So, everyone is a prestige whore in some way or another. Let's be honest. For every 1 person who can afford to pay cash for an S500 AMG but drives a Prius for the mileage, there are 100 million people who finance a car they can't really afford. The same applies to school - How many people take the full ride to State when they got into Harvard with no financial aid? Probably very, very few.
My point here is this; prestige matters.
I think, ultimately, people care about prestige, especially at the school level, because it provides you with opportunities. A Harvard trained English major can get a job at an investment bank, when a non-target English major is either stuck paying out the nose for a masters to be a teacher, or doing social media for their high school (hyperbole for effect).
An Internal Problem
Some people view this as a privilege thing, or injustice, or whatever you want to call it. The Haves vs the Have Nots. I think this perspective, especially seen in people who are obsessed with searching for examples of those with non-traditional backgrounds who have cracked the silk barrier, looks externally for the solution to an internal problem.
The Early Track
High finance jobs hire from prestigious schools for multiple reasons, but the main one is the quality of the candidate (eye roll). Captain Obvious here, but hear me out. You don't hire someone from a target because they went to a target. You hire someone from a target because they got into a target, and continued to perform. Getting into a target school says something about discipline, especially when most high school students are too busy trying to get laid or too undisciplined to put in the work. There are lots of other factors at play, but what I'm getting at here is the fast track isn't the fast track, its just the early track. Were you disciplined enough to get into a top 5 undergrad? Congrats, you're 4 years ahead of the majority of people. Were you disciplined enough to graduate Cum Laude? Congrats, you're light years ahead of some. Were you savvy enough to network and land a job at the top of your field, whatever it may be? You did it, but you're just scratching the surface.
The Drive to Succeed
Now, were you unable to do these things? Well, every tick on your background sets you back. Do you have gaps, did you go to a non-target, did you get a shitty GPA, etc etc etc. So you're wondering why no one with your background is an investment banker? Well there are minimal job openings, and it's incredibly competitive, so why would they hire someone like you? Most people who get these jobs have already established a track record of excellence that spans close to a decade, and they have something else that is driving them to succeed. And, 99,999 times of out 100,000, someone with your background probably isn't going to figure it out or make the effort if they do.
Stop Looking for Validation
So why does this matter? It matters because the people searching for others with non-traditional backgrounds are looking for validation, or the easy way. Everyone seeks validation at some point, but this is not the time. Someone with a non-traditional background didn't achieve success because they got lucky or because they got a chance that was handed to them when they asked nicely, they excelled because they figured out what needed to be done and set off to do it.
So you have to go Big 4 audit and bust it for 3 years, transition to TAS, study like a maniac for the GMAT, kill yourself networking to get into an M7 and compete for a job at smaller MM Banks or PE firms or Advisory shops because you still aren't quite there.
Well guess what, you figured it out before your senior year in college, and by my count, it's been 7 years of grinding. Someone who graduated at the top of their class from a target had already been grinding for 8 years from high school through undergrad.
So what are you going to do? Is this when you give up and blame the system, or is this when you realize you're an associate at a small shop and you're finally in the industry, so you step on the gas even harder? Hone your skills, keep grinding, and now, despite a different background, you have the experience and the hustle to make the next jump somewhere else. Maybe you stay put, make VP then MD and pull in a fuck ton of money because you've been working your ass off for over a decade now and you're getting a reputation in your space. So maybe you only make high 6 or 7 figures compared to 8, cry about it.
Is that not good enough because you didn't make it to GS SSG or BX HeMan Woman Haters Club or fuckin' Citadel as a PM? What the fuck? Hell, maybe you love Big 4 accounting and you never take the next step and you make partner at a massive firm and pull in a big salary with great job security and that's that. Or you can quit in your twenties and go sell fuckin' insurance because, whatever, Commerce Insurance responded to your application and made you an offer.
You and a Machete
Everyone is so concerned with making sure there is a path laid out for them, and people just assume prestige is the qualifier. Its an indicator, not a rite. There is no path - only you and a machete, and the sooner you pick it up and start hacking in the right direction, the sooner you'll get somewhere.
TL;DR - you gotta earn it.
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