How do the top students at Wharton and Ivey do it?

I don't go to W, but another top target. As I look at PE analyst programs (like KKR, WP, SLP) and top-tier IB programs (like PJT RSSG, EVR M&A, MOE LA), no one can deny that Wharton kills it hard. However, many of these firms will interview across a wide variety of schools, it just seems like Wharton students continue to get the job. For example, someone pointed out in another post that SPC, which has hired W interns out of undergrad for many years counting, actually interviews at a lot of places, it just seems that the top students at W are the ones ultimately hired. For any alum, students, or interviewers, what specifically makes students at W stronger in finance and investing than other schools? I can understand liberal arts majors at H/Y who have never taken a finance class before, but what about business students with built out investment clubs (EX. Ross), or people at H/Y/other top targets who choose to surround themselves with finance EC's and classes, thereby making their college experience similar to a business student's anyways? It seems like every school now has investment clubs with mentorship, finance classes, pitch competitions, so I'd like to better understand where the technical competency comes from. Or is it from a stronger network of alum on the Street?
I also don't buy the argument that any high school senior going to W has a more solid understanding of finance than their peers at other top schools - most students have no idea what IB/PE is in high school and only become interested in college.
Edit: I find this is also pretty true for Ivey as well.

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Comments (30)

Jun 21, 2020 - 5:22pm

They're really really well prepped. A lot of ivy schools don't have the pre-professional focus of W, so combine that with the intelligence/work ethic of students who get into ivies and it's no surprise that they fill up most of the top groups.

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Gen
Jun 21, 2020 - 10:33pm

I mean I feel like you already kinda said this in your post but Wharton just happens to be a collegiate environment when there's a high density of a) people interested in careers in finance and b) people that are generally academically competent. There are lots of places that have a high rate of one but not the other, but Wharton attracts a lot of people at the intersection and gives them resources to promote their success.

  • Prospect in HF - Macro
Jun 22, 2020 - 2:36pm

I go to another HYPSM and we use materials from Wharton undergrad clubs. Maybe someone else at W can answer, but they seem to run a well-oiled machine in terms of how to learn about concepts, how to answer questions, how to present yourself, how to network, etc. everything down to the tee. The training that we receive in our finance club is almost lackadaisical, whereas at Wharton it seems everything they do has so much more structure. As someone who went to Quaker Days, I can confidently say that the kids at Wharton don't come in knowing what 338(h)(10) elections are, but the intensity and the seriousness with which they prepare kids in their clubs helps them stand out.

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  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Jun 21, 2020 - 10:41pm

Wharton is definitively the best UG business program in the US, and Ivey is the best in Canada. Each school attracts the best kids from highschool who are interested in "business" (although nobody knows what that entails in highschool). The schools have clubs/classes/programs/alum that all buy into the culture, which creates a cyclical opportunity for student success.

  • Analyst 1 in IB - Gen
Jun 23, 2020 - 12:40am

theyre just very very well versed and prepped about everything IB

at ivey, 1st and 2nd years get mentored by 3rd and 4th, by alumnis, etc, about interview processes, on the job, etc, so they know the ins and outs of banking and finance

given the network at ivey and its alumni, you can see how much of an advantage this gives to ivey kids (especially if they are in the investment club, even more selective and hands on prep)

also every kid in ivey is basically gunning for IB and is probs a hardo which helps for prep lol

  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Jun 23, 2020 - 3:26pm

how best can you replicate this if you don't go to these schools? i know how to be well prepped for basics like understanding m&i and then LBO and merger models, which has been enough for the EB's (and BBs but I never got asked anything too technical in those) I interviewed with. But I'm looking at some FT opportunities like SLP or SPC, and I struggle to have any investing intuition or go farther, or even have any idea what these firms (and PE or HF analyst programs in general) are looking for.

