Consulting Target Schools: What You Need To Know

Consulting Target Schools What You Need To Know
Jo Randall
Jo Randall

Former McKinsey and Bain recruiter

If you’re applying to consulting firms, you may have heard of consulting target schools. Maybe you already know you’re at a target school, or you think you’re not and you’re worried about getting an interview.

Don’t worry! Successful consulting candidates come from both target schools and non-target schools.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • What is a consulting target school?
  • Which schools are consulting target schools?
  • How do I know if I’m at a consulting target school?
  • How do interviews work at consulting target schools?
  • How do I land an interview if I’m not coming from a target school?
  • Our top tips on landing an interview from a non-target school.

Let’s get started!

What is a Consulting Target School?

Consulting Target Schools: Consulting Firm Presentation

In short, target schools are where consulting firms prioritize recruiting efforts to meet their hiring goals.

These schools are the ones that appear at the top of the rankings for education standards, typically have established consulting clubs or societies, and may have a section of their career service that specializes in advising students on getting into consulting.

With this level of support in place, students at these schools can generally access great prep resources for the tough consulting recruitment process.

There’s a history of success in recruiting from these schools, so there will be plenty of alumni working in the firms who are eager to continue the cycle. It’s also a great excuse for them to revisit their old campus!

Consulting firms are therefore more “active” at these schools: hosting events such as presentations, coffee chats, virtual experience programs, and interview coaching, all designed to entice their target students to apply and to provide them with support throughout the process.


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Which Schools are Consulting Target Schools?

In the US, because there are so many universities and business schools to recruit from, it’s easier for MBB (McKinsey, Bain, and BCG) to break them down into tiers, typically known as core or target, and semi-target.

Core or target schools are those where there is an established presence on campus (lots of attraction and information events, on-campus interviews). Applicants are reviewed and first-round interviews are determined by a team of consultants that are alums of that school. There may also be a dedicated recruiter for each school who coordinates the recruitment process from start to finish for the firm. Schools in this category include:

Undergraduate and postgraduate level (universities)


●     Brown

●     Columbia

●     Cornell

●     Dartmouth

●     Duke

●     Georgetown

●     Georgia Tech

●     Harvard

●     U Michigan

●     Vanderbilt

●     Wash U

●     MIT

●     Northwestern

●     Notre Dame

●     Penn

●     Princeton

●     Stanford

●     U Texas

●     UC Berkeley

●     UNC

●     UVA

●     Yale

MBA level (business schools)

●     Booth

●     Kellogg

●     Wharton

●     Columbia

●     Harvard

●     MIT Sloan

●     Stanford GSB

Semi-target schools are those where consulting firms have a smaller presence on campus. The level of activity differs between firms and offices, as well as each year depending on hiring targets. Applicants are typically reviewed by the campus recruiting team or the recruiter who owns the relationship with the school and usually based in the nearest office, then the shortlist is sent to office recruiters to review for themselves. Schools in this category include:

Undergraduate and postgraduate level

●     Amherst

●     Babson

●     Bowdoin

●     BYU

●     Caltech

●     Chicago

●     Claremont

●     Carnegie Melon

●     CU Boulder

●     Colorado School of Mines

●     Davidson

●     Emory

●     Hampton

●     Howard

●     Indiana University

●     Wesleyan

●     Williams

●     U Washington

●     Johns Hopkins

●     Michigan State

●     Morehouse

●     NYU

●     Ohio State

●     Penn State

●     Pomona

●     Rice

●     Spelman

●     Texas A&M

●     UCLA

●     U Florida

●     UGA

●     U Illinois

●     U Iowa

●     U Minnesota

●     USC


Business Schools

●     Anderson (UCLA)

●     Carlson (U of Minnesota)

●     Cornell

●     Darden

●     Fuqua

●     Goizueta (Emory)

●     Haas

●     McCombs (UT Austin)

●     McDonough (Georgetown)

●     Olin (WashU)

●     Owen (Vanderbilt)

●     Ross

●     Tepper (Carnegie Mellon)

●     Tuck

●     UNC

●     Yale SOM

●     NYU Stern

Schools tend to be targeted at a local or regional level. For example, recruiters in the New York office will handle Columbia hiring and those in the San Francisco office will handle recruiting from Berkeley. But there may also be campus teams based out of these offices that handle recruiting from other schools nearby.

Because of this structure, there’s usually a higher volume of students hired into offices from the local schools than from elsewhere in the country. It can also be because, once students have attended a university or business school in a specific location, they have established local relationships and networks so want to stay there for a few years. Applying locally therefore makes sense.

This doesn’t mean you can’t apply to Bain’s New York office if you’re studying at Berkeley. You just need to make it clear why you’re moving to New York to ensure your application is competitive against all of the applications from Columbia. This becomes more of a necessity if you’re applying from outside of the US, as you need to convince the firms that you’re serious about the location(s) you’ve listed as preferences.

