1. The Right Schools for the Right Job
1.1. Why Schools Matter
A target school’s advantage is how it can accelerate your career. Every year, thousands of candidates compete for a position in the top investment banks (Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Bank of America), where they are paid top dollars. Competition is fierce, so banks look for top graduates from top universities. If you’re from a target school, and you perform well, you should be one step ahead into Wall Street.
1.2. Target vs. Semi-target vs. Non-target Schools
Based on the level of presence and hiring by firms, schools are divided into 3 main categories: Target vs. Semi-target vs. Non-target Schools.
Target Schools are prioritized by large firms. Bulge bracket Banks actively hold on-campus orientation programs and sometimes directly recruit from them. Target schools dominate in firm presence, acceptance rate and alumni network, their graduates have the best chance of getting into Investment Banking.
Similar to Target Schools, Semi-target Schools also have orientation programs and internship opportunities from firms, though at a more limited level. They have less prevalence in Investment Banking, and a narrower alumni network. Semi-target School graduates need to spend extra effort to stand out for an offer.
Non-target Schools, conversely, are unprioritized by large Investment Banks. Getting into Investment Banking will be difficult for Non-target Graduates, requiring tremendous effort in networking, resume tailoring and an “all-in” mindset.
What’s the impact?
Attending top schools is crucial to get a job in Investment Banking due to the advantages they get from firms. Of course, if you aren’t from a Target School but try hard enough, landing an offer is still possible.
To give you an idea on how Targets and Semi-targets dominate Investment Banking, here’s a detailed table on the presence of Target and Semi-target School graduates in major firms from Peak Framework:
In the table, Target Schools were those having more than 100 hires over 5 years, and the rest were Semi-targets. However, location wasn’t accounted for in this comparison: Schools far away from Wall Street will attract fewer hires. For example, Stanford’s prestige easily makes it target, but being in California leads to far less presence. How distance matters will be discussed later.
1.3. Do I need to major in Finance to get into Investment Banking?
The answer is no. Investment Banking recruits may come from a wide range of academic disciplines. The important thing is your performance. You’re better off studying a degree you enjoy with good grades rather than one that you don’t (but think banks will appreciate) with lower grades. In case you’re not majoring in Finance or Economics, consider joining student-run funds (like banking society) or attending finance-related classes to show interest in the field and stand out to Investment Banks.
2. Top Undergraduate Universities
2.1. Top Undergraduate Universities in the US
The Ivy League refers to the 8 oldest and most prestigious schools in the US: Harvard, Dartmouth, Cornell, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, Brown and Pennsylvania. They have extremely bright students, diverse programs and overall the best investment banking output. UPenn – Wharton has the highest number of hires and 100% presence in large firms. Harvard is obviously excellent, but many Harvard graduates choose to pursue Private Equity careers. Cornell, Yale, Columbia, Princeton and Dartmouth all have good representation.
New York University
NYU graduates account for 3.9% of hires in top-tier Wall Street firms, falling short only to UPenn Wharton. Its close proximity serves as an advantage, but NYU also offers exceptional education, consistently ranking in top 10 schools in the US and top 5 in Finance.
University of Michigan – Ross School of Business
Michigan Ross is the only public school with 100% presence in large Investment Banking firms, comparable to Ivy’s Harvard and Yale. Its Bachelor’s program for management and finance ranks third nationwide. Ross has also been ranked in the top 5 business schools in the US.
The Harvard of the 21st century, Stanford leads in Business, Economics and Mathematics. Location prevents many Stanford graduates from joining Wall Street, with only 45% presence in large firms. Still, Stanford is a frequent collaborator with Wells Fargo, a San Francisco-based bulge bracket.
University of Chicago
The most prestigious midwestern university, UChicago has one of the highest presence among elite boutique firms. It is ranked in the top 9 universities worldwide, and its business school tops US News and The Economist’s lists. Common stops for UChicago graduates include Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse and Lazard.
Williams is widely regarded as the best Liberal Art College in the US. Despite its Liberal Arts background, Williams graduates are regularly hired by a number of bulge brackets, notably J.P. Morgan, Goldman, hence its nickname “the West Point of Wall Street”.
University of Chicago, Berkeley – Haas School of Business
The top public business school on the West Coast, Berkeley Haas ranks 3rd in the world’s best business programs by USNews. Due to geographical distance, Haas’ Wall Street presence is still limited, though it is favored by San Francisco-based Wells Fargo and other bulge bracket’s regional operations.
