How do international students do it?

Hello monkeys. 

I go to a target, and I have noticed that international students kill it hard. It is surprising to see how well they do in recruiting for several reasons: 

  1. They need a visa. it is undeniable that banks hold them to higher standards
  2. Most of them are not proficient in English. You can tell me whatever you want, but I can tell my international friends do not speak as well as I do. Some of them have a very strong accent and still get top offers. Do firms just not care about this aspect?
  3. They are not used to our culture. One guy was telling me that this networking thing looked so odd to him. I am sure being here is a big adjustment for some of them especially if they did not grow up in the UK lol

Question is: are they on average all very smart, are Americans dumb, what is it? How can we learn from them?

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Comments (40)

Most Helpful
  • Intern in IB - Gen
Nov 14, 2021 - 11:28pm

Internationals aren't better than Americans. The best internationals leave their home country to come study in the US, so what you're witnessing is selection bias 

  • Intern in IB-M&A
Nov 15, 2021 - 7:22am

Intern in IB - Gen

Internationals aren't better than Americans. The best internationals leave their home country to come study in the US, so what you're witnessing is selection bias 

your argument isn't valid bc if OP goes to a target the best americans are there as well mixed with the best internationals so there is no selection bias.

Nov 15, 2021 - 1:06pm

no because the average ivy international is better than the average ivy american as it is harder for the international to get in

  • Analyst 2 in IB-M&A
Nov 16, 2021 - 4:34am

That still begs the question - it's harder for the internationals to get in, so how do they still manage to do it?

Nov 16, 2021 - 6:53am

as an indian in the indian education system, for the last 14 years all my school has taught me is to pass exams,legit i can pass an exam without ever seeing the topic beforehand within 2 days, im dead serious on this,nowdays if someone gets less than 90 percent(92 is 4.0gpa according to conversion)theyre considered a dumbfuck,honestly no joke getting a 1550+ on the sat can be done in like 2 weeks,i wrote a mock test on the math part and got full first attempt,it was like a cakewalk,the english was a bit hard tbh but basically what im trying to say is our test taking abilities are insane,but the average indian is very poor and dosent have any money to apply to these colleges,about how they manage to do it,my guess is they just want it more,and tbh the rich kids are the ones that make it to ivies,so culture is pretty normal to them,theyve had vacations in these countries,specifically at the undergrad level,these guys arent even top 30 percent back home,the best minds in our country write an exam called JEE,wont get into specifics but its an entrance test for engineering and about a million students write it every year, about 5000 get into these top colleges called the iits,thats like an acceptace rate of 0.002 percent or something,these tests are so hard that some phd professors in very good universities arent able to do it,anyways what im getting is most of the people who come there dont face a huge cultural shock and the ones who do are scholarship kids who want it a lot more and work really really hard for it.plus the rich brats have huge family connections.obviously maybe international students from other countries will be very different.

TLDR they want it a lot more or are rich asf and have huge connections

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  • Incoming Analyst in IB - Gen
Nov 15, 2021 - 12:28am

Those who get top offers have to bring something to the table that other candidates don't, whether thats life experience, international work experience or just luck in connecting with interviewers who are familiar with their home countries. However there are also many intls that strike out but you don't hear about those stories

  • Intern in PropTrad
Nov 15, 2021 - 1:19am

Interesting article from a while back - 

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2012/11/12/164793058/struggle…

Not sure about IB, but I know for tech for instance they grind Leetcode extremely hard. Like hours a day.  The work mentality is different, plus they tend to have high GPAs.  So of course they end up placing well. 

And are they just smart? Probably, especially in STEM fields. See this picture of the US IMO team, a picture speaks a thousand words.

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  • Incoming Analyst in IB - Gen
Nov 15, 2021 - 11:07am

Intl girls have no problem getting dates

  • Intern in PE - LBOs
Nov 16, 2021 - 11:38pm

Beta is relative. I assume those MIT/Caltech girls like the big brain guys and maybe the future net worth potential, so an intelligent investor should get in early, before the 8 figures attract the hot investors. Buy low sell high.

  • Associate 2 in IB-M&A
Nov 15, 2021 - 3:29am

International here. It's a bit complicated for sure but I did notice Internationals tend to kill it in STEM degrees, recruiting, etc. although some strike out too 

I would say:

1. Selection bias. Typically the brightest and wealthiest Internationals study abroad in prestigious universities

2. More determination due to coming from typically poorer countries. They see poverty on a daily basis and are reminded of the result of academic / professional entropy. They are either eager to maintain their wealth or eager to acquire wealth if they grew up with nothing. In the EU and the US you don't live too rough if you are poor (at least compared to India, China) so the urge for success might be less intense. 

