Institutions

A school is considered a target when a large number of Wall Street firms conduct on campus recruiting (“OCR”) for "front office" positions. A school’s status as a target may vary slightly from industry to industry, firm to firm, and region to region. Ultimately, however, a school’s status as a target depends on its relationships with employers and the number of students that get hired each year.

The target schools are generally considered to consist of Ivy League schools, top liberal arts colleges (LACs), MIT, University of Michigan, Stanford, Georgetown, University of California - Berkeley, and the University of Chicago. Each of these schools has a large number of Wall Street firms recruiting on campus every year.

Semi-target schools are schools where there are a more limited number of Wall Street firms recruiting consistently, the firms recruit for back and middle office positions, or some combination of the two. Some examples of semi-target schools would include Emory, Notre Dame, and Vanderbilt.

A non-target is a school where few firms (or not even one firm) recruits for back or middle office positions. Students coming from a non-target school have to put in considerable time and effort to earn a first round interview with a firm. Some non-target schools include the University of Colorado, University of California - Riverside, and the University of Connecticut. Keep in mind that when you are networking from a non-target school, everyone that attended a non-target school is a potential networking opportunity!

A "super" non-target is meant to imply a school that has minimal chance of helping you land a job on Wall Street. These schools include community colleges, for-profit schools (ie- University of Phoenix), and technical schools.

Target Schools for Specific Companies

If you want to know what the target schools are for a specific company, go the company website and look under the careers section. The majority have a list of the campuses they visit for each separate group or business unit. Below are a select few discussions on the topic of target schools. Be sure to note the difference in opinions of each poster.

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In short, no. There are many non-target success stories that we hear about on WSO on a regular basis. To read some of these, go to our WSO Success Stories forum to get inspired! Although the probability of your success is largely determined by the school you attend, there are non-targets that break into very reputable positions each and every year. To learn more about approaching your finance job hunt from each perspective, read below.

Attending Target School

The upside to going to one of these schools is pretty obvious: on-campus recruiting, large alumni-base on the Street, great connections and you're guaranteed a world-class education if you use the resources properly.

There are downsides, however. If you don't think you can perform well GPA wise then you probably shouldn't be going to one of these schools. You're also up against a much larger group of students aiming for the same Wall Street careers. In other words, attending a target school also presents some unique challenges when trying to break into the most competitive Wall Street jobs.

Attending a Semi-Target School

Attending a semi-target also has it's pros and cons. You will be in school with intelligent students and can also get a great education. You also have the opportunity to set yourself apart from the pack if you are focused on a career in finance since there will likely be less competition.

The downside here is that you won't have as good a support network for the specific finance jobs you are targeting. This has a couple of implications. First, you won't have as large of an alumni base in your target industries. Second, you won't have as many strong connections are you progress in your career.

There also won't be as many firms recruiting on campus during OCR. You will still have plenty of connections and opportunities coming from one of the best schools in the country, but you may have to put in greater effort to show that you're on the same level as a candidate from a top target school.

Attending a Non-Target School

First of all, you have to understand that attending a non-target school does put you at a disadvantage for entry level positions in finance. You will have to work A LOT harder than your fellow prospective monkeys at semi-target and target schools, just to get an interview.

The downsides here are obvious: little or no on-campus recruiting, few alumni in jobs you want and few fellow students aiming for the jobs you want. There are actually more upsides than one would think. Because these schools are less selective you have the opportunity to outshine your fellow students. Keep you GPA very high, get leadership positions, get off-cycle (read: fall/winter/spring) internships, and you will be in a good position for recruiting.

You also don't have to worried about competing against 100, 200, 500 of your fellow classmates for 30 positions. You will, however, have to be at the top of your class at your school and actively network to get a few interviews for front office positions on Wall Street.

