by Brian DeChesare Comments (79)

What You Should Pick for Your Major, 2015 Edition: Is It Time to Start Learning Partial Differential Equations?

Investment Banking Major Best“What’s your major?”

It’s a familiar greeting if you’re in university, but it’s also a common way for bankers to assess you.

If you don’t choose carefully, you’ll have a much harder time breaking into the finance industry.

And if you do choose carefully, you might be able to break in even with other flaws, such as weak internships.

I addressed this question a long time ago (2010) in an article on the ideal major for investment banking, but there have been significant changes since then.

Last time around, I recommended gaining solid knowledge of accounting and picking a major that would allow you to earn a “good GPA” and that would also support your story.

But I also cautioned you against taking too many advanced, technical classes that might sink your GPA.

Today, though, the level of technical rigor in interviews has increased dramatically.

Students learn the key concepts earlier, interviewers have higher expectations, and math and computer science skills are more important than ever before.

So, should you now do the opposite and start learning partial differential equations?

What Has Changed Since Last Time?

Many of these changes correspond to the changes in interviews over the past five years.

First off, it has become much harder to do something unrelated to accounting or finance and then BS your way in at the last minute.

At the minimum, you need to know accounting quite well: if you can’t answer questions about the three statements, your chances are very low.

Second, the GPA requirements have increased. While I’ve mentioned a 3.5 / 4.0 under the U.S. system as a requirement in the past, today many banks are looking for more like a 3.8.

You might still be able to get in with a lower GPA if you’re at a top-tier school, but it’s still harder than it used to be.

I’m not sure if banks in the U.K. are now looking for first-class honors rather than a 2:1, but academic rigor everywhere seems to have increased.

Third, math and computer science skills have become more important.

No, you don’t need to know C++ to get into investment banking, but if you ever move into a more quantitative role like risk management or algorithmic trading, you’re going to need these skills.

In the future, you might even be viewed as “illiterate” if you cannot at least understand basic code.

In short, you need more technical knowledge, you need to know it earlier, and you need to get better results in your classes.

What Hasn’t Changed?

With that said, some things haven’t changed since last time.

For example, I still view double and triple majors with skepticism because of the time required and the negative impact on your GPA.

Yes, you need to know more, but this doesn’t mean you should triple major in Accounting, Finance, and Electrical Engineering: pick one, and take a few classes in the others.

Bankers also still view certain majors as being easier or harder than others, so they may be a bit more forgiving on your GPA if you picked a “harder” major (engineering and the hard sciences).

Finally, you still need a major that supports your story but which also gives you enough time for one good outside activity and sufficient time to network and recruit for internships.

My Recommendations

The ideal major depends on your career goals, but for investment banking, private equity, or hedge funds based on fundamental analysis, you can’t go wrong with:

  • A heavy accounting concentration.
  • One or two finance classes.
  • At least one introductory computer science class.
  • And at least one writing-intensive class (as a banker, you are mostly writing).

I am NOT listing economics because it is, at best, marginally useful for most IB/PE-type roles.

And you spend most of your time in these jobs on financial statement analysis, so accounting is more relevant than finance.

Also, it’s easier to learn finance on your own than it is to learn debits and credits and journal entries on your own.

Even if you have no interest in IT or in working at a tech company, you should still take at least one introductory computer science class because software is eating the world.

Plus, this knowledge will open up some “Plan B” options such as project management and sales roles at tech companies.

What About the Liberal Arts? Or Engineering? Or Other Majors?

Yes, you could still major in something else such as the liberal arts or engineering and win internships and then full-time offers in finance.

However, I would only recommend this plan if:

  1. You are self-motivated, you’re excellent at self-study, and you’re confident you can learn accounting and finance via online classes, books, and other sources.
  2. You’re on the quarter system rather than the semester system, and you therefore get to take more classes.

If you’re going for more quantitative roles, such as algorithmic trading or risk management, you should think about a Math or Computer Science major and still take a few accounting and finance classes on the side.

What If You Got Started Too Late?

“OK,” you say, “All that makes sense, but what if I just realized in my third or fourth year of university that I want to get into the finance industry? I’ve already finished most of my major.”

First, I have to be honest with you: you stand a low chance of getting into the industry out of undergraduate these days if you got started very late.

It can be done – take a look at a few of our interviews for examples – but typically you’ll have to target boutique banks with an aggressive networking effort, which may or may not work for you.

So you have three main options if you’re in this boat:

  • Delay your graduation and try to finish at least a minor in accounting or finance. This strategy also gives you another chance at internship recruiting.
  • Pound the pavement and learn what you can on the side. You’ll get the inevitable questions about why your coursework is not relevant, which you’ll have to answer by saying that you started late and have been catching up on your own.
  • Go for a Master’s Degree or MBA degree in the future. You need to consider both of these quite carefully because they are expensive and time-consuming; they should be methods of last resort, not your preferred solutions.

