Yale vs. Columbia vs. NYU Stern (Undergraduate)

Hello WSO, I'm currently deciding on where to attend this upcoming school year. I've been going back and forth on what school is the best fit for my interest for the better part of a month, but unfortunately, I only have a few more days to make a final decision. Let me preface this by saying I am extremely fortunate to be in this position, so this is definitely a "good" dilemma to have.

As of now, I am quite certain I want to go into finance after college. While doing applications, I did a lot of soul searching to see what I really wanted in life, and ultimately, I found out that I'm not all that interested in other career paths. Another thing to note is that I will be full-pay at all three of these school, and money isn't something I will take into account when making a decision.

Now onto my options. After opening all my school decisions on ivy day, my immediate gut feeling was Yale, but now looking back on that, I think that was largely in part to the Yale name brand being among the elite HYP. Although, after reviewing all my options I think I am still leaning ever so slightly (by a very small amount) towards Yale.

For Yale, I like its curricular flexibility. There are general ed requirements but they can be fulfilled by a variety of classes, so I can definitely tailor my education to specific interests I have. This shouldn't matter as Columbia is also very well regarded, but I think Yale slightly edges it out in prestige. At Yale, I would most likely double major in Econ and Applied Math (w/ Data Science concentration). I am hesitant to commit to Yale mainly because it has a reputation of producing humanities focused graduates and politicians. I always hear of large fund managers and Wall St. executives being Harvard/ Wharton grads, and very rarely do I see the same for Yale. Another downside to Yale is the location. It isn't far from NYC, but it doesn't compare to actually being in the city.

Moving onto Columbia. I absolutely love the city. Having the heart of NYC and the financial world a short metro ride away offers so many opportunities in term of self growth. Sure New Haven isn't a rural town, but having the world's most famous museums, concert halls, BB banks, etc. so close is definitely an advantage. The biggest think I dislike about Columbia is the common core. My ideal curriculum would be that of Wharton's or Stern's where it is hyper specialized in what I want to do, and even Yale's seems like an ideal in-between (can be specialized while integrated with liberal arts). The common core overall seems extremely restricting, and to be honest, when I objectively look at who I am as a student, it seems like it would be somewhat of a waste of time. And of course, the "name brand" is highly recognizable, but it isn't Yale. Also, I do know some Columbia alums (like 2/3 Ziff brothers) are very known in finance.

I think NYU Stern is at the bottom of my list. While it has excellent placement on Wall St, it seems like that is mostly due to self selection. It is good for finance, but I can't justify turning down an Ivy for it. Also, while I will be graduating with more of a background in finance, I have heard from a lot of people that those additional skills aren't all that necessary. The biggest positive for NYU is its location. I love the idea of being completely integrated into the hustle and bustle of the city.

Overall, what would be the best option to prepare myself for a career in finance in terms of alumni presence, networking, internship opportunities, etc? If I went to Yale, would I be missing out on anything, as opposed to being at Columbia or NYU? Even though Yale is my current number one, I am very open to any opinion you guys may have; Yale definitely isn't the clear choice for me (I would be open to either Columbia or NYU).

Thank you!!

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Comments (34)

  • Prospect in IB-M&A
Apr 27, 2020 - 11:26am

Go to Yale. Columbia and Stern are great and might send more than Yale into IB on a # basis, but the competition will also be much fiercer. Yale will provide you with more optionality thanks to better MBB and buy side placement, as well as a stronger brand name and alumni network.

Apr 27, 2020 - 11:33am

I never really considered the competition aspect. In fact, I think that's something I would like to have as a part of the school culture (think Harvard/ Wharton types) since it would motivate me to do more. Overall, is Yale have a better reputation than Columbia on Wall St? And, is not being in the city a huge problem?

  • Prospect in IB-M&A
Apr 27, 2020 - 11:49am

I don't have firsthand experience with Yale's culture so can't speak to that, but I know for a fact that Columbia and Stern are pretty cutthroat, especially when it comes to finance recruiting. Yale has the best reputation of the three, be it on Wall Street or elsewhere. And while being in the city can be an advantage thanks to part-time internships, Yale's stronger prestige and OCR make up for the school not being in NYC.