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This is a very personal decision that only you can answer. There are a wide range of factors that determine whether a school is right for you. If you are truly focused on getting a front office position on Wall Street and you think you have a good shot at transferring to a target and maintaining a high GPA, then go for it. If you like the school, the atmosphere and think you can excel there, then it could definitely be a good move for you. If you don't like the school and just want to go there for the career opportunities, however, we'd warn against placing too much emphasis on your school. If you go to a semi-target and network early and often, prepare for your interviews and get solid internships, most of the time that is a better use of your time than transferring to a slightly "better" semi-target.

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Grades

Your GPA is an important screening mechanism used by many firms on Wall Street to filter the thousands of resumes that have to be processed each year. If you have a poor GPA, it won't keep you from getting a job on Wall Street, but certain positions and certain firms will be harder to break into. How much GPA matters not only varies by firm and group, but also by industry, too. Sales and trading jobs, for example, traditionally puts less weight on GPA if the applicant can show passion for the markets and impress in other areas. investment banking jobs, however, usually require 3.5 GPA or higher when going through normal recruiting channels like OCR. However, there are many ways that you can overcome a low GPA if you have strong leadership experience, started a company or are able to network effectively.

Why It's Important

Having a solid GPA shows that you put in the time and effort necessary to achieve a good education. It also shows that you're willing to do the work, no matter what it is and whether or not you like it. Most banks have a "gpa cutoff" of a 3.5. This usually isn't set in stone, but you may have trouble getting an interview with under a 3.5 GPA is you simply apply through normal channels and hope.

For target schools and semi-targets, there is a bit more leeway given to GPA. For a non-target you will probably want to aim for a 3.7+ GPA. You may very well be able to get to an interview with a lower GPA, but a higher one makes it far more likely.

Factors That Can Help You Overcome a Low GPA

There are many factors that could overcome a low GPA, including but not limited to:

  • Overwhelming Personal Circumstances: parent passed away, major surgery (brain surgery or open heart surgery), devastating illness (cancer)
  • Started a business: This doesn't mean you set up a website, worked on it for a month or two and then gave up. This means you worked your ass off for a year or two trying to get a business up and running, and achieved some level of success...or at the very least learned a lot from the experience and can speak intelligently about it.
  • Internships: Relevant internship experience can overcome just about any shortfall in your resume. For example, having a 2.5 GPA and a fall semester PWM internship won't cut it for front office investment banking, but a 3.3 GPA with a solid internship at a boutique bank might get you an interview.

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If you have a low GPA (under a 3.3), it will be an uphill battle getting into a front office Wall Street position. There are always exceptions, however. Don't let anyone tell you it is impossible. The primary way to overcome a low GPA is to start building your network with alumni, friends, family and anyone else that may know someone in the industry or firm you are targeting. Remember, most of the career success in this world is determined by WHO you know. So go meet a lot of people and develop meaningful relationships with them. Use Linked religiously and try to network your way into strong internships during the year or at the very least during the summer during your undergraduate degree to make up for that weak GPA. There are some extenuating circumstances that could help you overcome a low GPA, but they will have to be explained to recruiters:

  • Overwhelming Personal Circumstances: parent passed away, major surgery (brain surgery or open heart surgery), devastating illness (cancer)
  • Started a business: This doesn't mean you set up a website, worked on it for a month or two and then gave up. This means you worked hard for at least a year, experienced some level of success and can speak intelligently about what you learned and the mistakes you made.
  • Internships: Good internship experience can help you overcome just about any shortfall in your resume when coupled with strong networking skills. Sorry, having a 2.5 GPA and a fall semester PWM internship won't cut it for most careers in finance.
  • Networking: If you treat this like your studies, it won't help you. Plan on cold-emailing/calling 500-1,000 people. Minimum.

Don't play with fire, do your best to get good grades in your classes. It's not worth it to waste all that money to come out of school with a mediocre GPA that won't get you started in the career you want.

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Majors & Minors

When choosing a major (and a career) you should always choose something that interests and excites you. However, if your ultimate goal is obtaining a job on Wall Street, majoring in something other than business, finance, economics, or mathematics may make things more difficult come recruiting season. If you top that off with no extracurricular activities or internships in the finance sector, your ability to convince finance recruiters that you are truly interested in Wall Street may be hindered even more.

