Do you need an MBA to consult?

When people learn that I have an MBA, they sometimes ask if they need an MBA to become a consultant. I’m not sure if that’s because they assume I got one so I could consult or if it’s because so many entry-level consulting jobs at big firms require MBAs.

You definitely don’t need an MBA to become a consultant. I started consulting years before I ever got my MBA. And I have several friends who continue to do great consulting work without MBAs.

Education is important for everyone, not just marketing and business people. But I don’t think it replaces experience. It complements it. There are many paths in life and many ways to get to the same or alternate destinations. That being said, spending a few years in school forces you to focus on things you might not otherwise find time for. When I was doing my MBA, I had to spend countless hours thinking about business cases and theories, often in disciplines outside my own area of expertise. But I worked full-time during the program, so I had a constant exchange of formal education and practical experience. In fact, I worked full-time throughout much of my undergrad, too, so my education experience has never been in a vacuum. For me, the combination had been important, since my varied education has allowed me to explore concepts I would not encounter in the workplace. Likewise, my work experience has grounded and tested what I’ve learned.

Do I charge more than I did before I got an MBA? Absolutely. But that’s because I’m able to handle more challenging projects, provide new consulting services and offer more strategic value to projects. Some clients say they hire me because my MBA reassures them that I have a strong background in core business areas. Others say they like that I’ve had to work and think at a certain level.

Of course, it’s been six years since I started my MBA. Experience and time count for something, too.