Most Helpful
Apr 27, 2020 - 11:51am

Take Yale every day here. There's a reason the acronym is HPY (with Stanford, Wharton, and MIT sometimes added, but never Columbia). The truth is you will have most every professional opportunity available to you from either Columbia or Yale, but Yale is a slight step above in terms of reputation. You seem to favor the more flexible curriculum at Yale over Columbia's core curriculum, which matters a lot. You have the rest of your life to live in NYC if you want, and if you stay in Finance you certainly will. Go enjoy 4 years in a more traditional college environment surrounded by some of the brightest minds and future leaders across industries. Based on my colleagues, Yale alums tend to really have loved their experience and I bet you would too.

Finally, congrats on these fantastic acceptances! You have a bright future ahead if you continue to put the work in

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Apr 27, 2020 - 6:17pm

Thanks for the advice. I was leaning towards Yale, so this is definitely calming all the nerves I had about forgoing the NYC experience. Just a quick question, how much better would Harvard be in comparison to Yale? I'm currently on the waitlist there, and although it is unlikely I get off the list, I'm trying to assess all options.

Apr 27, 2020 - 8:56pm

Just my opinion, but Yale is closer to Harvard than Columbia is to Yale. They're all phenomenal schools and we're really splitting hairs, but yes Harvard is universally recognized as one of the best undergraduate institutions in the world. If you get off the waitlist (unlikely) and are indifferent between the two culture wise, sure go to Harvard. But Yale is an absolutely incredible school and if you don't end up getting into Harvard it shouldn't affect your career prospects at all. Heck, you could say the same about if you go to Columbia. You're in a really fortunate spot here.

  • 2
Apr 27, 2020 - 9:23pm

I'd honestly take Yale over Harvard. Better culture and just as good of an institution. There are also way more Yale kids at my bank than Harvard. There's no wrong decision choosing between these two.

Apr 27, 2020 - 9:25pm

Yale is the easy choice here, especially since you don't like Columbia's Common Core.

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Apr 28, 2020 - 11:16am

Please pick Yale. NYC is the only thing drawing you to Columbia and NYC will always be there. Get a real college experience. City schools come with poor college experiences and shitty school spirit because people are constantly off campus and/or doing their own shit.

Apr 28, 2020 - 5:38pm

I'm not very interest in the whole school spirit culture. I'm mainly concerned about going to the best possible school which will be the best for a career down the line. With this is mind, is the Yale brand, alumni network, and overall opportunities in finance outweigh that of Columbia graduates?

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Apr 29, 2020 - 1:12am

School spirit = better and more helpful alumni network so I would hope you do care about it.

To answer your other questions - yes Yale is better across the board. Obviously not by a huge margin, but it is better.

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
Apr 28, 2020 - 7:09pm

I'm biased because I went to Yale, but I think it's your best option for a multitude of reasons.

Know people who went to Columbia and NYU, and they enjoyed their time, too, but both schools were more competitive and individualistic than Yale, and the communities weren't as strong (I think a lot of this is a natural result of being in the city. More people, less forced proximity).

Yale and Columbia have a stronger brand than NYU, so I'm going to narrow my scope to those two. I'm inclined to agree with some of the other posters that Yale's brand is probably a little stronger than Columbia's, but it's basically a toss-up. Yes, it's slightly easier to attend all the recruiting events and network from Columbia since you're right in the city, but it's super easy to just train down to NY on Metro North from Yale (~2hrs). Based on your interests, the core curriculum at Columbia can be great, or super annoying and restrictive... As you mentioned, Yale's curriculum and distributional requirements are pretty broad and don't really get in the way.

It's cliché to emphasize "community" in the context of college, but Yale's is really awesome. Freshman year on old campus builds lasting friendships, the res college system is great, and shopping period really is a pretty unique plus. I noticed you said you're not super interested in "school spirit"/cultural elements, but it's worth acknowledging that this community can ultimately be really helpful for recruiting, too. I quizzed several friends on the guides and helped them with modeling practice, and people did the same for me. Alums pulled for us. We landed internship offers together. Don't think this is as common at other schools.

In terms of general Wall Street branding, everyone (except a couple PE firms that only look at Harvard/Wharton) recruits on campus. If you have a decent GPA, demonstrate interest, and ideally join one of the finance-related clubs, you will get interviews and be a very desireable candidate.

Apr 29, 2020 - 8:38am

Wouldn't underestimate the spirit aspect of a school even though it is not a priority. Spending ~4 years at a school with a poor fit can eventually be a miserable experience. I know people who attended all 3, and the Yale alumni are the only ones raving about their experience.

Apr 29, 2020 - 9:08am

Yale for the superior reputation (in most ways) and probably better experience.

Apr 29, 2020 - 4:38pm

Is Yale's name brand that much stronger in comparison to Columbia? Also, is Columbia's better placement on Wall St. attributed to self-selection, or are there opportunities I will be missing out on by not being in NYC?