Target and Semi-Target

At a “target” and “semi-target” school, you will have a bit more leeway in choosing a major. Because of the perceived prestige and academic rigor of target and semi-target schools, students may choose a major such as philosophy or political science as long as they are filling up their electives with finance, accounting, and economics courses. It is, however, imperative that when majoring in something other than business, you make sure to take courses more relevant to finance careers and courses that display strong quantitative aptitude (specifically finance, accounting, and economics).

Non-Target

Coming from a "non-target" school, students will usually face an uphill battle for the most competitive front-office positions. Thus, it is imperative that these students are able to clearly display their knowledge and interest of finance. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by actually majoring in a relevant subject. Is it possible to break in from a non-target with a major other than business? Absolutely. But why make life even harder on yourself? If a finance degree is an option, then sign up. If it's not, go with economics. Majors traditionally seen as "hard" (maths, physics, chemistry, engineering type degrees, etc) are also acceptable as long as you do well in them.

Bottom Line

Ultimately, a philosophy major at Harvard is capable of securing an interview based on the Harvard brand, whereas a finance major at the University of Colorado is securing an interview based on the finance major brand (as well as a high GPA in that major). You should also keep in mind that whether you are coming from a target, semi-target, or non-target, having a business-related degree will put you a step above your competition for firms that don’t offer structured training programs. On average, your business-related major should (theoretically) help you perform better in the technical interviews while also giving you a strong working knowledge of financial concepts and financial modelling.

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A minor alone will not help you land an offer, however, it can help pull your story together. If you decide to major in chemistry, picking up a minor in business can help highlight your relevant background to finance recruiters. Similarly, if you are a business major who wants to work for a boutique IB focused on medicine, having a minor in chemistry could also help your case. Minors can also work in your favor by allowing you to connect with a larger group of people. For example, if you minored in German, any German speakers reviewing your resume will likely view it more favorably.

The biggest issue with a minor is that if the additional classes are challenging to you, it could actually do more harm if it brings down your GPA meaningfully. A minor can be helpful, but it's not nearly as important as your major, GPA, internships, and extracurricular activities.

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Whether or not a specific certificate will help you as a candidate for finance careers obviously depends on the specific certificate in question. A certificate will be looked at much the same way as minor would. It won't necessarily help you, but it can help demonstrate an interest in and round out your candidacy. If you are a majoring in the humanities, for example, a certificate from a financial modeling course like Wall Street Prep will allow you to demonstrate aptitude and interest in finance as well.

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Whatever classes you take, in order to be competitive for top Wall Street jobs you should aim to keep your GPA over 3.5. After that consideration, you should try to take a mix of business, economics, accounting and finance courses to show a strong interest in relevant concepts to Wall Street careers. Once you have a nice base of those relevant classes, you should take whatever interests you most in order to highlight that you are a well rounded candidate.

Organizations & Activities

If you can balance your schoolwork and demonstrate some success / traction, why not?

Many Wall Street firms prefer hiring athletes. That being said, some of us just aren't very athletic. We think it's more important to show that you have interests outside of schoolwork to demonstrate that you are a well rounded applicant. Wall St firms don't just look favorable on athletes, but any applicant that shows a variety of interests and can carry on an interesting conversation about those interests.

Yes. The more leadership positions you hold...or rather the DEPTH of involvement you can demonstrate in each of those leadership positions will send a good signal to recruiters. You are proactive and enjoy helping others. We recommend choosing a few activities and excelling in those rather than spreading yourself too thin!

Graduate Degrees

For those pursuing a career in finance, there is some controversy as to whether one should take the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) program or go through a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program. Both have their advantages, so if you’re deciding on which one to choose, you need to determine whether the CFA or MBA will best meet your goals.

The CFA program requires a bachelor’s degree, four years of full-time work experience, completion of the curriculum, and a passing score on three levels of exams. Registration into the CFA program costs about $400, with each exam costing anywhere from $700 to $955. The exam passing rate ranges from 38-46%. The CFA program typically takes three years to complete.

