Today, we’re here to talk about a little known path into management consulting – transitioning over to the industry from Teach for America. Many of you have heard of Teach for America, but for those of you haven’t, TfA recruits the best and brightest undergraduate students to teach in low-income school districts for two years after they complete their undergrad studies. Over the last 26 years, TfA has placed around 50,000 teachers in low-income districts around the country, impacting the lives of millions of children who otherwise may not have had access to as many quality teachers.
Maybe you’re an undergrad and wanting to serve in Teach for America, and then transition over into consulting. Or perhaps you have Teach for America experience on your resume, and now you’re considering consulting. Does Teach for America experience help you in the eyes of the top firms? The answer is a clear and resounding…yes! There are three main reasons your Teach for America experience is a great launching pad for you to break into consulting.
1.The Teach for America selection process. Teach for America’s selection process is highly competitive. The program takes only the best of the best, and applicants go through a rigorous multi-round process before they are accepted. Like any great internship, being a part of Teach for America demonstrates the cocktail of what consultants are looking for – undergrads who enter Teach for America after graduation are overall hardworking, possess active intellectual curiosity, and a high EQ. In fact, Teach for America alumni are considered so highly that McKinsey considers the program a target school. By aggregating the best of the best, Teach for America has done what other traditional target schools do: filter out candidates without the necessary intellectual chops and leadership qualities. One interesting tidbit for those of you looking to transition from Teach for America: you’ll come into a firm as an undergrad hire, even though you have two years of work experience. Because your work experience is not considered relevant to the field (even though your skills are), you won’t be considered an experienced hire.
2. The Third Dimension. Teach for America alumni have a strong demonstration of what we like to call the third dimension: academic excellence, relevant professional experience, and leadership qualities. Any student applying to Teach for America has an Intrinsic motivation to do something good in the world. Teach for America teachers are not well paid, not prestigious in the community (they come in as outsiders), and are serving in the trenches of the some of the worst-performing school districts in the country. Consulting firms are looking for people who are unfazed by systemic issues, and who have the ability to make even a degree of difference in any situation. One of the biggest qualities that attract top firms to Teach for America alumni: they need little external motivation. After two years of running their own classroom with little structural support and little pay – when they had the option to enter industry – alumni only make it to the end of the program because of the desire to make a difference, and not for the possibility of praise or acclaim.
3. Demonstrate underlooked value of teamwork. Teach for America alumni by necessity must team with and motivate stakeholders who are not like them and come from wildly varying backgrounds – parents, students, teachers, principals, and other TfA colleagues. The ability to work well inside systems where people are different demonstrates an ability to affect different types of clients, as well as a leadership paradigm where diverse opinions are valued no matter how they’re packaged. Another thing we’ve noticed about the ex-Teach for America clients we’ve worked with is that they have lost their sense of entitlement and are quite grounded. They demonstrate a genuine willingness to be collaborative and can work with just about anybody. These are traits that are more likely to get them promoted within top consulting firms, as there are no prep school/Goldman attitude issues we sometimes see from otherwise ideal candidates.
Pro tip: If you’re thinking of applying for Teach for America, pick a location with a good Masters Program. You’ll qualify for in-state tuition, increase your chances of admittance, and also increase your chances of breaking into consulting after obtaining a Masters. For example, by choosing to teach in Atlanta instead of Wheeling, VA, you could attend GA Tech (a target program for many firms).
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