Example Paths to Follow

To put everything together, here are a few example “paths” of majors, activities, and internships you could follow:

Path #1: The Early Starter

You arrive on campus and know that you want to be an investment banker from day one. That means you may have some psychological problems, but we’ll ignore them for now.

Year 1: You start an accounting major right away, and you also take an introductory CS class. You complete a summer internship at a local small business and help them with bookkeeping tasks. You also join the student-run investment club and play football at school.

Year 2: You continue with your major, also throwing in a finance class or two. You network for a rotational summer internship at a large bank, but it doesn’t go anywhere and you do a private equity internship at a local firm instead. The internship mostly consists of cold calling.

On a positive note, you get elected to a leadership position in the investment club.

Year 3: You continue with your accounting major, and you also add a writing-intensive class on medieval literature to improve your communication skills. Your GPA is on the low side (3.6 – 3.7), so you take a language class to boost your grades.

You recruit for and win a summer internship at a bulge-bracket bank after a significant networking effort.

Year 4: You convert the summer internship into a full-time offer. You’re almost done with your major in your first semester, so you spend the rest of the year relaxing and taking other classes you’re interested in.

Commentary: Besides the early start and the solid internships, here are a few other things this student did right:

1) Quality, Not Quantity, of Activities – It is much better to do one or two activities well than it is to put a half-hearted effort into ten different activities. This strategy also makes it easier to maintain a high GPA.

2) Strategic GPA-Boosting Classes – One benefit of starting your major early is that it gives you “cushion room” for boosting your GPA with easier classes later, if need be.

3) PE Internship to Investment BankingPE internships at smaller, local firms are a good “backdoor” into investment banking because there’s less competition and a lower technical bar, and the work still looks relevant to bankers.

Path #2: The Undergraduate Career Changer

Now imagine that rather than going into finance, you want to do something useful for the world and become a doctor… so you major in biology. Oops.

Year 1: You’re not quite sure what you want to do, so you take a bunch of random classes in your first semester and join five different student groups. You settle on biology in your second semester, and then complete an internship in the university lab over the summer.

Year 2: By the end of the year, you develop an urge to decapitate all the other pre-meds with a bloody ax coated in cobra venom. Biology is not for you.

You get interested in finance via a family friend who’s a stockbroker. But it’s too late to switch your major, and to make things even worse, you’re working in a hospital over the summer.

Year 3: Your recruiting attempts for IB roles at large banks go nowhere since you don’t have relevant internships and since your GPA is on the low side (3.4) due to the crazy pre-meds (the ax just wasn’t effective).

The best you can manage is a private wealth management (PWM) internship at a middle-market bank; you also complete two accounting classes.

Year 4: You delay your graduation by a semester to give yourself enough time to finish an accounting minor and, more importantly, to give yourself another go at recruiting.

You network extensively but still can’t crack the bulge brackets due to your still-lower GPA (3.6); you land a summer internship at a healthcare-focused boutique bank.

Year 5: You finish your minor and decide to accept a full-time return offer from the boutique bank, understanding that it’s quite difficult to win a full-time offer at a different, larger bank. You continue to boost your GPA and get it up to a 3.7 by the end.

Commentary: A few things I’ll point out here:

1) Lack of Focus Will Come Back to Haunt You – Yes, pre-med classes are tough, but I would bet that some of this student’s lower GPA was due to so many activities.

2) Take What You Can Get – No, a PWM internship is not ideal for getting into IB, but it’s a hell of a lot better than working in a lab or doing nothing at all. Similarly, it’s often easier to use lateral recruiting to get into a large bank than it is to use accelerated recruiting.

3) Make a Delayed Graduation Serve Many Purposes – Notice how this student used it to complete a minor, win a better internship, and yes, boost his GPA. Yes, low grades may still hurt you even in the future.

Path #3: The Quant

Now let’s say you’re more interested in the trading side, and that your long-term goal is to work at a quant hedge fund.

Year 1: You take a bunch of CS, engineering, math, and finance classes since you’re not exactly sure what you want to do.

You get addicted to day trading midway through the year, and decide that trading might be for you. But you also feel like you’ve just sold your soul, so to gain redemption you volunteer to build orphanages in Belize over the summer.

Year 2: Now you decide you want to focus on programming and automated trading, so you declare a major in computer science and a minor in finance, with an accounting class or two on the side.

You join the stock trading club at school and practice Brazilian jiu-jitsu in your spare time. You do a summer internship at a small prop trading firm.

Year 3: You continue with your major, which takes up most of your time this year. But you have a “borderline” GPA of 3.5, so you investigate options to boost it before you graduate. Despite a lower GPA, you manage to win a bulge-bracket sales & trading internship via an aggressive networking effort.

