by Brian DeChesare Comments (167)

Positioning Yourself for Business School, Part 1: The Financier

business school classIt’s a question on everyone’s minds these days:

“How can I get into the Harvard, Stanford, or Wharton MBA programs?”

“If I don’t get into finance or consulting right now, should I go back to business school instead?”

“How can I stand out from everyone else who’s applying?”

With the markets still in turmoil, more and more people are thinking of heading to business school. Even those who actually have jobs are thinking of going back to school to insulate themselves from layoffs and get a 2-year vacation while they’re at it.

Regardless of your background, though, you’ll face a unique challenge getting into business school and then using it to get into finance:

The criteria to get into business school is different than the criteria to get into finance coming from business school, and the two often contradict each other.

So here’s how you solve that problem…

The False Promise of Re-Branding?

Here’s the paradox that crops up when you apply to business school and then try to leverage it to get into finance:

  1. Top schools like a diverse student body – they don’t want everyone to have done two years of banking followed by two years of private equity. Especially in recent years, these schools have become biased against students with pure finance backgrounds.
  2. Banks and financial firms, on the other hand, don’t care nearly as much about diversity and would love to recruit only students with previous finance experience. Someone with previous experience represents reduced risk, and is more likely to stick around past their first all-nighter creating a pitch book.

In late 2007, recruiters were still trying to convince me that two years of banking followed by two years of private equity was a “guaranteed” ticket into top MBA programs. It’s funny how quickly things can change.

One of the key selling points of MBA programs is a chance to “re-brand” yourself. And when banks desperately need people (see: 2004-2006), they’ll open up to your story of personal transformation from traveling bard to the next Gordon Gekko.

But when they’re not so desperate (now), they start to consider only those who have done finance before.

So this selling point is highly dependent on market conditions and often turns into disappointment for MBA-level applicants without some type of finance experience.

Curious Conclusion

This past recruiting season, I spoke with many talented business school students who had started companies, nonprofits, and had all sorts of other impressive accomplishments. But even with those credentials, each one faced an uphill battle getting interviews and job offers if he or she had not done finance previously.

This brings us to a curious conclusion when looking at both of these points together:

If you’re already in finance, you need to find a way to stand out from the crowd and tell an interesting story if you want to get into business school. And if you’re from a different background, you still need to worry about that – but more importantly, you need to find a way to show banks that you can do the work.

In this article, we’ll address anyone in the first category: anyone from a finance background thinking of business school.

Standing Out From a Finance Background: Got Prestige?

I received an email from a reader the other day asking, “I thought it was basically the prestige of your firm that set you apart in MBA admissions?”

My response: While brand-name recognition matters, admissions committees don’t view you dramatically differently based on where you worked within a specific industry. They’re not going to look at someone and say, “Aha! He worked at Morgan Stanley so he should definitely get in, but that guy only worked at Houlihan Lokey so he is obviously unqualified to join us!”

You do gain an advantage by working somewhere well-known, but keep in mind that people from all sorts of different backgrounds apply to business school – so the “prestige” arguments people often get in on message boards become even more pointless in this context.

After reading thousands of applications, anyone in admissions starts to view most banker types as… pretty much the same.

So basing your entire application on the “prestige” of wherever you worked is a losing proposition, especially these days when tons of laid-off financiers are applying to business school.

The Real Way to Stand Out

Alex from MBA Apply hits the nail on the head with the real way to stand out in admissions:

“Build a life, not a resume.”

This is not a new concept for anyone who’s been reading this site over the past year. Regardless of whether you’re applying for business school, university, or even going through investment banking interviews, your chances of success depend largely on your “story.”

One small problem: if you work full-time in finance, it may be almost impossible to find the time to do anything outside work.

How to Develop an Interesting Story Even If You Have No Time

You don’t need to spend 20-40 hours per week on something to make yourself stand out.

But if you’re in banking or at a large PE firm, you probably don’t even have five hours per week to spend on other activities.

If you’re still thinking about business school and have absolutely no time for outside interests currently (Wait, how are you reading this article then? Hmm…), here’s what I’d recommend:

  1. First, decide if you’re actually interested for the right reasons. If you’re planning to stay in finance for the long-term and you’re already in it, an MBA usually doesn’t make a big difference (exceptions apply). Being “interesting” therefore matters far less.
  2. If you are interest is sincere, reduce your work commitment by moving into a different firm, group, or industry. A word of caution: in most cases the only move that “guarantees” a better schedule is leaving finance and moving into “industry” in a business development or corporate finance role.
  3. Once you have the time, develop some of those forgotten interests and hobbies… or find new ones. Even something that only takes up a few hours per week can be spun into a good story on your applications.

Before exiting or entering different industries, you really need to weigh why you want to go to business school in the first place. My own personal view is that the “2-year vacation” plan is a bit silly given the expense, opportunity cost, and the fact that you’ll actually be quite busy (programs have become more rigorous).

That’s especially true these days, when everyone has the exact same plan and admissions are more competitive than ever before – you need better motivation than just wanting to take a break.

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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  1. Hi Brian,

    I’m a second year associate at an European bank in HK. I went to a top 30 US university (not IVY league and not famous in Asia) and jumped right into IB after graduation. The pay is great so far. But I come to a stage that I’m so tired of the work (hate everything I do so dump a lot on analyst). PE has zero attraction to me because I hate excel now.. I wish to start a “true career” of my own (a business maybe) but have zero idea, resource, network, experience, etc. Does an MBA degree sound right to my situation? Any better suggestion?

    Main reason keeping my from just quitting is the pay. IB is like marriage. Half want in and half want out.

    1. I don’t think an MBA is the best option if you want to start a business. An MBA is appropriate if you want to change careers and get another normal job. You might be able to launch a business from that experience eventually.

