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.