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Moderator Note (Andy): Best of WSO - this post originally went up March 2007 and we thought it deserved to go back on the homepage for those who may have never seen it.

I made the mistake of taking difficult courses much earlier and in a shorter timeframe than other kids, and I'm paying for it with an average GPA and very few internships. In short, if you have any doubts whether you can get an A/A- in all your classes in a given semester, make your schedule easier. The banks don't care what you take as long as your GPA is high. Sadly this is true for all banks and all areas.

Comments (34)

  • Ivan's picture

    It's not only about your GPA, it's also about your educational background and knowledge. With easy classes, your GPA will be high, but you won't have important financial and quant skills (as those classes are usually most difficult). Why to study at all if you don't plan to take maximum out of your education?

  • fp175's picture

    Here's something a lot of people I know did:

    take an easy major (history, english)
    take a few econ and math classes pass/fail

    Then in cover letters they always said they took math and econ the please their parents, but then developed a love for it, blah blah blah

    BTW you have to be at a target school for this to work, otherwise you're screwed.

  • ChemEtoVC's picture

    Yeah guys I can really relate!

    I ended up with a 3.1 in chemical engineering, and I kick myself every day for it!

    Because you know what? No one liked to hear excuses! I was still in the top 3rd of my class, and frankly they don't give a rat's ass......which really sucks because you just sit there, seething, knowing that they were an econ major and have no clue how hard your classes were.

    It makes sense though, I mean, who wants to go to a doctor who got B's and C's?

    I could have picked a tough major (business for example) that still would have been a walk in the park compared to chemE and ended up far better off.

    If you start getting B's and a few C's, run like hell!

    Oh well.....I do have a cool ring on my pinky and I can put the letters PE after my name....

  • vadremc's picture

    As most of you already know, bankers are "results driven." (feel free to use that term newbies as part of your behavioral interview personal description)

    At the end of the day, I don't want excuses. I'm not taking the class with you, so I can't judge the level of difficulty and frankly I don't give a fuck. Get A's. End of Story.

    That way AFTER you get the job, although you may be lacking in your developing knowledge and application skills, prove to be a fast learner and choose to challenge yourself at that point in your career where no single letter will be permanently adjoined to your perceived performance capabilities. (Until your annual review. In which case you now get a number. lol)

    "Cut the burger into thirds, place it on the fries, roll one up homey..." - Epic Meal Time

  • In reply to Ivan
    he4d's picture

    Ivan wrote:
    It's not only about your GPA, it's also about your educational background and knowledge. With easy classes, your GPA will be high, but you won't have important financial and quant skills (as those classes are usually most difficult). Why to study at all if you don't plan to take maximum out of your education?

    1. What important quant skills? Add, subtract, multiply, divide? Quant 'skills' are just a product of how you think and how you reason things, I doubt a course in xxx is going to change how you think.
    2. Maximize your education = make your GPA as high as you can? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder..
    3. It's never too late to learn, it's not like once you're out of college you can't learn anything ever again. From my experience, go for the GPA, you have the rest of your life to learn about an extra theory.

  • Jaygatsby28's picture

    Take the hard courses you want to take because they challenge you. Fill in your extra course space with easier classes you know you can do well in. This way you can average out a nice GPA around 3.5.

    I have a joint honours degree from my school. It involves advanced economic theory which is the same course as first year grad students in econ take. It is a great degree to have, but I can never get above a B+. So I took some other courses that interested me and were much easier.

    Work out a balance. The worst thing you can do is go through school taking easy classes and feel like you did nothing with your 4 years. It will come to bite you in the ass later on if you get any advanced degrees. I mean why go to college...just to get the job. That is incredibly shortsighted of you.

    Just an idea.

  • Bananalyst's picture

    I agree with the post above that said life is not fair - go easy.

    Just take the easiest classes that fulfill your degree and if you are really committed and want to challenge yourself then do a ton of independent study. You can learn anything you want by simply picking up a book.

    The GPA will get you the interview and the independent study will nail the offer.

    Hard work, luck, AND strategy are what gets the offer. Play your cards right.

  • In reply to he4d
    aznwwsd's picture

    he4d wrote:
    Ivan wrote:
    It's not only about your GPA, it's also about your educational background and knowledge. With easy classes, your GPA will be high, but you won't have important financial and quant skills (as those classes are usually most difficult). Why to study at all if you don't plan to take maximum out of your education?

    1. What important quant skills? Add, subtract, multiply, divide? Quant 'skills' are just a product of how you think and how you reason things, I doubt a course in xxx is going to change how you think.
    2. Maximize your education = make your GPA as high as you can? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder..
    3. It's never too late to learn, it's not like once you're out of college you can't learn anything ever again. From my experience, go for the GPA, you have the rest of your life to learn about an extra theory.

    yea honestly the type of math/finance you need to know to get a banking job is by no means anywhere close to what you are making it out to be. you don't even need to have taken difficult math/finance classes to know the shit in the vault guide.

    i know people who are engineering majors (considered one of the most difficult majors)at my school with low 3's for their GPA who got numerous banking offers. i think banks understand that different majors have different average GPAs.

