Do You Need a Degree to Be a Consultant?

Tue, Aug 21, 2012


Consulting is a burgeoning industry with great potential that promises exciting, fast-paced work, flexible hours, and an interesting array of responsibilities–but what sort of credentials are needed to launch a career in consulting? Is a college degree necessary? As with any young industry, the rules for consultants are not as clear as they are for other professionals.

Many consultants work as freelancers, often based in home offices, and are able to set their own rules in some ways. This is one of the most attractive aspects of consulting work. A consultant may not be an actual employee of any particular business, but rather a freelancer whose services are called upon as they are needed. Consultants have a vast array of fields for work–marketing, finance, publishing, advertising and legal businesses, just to name a few. Any industry in which problems arise and advice is needed is prime territory for professional consultants.

To be successful in this line of work requires a forward-thinking attitude, a creative personality, and an ability to think critically when reasoning through problems. Given that the nature of the consulting business is in giving advice, a successful consultant will need to be intelligent, charismatic, and a clear communicator. He or she must be able to analyze situations to figure out where problems lie, and strategically developing plans of action to resolve the most urgent problems.

Aside from possible licensing which varies from state to state, the only real requirements for going into business as a consultant are experience and expertise. Consultants are brought in when business owners and high level managers face issues that they don’t know how to handle. Naturally, the consultant must have extensive experience in the field in order to even be considered. A marketing firm isn’t going to hire a marketing novice to guide them in their latest campaigns–they want the seasoned veteran who knows the industry back and forth.

The chances of any individual, even the most talented and experienced, to achieve success as a consultant, will depend very much on reputation and networking. Business owners and managers are more likely to bring on a consultant that they know, as opposed to a complete stranger. Companies invest large amounts of money in consultants, and they want to be sure that their investment will pay off. This leads those choosing advisers to look for someone who has given them positive results in the past, or someone who has a reputation for impeccable work.

All in all, is a college degree really necessary to be a consultant? No, not exactly. The attributes listed above are much more important. However, whether those skills can be acquired without a degree is a more interesting question to consider. Consultants need to have extensive experience in their field; experience that may not be attainable without an academic background. Whether it’s a four year term at Yale or an online criminal justice degree, some sort of credentials will be needed to break into the field and start gaining relevant experience. In the end, experience is more important than credentials for consultants.

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