Year 4: You receive a full-time return offer, but you decide to interview around at prop trading firms and hedge funds. You don’t have much success, so you end up accepting the return offer. And then you use some free time this year to boost your GPA a bit more.

In this case, technically the student did not achieve his goal of working at a quant fund.

However, it’s exceptionally hard to get in right out of undergraduate, and by going to a large bank he has set himself up to do execution trading at such a fund later on.

Actually becoming a quant there would probably require a more advanced degree, so this is the best result for his education level.

How to Pick Your Major: Got Partial Differential Equations?

While the main principles behind major selection haven’t changed that much, bankers’ expectations and the most useful skills have changed.

You need to start earlier, you need to take classes that are more relevant to the job, and you need to earn as high a GPA as you can.

It’s not necessarily the end of the world if you decide on finance late in your degree, but you will need to change your tactics to have a good shot at getting in.

Should you start learning how to solve partial differential equations?

Is it time to start cracking open advanced math textbooks?

Do you need an in-depth class?

Maybe not.

But it wouldn’t hurt to learn the basics.

M&I - Brian

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.

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Comments

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  1. Hi Brian,

    Which would pair best with an Accounting degree?
    1. Finance specialization
    2. Business Analytics specialization
    3. Computer Science minor

    Thanks!

    1. Computer Science minor

  2. Hi,
    I have subscribed for quite some time now and find this page very informative. I wanted to ask that in the event accounting or finance degrees are not available, which one of the following degrees would you recommend to break into investment banking, Economics, Mathematics or Computer Science? Could you also rank them in order of preference. Do take into account that I intend to study in the UK, hence, do not have the opportunity to take classes in unrelated subjects. Thanks in advance!

    1. Math or CS, probably CS these days because it gives you a leg-up for quant roles and a solid Plan B in case finance does not work out.

  3. Hi, Australian here going to a G8 university (equivalent to target schools in the US) doing a double bachelor degree over four years in Business and Information Technology who is starting in 3 months. I was planning on majoring in Accounting in my Business degree and Business Information Systems in my IT degree. The accounting major allows us to take classes such as financial analysis & valuation and corporate finance plus involves a strong focus in financial/management accounting classes in addition to a class on accounting information systems. The BIS major on the other hand involves a strong focus on data analytics and programming (Java, VBA, etc).

    I was just wondering if this dual major/degree would allow me to break into IB/HF/PE industry?

    1. Most people in Australia who get into banking do a combined Law and Commerce degree, so you should probably do the same (https://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/investment-banking-australia-perth-sydney-melbourne/). The biggest issue is that the industry in Australia is very small, and it’s hard to get in even if you’re a top candidate. That’s why many students move to Europe, the U.S., or Asia to work in finance.

  4. Abdullah Dilawar

    Hi, I’m majoring in mathematics with a concentration in Finance. I was torn between a general business minor or a CS minor. I want to break into a quant hedge fund, and CS would obviously be more useful and relevant, but it would be much much more difficult and i would jeopardize my GPA, what route would you recommend taking?

    1. CS doesn’t add much over a math degree, so your current plan is probably fine.

  5. I’m getting a masters in engineering. Just wondering if you think it makes a difference if I do the master in financial mathematics or in computer science if I think I can get better grades comp.sc.

    1. No, just do the course where you can earn higher grades.

  6. Alexandre le Grand

    Hi Brian, thnak you for your article.
    I have an economic background (undergrade in economics) and I am currently enrolled in a postgraduate master of management in finance. The chief investment of the board ask us to get specialized in one the following field prensent in this bloomberg site : http://www.bloomberg.com/research/sectorandindustry/overview/sectorlanding.asp
    Which one would you advise knowing that I do not have a specific background ?
    Thank you for your time.

    1. I don’t think it matters that much, but something broad like Consumer, Industrials, or Healthcare is best if you want to work in a matching IB group. Other options like Energy and Financials will make you more specialized and limit your exit options a bit.

  7. Seo Jin Song

    If you arrive on campus knowing you want to be an investment banker…”you may have some psychological problems”. HAHA

  8. McGill Desaultes finance major / accounting concentration or accounting major/ finance concentration
    Or just accounting major .
    Which one is better for IB in Toronto, Canada

    1. It barely makes a difference. I would say accounting major / finance concentration.

  9. Hi,

    I am a first year student at a liberal arts college. I have recently decided to switch over from the Pre-Med track to economics with a few finance and accounting classes (possibly minoring in finance). My first semester classes were predominantly in the sciences except for statistics. Am I already too late? Also, which path do you recommend for me? Is it still possible to get a summer internship with just intro level knowledge in statistics, calc, economics and finance?

    Thank you!