The CFA curriculum is based on three levels of study. Level I studies portfolio management, financial reporting and analysis, and asset valuation. Level II focuses on tools for asset valuation, such as quantitative methods and economics. Level III emphasizes models for asset valuation, in terms of managing investments, fixed income and equity.

An MBA, on the other hand, is broader in focus and attracts students looking to pursue careers in various fields of business. An MBA can be obtained in dozens of fields, but the most common ones include business, finance, operations, entrepreneurial management, human resources and marketing. Many schools even allow students to customize their own MBA program based on their interests and career goals.

Most MBA programs require several years of work experience, essays, Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores, transcripts and letters of recommendation as part of the admission process. An MBA can take 1 to 2 years to complete, depending on the school, type of program and whether you attend full-time or part-time. Many schools even offer online accelerated programs.

Whether you should pursue an MBA or the CFA depends on what type of career you plan to pursue. A CFA is typically most useful if you plan to pursue a career in portfolio management, equity research or hedge funds. A CFA won’t be as useful if your career goals lie in other fields, however it can also serve as a strong signal of financial competence in related fields. You can also study for the exams while working full-time. If you plan to pursue a career in other types of finance, it does not hurt to get a CFA, but it is a large time commitment. Most students spend close to 1,000 hours studying for exams. Unlike an MBA program, with a CFA you may not have as much access to a large school networks or as many recruiters.

Being part of a top MBA program gives you access to recruiters at top firms. You also have ample opportunity to expand your network and start a career in a new field. With an MBA, you can work at almost any company and in any field. On the downside, MBAs can be very expensive (expect to pay $100,000 or more at top universities for a two-year full-time program). MBA programs can also be intense and difficult to balance while working. You may have to take time off work to fully engage yourself in the program.

When you have compared a CFA vs MBA, if you decide that an MBA is right for you, check out The Business School Bible – Guide to Top MBA Programs.

This question is very vague. It is almost impossible to predict your chances without looking at your essays and knowing what you have done. It also depends largely on the applicant pool and what schools you apply to. The best way to find out how you stack up against the competition is by posting in the Business School Barrage forum.

A quick way to give yourself a general idea of how you stack up is by pulling up your resume and entering the business school you wish to attend. To give you an example:

  • Harvard Business School
  • 650 GMAT
  • Volunteer once a month at local food shelter
  • Deloitte Tech Consulting (2 years)
  • Michigan State University (Business, 3.05/4.00)
  • Random Accounting Firm (summer internship)

vs

  • Harvard Business School
  • 750 GMAT
  • Founded non-profit which delivers clean water to 5,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa (3 years)
  • Analyst, JP Morgan Asset Management (2 years)
  • University of Virginia (Finance, 3.65/4.00)
  • Bank of America (IB Summer Analyst)

Obviously the accomplishments of the first don’t quite match up with those of the second, but there is still a lot more to an application including essays and recommendations so there is no way for anyone to definitively answer this question. It might help to do a search for the resume books of the schools you’re interested in to get an idea of the applicants they accept. If you are looking for GMAT prep or admissions consulting, check out our partners, Veritas Prep – they give WSO members a 10% discount.

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An MBA is still one of the most respected and the most traditional degree to help you get promoted in the world of finance (and/or switch careers within or into finance). How important the MBA truly is, however, depends largely on what type of career you are looking for on the Street. For example, while an MBA isn’t the only advanced degree that will help you move up in investment banking, it is what the vast majority of analysts aim for and the most common path along the road from analyst to associate. However, for many traders and hedge fund managers, the MBA is less useful and some of these firms may even look down on the degree.

