What it is

Businesses, universities and other organizations hire consulting firms to provide an outside perspective and analytical skill to help address pressing strategic or practical issues. Management consultancies serve businesses; higher education consultancies serve colleges and universities. Sometimes the same firm does both. All forms of consulting require a major mental shift from the humanities definition of “problem” (an issue whose complexities need to be recognized and thoroughly articulated), to the business definition (a pragmatic bottleneck that needs to be broken through so that money can be made or saved).

Starting points

Certain large management consulting firms hire PhDs, but they prefer STEM PhDs, so humanists and social scientists have to work pretty hard to get hired as management consultants per se. But it has been done. Your odds will be better in higher ed consulting, where your knowledge of academic environments and systems will be directly relevant. Either way, you would start as some sort of “associate,” “analyst,” “researcher” or “consultant.”


Advancement opportunities are many. With a few years’ hard work and successful performance, you can move up or across within your firm, change firms, or move from consulting into employment at a client organization.


Social scientists have a distinct advantage in that they are more likely to have used both quantitative and qualitative methods and dealt with large data sets. However, it is possible for a determined humanist to enter and succeed.

Personality and outlook

Type A personalities will thrive in the intense, fast-paced, highly entrepreneurial environment of management consulting; others may be happier in the slightly gentler realm of higher ed consulting. Social skills and a genuine interest in problem-solving are required by both.


For management consulting: take a business course. Read about business. Conduct informational interviews with consultants. Learn the major firms and what their specialties are. Practice cases. For higher ed consulting: learn everything you can about your university, the challenges it is facing, and how it is facing them. Pick a unit that interests you, interview people there, try for an internship or part-time appointment. See also Institutional Research.

Real Life Examples