    1. It’s not too late, but you need to act quickly to get solid internship(s) starting in your second year. Learn on your own, get a book, use the Internet, etc., and cast a wide net (i.e., don’t focus on healthcare-focused banks simply because you were originally pre-med).

  10. Nice article Brian!! Your words are always candid and down to Earth, very appreciated,

    First thing I have in mind, if I plan to do hedge fund for my ultimate career, you say I would need to have heavy accounting. However I wonder that courses such as internal audit and forensic investigation are also crucial to HF as well? Or is it that having financial & managerial accounting would be sufficient?

    1. No, just financial & managerial accounting

  11. Ivy Student

    Hi Brandon,

    I am a rising sophomore at an Ivy League university in NYC, majoring in Political Science and concentrating in Business Management. Truth be told, I am not very good at math, and I find Econ classes to be quite dry. The Business Management concentration includes some financial accounting and corporate finance classes, and maintaining that I self-study myself, will this be satisfactory for recruitment? I am also an international student, so that aspect is a bit worrying in regards to OPT time and whatnot. Unfortunately I am just not as science/math oriented as I would like to be!

    Thank you and great article!

    1. Sure… but remember that you really need good internships these days to have a shot, even at an Ivy League school.

      1. Ivy Student

        Hi Brian!

        Thanks for the quick reply! I’m currently interning in sales & strategy at a global F500 company overseas, and we do have to work with data and excel quite a bit. I’m going to apply to part-time finance internships in the fall, but how can I convince them to hire me when I have no relevant finance background? And what is considered a good sophomore year internship (excluding BBs because these are quite hard to get)?

        Thank you so much!

        1. Please see some of the networking case studies on this site to get ideas… the same stories/reasons always work. The best plan is to work at a small bank or private equity firm during the school year (again, lots of case studies here have readers doing that).

  12. Abhishek

    Hi,

    Great article! I’m attending a Tier-One university in the US and I’m looking to break into IB. Would a major in Statistics with a minor/concentration in Finance be a good option? I can learn the technical part of IB(valuation and modelling) outside of classes from books etc.
    Will recruiters appreciate the statistics major as it shows I have quantitative skills? I currently have no intentions of going to S&T or quantitative analysis but then again, my mind might change a few years down the lane. Is the IB to quant analyst route common?

    Thank you!

    1. M&I - Nicole

      Yes Statistics and Finance demonstrate your quantitative and analytical skills. I don’t think the IB to quant analyst is common, but if you’d like to pursue quant down the line, Statistics would be useful.

      1. Abhishek

        What second major would you recommend with finance between Information Systems, Computer Science and Statistics? I really do need to take another major in either one of the three due to visa issues(being an international student).

  13. Hi, I’m a rising junior transfer student at Emory. I want to do IB in the future, but not sure what major to declare in the coming fall.
    I’m enrolled in college of arts and science so I can pick applied math or math+CS as my major. Which one is better? Or neither of them ideal enough for IB?

    Another option is I defer a year to apply for the goizueta business school. Is is worthwhile to defer a year? Or should I just stick with a math or math+cs major?

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I think both are fine. If you can pick Finance/Accounting as minors/take classes in the field that’d be useful. If you go through campus recruiting, they should understand your school’s majors/courses so as long as you’re taking classes as close to finance/accounting/economics (if they don’t offer them there) as you can this would help. I am not 100% sure if deferring would help; I’d suggest that you speak with alums/more senior students at your school to gain more perspective.

  14. Hi, I’m double majoring in Economics and Music, minoring in Finance. Most of the kids who go to my school get into ibanking by majoring in Econ, minoring in Finance. My question is: does the degree name matter? I’ll graduate with two majors under one degree: Bachelor of Music. This is simply because of logistics, but the required courses for the Econ major and finance minor are the same…the only difference may be some liberal arts requirements. Thanks! Sally

    1. M&I - Nicole

      No, I don’t think it matters too much as long as you have Economics on your resume. I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

      1. Thanks Nicole! And just a followup – do business schools care about degree name either? For if/when I apply for MBA programs later on.
        This is a great website you all run, by the way!

        1. Business schools care somewhat, yes, but they care more about your work/leadership experience, recommendations, essays, etc. Degrees only matter for grouping you into rough categories because they know that (for example) engineering majors tend to be tougher than liberal arts majors, so the average GPA will be lower.

  15. Sodbileg Ganbat

    Hi I am currently a 2nd year student in a university. I am quite interested in pursuing an Investment Banking career path, however, my current major is Business Administration. I was planning to either double major/or get a minor in Finance/Accounting. Which do you think is better suited to supplement my current major in BA?

    Also I was searching for local internship opportunities. Is it more wise to go for a summer analyst position in a banking firm (Wells Fargo etc) or apply for a summer internship in Goldmans Sach, and other reputable businesses that are directly involved in Investment Banking?