3. Culture. Some of the countries the students come from put 100% importance on success Eg. China, Korea, Singapore 

Nov 15, 2021 - 6:05am

I was kinda with you up until you pointed out you're in the UK.

1. Internationals, as of a year ago or so, get a 2 year graduate work visa. Don't need sponsorship for this.

2. Most are proficient in English, most are just Singaporean/HK, or continental European. Most speak English just fine. It may not be perfect but neither is some Native English people's.

3. Networking doesn't even matter in the UK so idk where this comment came from. 

They grind because they pay 1.5-2x what we do out of pocket (no loans). They have to do well or it's all a waste.

Nov 15, 2021 - 7:29am

nutmegger189

I was kinda with you up until you pointed out you're in the UK.

1. Internationals, as of a year ago or so, get a 2 year graduate work visa. Don't need sponsorship for this.

2. Most are proficient in English, most are just Singaporean/HK, or continental European. Most speak English just fine. It may not be perfect but neither is some Native English people's.

3. Networking doesn't even matter in the UK so idk where this comment came from. 

They grind because they pay 1.5-2x what we do out of pocket (no loans). They have to do well or it's all a waste.

Your last point doesn't make sense. Most international students who come to the UK are rich so the extra tuition of ~10k doesn't really hold much importance for them. Also, a student usually motivated to study harder if they come from a poorer family which just isn't true for most international students

Nov 15, 2021 - 9:45am

My experience of internationals has actually been different to how you describe. While I understand how what you said may hold up in theory, I find that 1. Many internationals are not actually "rich", the same way that everyone who attends a private school is not necessarily "rich". And I'm taking a western view of "rich" here. 2. Even those that are rich came to the UK for a reason and they understand that coming here is normally an extra burden financially on their parents. They want to honor that. They also understand that if they want to stay here they need to do well. But that's just my experience.

Another thing I forgot to add is that intls coming from certain countries (mainly in the east) have "hard work" absolutely drilled into them. It's a cultural thing, rich or not.

Nov 16, 2021 - 4:27pm

I agree with point 2. In my experience Asians speak far more understandable English than people up North.

Also they are able to speak 2/3/4 languages which is a HUGE advantage for many roles against the monolingual population that is the UK.

Nov 15, 2021 - 9:08am

1) Acquiring a visa/becoming a permanent resident is definitely the biggest hurdle for me. I'm taking part in the diversity visa lottery this year (green card) for the first time and so are my parents because I'll be able to get a permanent visa as well if they win, as long as I'm under the age of 21 by the time of the court hearing.

2) Sure, a native speaker is always gonna have an edge over someone who only started learning English in 2nd or 3rd grade. However, especially thanks to the internet, many Europeans (and ofc Asians, etc.) are consuming American/British media and newspapers (and pop culture in general) on a daily basis. I scored a 800 on the "reading and writing" section of the sat and my English proficiency level is C2, so there really is no real language barrier.

I try to perfect my pronunciation everyday.

3) This of course heavily depends on the individual. But I'm sure there a quite a few uni/college students in your country that might not know what networking is/may find it weird. But most people going for those kind of jobs are probably browsing wso daily, read all kinds of financial papers, browse reddit and watch youtube videos on how to break into investment banking or whatever and they are getting the same information as any American, or in your case Brit, who's interested in banking.

Nov 15, 2021 - 11:50am

The simple and straightforward answer is that they don't really have another opportunity to succeed(so quickly). Imagine going to an extremely expensive country to study, taking on huge loans, sacrificing many other things and then not grinding as hell? Many said previously that they see poverty on a daily basis and they know what's the consequence of ruining their chance to integrate into a wealthy society

  • Intern in PE - Other
Nov 15, 2021 - 12:22pm

They're not smarter, they just work much harder than "natives". International students know that they're lucky to be there and they don't want to blow their opportunity to "make it big" or whatever. It depends a lot on the country, but some countries also have a culture which is more hard-working than western countries.