  • In reply to aznwwsd
    Ivan's picture

    he4d wrote:

    1. What important quant skills? Add, subtract, multiply, divide? Quant 'skills' are just a product of how you think and how you reason things, I doubt a course in xxx is going to change how you think.
    2. Maximize your education = make your GPA as high as you can? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder..
    3. It's never too late to learn, it's not like once you're out of college you can't learn anything ever again. From my experience, go for the GPA, you have the rest of your life to learn about an extra theory.

    Nothing personal, but I think its kinda loser's strategy to avoid valuable (but hard) classes in order to boost GPA. Though, probably it is peculiar of the U.S. mentality (I don't know, I was studying in another country, where the only way to go is as follows:
    1) try to enter one of the best universities (otherwise your professors would be sub-par)
    2) During your studies in a bachelor program (and I am talking about the faculties of economics or finance only), to choose hardest classes and graduate with high honors (it's like 3.75+ GPA, if we use US metrics)
    3) While in the 4th year of bachelor program, start working full-time somewhere (not 80 hours per week, of course, but still full time) - and this should not prevent you from this GPA
    4) After receiving your BA or BSc, enter Masters program (probably in the same university) - and by that time you definitely should be working full-time on a finance-related job, no matter what
    5) Graduate out of your masters program with high grades (3.5+ GPA by US metrics, or better with high honors again)
    6) after this - usually at the age of 22 or 23 - apply to full-time positions at BB investment banks (of course, another option is to apply there later, for a 2nd or 3rd year analyst position - in this case you may work in some other investment banks or boutiques)

    Basically, very many people in this country follow such a way. Of course, positions in BB banks here are limited - offices are mostly of a satellite type - but I would bet a lot on the fact, that those guys who make it to those spots, are MUCH stronger analysts than those abeforementioned U.S. Ivy school grads, who were choosing easy classes on their way to maximizing GPA.

    P.S. And yea, I fully agree it's never too late to continue studies. There is a CFA program, ACCA, CPA, CIIA, stuff like Euromoney training courses - it's all about whether or not you wanna pursue it :)

  • midwestisthebest's picture

    Your conclusion that international students are "MUCH stronger analysts than those aforementioned U.S. Ivy school grads, who were choosing easy classes on their way to maximizing GPA." is fundamentally flawed and biased. Specifically, you fail to take into account that pretty much all of the best international students study in elite U.S. universities. Therefore, graduating with "High Honors" from your international universities is not all that difficult and fairly meaningless. If any of those kids came over to an elite Ivy league university and attempted to take on incredibly tough courseloads, they would quickly get poor grades and realize the folly of their ways. They would be competing against the world's best, rather than some random kids who weren't good enough to get a scholarship to Yale or Stanford or whatever. You can call it a "loser" strategy or whatever you want, but quite frankly natural intelligence and ability matters a hell of a lot more than working full-time your senior year or getting a Master's or whatever it is exactly that you think is the way to go. There's a reason why the captains of industry are heavily weighted towards Ivy league schools and not some podunk university in Germany or wherever you went to school.

  • Ivan's picture

    midwestisthebest wrote:
    quite frankly natural intelligence and ability matters a hell of a lot more than working full-time your senior year or getting a Master's or whatever it is exactly that you think is the way to go. There's a reason why the captains of industry are heavily weighted towards Ivy league schools and not some podunk university in Germany or wherever you went to school.

    Ok, ok, as you wish :)
    The only thing I wonder is how do you measure this specific "natural intelligence and ability" which matters that much?

    If via stuff like GMAT scores (for natural intelligence), then it's hardly that much in Ivy grads favor (720+ GMAT is pretty common here among top students - BB IBD analysts, even given the fact that English is not a mother tongue).

    If via different means (especially for ability), please enlighten (apart from the really difficult and finance-related CFA program exams, its hard to find anything which doesn't depend on the country of presence, puts everyone under same conditions and allows to measure ability - but only a few of those in investment banking usually pursue this designation, so we do not have a large enough sample to make conclusions).

    Yea, and one more thing to think about: if top graduates here were of a sub-par quality compared to Ivy's, how could you explain why base salaries and bonuses for I-bankers in local offices of BB banks are more or less of the NY level? After-tax income is usually higher, thanks to tax rates

  • dpa38d2u's picture

    How does a pass/fail class look? I've never gotten a B yet on my transcript, and I think I'm getting one in a stats class (not directly related to my econ/math major). I'm debating whether to pass/fail it, or just leave it on my transcript (I have ~A gpa now). Does the pass/fail matter that much? WIll they think I did even worse? Granted, I have never pass/failed a course before...

  • dav3100's picture

    I'd say take the easy class route, but to an extent. I may have a slightly different situation since I'm in a specialized school (Wharton), but I was definitely asked about whether I'd taken specific finance classes in my interviews. And I think it'd look terrible if you'd only taken the easy ones and not any of the difficult, but relevant ones like Corporate Valuation or Advanced Corporate Finance.