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  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 23, 2021 - 3:13am

I interviewed for two mega fund PE analyst roles and these are structured very similarly to the PE associate interview (exclusive of a modeling test but this depends on firm and period time when your recruit as modeling tests have been on and off for last two decades for analysts apparently...). You literally have 8-15 interviews with different people on the team so reading though M&I to develop what amounts to a superficial understanding of finance that is sufficient for IB is not going to cut it. Firstly, if you're serious, purchasing the PE Prep Guide is a good place to start. Secondly, you need to really understand the fundamentals of finance and valuation at a deep level as the interviews are not just regurgitating technicals but also case style (which is a second order thinking as you have to then apply these concepts):

  • Here's some company financials, how would you calculate EBITDA from them? If you wanted to do adjusted EBITDA, what sort of add back adjustments would you make? 
  • Do a paper LBO
  • I have a company that manufactures legos, how would you think about if this is a good business or not? It's testing if you can reason your way into creating reasonable IS + CFS as well as understand how value is created in PE and ask questions to get to the right data or make your own assumptions. Quick explanation re: financial statements, can you get gross margin with a unit x price assumption for revenue and input assumptions for COGS, how are legos sold because this affects opex, from opex you get your valuation multiple, I'd use EBITDA...get to net income...blah blah blah..need to know free cash flow is important...calculate it requires building from net income (if levered free cash flow) or EBITDA (if unlevered free cash flow). FCF is more or less cash flow from operations section of the CFS so think about what D&A, working cap, etc. looks like for this business...blah blah blah. Re: value creation: revenue growth, multiple expansion, cutting costs is how you drive value in a private equity so what are the growth prospects for lego business, can I up the price, sell more units, etc. etc. etc. how predicable are my sales because this tells me feasibility of servicing debt, etc.

It's not bullshit $10 of depreciation, how do you calculate equity value and what about enterprise value, etc. by any means so if you want to prepare it would be understand these financial concepts (statements, valuation, the connection across the two, how does a change on this line item flow through everywhere else, does it have an impact on valuation) and consulting casing. It's really not a question or game of what they're looking for but how well do I grasp these concepts, can I apply them, and can I walk through them in a logical structure. But you will get those finance questions too but that's like 10% of it I'd say.

Jun 23, 2020 - 5:15am

With respect to public markets / HF prep I would add UVA as well. UVA + Ivey kill it in these placements and have been extremely impressed with the people I've interacted with from these schools.

My experience with Wharton is that they breed kids who know how to get the job. Ie they are extremely well prepped and know the answers to the 100 or so questions that are asked by these firms, look and speak the part and have been preparing for the "audition" since they stepped in the door as freshmen, maybe even a few years before. The alumni network is also extremely strong. When it actually comes to performance on the job I've been much more impressed with Ivey vs. Wharton and feel like the guys from Ivey's program absolutely kill it.

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Cov
Jun 30, 2021 - 1:15pm

My experience - kids from these programs prep by doing relevant work. i.e. they've been in IBW or on their school investment club and are routinely building models, company overview slides, thinking through the strategy / oeprations of a business as part of class/investment decisions. 

To the point above, while some Wharton kids do the same thing (they're often the ones going to PE), many of them get where they are as a function of prepping guides, and having focused studies around finance that prepare them well for interviews but not the realities of the job. Also likely a product of school reputation and size. Everyone has heard of Wharton and so expect them to be top, many people unfamiliar with Ivey are blown away when kids from some random Canadian school are running circles around their peers (perceptional), and further the people breaking in from UVA and Ivey are generally top of their class vs Wharton where if you put in the bare minimum of effort you're probably able to land a gig at decent firm.

  • Investment Analyst in HF - EquityHedge
Jul 3, 2020 - 5:23am

My take on Ivey, having graduated a few years ago:
At some level there is a bit of self-selection (Ivey's reputation being what it is in finance), so it does tend to attract a good number of keen finance students either to Western right away or transferring from other schools, although I'd say this is a more minor factor.