2.2. Top Undergraduate Universities in the UK
This group includes the London School of Economics (LSE), the University College London (UCL) and the Imperial College London (ICL). The main advantage they share is the close proximity to the London Financial hub. LSE’s Accounting & Finance and Business & Management Studies rank in the world’s top 10 by QS, Times Higher Education and US News, while UCL and ICL are all top 10 European schools.
This includes the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, two oldest and most prestigious schools in the UK. Known for academic excellence, both have ranked world’s first by multiple journals, with 100% of their subjects in the top 10. Oxbridge finance graduates are top hires for Investment Banks, Asset Managers and Management Consulting groups.
University of Warwick
Warwick is one of the few non-London/Oxbridge universities well-regarded by Investment Bankers. Warwick’s Economics department ranked first in 2020 by the Good University Guide, surpassing both Oxford and Cambridge. Its Mathematics department belongs to the top four of the UK.
University of Bristol
Bristol is particularly well-known for its quality in Economics, Finance and Management. Its Business and Management Studies ranks fourth nationally in the Guardian University Guide.
3. Top Graduate Schools for Investment Banking
An MBA/MSc. Finance provides in-depth knowledge for Investment Banking. You can still do fine with a Bachelor’s, but a Master’s degree guarantees a much better chance, especially if you didn’t pursue a business degree previously, or are trying to climb higher ranks. Large firms will still scan for candidates with prestigious backgrounds, so the following Graduate Schools can help you stand out.
3.1. Top Graduate Schools in the US
Ivy League Business Schools
This group includes the business schools of 6 Ivy League universities: UPenn Wharton, Dartmouth Tuck, Harvard Business School, Cornell Dyson/Johnson, Columbia Business School and Yale School of Management, boasting academic excellence, selectivity and the highest presence in the largest Investment Banks. Their close proximity to the New York financial hub also serves as an advantage.
New York University – Stern School of Business
NYU Stern ensures the proximity and the quality to be a top Wall Street feeder. Its presence among bulge brackets and elite boutiques only falls short to Wharton. Stern’s MBA program ranked tenth, and its Finance program ranked third by US News.
University of Chicago – Booth School of Business
The best midwestern business school, Chicago Booth’s MBA program consistently ranks in the top 3 by Forbes, The Economist and US News. Its presence in large firms only loses to some Ivies and NYU. 15-20% of Booth MBA graduates secure a spot in Investment Banks annually. The curriculum is also rated “career-centric” by Investment Banking students.
University of Michigan – Ross School of Business
UMich is the only public university rivaling the Ivy League’s numbers in Investment Banking, with 100% presence in major firms. Michigan Ross’ MBA program frequently ranks in the US top 10 by various sources.
Northwestern University – Kellogg School of Management
Also based in the midwest, Kellogg is the other main feeder for the Chicago financial hub. It ranks in the top 3 of The Economist, Forbes and US News’ lists. Kellogg’s MBA programs in collaboration with international universities are also well-regarded.
Stanford Graduate School of Business
Stanford GSB is the most selective Business School in the United States, accepting only about 6% of admissions each year. High standards make it the best Graduate School by QS, Bloomberg Businessweek and US News. Due to its location, GSB graduates typically seek Venture Capital careers in the Silicon Valley tech hub, but a considerable number still work for Goldman and Morgan Stanley.
Georgetown University – McDonough School of Business
Georgetown McDonough was ranked number one school for Investment Banking by LinkedIn, thanks to its excellent finance courses. Its MBA program has been listed in the top 25 best by numerous publications. The largest employers of McDonough alumni include Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Credit Suisse, Bank of America,…
Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Sloan School of Business
MIT Sloan has some of the most rigorous courses of any school, and its ranking rivals the Ivy League. Sloan collaborates extensively with Harvard University and students at each institution often pursue simultaneous degrees at the other. Sloan offers good finance programs, but few students actually pursue Investment Banking careers. You can use this to your advantage to network or land an internship.
3.2. Top Graduate Schools in the UK
London Business and Management Schools
This group includes 4 top Graduate Schools based in London: the London Business School (LBS), the UCL School of Management, the Imperial College Business School and The Business School of City, University of London. Being close to the London financial hub makes them top feeders for London firms. LBS is one of the best Business Schools in Europe and has the best Finance programs. The other three are also among the top 10 schools in Europe, and rank highly in the UK for Accounting, Finance and Investment Banking.
