How to Become a Consultant - Education & Qualifications

Business consultants provide expert advice and strategy in specialized areas of business. If that sounds like a broad definition, that’s because consulting is an enormous industry. According to Statista, “in 2023, the global consulting market was estimated to be worth approximately 300 billion U.S. dollars”. However, due to the impact of Covid-19, the consulting sector’s revenue decreased by approximately 12.5 percent. The market size, measured by revenue, of the management consulting industry, is still expected to be around $365 billion in 2022.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2023) supports this continued upward trend, projecting the number of jobs for business and management consultants to grow 10 percent between 2022 and 2032, a rate that is much faster than the national average for all occupations (3 percent).

While they may focus on a particular niche (e.g., healthcare, cybersecurity, marketing, finance, management), consultants work for a wide range of clients, often on a project basis. Think of them as the most professional of freelancers. Consultants use their specialized expertise and objective viewpoint to solve a client’s specific business needs.

Although the job description may sound vague, not everyone can be a consultant. It requires a thorough understanding of both specialized and fundamental business concepts, such that those can be applied across a broad range of individual contexts. It requires becoming an expert that others seek out for advice. The field may be enormous, but so are the opportunities. Let us help you get there with our step-by-step guide below.

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Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Consultant

Step One: Attain a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

After graduating from high school, aspiring consultants will need to attain a bachelor’s degree. Admissions requirements for four-year universities will vary from school to school, but usually include some combination of the following: a competitive high school GPA (3.0 or greater); letters of recommendation; SAT or ACT scores; and a personal statement.

Aspiring consultants can choose to major in a variety of subjects. Business consultants often work in specialized niches such as healthcare, marketing, cybersecurity, and more. If you’re certain of the area you’d like to eventually specialize in, then you can easily pick a major that feeds into it. But if you’re less certain of which area you’d like to specialize in, then a major that is generally applicable to a wide range of industries (e.g., finance, management, marketing) is likely to be the better option, providing a breadth of skills as well as exposure to various specializations through electives.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University offers a bachelor of arts (BA) in business administration that can be completed entirely online. The program prepares students for a variety of roles in today’s modern economy. They will learn about finances, leadership, forecasting demand, and much more. This business administration program will help students in developing and diversifying their business knowledge and will teach them the skills they need for managing business operations.

Courses include topics such as business operations and planning; organization and management leadership; macroeconomic and microeconomic principles; business communication; and problem solving and actionable analysis. The program consists of 120 credits.

Graduates of the program can take the lead in business opportunities such as planning inventory, forecasting demand, purchasing services, conducting skillful negotiations, and building strategies for the future. They will be ready to take up roles such as business analyst, customer service manager, human resources manager, business consultant, procurement specialist, and sales manager.

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $714 per credit

New York University

New York University offers a bachelor of science (BS) in business as an on-campus option for aspiring consultants, providing them with a well-rounded education in business fundamentals, the liberal arts, social impact, and global business.

Students in this program will have the option to choose from the 13 available concentrations: accounting; business economics; actuarial science; econometrics & quantitative econ; computing & data science; finance; entrepreneurship; global business; marketing; management & organizations; operations; sustainable business; and statistics.

In addition to a core business curriculum, students take 44 elective credits that will build their breadth of knowledge in an interdisciplinary manner. For further specialization, students may choose to add up to two concentrations from the 13 which are available.

Sample some of the courses in the curriculum: principles of financial accounting; business & society; cohort leadership program; managerial accounting; introduction to marketing; economics of global business; and professional responsibility and leadership.

  • Location: New York City, NY
  • Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $126,874 per credit

Step Two: Gain Initial Work Experience (Optional, Timeline Varies)

Finding work as a consultant is possible right out of college. While one may lack the expertise and real-world experience necessary to lead teams and projects, the cadence and rhythm of an established consultancy firm should suit a recent graduate quite well—it requires research and teamwork to tackle diverse projects with short turnaround times. And recent grads should academically treat their early work as well: getting to know one’s peers and mentors, taking diligent notes, and studying after hours.

But it isn’t necessary to take a job in consultancy straight out of college. Whether working in marketing, public affairs, analysis, human resources, healthcare, or finance, one can begin to develop both the soft skills of business and a wider network of resources. Work experience straight out of college isn’t a requirement, but it can be critical in building one’s resume and finding out which areas of business consulting one would like to specialize in.

Step Three: Attain a Master’s Degree (One to Two Years)

While they aren’t a requirement to work as a consultant, master’s degrees aren’t as optional as they once were. More and more consultants are getting their master of business administration (MBA) as a way to separate themselves from the pack and build expertise in a niche area of business. Admissions requirements for MBA programs vary from school to school, but often include some combination of the following: a competitive undergraduate GPA (3.0 or greater), letters of recommendation, work experience, GMAT or GRE scores, and a personal statement.

University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School

The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School has an online MBA that is often ranked as one of the very best in the nation. The U.S. News & World Report has ranked UNC Kenan-Flagler’s MBA program as the best in the nation. This MBA allows students to tailor their education by choosing one of the following available concentrations: finance; data analytics and decision making; entrepreneurship; strategy and consulting; and marketing.

Admission requirements to the program include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university along with two years of professional experience, a completed online application form, a current resume, transcripts from all colleges and universities, two professional recommendations, two essays, GMAT or GRE scores for those who have fewer than five years of professional experience, and TOEFL, IELTS or PTE scores for international applicants.

On top of the core curriculum’s business fundamentals, aspiring consultants may choose to add a specialization in strategy and consulting. Electives for this specialization include information for decision making; managing innovation; advanced consulting skills and frameworks; business communication; and business strategy. The program is made up of 62 credits.

