AMA: Non-Target, Non-Major, Low GPA - Reflections About Grad School and How it Helped Me Break onto the Street

I've been a member of WSO for the past four years and frequently I have seen questions regarding the potential benefits of graduate school, specifically on the value it provides when trying to break onto the Street. So, I thought I would share my story, and the thought process I used when deciding whether or not to attend graduate school, and then, then a reflection the experience and how it has helped me.

...But first, I'll share my background:

I went to a non-target school (think liberal arts Top 30) and was a life sciences major that was pre-med bound. I had a great time at college but ended up encountering several tough semesters, as a result my GPA took a hit, and I finished with a 3.0 GPA. Post-college, I took a job at a medical research institute and worked there for a few years, hoping that this would mitigate my low GPA when applying to med school, so long as I did well on the MCAT. But over time, I realized that other career paths may be better suited for me - through networking with alum, colleagues, and attending social events, I learned of investment banking and equity research, and how competitive it was to break into these front office jobs. Naturally, I am a competitive person, so I really started to focus on ways to break in. In addition, both jobs had some overlap with my skills (life science background), so I thought I would have some sort of edge against other candidates.

Fast forward another year:

I had quit my full-time position and began to focus all my efforts on learning the accounting/finance that I had never learned in college (only took 2 Econ classes) and network like a madman. While I agree that networking had definitely been beneficial, it was not enough to get my foot in the door. Interviewers knew that I questioned my career objectives, given I had not had any formal finance training/education/work experience. Not only that, but I had a non-competitive GPA for these positions as well. I knew I probably needed to take some courses in finance or get a degree in finance, but I wasn't 100% convinced, for these reasons:

1) It's pretty pricey and I already have student loans
2) It's going to require a lot more of my time
3) There's no guarantee of breaking onto the street
4) What if I hadn't committed to a graduate program? Could I have accomplished my goals without it?
5) Do I want an MBA or MSF or just take additional undergrad courses to supplement my undergrad GPA?

To jump to the end of my story, and so I can begin reflecting on what I think after the fact of going to grad school, I ended up graduating with an MS in Finance from a private university (e.g., Vanderbilt, Simon School, Emory) with a 3.7 GPA and secured 2 offers at MM shops in equity research.

What do I think now, and I will readdress the bullets above:
1) Yes, it is expensive and we all know how much student loans set you back from what you want to do in life (buying that new Porsche, renting that awesome bachelor pad, going on international trips), but at the end of day, you have to realize that this opportunity could potentially open more doors for you. Opportunities don't wait for people, they are seized by people who are willing to take those risks and go outside their comfort zones because these people know they will do whatever it takes to succeed, even if it means putting yourself in more debt. As an anecdote, my graduate school gave me a scholarship (they're pretty lenient with the qualifications here) which significantly helped me with my financial situation. It was a part-time program, so I could work a FT job at the same time to supplement myself financially; I worked at pharma company right about the same time I started my MSF.

2) There are 24 hrs in a day and 168 hrs in a week. I am sure that you can find the time to work more education into your schedule. If you're serious about wanting to break onto the street, they're going to want to know that you're going to be that guy that's putting in the long hours and willing to do so because you love it. Rome wasn't built in one day fellas, so just think of this as a next step in your life that's helping you put together who you want to be. It was a tough decision enrolling because I knew I would essentially be locked in for the next year in this program, but it ended up landing me more facetime with interviewers and provided me with that solid foundation in finance that I never had prior to enrolling. Before this, I was renting books from the library and watching webcast classroom sessions. Hands on time in the classroom is nice.

3) Nothing in life comes easy. Plus, who wants to hear a story about some guy who had encountered no difficulties/challenges/hurdles/adversity as he pursued his career goals? That's boring. I can truly say that I feel proud of what I have done to get where I am today. In fact, I had a bunch of doubters - many felt I was already pigeoned holed and destined to become a scientist. And you know? It just made me want to succeed even more. For every 'no' I received in an interview, it just made me want to go back out there and interview some more; I knew I would eventually hit something, I just had to be persistent.