I think the biggest differentiator is the environment - look at WIC in particular (although it's a Western club, the execs are all Ivey and it's typically a lot of overlap with top students that get good placements), which has basically a dual-mandate of technical teaching / prep and mentorship. Plenty of students are involved in this club from 1st / 2nd year, so by the time HBA1 recruiting comes around they're typically both familiar with a lot of the core financial concepts and have also made friends / networked with upper years, so they're usually in a good spot for both the interviewing and generally more competent when it comes to actually starting the job. Mentorship at the Senior level is huge - most of the finance kids have already signed FT offers before the school year starts, so there's not as much a focus on school work, and a lot of their time goes into the "pay it forward" culture that's been built over time at Ivey. I'd say that a lot of us are beneficiaries of the strong Ivey brand + lots of mentorship we received (and recognize how valuable that is), so there's usually a focus each year on keeping that up so successive generations are also successful - many of my friends and I took lots of time in our senior year to do coffee chats, mock interviews, interview prep, etc. with younger students trying to get into finance. I'd say its largely culturally-driven as to why Ivey kids generally place and are positioned well.

  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Jul 3, 2020 - 3:44pm

Are there structured mentorship (coffee chats, mock interviews, interview prep with older kids who got offers) programs at Ivey? or is more so making friends with these kids through clubs and asking them to coach you. Interesting that a "pay it forward" culture would permeate the whole student body interested in finance, definitely not true at my school

  • Investment Analyst in HF - EquityHedge
Jul 3, 2020 - 4:21pm

It's a fairly small finance community to begin with (Ivey is only ~600 students per year of which maybe ~25% go into finance), and its concentrated in pockets like WIC where the execs have (often) been part of the club / environment since 1st or 2nd year, so its not that difficult to maintain a cohesive culture through the years. To your question, I'd say it's semi-structured - there is a good amount of formal programs run through finance clubs like IFC or IAMC (students are paired with upper-year mentors, hosted Q&A panels with seniors on finance recruiting, etc.), but there's also a ton of informal stuff too. A lot of the seniors would set up open google calendars for students to book timeslots for mock interviews / coffee chats and it was generally pretty open to anyone interested. There is some element of clique-ness to it because if you're embedded in the clubs and are friendly with the upper years you generally get more help / support, but it's not like an entirely closed-off ecosystem either

  • Intern in HF - EquityHedge
Oct 6, 2020 - 10:44pm

Of the top schools, UPenn is the only school with an undergraduate business program.  Thus, top students who want to pursue business/finance try to go to Wharton.  Obviously there are other top students in other top schools, but students at Wharton know they want to do business/finance as soon as they step foot onto campus.  This kind of culture leads to a positive feedback loop of top students preparing early on for careers in high finance.  Then, there's also the positive feedback loop of Wharton grads hiring other Wharton grads.

Honestly, it's not really a surprise that they recruit very well.  What other top 10 or even 20 school has a business school?  

At my HYPSM, students kind of fall into finance after trying other things, or do finance and switch to tech. 

Jun 22, 2021 - 11:47pm

Currently undergrad at Penn (Engineering + Arts and Science). I mean more often than not you find speakers, firms, and HRs doing campus presentations, and they kind of jerk each other off about how exceptional undergrads at Wharton must be with phrases like "Oh you are at Wharton, you must have known what you wanted to do in life when you were 14."(Verbatim)  But to be honest, everyone works very very hard to get an offer despite firms seemingly having a lot of admiration for the school. So I find this praise kind of hollow because I know quite a few people in Wharton who actually struggled with recruiting.  Most people with offers only have one offer cinched and often at the last minute. But obviously, the top 10-15% of the class are the ones that are getting multiple top offers. Took many Wharton courses and am in many finance clubs. The student organizations are really not any special. Really everything is in the brand name, the tendency for everyone in Wharton to recruit for banking and the fact that the school is really hard to get into so everyone is pretty bright with some people who are geniuses. 

  • 2
  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 23, 2021 - 2:13am

+1 here and hats off for saying it way more succinctly than I did below. 

The formula really is: bias / favoritism in recruiting and maniacal independent preparedness given limited seats (there's not even close to a seat for everyone in W alone). The clubs are nothing special special (you can even find the slides online typically). I'd recon there isn't a huge intelligence delta between W and peers from H/Y/S/etc. 

