Consulting clubs: Competition and pay-off
When RISE Consulting president Kevin Arackaparambil first started at USC, he aspired to be a part of the University’s infamously selective consulting clubs. Unfortunately, he didn’t get into a single one.
“I wanted to join a consulting club because there are a lot of cool professional experiences that people talk about,” said Arackaparambil, a junior majoring in computer science and business administration. “But then, it’s so hard to get into them. And then, especially when I didn’t get into any of them, I was like, ‘Wow, I’m paying so much money in tuition, and here I am unable to participate in the experiences that would help me advance my academic and professional career.’ I think it is a problem here at USC.”
Designed for students who are interested in consulting to gain hands-on experience in the field while working with third-party clients, consulting clubs also offer a chance to go through the casing interview process: a process where the interviewee must solve a business scenario in a time-pressured environment. The Marshall School of Business’ recognized student consulting clubs include 180 Degrees Consulting, Association of Innovative Marketing Consulting, Consulting Club, International Consulting Club at USC, Los Angeles Community Impact, RISE consulting and TAMID at USC.
The clubs also boast low acceptance rates: Out of an application pool of approximately 160 students, RISE accepted between 10 and 15 applicants to join in Fall 2022 — somewhere between six and nine percent.
The application process for many consulting clubs includes a written application and individual or group interviews, including behavioral, market sizing and/or case questions, matching the typical application process for consulting jobs outside of college.
180 Degrees Consulting is the largest student organization in the world that does nonprofit consulting, with about 150 chapters around the world. The club’s USC chapter works directly with nonprofits in the Los Angeles area to help them in whatever area they need, 180 Degrees Consulting president Shruti Shakthivel said.
“The reason why we have a robust recruitment cycle is because our projects are really involved,” said Shakthivel, a junior majoring in neuroscience. “If we’re going to be working with nonprofits and ask them for their time, we want to make sure that whatever we give them is the highest quality and the same thing for all the consulting firms. If companies are paying them millions of dollars to solve a problem, they need to be staffing the smartest minds that they can find.”
Consulting clubs typically take on about two to 15 new members each semester to maintain their size of about 30 to 60 people in the club as a whole.
“We don’t want to create an atmosphere of competitiveness,” Shakthivel said. “Within our organization, it’s very clear that no one’s ever competing with each other and throughout recruitment. We want to keep it that way. It’s honestly just about what we’re able to sustain.”
The competition to get into the clubs could also be due to the symptoms of post-coronavirus pandemic college life, Shakthivel said, as students are now searching increasingly for a community and a sense of belonging on campus.
“I think there is an increasing sense of competition for all organizations,” Shakthivel said. “I’ve seen that trend, honestly, across all organizations that I’ve been applying to and been in just because more people want to get involved.”
The competition in getting into consulting clubs on campus reflects the difficulty of getting into the industry. According to online interview preparation resource CaseCoach, one of the top consulting firms, McKinsey, gets more than a million applications every year, but the firm hires less than 1% of them.
“When I talk to people who are in consulting who have these full-time jobs, it is this game,” Shakthivel said. “You need to network and you need to know the questions to ask and you need to know the right people, but that’s consistent across all industries. It’s not specific to consulting. I think consulting just gets a lot of the heat because it’s such a desirable job.”
Despite the competition needed to get into these clubs, they also provide many resources and hands-on experience for their members. The Marshall Consulting and Strategy Club offers a wide range of resources: networking events, information sessions, access to different case books and help from alumni, said Parvathi Bindhu, a second year master’s student studying business administration and a member of the Marshall Consulting and Strategy Club.
“I don’t think I would have been able to do half as good as I am doing right now if not for the members and mentors of the club and all the resources that they could have made available,” Bindhu said. “I was really not that great when I started off last year during my first year but I am a lot more comfortable now.”
Despite its competitiveness, the application process — as well as involvement in the clubs themselves — foster skill growth among students as they prepare for the workforce, Shakthivel said.
“I’ve personally applied to all of the consulting clubs,” Arackaparambil said. “The process was very scary, but kind of [a learning process]. After my first case, which I just absolutely failed, I saw what they were looking for, and it helped me practice, improve and get better.”