4) I think about this a lot. And to be quite honest, I think I needed the degree to get pass through the initial ringer, so people stop questioning my aptitude for finance. Not only that, but I would now have a fresh slate when I went out for recruiting - it would essentially put me into a different candidate pool. I was no longer that guy with just a life science degree, but now had a finance/business background, which sort of pre-"vetted" my abilities and commitment to that career path. I also know that when I signed up at my grad school, I had immediately broadened my network, so now I could reach out to even more people and increase my odds of getting interviews and perhaps landing that coveted front office job.

5) Several people have asked me - 'Why didn't you just go for your MBA?' And to be quite frank, it was a very personal decision on my part. It had to do with where I was at with my career, what I wanted to do in the future, and how best to set myself up to make that future possible. I knew that I wanted to not spend as much money for an MBA but yet still get a degree that gives me a sort of "badge of approval" that interviewers would look positively on. I am a very competitive person, and I knew if I wanted to go for an MBA, I would want to go to H/S/W, but that I would most likely require a more appropriate job for that (e.g., AM/IB/ER/HF/PE/VC etc) and probably a higher GPA. Therefore, I selected to rebrand myself and get into a very competitive masters program, learn the finance, expand my network, break onto wall street, and then go from there...Lastly, the program I chose was convenient and suitable for my time. I was able to attend class in a large city, on weekends, and still have time to manage other things such as networking, working my FT job, and working on some more financial modeling skills.

While I understand that many people believe that MBA is the route to go for a career switch or to increase your opportunity of breaking onto wall street, I would disagree. You can always go for your MBA later. The MS is great route to rebrand yourself and position yourself for an opportunity on the street, especially for someone like myself.
I'm happy to take any questions, and if you're curious about any of the details (what school I went to/tools I used to network/etc), then feel free to PM me or comment here and I'll PM you.

Comments (42)

Jan 7, 2015

Great job!

Curious if you are having to start out as a first year analyst?

Jan 7, 2015

I'm actually starting off as post-MBA associate at my firm (associate works under the research analyst in ER).

    • 1
Jan 7, 2015

That's a pretty great gig then! What type of shop are you at (boutique, MM, BB)? Are you going to be covering life sciences after all?

Jan 7, 2015

why is this your 3rd AMA? not criticizing, very generous, just wondering if there was a change...

Best Response
Jan 7, 2015

I really consider this my second. The first was missing some details that the second one had. I also figured I'd focus more of this thread on the grad school aspects, pros vs. cons./my experience/etc. since there tended to be a significant amount of people inquiring about MS in Finance programs vs MBA vs No Grad school.

    • 2
Jan 7, 2015

Are you currently dealing with a steep learning curve or do you feel prepared for the position?

Side note: When I hear low GPA I think sub 2.5....

"Not me. Im in my prime"

Jan 7, 2015

Well, I think like any new job, there is a learning curve - it's expected. However, yes, this industry is new to me. I came from a life sciences background and worked within an operations-type role at a pharma company. The finance I have learned from grad school (had a lot of face time with my professors) definitely helped though, specifically with manipulating the three statements, building a valuation model, and utilizing relevant financial statement analysis to understand 10-k, Q, s-1, and etc.

Because of this learning curve (I think it honestly takes at least a year to really understand some of the companies you covers story, drivers, and industry trends), make sure you choose a research analyst that you know will support your growth and that you find easy to work with. You'll be there working hours that are similar to IB during earnings, maybe even worse depending how lumpy your coverage universe is during earnings. So, I think it is essential to be selective of who you work for, and don't let prestige of firm ultimately drive your decision making (it might end up souring your taste of something you worked really hard to attain).

Hope this answers your question.

    • 1
Jan 7, 2015

thanks for sharing. Great post!

Which state are you located in?

Jan 7, 2015

I am located in the NY region

Jan 7, 2015

Do you think your current compensation justifies the cost? Vandy/Emory aren't cheap schools. Congrats to you btw

Jan 7, 2015

The way I see it, it's an investment into my future. Without the degree (which I am sure I needed), the where I am now part most likely would not have existed. So, make the investments, debt can always be paid off, especially if you know your earning potential has the potential to go really high.

Jan 7, 2015

Also, I would add that the school I went to wasn't as expensive as Vandy/Emory because I of their willingness to provide scholarships.