Apr 29, 2020 - 9:24pm

I think it is, and the difference is probably bc of a more diverse student body and not being thrown into the "NYC NYC NYC" zone (ie finance).

  • Analyst 2 in IB - Cov
Apr 30, 2020 - 12:41am

Yale has a way better reputation.

Columbia is like the average Joe or poor man's Harvard due to its usnews ranking and constant name drop in movies and tv shows. No idea why usnews loves it so much and no idea why it's name dropped so often in movies and tv shows. You rarely see or hear Princeton used, even though it's the better school.

In actuality, Columbia is probably closer to the lower ivies than HYP. Most people would take HYPSM, Caltech, and Wharton over Columbia. Forbes and WSJ have Columbia ranked in the teens. I don't think Yale vs Columbia is as close as you're making it out to be.

Apr 29, 2020 - 9:35am

Don't forget about the fact that CBS > YSOM... I know you are speaking to the UG decision at the moment, but you have great opportunities later in your career to experience the graduate school at Columbia, if desired. I would also keep this in mind for the dilemma you have between city v. non-NYC. You seem well motivated and I would imagine that a MBA will be crossing your mind in the future. Use that as an opportunity to diversify the city v. non-NYC college campus experience. While a tough decision in the moment, rest easy knowing that you have plenty of opportunities down the line to experience other schools and locales!

Apr 29, 2020 - 7:24pm

Spot on. While it is quite early, I do plane on pursuing an MBA down the line. I know you mentioned NYC might have some added benefits in terms of internships and networking, but would I be missing out on anything by going to Yale? Also, with CBS being better that YSOM, is the Yale Wall St. reputation taking a hit due to the reputation of the graduate programs. I noticed that overall Columbia has a number of fund managers and executives as alumni, although I'm not sure if this is including CBS and Columbia undergrad. As for Yale, I haven't seen that many finance big wigs as alumni which is quite worrying for me from the standpoint of networking and career perspective. Any thoughts or advice on this?

Apr 29, 2020 - 8:09pm

Wall Street (and really any high-powered profession for that matter) is literally littered with Yale alumni. Put simply you will never be at a career disadvantage for having gone to Yale, period.

Apr 30, 2020 - 2:45am

I'll do your homework for you then... See below list of most notable Yale alums on Wall Street

Steve Schwartzman - CEO of Blackstone
Steve Mnuchin - ex CIO of Goldman Sachs, current Secretary of Treasury
Harold Stanley - Founder of Morgan Stanley
Robert Greenhill - Founder of Greenhill
Charles Johnson - Chairman of Franklin Templeton
Jim Chanos - Founder of Kynikos Investment
Edward Lampert - founder of ESL Investment

And to add a bonus from Yale SOM - John Thornton, ex co-president of Goldman Sachs

Apr 29, 2020 - 9:51pm

OP, you are seriously overthinking this man. Seriously. you're hashing this out to death. the minutea that everyone is going into here is astounding. Obviously Yale has a better reputation and prestige/pedigree whatever than the other two. Obviously you shouldn't go to NYU. Obviously you'll do perfectly fine in Columbia with no regrets. if you're really just about the exit opps - go to Yale and go in peace. there is no need to overthink this so much. going back and forth with bunch of strangers in a finance blog giving you insight is not meaningful. talk to your family. talk to your friends - If ANYTHING other than exit opps matter. If you're afraid of missing some minute detail between Yale and Columbia that's going to fuck up your chances at PJT or GS TMT, you're not. Worrying about YSOM and it's shittiness and perusing LinkedIn to see how many Yale GS and BX partners and there are - c'mon man. you're smart enough to have gotten into these places, you're smart enough to know you're being crazy at that point.

congratulations on your success it's fantastic and I'm happy for you. most people don't even get to choose between two ivies, you're in a lucky spot but god damn you don't live under a rock - you've got your bases covered.

  • Intern in HF - Other
Apr 29, 2020 - 10:11pm

I go to Columbia. I personally think the NYC opportunities outweigh any decrease in prestige we have compared to HYP or whatever, by interning in the city part-time many students build killer resumes that allow them to land pretty insane positions on the buy-side out of undergrad. Those who don't still place well into the sell-side. That said, if the Core really repulses you don't come. Everyone bitches about it but we all still appreciate the concept, kids who don't put any effort in are a net negative on the classroom experience.

May 6, 2020 - 2:15pm

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