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 23, 2021 - 2:06am

In my view, the biggest delta between students at Wharton (and some of these other schools that place well into banking and PE analyst programs) and other schools can be reduced to a few things:

(i) Personal accountability for learning and commitment to preparedness (the biggest one): 

The overwhelming majority of liberal arts majors (even from other ivies) I have met on the street do the bare minimum when it comes to preparing (e.g. reading the interview guides for super days and nothing further). Then, they use the fact that they are not finance students as an excuse and feel entitled to lower expectations-this is a cop-out, imo. The truth of the matter is: the major at these schools is either economics or business and the compulsory finance courses are 4-5 at most and academic in nature (e.g. convexity, equity risk premium, etc. is never utilized in a banking context...most students memorize and forget this stuff). Unless you are an accounting major, where you are required to take financial statement analysis and modeling courses (which the majority of students do not elect into), virtually all learning is outside of the classroom.

Certainly clubs, case competitions, and business fraternities are helpful learning resources. But, a lot of students also just teach themselves financial modeling using Macabacus and other free resources online (much in the same way you prepare independently as a banking analyst for PE recruiting processes. I fall into this self-taught camp: I attended a few biz club sessions early freshman year but did not join any of them for a variety of reasons (work, interest in more pleasurable extracurriculars to balance out biz heavy course load, different learning style, etc.).This is why I say the liberal arts student trope is a cop-out-these resources are free and broadly available and liberal arts students choose to not take up independent learning on these topics in the same way as student on these other campuses. Why? The competition for IB at Wharton, et. al. is steep. While overrepresented on the street, it is not true that there's a seat for everyone at these schools-there's a fixed number of interview slots. Thus, there's a higher competency hurdle to clear and this breed a pressure to be exceptionally prepared (because others may be more well prepared). At other schools, there's less competition and a shared belief that this minimum is enough because "we're not finance majors" among candidate and alums, ergo little incentive to be nose to the grindstone on preparing and learning. So they're underprepared for IB on a relative basis and the deficit grows for PE analyst programs because the hurdle is even higher for those gigs and those students are preparing even more obsessively. This is why you see some non-targets (who often are also not biz majors) that are more prepared than elite school liberal arts students-they know the competency hurdle is greater and the have to hustle excessively to prepare. 

(ii) networking: You learn the ins and outs of the interview process by someone who has successful done it and can coach you through it and even mock interview you several times (in addition to your peers). Again, not something people at other schools can't create for themselves by networking across schools on different points of affinity / shared interests / overlapping background / etc. 

(iii) Pre-college exposure to finance: There is a subset of students at these schools who either grew up around the industry because their parents or other family is in it or when to a prep school where there finance enrichment as part of a student fund, etc. and those kids just have a leg up given repeated exposure over a more prolonged period of time. 

  • Intern in IB - Gen
Jun 23, 2021 - 3:28am

I have a friend who got an offer from Tier 1 RX (PJT/HL/EVR) and he told me basically 50% of class is Wharton and rest is random 1 kid from other school. This doesn't seem fair but the actual amount of people who recruited for these roles (at least my year at a school like Duke-Michigan-Cornell) is extremely limited (like 10 people were actually ready technically) while I expect these roles to be aimed by so many people at W. If you look at the % of kids placed with respect with kids prepared is fairly similar. To sum up: there are just more prepared kids

Jun 23, 2021 - 7:25am

Agree with what has been mentioned above. 

Have many friends who have gone to Wharton or currently study there. They all came from elite high schools or boarding schools and had IB/PE internships junior and senior year of high school and in many ways were miles ahead of anyone else. Not to say this is not the case at any other of the top targets, but everyone I know at Wharton has the connections, grades, and internships to break into IB/PE. This is obviously a generalization and does not apply to everyone at Penn, but I won't bother repeating what was already said. 

  • Investment Analyst in HF - EquityHedge
Jun 29, 2021 - 1:47pm

this will be tough for the WSO hardo crowd to hear but the real reason is that the overwhelming majority of students that major in business, finance, or economics are not the most academically talented

the most talented students at most schools are gunning to be doctors or STEM PhD's but Wharton stands out as probably the only top school where at least some of the best students are majoring in business and coming from a similar enough environment where they can hit the ground running on day 1.

employers just see that on average, Wharton students are more prepared (and interested) to contribute immediately than the HYP type peers and on average, smarter than the public school business majors 

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Cov
Jun 29, 2021 - 3:13pm

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  • Intern in IB - Gen
Nov 1, 2021 - 6:00pm

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