Like many users, WSO has been a major resource for me. Not just in information but also hope during times when it wasn't so easy or I didn't think it was possible. I've really enjoyed reading success stories, and I thought I'd take my turn to share my success story and answer any questions anyone had.
I go to a non-target state school (>70% acceptance rate) with virtually no alumni whatsoever. No one who could tangibly help me at least; the only ones that had made it were someone who used grad school + starting with a lesser sweatshop in a non-core finance city to make into an EB and my first real mentor in the process who had just started FT role and was only 2 years ahead of me. There was almost no one from my state who I could reach out to as there's no target or semi-target schools here; Raymond James doesn't even look at applicants from my state as I found out.
No one in my family understands the industry or knows what I do (my dad is a firefighter, mom doesn't work due to medical problems) so no one could show me the path and no one told me how important where you go to school was. I could've gone to a better school, but I ignorantly opted for the one that cost me nothing.
I never really got serious until the first semester of my sophomore year of college when I took a Wall Street Prep modeling course, having yet to even take a finance class. I was hooked and never looked back. I read books, built my own models, studied finance to the point that when I took finance classes I already knew everything. I leveraged what resources I had around me including WSO and was pretty much told "go to a better school" or "network like hell." I chose the latter and began my journey of sending hundreds of emails for just a couple responses. I tried for everything from IB to ER to ST, just to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks.
Late summer, I networked my way into an interview with my dream AM firm for a buy-side ER SA position. It went well and I got invited to a superday. Things again went relatively well; I was told they needed extra time to make a decision only to find out later that I would be the last person cut. Obviously defeated I still had hope as next I had a GS superday. It went horribly and I walked out knowing there would be no offer. I was left wondering how I could come so far and do what no-one from my school had done and fail twice. It was a torturous few months knowing my situation, but I would get another chance. RBC was recruiting late and did a few superdays for SF in January. Once again, it was a no. This time I would find out they only took 2 people, and I was top 4. At that point I was completely defeated having struck out 3 times, when 5 months ago I was just hoping for 1 superday. I wondered how I could compete when I had just done a superday with kids from Harvard grad school, Columbia, Berkeley, and Georgetown. And at that point it seemed my chances were over having missed out on SA positions since the interns would take the FT spots. One of my contacts I had made tried to push me towards PWM at his bank to eventually lateral out. That just felt like my 3 superday rejections were making it to the World Series 3 years in a row and being told to rebuild, I wasn't having it.
The period that followed was about a month of giving up. I couldn't really believe it; I didn't know it was possible to get rejected 3 times after how hard I had worked. Eventually, I pulled myself together and leveraged and maintained every connection I had. As part of my efforts, I emailed someone who I interviewed with last year at the AM firm. They remembered me, and it proved to be an important move. I considered delaying graduation to remain eligible for SA positions which is how I applied to every firm except the AM firm because I was told they would likely have a single spot open. I was lucky enough to make it back to final-rounds, this time with a case study allowing me to prove technical skill. I only had 5 days to work on it, and I put everything I had into it. At the interview, every person I met with except for one was H/S/W which was only a reminder of how out-of-place I was. Just a day after my interview I received the call with the offer. The director who gave me the offer told me "there's no one from (my university) on (firm address)" which has to be the best moment of my life. It was just validation of all the work I had put into it and that I had done something very rare.
The firm is a top asset manager (think Fido/Wellington/etc.) and it is quite literally my dream job. I guess the lesson in all of this is the importance of persistence. I was completely defeated after a 3rd superday rejection, but persistence is what got me another shot and impressed the firm I got an offer from. The fact that I didn't take no and was completely dedicated (along with extensive research experience which I didn't get into) stood out to them among the H/S/W candidates. Also to prospective monkeys: follow up with people you've interviewed with if it went well even if you didn't get an offer. Some of my best contacts have come from the people I did that with. And if you think you're screwed because you missed out on SA spots, it's not over unless you give up. Coming from a school with no prestige is now something I'm proud of as I did have to do it all myself and nothing was easy. Also no student loans is nice.