Nov 15, 2021 - 6:06pm

South Asian international student here. Did undergrad in my country cuz parents didn't let me go for undergrad in the states. Did an international MBA later. Some thoughts after comparing undergrad cohorts in my country vs internationally:

1. People don't understand the competition international students in emerging markets face. I got into a good business school (which is low demand btw) after securing 99.9 percentile in the entrance for undergrad. My classmates from undergrad (or me for that matter) aren't the smartest in the country. But they would still be atleast 80th percentile in an American college.  For stem courses students start prepping since they are 14, these people are not just hardworking, the ones who make it are fucking smart. To get into a tier 1 engineering school, you compete against 2+mn students. These are btw around 7k seats, not counting tier 2 colleges. When you see this reality staring at you as a teenager, you don't do drugs and hang out in the mall. You study. The ones who go to US schools aren't necessarily even the smartest. Why spend $200k on a degree when you can get the same job in less than $30-50k?

2. Developing countries' stem school curriculum is typically more advanced (could be wrong here since didn't study it myself but heard from friends). They probably find it easier to crack foundation level courses and entrances abroad.

3. Population. India and China have more than a billion people each. If we assume 1% of population is genius, that just simply means more people. 

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  • Incoming Analyst in PE - Growth
Nov 15, 2021 - 10:06pm

International senior from Asia at a target/semi-target in the US.I think something that hasn't been mentioned yet is that a bunch of the international kids who place well in finance come from international schools. If you're international and went to one of these schools, you're already pretty assimilated into american culture and can easily pass off as american in my experience, and generally, people from these schools tend to be pretty well-off and connected too, so for this demographic, I'd say it's analogous to that of kids from a good private school in the US placing well.

On the other hand, I'd attribute the success of non-international school internationals to a lot of the factors that have already been mentioned in this thread. I'd agree the most with selection bias; acceptance rates for international students are lower and there are often self-imposed quotas on students from different regions (notably China, India). Furthermore, specifically for recruitment, you're a lot more limited with your options (some BBs, some EBs, some buyside), so you have to step it up to even have a shot at getting an offer.Hence, at a target, combining the higher academic standards for getting into these schools, the higher career standards caused by the limited number of firms that sponsor, and the fact that these kids are probably good at english (high SAT/ACT scores, IELTS in some cases), is a recipe for success.

Nov 16, 2021 - 3:21am

As an international from Singapore, I can confirm that my main motivation to do well and break into IB is the ludicrous sum of money my family pays for me every semester.

I suspect you are referring to international students from South Asia and some parts of East Asia with regards to the observation of being "not proficient" in English. While they may seem so, their knowledge in the field and their studious nature are for one to admire and I strive to work as hard as them. 

Nov 16, 2021 - 9:50am

I have known one MD who specifically wanted international students so that he could essentially treat them as slaves, underpay and overwork even by banking standards, knowing they will get shipped off if they quit. Very messed up. Special place in hell for that guy.

Nov 16, 2021 - 12:16pm

1) international students studying in targets in US and UK are some of the best, most hard-working, brightest and smartest people in the world. if they were not, they wouldn't make a cut to get into US or UK target, since there are millions of others who want to be there.

2) they are extra motivated because they just moved from a small town in Romania/Bangladesh/Uganda to Boston and got admitted into Harvard. such life change makes you inspired and motivated to give it 300% and fight for any chance you can take.

and to answer your questions:

1) big banks don't mind sponsoring - it's not a big expense for them. internationals don't get offers from boutiques.

2) everybody is tired of consultants/bankers talking their way out of any question they get and ultimately not contributing anything because they are masters of bullshitting. clients who pay millions for your services want to get actual value instead of listening how good you are at speaking your native language lol.

3) if you go to target, you can get interviews through campus, and you don't need to network much or adjust to any culture. internationals from non-targets usually don't break into IB.

Nov 16, 2021 - 9:48pm

I can guarantee you that we are on averages more "street smart" than Americans. Not in an offensive way, just what I witnessed in my last 8 years living in the US. I'm from Argentina

Nov 18, 2021 - 2:21pm

As an Indian, I can give you my perspective. We're basically trained to succeed in every single test that life throws at us (quite literally sometimes). Going out of the country is fairly rare for middle and lower-income families so we live our dreams in the confined region. Those who do go outside usually do it at their own will and through hundreds of hours of research and sheer focus. These are naturally selected and make it to the US - where they're so damn determined to do whatever it takes. It's that survivor mentality - a few out of billions that make it have it in large numbers - especially when they've made it on their own and without much help. That's why we absolutely kill it in the workplace. Nonetheless, it could be that the grass is greener on the other side and we're just absolute glorified monkeys working towards the inevitable march of death. :)

  • Intern in PE - LBOs
Nov 19, 2021 - 3:44am

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