    Thank you in advance for your time, and reply.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I’d say majoring in the two subjects help. If you can get into GS, I’d say go for it. That name is more credible than Well Fargo’s name.

  16. Hi Brian,

    I’m a first year undergraduate student studying finance in the UK. Last year I started a maths degree but decided it wasn’t for me. I have low A level grades but high GCSEs. I’m really talented with computers because of my obsession with games. I’m pretty much confused on where I could go but I know I want to be involved in ib or trading.

    1. You should start by participating in spring weeks and eventually getting internships at banks to see what you enjoy and what you don’t… your question is very open-ended so I’m not quite sure what to say other than, “Try as much as you can and pick what sticks.”

  17. Disagree about the GPA requirement – most banks are still looking for 3.5+. I have under a 3.6 and landed many interviews with top IBs. It may be because i’m at a very strong target school but there are definitely a lot of people in the 3.5-3.6 range and some under 3.5 here that get into banking or at the very least get plenty of interview opportunities for IB.

    1. Sure, if you’re at one of the top schools and you have a good resume you can get in with a lower GPA. But this site also covers non-target schools, smaller banks, candidates from non-traditional backgrounds, and so on. And *on average*, GPA requirements generally seem to be going up. As in, I’ve seen a number of emails directly from MDs at well-known firms saying that they are looking for 3.7-3.8 GPAs.

      So point taken, but it would be tougher to win interviews/offers with a 3.5 GPA coming from a school outside the top tier.

  18. Feels like a silly question but you mentioned knowing the three statements on accounting… Which ones are they?

    Also for someone whose going to self teach accounting, what would you recommend?

  19. Can a transfer student with an associate degree break into i-banking. I will be a junior and am looking for schools to apply to. What schools would you recommend and what can I do to position myself as a strong candidate, even though I will already be a junior.

    1. Nicole Lee

      I’d suggest that you look at target schools such as Stern, Columbia, Penn to improve your chances.

  20. Hello, I am a junior majoring in economics who is considering switching to math in order to prepare for quant grad school. However, I’m not sure if that option will work out and I’d like to keep open the option of going into IB and/or consulting if I don’t get into a good grad school or change my mind. By dropping economics and focusing my effort on math and computer science (leaving very little room for business/management classes) am I sacrificing that opportunity? Other factors: my GPA was 3.4 at my previous school, getting 3.7 or 3.8 at my current school, top 50 school but not a target, I have decent work and leadership experience from ROTC and am looking to get some business/finance internship experience within the next year. Thanks.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      No, I don’t think I’d worry about dropping economics especially given your GPA and experience. Math and CS will open you doors so I wouldn’t worry about it!

  21. I am currently in Year 12 in a UK high school, and so will be applying to university next year (i.e. I will be starting university autumn 2017). I think that I would like to study computer science, and hope to attend either Oxford, Cambridge or Imperial College London.

    However you are unable to take minors\unrelated elective classes in UK universities, and so I am asking if studying computer science alone at one of the above universities will put me in a position where I can realistically get a job in IB after university.

    If it is relevant I am studying A-Levels in maths, further maths, economics and computer science, alongside an AS (1/2 an A-Level) in physics. I also achieved very good results in my GCSE exams (exams taken at the end of year 11).

    Thanks for your time.

    1. M&I - Nicole

      CS can potentially help though I’d take on Accounting/Finance as a 2nd major or minor if possible.

  22. Hello M&I, been a subscriber for over a year now !

    I wanna ask if there’s any guideline for students that are from South East Asia ?

    I am from Malaysia and going to complete my SPM (equivalent of O-level) soon in a month .

    Should I follow this path : 2 years of A-levels in local college for Economics, Accounting and Maths then enter a university that offers twinning program to any university from the UK (Min of 5 years required)

    or

    Enter American Degree Transfer Program (ADTP) right away after graduating from high school, so that I will only need to spend 2 years in Malaysia and another 2 years in the US to get my degree (4 years required) .

    or

    Do a foundation in business or accounting in Malaysia. Then enter a local university to major in Accounting. This option does not include going overseas to study.

    Which option do you think work best ? I’m keen to know what are the requirements to be an investment banking analyst in Malaysia? Or preferably in neighboring countries like Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia.

    If I go for Option 1 and 2, do I need to stay back in the US/UK to get a job in investment bank or (forced) come back Malaysia and seek for IB jobs?

    Hope to have your reply soon because I have to make a quick decision real soon !

    Thank you for your time ! :)

    1. M&I - Nicole

      I’d say Options 1 and 2 are best. I believe you will have one-year visa in US with Option 2. Not sure about Option 1. So if you don’t get a visa you may have to go back to Malaysia for IB roles, but I wouldn’t think about this too much. If you want to study/work in UK then I’d go for 1. I’d go for 2 if you want to work in US.