    Since you'll usually be interviewing with an alum of your school, and if you have a common major (like econ), they may very well ask you about what classes you've taken. While I don't think you need to have taken notoriously extremely difficult classes, if you've completely avoided stat, econometrics, or anything tricky in favor of notoriously easy econ classes, that would look bad.

    I did interview with one firm (top boutique) and they actually had my transcript right there and asked me why I didn't get an A (versus an A-) in a few classes. So, I think they would've been alarmed if I hadn't taken any relevant courses. But that's certainly the exception not the rule.

    So, yes, take easy classes, especially for your electives. Because it's usually just the GPA number that banks look at. And I'd second the comment about being able to learn later in life or outside of the college classroom. I personally love history classes, but am a terrible writer. Instead of taking a bunch of history classes and earning B's, I've read biographies of foreign leaders and books about Russia, Thailand, etc.

  • midwestisthebest's picture

    When I refer to "natural intelligence", I'm talking about two separate components. First, as you point out, is the ability to excel on standardized tests, as you point out - GMAT, SAT whatever. On this metric, I'm sure there are some international schools where the students score similar to Ivy league students.

    The second component, I would argue, is perhaps more important than the first, and is measured by one's ability to "play the game." What do I mean by this, you might ask. Well, "playing the game" generally refers to figuring out the most expedient path to future success and doing everything possible to put yourself on that path. Some people here in the U.S. argue that there are many non-target school students who are just as qualified as Ivy league students to enter ibanking. This is true to some degree, insomuch as there are probably a few students at each non-target who have similar test scores to Ivy league students. However, the key point is that the reason that they are at non-targets is that they did not know how to "play the game" to get into Ivies in the first place. Unlike in many international schools, getting into an Ivy is not purely based on test scores, but is based on really being a well-rounded individual who will enhance the college experience of his classmates (please see Jian Li, a Yale freshman, if you think otherwise). Now whether or not a given individual will enhance the college experience of his classmates is relatively irrelevant for entrance; rather, the important thing is convincing the admissions office that you will. This is done by participating in extracurriculars, getting good recommendations etc. - all stuff Jian Li likely failed to do.

    Returning to the original point, then, intelligence is composed partly of test scores and partly of the ability to "play the game." While many of your international students may be equally as strong as Ivy league students in natural test-score intelligence, I would argue that Ivy league students are better at seeing how the system works and using that system to their advantage. Indeed this largely explains the attitude of trying to get a 3.7 in easy classes rather than a 3.0 in difficult classes: while one probably learns more doing the latter, taking the hard classes hurts your chances of getting into a bank. Thus, while it may be admirable to work hard, the fact that you are doing so suggests that you do not recognize how the system works.

    Finally, how does this relate to how good an analyst you are? Well, I think it's quite clear that your success as an analyst is partly due to your analytical skills, but not entirely. The analyst who works incredibly hard on a model but does not make it a point to let everyone know that this was his hard work is not likely to advance as quickly as the analyst who makes it a point to get recognized for his work. While I suppose you could argue that in terms of overall utility to the firm, a incredibly hard-working analyst with lots of work experience as you describe might produce more for the firm. But ultimately, I don't think it matters very much for promotion. That is why graduates of elite American colleges generally run all of the banks - the fact that they got into an Ivy or other elite institution in the first place suggests that they are both book intelligent and know "how to play the game", and these traits obviously stuck with them during their rise in the corporate world.

  • LongGamma's picture

    aachimp wrote:
    I made the mistake of taking difficult courses much earlier and in a shorter timeframe than other kids, and I'm paying for it with an average GPA and very few internships. In short, if you have any doubts whether you can get an A/A- in all your classes in a given semester, make your schedule easier. The banks don't care what you take as long as your GPA is high. Sadly this is true for all banks and all areas.

    True for all areas? I'd like to see someone get into a structuring/quant role after having taken the "easy" subjects.

  • In reply to anon3333
    dpa38d2u's picture

    anon3333 wrote:
    Pass fail it... you aren't applying to med school. At least with all my interviews for SA this year the only reason they know your GPA is from the number on your resume. No one asked for transcripts or anything. They just see the number and that's it.

    what about bschool? i heard from someone that top tier b schools require a letter from a prof asking for the letter grade of a pass/failed course. is that true? sounds bogus to me

  • diamond1484's picture

    Damn, I hate schools which give A+ grades, wtf.. does that mean you get a 4.3 for it? That def skews GPAs, if feel if that was there at my school H/Y/P/S, eveyone's GPA would on average increase by at least 0.2 (assuming the A+ bracket is smaller than an equivalent A) and I would be ballin..

  • WanganRunner's picture

    Honestly, this applies both to applying to schools as well as applying to jobs.

    Never take a class if you can't get an A in it. Grades are vastly more important than class content.

    I took hard AP classes in high school, did halfway decent, and didn't go to nearly as good a school as the kids who coasted by getting A's in grade-level courses and never getting beyond Algebra II in High School. Take the easy courses and ace them, do real learning on your own time.

  • StrongMan's picture

    It is not about the title that you have, it is about how much money that you have.