The truth about GPA, SAT, GMAT, career changes, and office selection: a weekly roundup of reader questions

This site has been growing by leaps and bounds in the past weeks. I want to thank readers for making this happen.

Next week, you can look forward to:

  • Release of “The Consulting Bible” – an interview guide complete with the 60+ most common interview questions, sizing questions, and custom-written cases
  • Continuation of the “Life as a Consultant” interview series which started with Booz Allen and now continues with contributors from Bain, Oliver Wyman, and ATKearney as well as perspectives on working overseas, transitioning from finance, etc
  • More “Core Content” posts including articles on resumes, interviews, consulting lifestyle, and thoughts on my time at McKinsey

In the past month, I’ve had the fortune of helping 20+ people break into consulting. Unfortunately, I need to increase prices as I can’t handle demand. I will be changing the format of my coaching service (to become distinct “resume” and “interview” products). Look for these changes by next week

Now on to the questions! These are the most common and interesting ones to hit the comments and my inbox, and I figure many readers are interested in the answers.

Is there a GPA cutoff for management consulting? What is a strong GPA? Poor GPA?

Instead of saying “it depends”, here’s my take: if you have a 3.5 and above, you should be safe for most recruiting screens. If you have below a 3.5, other factors come into play – such as the strength of your undergraduate institution, the difficulty of your major, whether you have multiple degrees, etc.

3.7 and above is generally a strong GPA.

3.2 and below is generally a poor GPA.

Of course, the strength of your work experience and extracurricular experience always matter and can shift GPA perceptions.

I’m a senior in college and applying to consulting firms fulltime. Unfortunately, I have a really low SAT score from high school. Will this hurt my chances? Should I retake the SAT?

If your SAT score is below 1300, it could hurt depending on the firm. I would strongly recommend against retaking the SAT. There are better uses of your time. However, if you believe you can take it right now with no practice and score a 1500, no one will stop you.

If you have a low SAT, focus on the areas where you can make a difference – a great GPA will go a long way. Shoot for leadership positions in school, gain part-time work experience during school and recruit for quality firms over summer and post-college.

Same applies to GMAT. I’d think of 700 as your cutoff level there

Since graduating from college/graduate school, I’ve worked in several jobs and have built a strong work resume. Unfortunately, my educational background is weak – I didn’t go to a “target school” and had a low GPA in my time. How much will this affect my chances?

I’ve received many people asking variations of this theme. Here’s my advice:

If you have strong work experience – world-class firms, multiple promotions, a record of accomplishment, leadership, and risk-taking – the most important thing for you now is not your undergraduate GPA, but how you can get your resume in front of recruiters and decision-makers. Unless you plan on going back to school and utilizing their recruiting channels, it will come down to networking. There are a couple sources I suggest you hit immediately:

  • School and work alumni networks
  • Extended personal network (friends and family)
  • Headhunters – preferably the ones that don’t charge an upfront fee but work through referrals to specific firms
  • Pounding the pavement – meeting consultants at industry conferences, tradeshows, career forums, etc

Your educational record will play a part in your overall candidacy, but a minor one. If you have 5+ years of work experience, those years will be the focal point of any interview and resume screen. Your goal now is to get that opportunity.

I’ve heard that some offices are “easier” to recruit for at big consulting firms such as Bain, BCG, Mckinsey, Booz Allen. Should I apply to the smaller, “easier” offices?

This myth is partly true, partly false.

It’s partly true because selectivity varies by office at GMCs. Smaller offices may prefer a weaker candidate who ranks them #1 and has a rationale for that ranking (eg, it’s their hometown, they’re interested in the region’s dominant industries) to a stronger candidate who doesn’t rank them at all.

It’s partly false because selectivity can vary significantly in the smaller offices year-to-year. Particularly in the current hiring environment, smaller offices may make offers in the low single digits (if any).

Here’s your takeaway: if you’re a very strong candidate, it won’t matter to which office you apply. If you’re a borderline candidate, you may want to give office preferences a closer look – but only if you have good personal and professional reasons to do so.

Thanks for reading. For more background info and if you’re new to Management Consulted, here are some recommended posts: The Consulting Industry 101; Investment Banking vs Management Consulting; Day in the life of a Management Consultant; Overview of the recruiting process. UPCOMING POSTS: Continuation of the “Life as a Consultant” series; Top 10 tips for mastering the sizing questions (aka mini-case studies)

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  • misshighnetworth

    on the new 2400 SAT scale what is a “cutoff” score

  • kgao

    Comparable. You should shoot for 650 and above on each section. But again – take what I say with two grains of salt. They’re meant as guidelines and not precise cutoffs, rarely do precise cutoffs exist (because we’re talking people here, not automated resume review machines).

  • nickj

    Hey, what if they ask for your SAT scores on your resume or bring it up in the interview and it is below 1300. What can you say or do then to prevent that deal breaker?

  • kgao

    It’s not necessarily a dealbreaker. Please don’t think of it as such.