      1. What’s the educational requirement for IB roles in Malaysia ?

        I hope M&I can write an article about IB roles in South East Asia region as the info available online are very limited.

        1. M&I - Nicole

          Thanks for your input – we’ll take that into consideration.

  23. Brian,

    I cold emailed an alum who’s an MD at a top BB (MS/GS/JPM), he responded several days later asking for my resume. After sending my resume to him, he responded with this message “Thank you for the resume. I have passed your resume on to the school team who is in the process of reviewing. Let us come back to you if there is a basis for further discussion.”

    Do you think that this is him simply blowing me off, or do you think this could help/hurt me? I’m afraid I got on his bad side and annoyed him with my email.

    1. He is probably just busy. I don’t think your email annoyed him, and in all likelihood it helped your case. I would just follow-up with him if you haven’t heard anything in a week or so.

  24. Hi Brian,

    That is a posh article, as always, though.
    I am writing to ask for a piece of advice in my situation.
    I have already finished 2 years in the most prestigious uni in Ukraine(math +CS, haven’t started functional analysis yet). However, I am going to start again in Vienna(start with learning German) in order to get more prestigious European bachelor, learn one more language and get out of hazardous situation in our country( because of Russia).
    Considering aforesaid, is it sane to follow such path to get into IB?
    In case your answer to previous question is “yes”, what degree is morr preferable to achieve? (BBA( spec. in finance or accounting), Math, CS, or some doubles, triples majors)?

    Thank you in advance!

    1. Thanks! Yes, potentially I think you can take that path to get into IB, but you will probably need to learn a lot of accounting and finance on your own. I think you are better off with a BBA specializing in accounting, and then maybe do a math or CS minor. I think a double major is unnecessary if you want to go into IB – some basic knowledge is good to have, but you don’t exactly have to write an operating system working as an IB analyst.

      1. Once again, thank you for an advice!

        There is one concern that I gloom about sometimes. As you have written copious amounts of times in your articles, there is a considerable deterioration of the IB job market. I am observing the same in the newspapers(substantial cuts in various banks).
        So there is the question – will be there plenty of job openings in somewhat 5-ish years in IB, or the market will rich the bottom and stay so for a prolonged time?
        And the last thing. Will the tech jobs permeate all realms and leave no or few openings in such fields as IB,PE,VC?

        1. No one can really predict the future, but yes, there will still be a finance industry and job openings in 5 years. A lot of activity will shift to smaller firms, though, as large firms continue to face more regulation and scrutiny. I don’t think the market will stay at its bottom for 5 years, typically recessions last for 1-2 years.

          Tech is more likely to crash than finance. And it will become increasingly important, but it’s not going to wipe out IB/PE/VC jobs as the skill sets are very different and technology cannot make investment decisions in the same way humans can.

  25. As someone who has just switched out of IB mid career into another industry (left as a VP), to be brutally honest if I was hiring undergrads these days I would look at the following:

    1. Engineering medalist; or
    2. Accounting / CS double major

    And trash every other applicant’s submission – these days nothing else matters at junior level except hot excel skills, attention to detail (both those degrees require that more than any other) with some basic coding ability (VBA is garbage mostly but it does have its uses and being able to extend into SAS and Access properly is a bonus).

    It’s the way the world is going at the moment; “soft” skills and writing ability are dead easy to pick up and if you don’t have them that’s fine, the IB machine will chew you up and spit you out – plenty of people are lining up to take your place and the funnel is very tight moving through the upper end.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m not sure I agree that soft skills and writing ability are easy to pick up; my inbox tells a different story (80% of the emails I receive are barely intelligible). But I agree that you don’t necessarily need strong skills in either just to get by for a few years.

  26. Hello

    I am a long time fan of the site. Thanks for all the great information. Please keep up the good work.

    I am a freshman at University under the UK system (3 year degree program). Before I started university I spend 1.7 years as a Client Relationship Officer at a Microfinance Company mainly doing consumer lending and supporting Small Business Lending.

    I was awarded a scholarship to study International Relations (which in itself has micro and macro economics, Statistics for Behavioural Sciences, International Political Economy and International Financial Organizations)

    Because my degree is a special which is the equivalent of a major and minor in the same area of study, my options for a minor excluded economics, finance and accounting. The closest I was able to do is a Minor in Management Studies which contains Financial Accounting, Cost and Management Accounting, and Managerial Accounting. I will also be doing marketing, management of international business and management information systems. My University does not have a finance club but I intend to join an alumini fundraising group as well as broader student leadership group that also does volunteer work.