Why Get an MBA

Clearly, the industry you are most interested in plays an important role in whether or not you should attend business school. Are you interested in investment banking or want to try and accelerate your promotional track in private equity? Do you want to switch careers into another area of finance? Do you want that coveted corporate strategy position> If you answered “yes”, then an MBA might be right for you. Are you more interested in trading, hedge funds and being closer to the markets? Then you might want to do more research on the subject. In these last cases, an MBA from a top school still makes sense, but it is very specific to the individual and firm. If you are already in the finance industry, going to business school may help you move up the ladder, switch to a different firm, switch industries or break into the buy side. If you are in another industry such as consulting or marketing, going to a top MBA program is the best way to switch to an industry such as investment banking and vice versa.

Importance of Ranking

Going to a top business school (think Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, etc) won’t guarantee you a spot anywhere, but it will make the job search a lot easier. Coming from a lower level business school (think outside of the top 20, or a b-school that's not strong regionally), you will be facing a far more difficult battle than your undergraduate counterparts. If you can't get into a strong business school, whether nationally or regionally, it might be a good idea to get a couple more years of work experience and then try applying again.

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Despite being somewhat new in terms of degrees, a Master of Science in Finance (MSF or M.Fin for Master in Finance) are generally well-accepted in the finance world. Whereas an MBA gives a general business education, an MSF [or M.Fin] is focused solely on finance. These degrees often do not require work experience and are great options for non-business majors looking to break into finance and for business majors to increase their knowledge of finance. It will provide you with time to network and provide career resources to help get you a job. Do not, however, expect to come out as an associate. For most positions on Wall Street, you will be applying for analyst-level (entry-level) jobs.

Make sure to check out the link to MSFHQ in our Additional Resources section, it's a site dedicated to the MSF run by long-time WSO Certified User ANT.

Other Graduate Business Degrees

  • Master of Quantitative Finance: You should only get this degree if you are a quant looking to take the next step in your career or if you're looking to switch to a quant position.
  • Master of Financial Engineering: Similar to the MQF, unless you are, or are looking to be, a quant, you need not apply.
  • Master of Financial Economics: This degree varies in quantitative intensity depending on the school. At some schools it may be closer to an MSF, at others it may be closer to the above MFE.

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This is highly dependant on the firm and industry. To be straightforward a JD will usually not set you up nearly as well as an MBA. If you’re applying for a position with an investment bank or private equity firm, they may see you as overqualified and/or think that the work they have for you won’t fulfill your intellectual interests. There are of course, some exceptions.

A Juris Doctor from a top law school will position you well for a number of more specialized jobs in finance. A boutique investment bank focusing on restructuring or the restructuring group of a larger firm may see you as an attractive candidate because that type of financial work is more closely tied to the law. The same goes for a hedge fund that makes investments based on the outcome of legal decisions. Many companies working in the real estate sector (whether it is real estate PE, IB, or AM) will greatly value an employee with knowledge of both real estate law and business.

Most firms do, however, look for candidates with corporate law experience. This shows them that you actually have a working knowledge of that field and aren’t merely an accomplished academic. Remember, the more specialized your area of expertise is, the less jobs you will find available to you in finance. While being accomplished in a specialized field is great, you run the risk of pigeonholing yourself to that area.

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This is highly dependent on the firm and industry. To be straightforward, a PhD or MD (Doctor of Medicine, not Managing Director) will usually not set you up nearly as well as an MBA for a position in finance. If you’re applying for a job at a financial services firm, they may see you as overqualified. They may also think that the work they have for you won’t fulfill your intellectual interests. There are of course, some exceptions.

Since MDs and PhDs are so specialized, there are niches in the finance careers market for them. For example, a boutique investment bank specializing in chemicals may find someone with a PhD in Biochemical Engineering to be a boost to their team. Likewise, a hedge fund focusing on pharmaceuticals may find a MD perfect for a position researching new drugs and their ability to boost their company's income. Consulting and venture capital find PhDs extremely useful as well.

There is no single path to breaking into finance, but unless you are already working towards or have your JD, MD, or PhD, you should strongly reconsider a non-business related graduate degree. The more specialized your area of expertise is, the less jobs you will find available to you in business. While your degree may open doors for you in niche areas, you are probably going up against MBAs as well as other graduate degree holders who are giving finance a shot.

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