  • Location: Chapel Hill, NC
  • Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 18 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $133,691.58

American University’s Kogod School of Business

An online MBA program offered by American University’s Kogod School of Business prepares aspiring business professionals to take on leadership roles within the business ecosystem. This MBA program focuses on foundational business practices and provides students the opportunity to create new connections during two in-person immersions. Graduates will be prepared to apply financial analysis and leadership skills to help organizations operate more effectively.

Students will also have the option to choose from seven available focus areas: entrepreneurship; finance; business analytics; cybersecurity; consulting; legal studies; and marketing. The program consists of 48 credits (13 core courses, 2 elective courses, and two in-person immersions).

Core courses include business fundamentals; financial accounting; applied managerial statistics; management of organizations and human capital; marketing management; and managing digital organizations. Courses in the consulting concentration include business intelligence; integrated marketing communication; and management consulting practices and methodologies.

Applicants to the program must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, an online completed application, a personal statement, a current resume, letters of recommendation, and transcripts. GMAT and GRE scores are not required for admission.

  • Location: Washington, DC
  • Accreditation: Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 to 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,866 per credit

Norwich University

Norwich University’s online master of business administration program provides students the tools needed for approaching business from a global perspective through a dynamic curriculum, hands-on learning, collaboration with other students, and industry-relevant specializations. The program will require students to attend campus for a week-long residency.

Students in this program will have the option to specialize in one of the seven available industry-relevant concentrations or choose the general MBA option. Specializations include construction management; finance; energy management; organizational leadership; supply chain management; project management; and technology management.

Comprising 36 credits, the program includes courses such as strategic resources management; managerial finance; strategic marketing and operations management; leading change in organizations; energy resources and markets; managing corporate energy needs; and technology management strategy.

To get accepted into the program, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree from a regionally or nationally accredited U.S. institution or its equivalent, a completed application, a current resume, official transcripts, a letter of intent, and TOEFL or IELTS scores for applicants who do not have English as their first language.

Graduates can take up roles such as managing consultants, senior energy consultants, management analysts, construction project managers, and computer and information systems managers.

  • Location: Northfield, VT
  • Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP); New England Commission of Higher Education
  • Expected Time to Completion: 18 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $799 per credit

University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business offers an on-campus MBA that’s practically a funnel to working at elite consulting firms. Over a third of its 2017 graduating class went on to work in the consulting field, including for industry heavyweights like Deloitte and Bain.

In addition to the rigorous core curriculum, students may choose to add a concentration in strategy consulting, supply chain management, marketing, entrepreneurship, corporate finance, or asset management. The core curriculum includes coursework in leadership communication; accounting for managers; global economies and markets; financial management and policies; operations management; and business ethics.

  • Location: Charlottesville, VA
  • Accreditation: Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: Virginia domicile ($75,600); non-Virginia U.S. residents ($78,600); international students ($78,800)

Step Four: Develop Your Platform (Optional, Timeline Varies)

There are innumerable consultancies to join. But if you want to start your own—an increasingly common trend—then you’ll need to develop a platform. Independent business consultants serve other businesses, but first and foremost they run their own. Developing a platform helps a startup consultancy firm market its product, which is knowledge and expertise, to the wider industry. This process usually consists of the following steps:

  • Designing a website
  • Fostering a list of leads
  • Establishing rates for services
  • Deploying a marketing strategy
  • Performing outreach at industry events
  • Hiring a team of experts and specialists
  • Creating content related to specialized areas
  • Maintaining a network of clients and partners

In an ironic twist, someone establishing their own consulting firm may need to retain the services of a more established consulting firm to help. But the skills required to develop and maintain a successful independent consultancy are often proof that one has what it takes to understand projects they’ll inevitably be hired for. And each project that a new consultancy completes ideally will pave the way for referrals and future projects.

Step Five: Join a Professional Society and Achieve Professional Certification (Optional, Timeline Varies)

Whether you join an established consultancy or start your own, continually building and maintaining your skill set is critical. To this end, many consultants choose to join a professional society, such as the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC) or the Institute of Certified Business Consultants (ICBC).

In addition to maintaining a mailing list and directory of consultants and employment opportunities, the IMC hosts frequent conferences, webinars, and academic programs. Meanwhile, the ICBC offers online courses in specialized areas such as strategic planning, supply chain management, public relations, and international finance. Both the IMC and the ICBC also provide the opportunity for consultants to pursue professional certification. Professional certification is the ideal method for consultants to rise above the noise of a crowded field of professionals and establish themselves as meeting their profession’s standards of excellence.

The IMC offers the certified management consultant (CMC) designation. Applicants will need to show at least three years of relevant consulting experience in the last five years. Further eligibility criteria include a four-year degree; five satisfactory client evaluations from officers or executives of client organizations; written summaries of engagements; and both an oral and written examination in which the applicant must prove themselves as competent and up-to-date in their area of specialty.

The application fee is $350 for IMC members and $550 for non-members. CMC-holders must renew their certification every three years and pay an annual maintenance fee of $395 for IMC members or $550 for non-members.

The ICBC offers professional credentialing as a certified business consultant (CertBC). Applicants will need at least three years of relevant work experience and the successful completion of a specialized online course in business administration. The total fee for the certification process is $480, which consists of a one-time payment of $410 for the exam and annual dues of $70 for membership in the ICBC.

Helpful Resources for Consultants

The consulting field is vast, with numerous specializations and the ongoing evolution of best practices. To catch up on where the conversation is at now and to learn where it’s headed next, check out some of the resources below.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about how new and aspiring business school students can best plan their education and careers. In the Two Views series, he conducts detailed interviews with recent business school alumni, with a particular focus on the choice between in-person, online, and hybrid learning models. His Femme-BA series highlights business schools that not only excel academically but also take unique and robust steps to support a diverse and inclusive learning environment for women.

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