    My Questions

    1. Given this background, can a Specialist BSc in International Relations and a Minor in Management Studies give me a good chance for IB/PE/HFs?

    2. What are the possibilities for less competitive fields like Corporate Banking, and Wealth and/or Asset Management?

    3. What are the best graduate school options(MBA/Masters in International Business/Masters in International Trade and or Finance?)

    4.What else can I do to improve my chances in the finance industry?

    Sorry for the long post, thanks!

    1. 1. Potentially, yes, especially since interviews/recruiting in the UK tend to be a bit less technical and more fit-focused. But it’s still quite important to learn all you can about accounting on your own.

      2. All those fields will be easier with your background. Still not “easy” necessarily, but easier if you have less of a formal accounting/finance background.

      3. I would say either an MBA at a top-tier school or a Master’s of Finance degree at a school that provides good access to recruiters.

      4. Get the best internships you possibly can. In the UK I’ve seen a lot of students fail to get good internships because they focus too much on activities or because they just want to relax over the summer… don’t do that. You have to start early and get progressively better internships.

      1. Thanks for the prompt response! Will implement.

  27. Great article. I actually remember reading the other article I think right around the time you wrote it. It’s interesting to see how things have changed, but I think it makes more sense now. It was very true to just say “Go to a Top school, study poetry, get a high GPA and go work at a bank.” I also think it’s a good thing that companies are getting away from the golf balls interview questions and asking about substance. I was unaware of the higher GPA expectations though. 3.8 is rough. All you need is 1-2 professors who “don’t believe in giving A’s” to torpedo those GPA hopes instantly.

    Good writing like always by the way. I actually thought the hyperbole on the differential equations was funny. Seems like some commentors took it literally…

    On a side note, one of the best skills that has helped me in back-office FP&A/Project-type finance is doing simple math in my head for rough numbers quicker than I can do stuff in Excel. You had a guest interviewee describe tips for mental math previously and it’s very true. (This probably won’t help during IBD interviews very much though obviously.)

    1. Thanks! Yeah, studying poetry isn’t really a viable option for getting into large banks anymore. I don’t think every single bank wants a 3.8, but many places are looking for generally higher grades now.

      Yeah mental math is definitely an important skill to have. It may not come up in IB interviews, but it’s huge in anything trading-related and many other markets-based roles.

  28. Hi, so following your advice I am actually looking for a summer internship opportunity at a local small PE firm. I am currently a sophomore in college. I found one that does not require previous finance experience. And was wondering if it will ask extremely technical questions like valuation during interview, or if it will be mainly behavioral. Thanks!

    1. I doubt they will ask anything extremely technical – I would expect mostly behavioral questions and maybe some process-oriented ones about how you would find companies, convince them to accept an investment from your firm, and so on. Good luck!

  29. Hi Brian!

    Thanks for the nice piece of writing! I have been following your posts for almost a year. I find them enlightening, useful and fun (although I have some different career plans other than breaking into the investment banking industry).

    Regarding choice of major, as far as I know, students from Mainland China (same as me) studying mathematics, statistics and/or computer science at U.S. or U.K. institutions tend to ace everything (in terms of grades), taking advantage from their solid background in mathematics. Meanwhile, any business related course with a significant amount of discussion and presentation component will become a GPA killer for them/me (of course, such courses build essential soft skills and are very useful). In this case, is it worthwhile to read a minor or second major in business (finance)? (i.e, math, stats & CS with GPA >=3.9 versus math & minor in business with GPA 3.6)

    Just curious.

    Thanks!

    1. It depends on your career goals – for trading/quant/more technical roles I don’t think presentation-based classes are that important. But if your goal is to become an executive at a company, to start your own company, or to advance up through the ranks in IB/PE, yes, I think it’s worth it to take those classes even if you get a slightly lower GPA as a result.

      Also, I think you can do equally well in those classes if you put in the time and effort… it is somewhat of a stereotype that Asians do well in math but not in reading/writing, but I don’t think that has to be true if you spend as much time working on those skills as you do on math/science skills.

  30. Id say finance and accounting knowledge is very much required and other majors wont be that helpful if you are aiming for IBD.
    Accounting has to be more respected , since its the language of Finance.

    But i dont understand the last para
    How to Pick Your Major: Got Partial Differential Equations?

    “While the main principles behind major selection haven’t changed that much, bankers’ expectations and the most useful skills have changed.
    You need to start earlier, you need to take classes that are more relevant to the job, and you need to earn as high a GPA as you can.
    It’s not necessarily the end of the world if you decide on finance late in your degree, but you will need to change your tactics to have a good shot at getting in.
    Should you start learning how to solve partial differential equations?
    Is it time to start cracking open advanced math textbooks?
    Do you need an in-depth class?
    Maybe not.
    But it wouldn’t hurt to learn the basics”

    Differential equations,integration et all wont be useful in IBD , maybe in quantitative finance , so why should i even learn the basics if its going to useless unless its my hobby to learn complex mathematics?

