

Consulting Magazine

This comprehensive magazine focuses on the issues of the day for consultants, as well as providing a wealth of resources to for those interested in the profession.

Institute of Management Consultants USA

This is home to the preeminent credential for management consultants, as well as pertinent information to help further professional careers.

Management Consulting News

This is an active blog and free newsletter that focuses on points of the consulting industry, including people who are making a difference.

Vault Consulting 50

This annual ranking of the best consulting firms is a great start for those who want to find a great employer.

Wall Street Oasis

This forum is designed for those who work in business, including consultants – there is a dedicated section just for them.

Consultant & Business Degrees Search Tool

Finding a consulting position begins with the proper degree. This search tool allows students to comb through the numerous potential degrees, including those in business, to find the ones that might be suitable for their personal needs and professional goals.

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