    The best response is to simply be honest but don’t explicitly state that you were lazy. “I don’t think I appreciated the value of hard-work as much when I was in high school, but have since become more serious about my career and studies. It’s because of that work ethic that I now have a 3.9 GPA” etc

  • JW

    If a personal tragedy affected your GPA (to some extent), such as a death in the immediate family, what would be the best way to handle this? Should there be any indication of it on the resume?

  • kgao

    That’s a great question. Advice on this will differ. My take is that you should avoid discussing it in your documents (resume, cover letter) and if you do so, only briefly in the cover letter.

    However, you should look to bring it up in the interview if the opportunity arises (say, if they ask about your academic background).

  • Jean Pierre

    Can high school performance be omitted from the resume altogether (i.e. GPA)?

  • Jean Pierre,

    Definitely. I would never put anything high-school related outside of key standardized test scores (eg, SAT, ACT) into a professional resume.


  • bdm

    What are some of the office locations for most consulting firms that are easier to get into? How much will working in an “easier” office affect your quality of life/work and exit opportunities?

  • Kevin

    bdm, I really can’t say which offices are easier. There’s no hard and fast rule about that – I’d encourage you to apply to the offices where you’d like to work and live in first and foremost.

  • Dan

    If one has a very high LSAT score (178-180), would it be totally bizarre or inappropriate to include said score on one’s resume when applying for a consulting position?

    On the surface, it seems somewhat silly, since it is so strongly tied to a different profession, but the categories that the LSAT claims to evaluate (logical reasoning, analytical reasoning, and critical reasoning) are those to which many consulting firms pay lip service.

    Also, if one has a good (1400-1500) SAT, would it be appropriate to include that, even if one is several years out of college?

  • Kevin

    Dan – yes, include the LSAT. Yes, include the SAT. Both are great measures of capabilities that most consulting firms respect and value.

  • H.JO

    I am actually surprised to learn that we need to have SAT scores on the resume. I somewhat understand GMAT score but I only have 650…I should probably leave it out?

  • DS

    Hi Kevin,

    As a student at a top 15 ranked university (though not a traditional target school), I have a 3.2, but a perfect SAT score. Do you think this might exempt me from the “automatic overlook” pile, especially as my major GPAs are much higher?


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  • Zenboy84

    Hi Kevin,

    I’m currently an ibanker with 2 years experience and am working closely with McK on a big government deal in which we are advising the same client.

    Is it common for consultants to hire junior ibankers and is it a positive sign if they hinted that we should have coffee together to talk about plans or is it just typical consultant PR talk.


  • Anonymous

    Positive sign – but don’t get too ahead of yourself. Most important thing is
    to just build a great working relationship and impress them with your

  • Anonymous

    I am doing M.Tech (Construction Technology & Management) 1st year from IIT Madras. After my M.Tech at IIT, I am going to work with L&T for 5 years. What is the best time to start my GMAT test prep? How much is general experience required for M.B.A in premier B-Schools? Which specialization suits me better? For How many years is the GMAT score valid??

  • nivit

    Hi Kevin,

    I’m currently a Senior Software Engineer with 6 years of experience mainly in the Wireless,Mobility,Telecom sector. I am getting my MBA from San Diego State this Fall and I also have a Masters in Computer Science from SDSU. 

    I have a 3.93 GPA but am curious if not graduating from a more reputable school will be a handicap for me when I look for consulting jobs. Academically I have consistent honors in all my degrees but monetary constraints prevented me from going to a big brand school.

    Please let me know of your thoughts.


    p.s. I bought the consulting bible and it is extremely helpful. Thanks.

  • joe

    hey kevin,

    was hoping you could give me some advice.

    i have a 3.4/(rounded to 3.5) from an undergrad target business school. i would say its somewhere in the 50-75th percentile.

    the only thing is, i’ve moved out of finance moved towards other careers, where my business school curve isn’t as well known…and i think i’m perceived as a retard compared to somebody who has a 3.8 or 3.9 from middleofnowhere state university.

    is there anything to ameliorate this situation?

    i would sincerely appreciate any advice you can offer.


  • jennyrae

    Thanks for your post. It’s tough to answer your question without knowing more about you. Can you contact us using the form – we can help make our responses a bit more personal and get a better view of your big picture. Thanks!

  • jennyrae

    1) ASAP
    2) 2 years minimum
    3) No idea what you’re talking about.
    4) 5 years

  • jennyrae

    You have a lot of great questions here. Please e-mail us directly using the Contact form at the top of the page. We’d love to work with you, at whatever part of the process you are in now.

  • jennyrae

    Joe, are you still wanting an honest assessment of your standing in a reviewer’s eye? We’d love to work with you and give you some individual feedback. Feel free to e-mail us directly through the Contact Us form at the top of the page. Also, just to mention, a target school catches the eye much more than a high GPA from an unknown school. So, don’t get discouraged just yet.

  • Vaughn

    Does this also apply to the GMAT? (anything 700+)

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