    1. My main point is just that more advanced math skills, including differential equations, may be useful to you at some point in the future even if they do not have an immediate use in investment banking roles.

      And things do change over time as well – one good example of this is option valuation and stock-based compensation. In 2005 no one cared about those in IB roles, but over the past 10 years stock-based compensation has become a huge issue. To value options and calculate the impact of SBC *the right way* you need to use the Black-Scholes model, which means you need to understand the underlying partial differential equation behind it.

      Of course you don’t use this every day, and in banking you won’t use it in real life in most cases – but to really get this type of concept, you need some exposure to more advanced math.

      1. Ok but again those black scholes model option valuation model will be done by somebody in the Quant dept.
        A guy in IBD would just need to understand as to how exercising an option would impact the companies 3 financial statements and also as to how these derivative products generally work and how they affect the statements in general.
        Even the pension fund valuation and technical topics are covered by acturials , an IBD guy need not learn in depth about it as he just needs to know as to how it affects the 3 financial statements as pensions are a material item and would change the valuation in a DCF per se

        Plus you have said in the past an IBD guy just needs to know the basic stuff , like the +,-,x and the / part

        1. Yes, but the point remains: math skills have become more important over time and are likely to become more important in the future. Also, I think eventually bankers will have to do more advanced math due to increased compliance requirements, whatever comes next after Basel III, and so on. And finally, the paragraph at the end, as someone else below pointed out, was a bit of hyperbole on my part intended to link back to the older article on the ideal major.

  31. Hi Brian,
    I am in my senior year of high school in South Australia, next year I will be attending one of the top 8 universities in Australia. I have applied for a double degree of advanced economics and finance and I plan on taking the majority of my electives in accounting. Are these degrees suited to provide me with the knowledge and qualifications to break into IB or should I look into studying other subjects?

    Thanks very much for your time
    Kind regards
    Phillip

    1. Yes, those should be fine. But in Australia, I believe the Commerce + Law combination is the most common degree for getting into investment banking. I don’t know if law is actually useful for the industry, but it seems like most bankers in Australia have that degree for whatever reason.

  32. Divek Krishnan

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for another great article. I am going to a target school (Top 5 US News) and am planning a double major in Economics and Computer Science. I think a CS degree is very valuable in the up and coming job market, which is why I want to do the double major. Would it be a bad decision to got for the second major in Computer Science? I am planning on loading the hard parts of the CS major for senior year, so its impact on GPA would probably be marginal (3.5-3.6 instead of 3.7-3.8). Also, considering that I am doing 2 majors, and one of them is a “hard” one, will banks understand the slightly lower GPA?

    Thanks,
    Divek

    1. I still think double majors are just not a great idea in general because they reduce the time you have for activities, networking, and even school-year internships.

      If you can maintain a good GPA and still have time for those other things, sure, you can do it, but you should probably research the difficulty and time requirements of classes first.

      Bankers would be a bit more forgiving on your GPA if they see a CS major as well, but only up to a certain point (a 3.5-3-6 might be fine, but a 3.0 would still qualify as too low in most cases).

  33. First time commenting on this website, have been reading for some time however. Pretty interesting article, considering for once someone actually gives accounting its fair shake, considering I am a Public Accounting and Finance duel major (I never understood why so many bankers and the finance drones on WSO claim accounting to be useless and then say its essential, seems like glorified accounting to me). So with what you said about a heavy concentration in accounting, are you also saying that compared to 5 years ago IB may look upon the accounting degree with higher regard?

    1. I wouldn’t necessarily say “a higher regard,” but I think you need to have a much better understanding of accounting now compared with 5 years ago.

      And I’ve found that most students struggle with that unless they have had at least several classes in the area.

      So it’s less about bankers’ view of the degree and more about what you need for interviews and recruiting.

      There is some truth to bankers “looking down on” the degree a bit, but you can get around it by picking a major with a different name that still has a lot of accounting classes.

      1. Here is where you bring up a problem that stems at a larger scale. If you apply to a bank with an accounting degree they will think you are an accountant, even though you can answer all the technical questions. So your “fit” will not be so good. If you do a finance/econ major, you may not have the technical skills to begin with, but you are more attractive for “fit”. In my opinion you are better fitting in and learning the technical side on the job (which is fairly simple) than not even getting in because bankers think you belong in KPMG audit….

        1. Yes, that is somewhat true… however I still think there are ways to get the best of both worlds and take a lot of accounting classes, but just complete a degree that has a non-accounting-like name. I don’t really think Economics seems more attractive to most bankers than Accounting… Finance, sure, but if anything Economics is less relevant.

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