Jan 7, 2015

Could you elaborate more on rebranding yourself. what school did you attend and program name? I am on a similar path... just finishing my social science degree have no background in finance/accounting courses with 7 years experience in retail and small business lending. Thanks

Jan 8, 2015

Sure, I attended the Simon School (University of Rochester) and the program was a part-time program in Manhattan. I think it was a suitable fit for me given my situation and goals that I had in mind. I would suggest for yourself to keep networking, listen to your networks feedback when you convey your interests - it'll help you set your focus and target career objectives. Then, I would see which MS/MBA programs fit your profile. If I were you, I would probably take an MS in Finance. It's a quick restart to your career, and can help you transition given your grades and story are there.

    • 1
Jan 7, 2015

Great post. As one who slogged through the ranks coming in with a crappy GPA, I would definitely tell anyone with that problem to go back and refresh their recruiting options by getting more education....and excelling at it. Had I known differently, that's what I would have done and I have come to the point where I tell people referred to me with poor GPAs that they will get better results just going back to school and doing it right.

There are any number of reasons why someone can lapse in academic performance but most of the time employers just don't care.

Jun 24, 2017

Would you mind providing some advice to either of my forums? It sounds like you have been where I currently am. Many thanks

Jun 28, 2017

PM me with links

Jan 7, 2015

Would you suggest an master of finance for someone that has middle office experience at an IB?

Jan 8, 2015

@"Withoutapaddle" I had several classmates in the middle office that were able to either: a) position themselves for a promotion afterwards or b) switch to another role (i.e., S&T, PWM, ER, IB, AM).

    • 1
Jan 7, 2015

how did you get into such a good ms program with your background?

doesn't seem like the most compelling story. you didn't have a strong background, then you fixed that by adding (what sounds like it may be) a target school on your resume and got a few job offers.

Edit: this seems to be focused on the value of grad school and not so much how you broke in

Jan 7, 2015
Barcadia:

Edit: this seems to be focused on the value of grad school and not so much how you broke in

grad school was how he broke in...

Also you don't face anywhere near the same competition with getting into MSF programs. It is a much more specialized degree and quite new by comparison. With the top candidates still (for the most part) pursuing MBA, you don't have to have nearly as strong of a background for admissions.Also, a little bit of work experience goes a long way for admissions as it is fairly common for people to go UG straight to MSF. I'm certainly not knocking MSF programs (I did an MSF) but it's simply a buyers market right now.

    • 1
Jan 8, 2015

I'm guessing you went to Nova. Great story.

Jan 8, 2015

I actually went to the Simon School (UR)

Jan 8, 2015

Cool, I just put in my app last week for the Full time MSF!
What is your opinion of the program, especially for internationals?

Jan 8, 2015

That's great leveltwo. Best of luck, and am sure you won't be disappointed. There was a post earlier this week on WSO, I believe, that highlighted prestige of school may not be the silver bullet candidates generally look for. Networking prowess, good grades, and desire/drive to make that next step is what it usually takes, in my opinion.

As far as internationals, I would say that there is a very good mix of internationals at the school, so diversity tends to not be an issue.

Jan 8, 2015

Would you recommend the MSF for someone considering going from an industry investment role to a finance coverage group in that same industry?

    • 1
Jan 8, 2015

Congratulations on your triumph, sir! I am very much on the same boat as you are, just trying to make it.

Could you talk about what networking activities you found to be most effective in landing the equity research roles? I am interested in breaking into equity research as well and your perspective is going to be invaluable for me.

Thank you so much.

Jan 8, 2015

Sure, I reached cold emailed a bunch of individuals working in equity research and found a format that generated the most responses and stuck with it. If one of the contacts didn't pan out for me then, I still continued to follow up and nurture that relationship. I also attended networking events that were posted at my school and fortunately, both my undergrad and graduate school had fantastic events. Meet everyone and keep a running rolodex of all your contacts. I signed up for organizations, mostly school affiliated, that I thought would help enhance my network. Think of it as an investment on growing opportunities for yourself.

The most effective method was just to keep doing all of the above. There are a million ways to get from Point A to Point B, so try to explore them and pick the one that works best for YOU.