If you’re not studying in the US, it’s worth knowing that MBB firms also have target universities and business schools in other countries.

For instance, in the UK, target universities include Durham University, Imperial College, King’s College London, London School of Economics, University of Bristol, University of Cambridge, University College London, and the University of Oxford amongst others.

There aren’t many high-ranked business schools in the UK, so the MBB firms in London typically target schools across a broader geography including the US and Europe. Target schools for MBB London include London Business School, HEC and INSEAD in France, IESE in Spain, and a selection of the top business schools in the US mentioned above.

Another global example is in India, where consulting firms typically target the IITs and IIMs.

How do I Know if I’m at a Consulting Target School?

There’s an easy way to check if you’re at a consulting target school.

When you visit the careers sites of MBB, you’ll be given the opportunity to enter your university or business school into the search function of the “on campus” pages. At this point, you’ll be directed to a page where you can view all the upcoming events specifically for your school. You can also check with your career services department.

If you’re not at a target school, the firm won’t have a specific page for your school, but you’ll be directed straight to their application page where you can still submit your resume and cover letter for review, and there’ll probably be a deadline for non-target school students.

For incoming students at target business schools, the MBB firms in the US organize pre-MBA events to introduce themselves to incoming students and give them the opportunity to explore what consulting is all about. You’ll find these under the headings McKinsey Early Access, ExperienceBain, and BCG Unlock.

There are also numerous events for undergraduate and postgraduate students at target universities to apply to throughout the school calendar year. These are great opportunities to get to know the firms, learn more about consulting and start to build your networks.

How do Interviews Work at Consulting Target Schools?

Consulting Target Schools: Interview

This may differ across locations, but first-round interviews are typically held on campus for target schools. It’s easier for the firms because the volume of interviewees is generally quite large, so spending the day on campus with a panel of interviewers makes sense. For final rounds, you’ll probably be invited to the office as numbers are lower, and it’s an ideal opportunity to get a feel for the office environment.

Your career services office is a great resource for information about the firms and when they’ll be on campus for events and interviews. You’ll also find these details on your school page of the firms’ career sites and, of course, within your interview invite email.

How do I Land an Interview if I’m not Coming From a Target School?

Going to a target school definitely gives you a clear edge when applying to MBB, but by no means is it the end of the road if you aren’t attending one.

Rest assured that your application will still be reviewed, so make it strong. Do what you can to become a more competitive candidate, whether that’s participating in consulting case competitions, upskilling in areas like leadership or analytics, or ensuring your GPA is on track to be a hire score.

Networking with consultants in the offices of the firms you’re applying to is a great way of getting to know the culture, and also gives the consultants a chance to get to know you. The more positive intel they have on you, the more likely it is that you’ll be on their radar when they’re selecting candidates to interview.

Attend the events they’re hosting to increase your chances of being able to network and don’t be afraid to reach out to consultants directly via platforms like LinkedIn – especially folks you have something in common with like your university or school, your hometown, interest in a specific industry, or another affiliation.

Consider applying to locations where you think offices may have a smaller local pool to choose from, perhaps because the university or business school in that area doesn’t rank as highly, or the location isn’t one of the more popular ones like New York and San Francisco.

Once you get to the interview stage, your school becomes less important. Your interview performance is now the only factor involved in whether you receive an offer, so it’s worth investing the time and effort in preparing for case and fit interviews.

In terms of interview logistics, if you’re attending a non-target school, you’ll probably be invited to the local or nearest regional office. It’s likely you’ll be one of only a few being interviewed from your campus, so the firms will hold interview days for non-target school students and those who may not have been able to make the interview dates of the target school on-campus interviews.

Our Top Tips on Landing an Interview From a Non-Target School

  1. Make sure your resume and cover letter are as strong as possible. Highlight your relevant skills and strengths from work experience and extra-curricular activities so that where you went to school matters less. Our article on everything you need to know to write an awesome resume will show you what needs to be included, how to structure it, and how to ensure it has impact.

  2. Network as much as possible. Our consulting networking 101 resource will show you why networking is important and how to do it effectively.

  3. Be strategic about your office choices. There are different things to consider when choosing a location, and it doesn’t have to be about applying to the office closest to your school. We’ve written an article about choosing a consulting office to get you started.

– – – – –

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • What is meant by a consulting target school.
  • The schools that are on MBBs target list.
  • How to know if you’re attending a consulting target school.
  • The interview process at consulting target schools.
  • How to land an interview if you’re not at a target school.
  • Our top three tips to consider if you’re applying from a non-target school.

Still have questions?

If you have more questions about consulting target schools, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s recruiters will answer them.

Other people learning about target schools found the following pages helpful:

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