The Oxbridge Business Schools
This includes Oxford’s Saïd Business School and Cambridge’s Judge Business School. Saïd’s MBA program has been in the top 3 best in the United Kingdom and top 10 in Europe for many years, thanks to its quality of education and Oxford background. Its MSc. Finance course was ranked sixth worldwide and first in England. Judge’s Executive MBA was number 1 in Financial Times’ Masters in Finance ranking. Its MBA program also ranks fifth worldwide, first in “value for money” and “aims achieved” in an FT’s survey.
Warwick Business School
Like its undergraduate counterpart, WBS leads in Economics, Finance and Management. Its Online MBA topped Financial Times’ list in 2020. The Executive MBA ranked first in the UK in 2014, and the full-time MBA ranked tenth. It’s a regular appearance in the top 50 global Business Schools by various publications. Warwick’s graduates are targets for Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank.
4. Target Schools beyond the US and the UK
4.1. Do Investment Banks only hire US and UK graduates?
The United States and the United Kingdom’s long tradition in Finance and Management education makes their schools main targets for Investment Banks. However, firms still hire candidates from local universities for their branch operations. If you attend these schools, your chance of getting into Investment Banking is still very likely.
4.2. Target Schools worldwide
Some large Investment Banks like Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, UBS and BNP Paribas are based in mainland Europe. Attending target schools and scoring high GPAs are still prerequisites. But keep in mind that an European Target School may not be Target in the US, although it works the other way round. You can join these schools if you aim for European Banks, but if your goal is Wall Street, consider studying in the US.
Switzerland is home to 2 bulge bracket Investment Banks: Credit Suisse and UBS. Like NYU and Wall Street, attending top Swiss schools, like the University of Geneva, and the University of Zurich can give you a “local” advantage.
HEC Paris – France
HEC Paris has topped the list of best European Business Schools multiple times. Its Master in Finance course is also regarded as some of the regional best. The school also offers Investment Banking summer programs, focusing on M&A, LBO, financing and valuation.
IE Business School – Spain
Spain’s IE is another European school, alongside HEC, with in-depth Investment Banking courses. IE has decent recognition among European Investment Banks, and is one of their top feeders.
INSEAD – France
INSEAD is an international Graduate Business School, with a campus in Fontainebleau, France. It frequently ranks among the world’s top schools, with MBA programs topping the Financial Times’ list in 2016, 2017 and 2021.
The largest Asian Investment Banks are based in the financial hubs of Asia: CITIC in Shanghai, Everbright Sun Hung Kai in Hong Kong, United Overseas Bank in Singapore, etc.
Previously, they only accepted candidates with western education, but local target schools are now accepted by top firms. The same rule applies: if you want to get into Wall Street, attend American target schools.
Tsinghua University – China
The best university in mainland China, Tsinghua was also the first to receive AACSB and EQUIS accreditations for its business and accounting programs. It ranks first in the Asia-Pacific region, twelfth in the world, and Tsinghua Business School ranks 19th globally by Times Higher Education.
National University of Singapore – Singapore
NUS and its Business School is one of the world’s best public universities, ranking 11th on QS’ global list. Citigroup and J.P. Morgan are 2 bulge bracket firms prioritizing NUS graduates.
University of Hong Kong – Hong Kong
HKU has been ranked multiple times in the top 5 universities in Asia-Pacific. Its MBA program is highly revered in the region, and has been the top feeder to Hong Kong-based Investment Banking firms.
Canada has its own niche of Investment Banks called the “Big 5”: the Royal Bank of Canada, the Bank of Montreal, the Toronto-Dominion Bank, the Bank of Nova Scotia and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.
The Big 5 and the bulge brackets hire from 3 target schools: University of Western Ontario, Queen’s University and McGill University. A difference in Canada is Canadian target schools are still accepted by Wall Street firms, and many graduates end up working in the US.
University of Western Ontario – Ivey Business School
Ivey is the only non-American school with a significant presence on Wall Street, while also dominating Canadian Investment Banks. It offers the best MBA course in Canada, providing in-depth knowledge about Investment Banking and Capital Markets.
Queen’s is the second target school for Investment Banking, though its number is still dwarfed by Ivey. Nevertheless, Queen’s still ranks in the top 10 Canadian universities and top 100 global business programs, making it the second best feeders for Canadian banks.
McGill regularly ranks in the top 3 Canadian Universities. Thanks to its close proximity to Montreal financial hub, McGill graduates are targets for both the Canadian Big 5 and the Bulge Bracket’s regional operations.
5. The Bottom Line
Choosing universities is the most important step to get into Investment Banking. If you’re all in for this esteemed, demanding career path, a target school should be your first priority. Of course, school isn’t everything. YOU will still be the deciding factor. Work hard, prepare well, and your Investment Banking dream will become a reality.