    • 1
Jan 8, 2015

Thank you sir. Once you have gotten a response, which do you find to be the most effective way to establish a strong business relationship? Email, phone conversation, or meeting in person?

Jan 8, 2015

Really great story, and glad to see someone make this type of journey. I'm in a similar boat (small non-target, GPA similar to yours) and looking to go back to school. Reading things like this really helps keep you motivated.

As just an observation, could you speak to what kinds of exit opps you saw for people in your MSF program? Does it mostly carry you towards a banking/PE path, or do you see people leave towards trading or HF roles as well?

Thanks a lot for taking the time to do this.

"When you stop striving for perfection, you might as well be dead."

Jan 9, 2015
PeteMullersKeyboard:

Really great story, and glad to see someone make this type of journey. I'm in a similar boat (small non-target, GPA similar to yours) and looking to go back to school. Reading things like this really helps keep you motivated.

As just an observation, could you speak to what kinds of exit opps you saw for people in your MSF program? Does it mostly carry you towards a banking/PE path, or do you see people leave towards trading or HF roles as well?

Thanks a lot for taking the time to do this.

I second your feedback... I am in a similar boat... and posts like these are def motivating

    • 1
Jan 9, 2015
PeteMullersKeyboard:

Really great story, and glad to see someone make this type of journey. I'm in a similar boat (small non-target, GPA similar to yours) and looking to go back to school. Reading things like this really helps keep you motivated.

As just an observation, could you speak to what kinds of exit opps you saw for people in your MSF program? Does it mostly carry you towards a banking/PE path, or do you see people leave towards trading or HF roles as well?

Thanks a lot for taking the time to do this.

I second your feedback... I am in a similar boat... and posts like these are def motivating

Jan 9, 2015

Sure, I can try to answer that. As far as my class is concerned, I have seen individuals range in age from 23 to 42. And, so as you can expect, their career timelines are quite individual specific. But just to summarize and to answer what I think you want me to answer, I have seen people move to ER from non-related finance job (i.e., myself), financial analyst to hedge fund analyst, people getting promoted within their respective verticals, and people actually taking those credits from their MSF and transferring them over to complete a full MBA (which is nice). The courses are academic, but that's to be expected from any firm but it is constantly taking shape to make the course as addressable to "real life" finance as possible.

I think as long as you can sell yourself to the interviewer about why you went to the MSF program, how it helped you, and what you learned, you should be set for anything in finance (within reason; ie, don't expect a PE move without experience already or unless you're a network god).

    • 1
Jan 9, 2015
derpherpderp4760:

Sure, I can try to answer that. As far as my class is concerned, I have seen individuals range in age from 23 to 42. And, so as you can expect, their career timelines are quite individual specific. But just to summarize and to answer what I think you want me to answer, I have seen people move to ER from non-related finance job (i.e., myself), financial analyst to hedge fund analyst, people getting promoted within their respective verticals, and people actually taking those credits from their MSF and transferring them over to complete a full MBA (which is nice). The courses are academic, but that's to be expected from any firm but it is constantly taking shape to make the course as addressable to "real life" finance as possible.

I think as long as you can sell yourself to the interviewer about why you went to the MSF program, how it helped you, and what you learned, you should be set for anything in finance (within reason; ie, don't expect a PE move without experience already or unless you're a network god).

Great, thanks a lot for this. Really appreciate the feedback.

"When you stop striving for perfection, you might as well be dead."

Jan 9, 2015

Congrats :)

Jan 9, 2015

Hi derp:
Since I'm a newcomer on WSO, I can't PM you, however, I'm in the process of considering MsF programs and am curious about the recruiting that goes on for Simon.

Jan 9, 2015

The MSF program that I went to has information receptions every month (I believe the last one for the class starting soon, is in February) and they look for individuals who are looking for career switches (which is what I did) or really looking to add to supplement their finance background. It was a great opportunity for me, and I was lucky that someone told me about it when at the time.

    • 1
Jan 9, 2015

Good stuff here. In a similar spot so found this rather helpful.

Jan 18, 2015
Comment
Jan 19, 2015
Comment
Jan 6, 2016
Comment

Pages