  2. Hi Brian, I would really appreciate your advice. I graduated in Dec 2018 (Dual major in Acct & Finc) and got a job as a corporate accountant at a boutique RE investment mgmt company. With a lot of luck I was able to lateral into an analyst role and got exposure on a few large commercial RE deals. Long story short I decided to leave the company (for concern over solvency issues) and failed to get any buy-side or IB offers. Timing and immigration status (I’m an international student) both played a big hand in this. I’ve now been working in corporate finance for a F500 telecom company for about 6 months but I yearn to be back in a deal-centric finance setting. I’m thinking of getting an MBA to break into IB. Considering both my professional background, and international status, do you think this is a good/realistic idea? Thank you for you advice!

    1. If you can get into a top program, yes. Otherwise, getting into IB will be difficult because your previous experience might look too “random.”

  3. Avatar
    The inquisitor

    Hi Brian, I played D1 college tennis at a non-target school and double majored in finance and entrepreneurship. My cumulative GPA was around 3.3 but my finance and entrepreneurship GPAs were both 4.0. Since I’m a foreigner, I wasn’t able to get a job in the US so I had to go back to my country which is in emerging markets. Currently working at an IB division of the biggest bank in my country which is listed on the LSE so it does have a bit of a “prestige”. I’m thinking to either stay at a bank or move into the PE firm until MBA. I really want to come back to the states and work in NYC which has been my dream. My strategy is to get into top MBA school and then leverage that to get a job in IB or PE. My question is that based on my experience do you think I stand out for the top MBA schools? Given that I played tennis professionally and I come from a different background with a solid finance experience.

    1. Yes, I think you would probably have a shot at the top MBA programs. But I’m not sure why you’d want to move to NYC, given that the city is collapsing and the US is turning into an uncivilized barbarian world.

  4. Brian,
    How much of a role does your bank actively play in MBA admissions. Of course a top tier bank on a resume would help, but does the bank or alumni there actively help you out? Even if there’s a good chance you wouldn’t be coming back?

    1. It helps, but your experience, activities, essays, etc. matter more than the specific bank you worked at. So many people from banking go to MBA programs that alumni may not always be responsive or helpful.

  5. Avatar
    Miss Jersey

    Does a degree in analytics hold any weight? I’ve a B.A. in Psychology and M.S. in Leadership already.

  6. Hi M&I,

    I’m from non-target school with a finance major, but I get into PWM/Investment management in a BB, is it still worth to break into IBD/S&T by going to Business school to leverage? I feel that it’s hard to transition between departments even in BB.

    1. Are you asking if you should go to business school just to get into IBD or S&T? If so, the answer is “Only if you’re 100% committed and can see yourself doing nothing else.” Otherwise, the expense in terms of time and money is too high.

  7. Hi M&I

    So i’ve worked for 2 and a half years in an engineering consulting firm but i really want to do an MBA now but my company aren’t so willing to pay for it, as it’s not a common career path for young engineers. My current thoughts are to move in IB or PE or VC to be able to get a clear path where i can hopefully get the company to pay for the MBA. Is this a realistic plan?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I’d move to a company like Bain/McKinsey as they are more likely to pay for an MBA. PEs, VCs, IBs usually don’t pay for MBAs, unless they really like you and see that you need an MBA to progress. Even then you’ll have to work for them after the MBA for a period if they paid for it.

  8. You mentioned houlihan lokey in the article. Isn’t that a really top-notch boutique bank however?

  9. Hi M&I! I recently finished my 2 year analyst program in IB and currently working at a long / short equity hedge fund. I’m still not sure whether I want to pursue an MBA, but was wondering about MBA admissions for HF applicants? My understanding is that MBAs don’t really look at HF candidates as much (and pay more attention to “deal-making” industries like IB, PE and VC). Is this true? I know there is a selection bias as people in HFs tend to not apply to MBAs to begin with.

    1. Yes, that’s probably true. I think MBA admissions would probably group you together with bankers since you’re both in “finance,” so you would need to differentiate against them somehow, such as with more activities/leadership roles.

  10. I had a trading internship with Standard Chartered when I was doing my degree but after graduation I mis-stepped into big4 audit for some reasons as I was being attracted to this field. Now after 2 years I am desperate to move out but find it very hard to justify why I wish to go back into financial markets jobs. Since now I am so close to get my accounting certification I might just stay to get it. I will be doing a MSc Finance from London School of Economics on a part-time basis starting next month. Do you think I stand a chance of moving back into financial markets jobs such as trading/structuring/sales? How best should I position myself given my background?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes, MSc in Finance can help with trading/sales/structuring roles. I’d talk about your experience and passion in trading, and how you think your accounting experience can actually help your future career aspirations

      1. Thank you Nicole

  11. Would love to hear your opinion on applying to 2+2 after coming from a business background.

    I’m at Brown University studying Economics and Political Science (dinged for Econ of course). I will be working in IB at Goldman (another ding), and my major leadership is starting an Intercollegiate Finance Journal (another ding). I have other leadership as well (I was on the Exec board of student government, I’m on the Board of Trustees at Hillel, and I’ve worked with the Brown Board of Trustees extensively to increase student involvement with governing issues).

    My main question is – should I be up front about my business-y background, or should I try to focus on my political science/university Governance experiences?


  12. H, thanks for all the information. Just have a few questions. I am a postdoc with a phd in biochemistry. I worked in a biotech company for a few years prior to going back into academia. I am considering making a “career change” into equity research in finance because of my literary research experience. I am also open to getting an mba. Do you think an mba will help me break into the industry with no previous background in finance? I will be 39 by the time I am finished with my mba. My second choice is to go into business development at pharma/biotech.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I’d probably go with the business development role. While an MBA can be potentially useful, the cost of it is high, especially when you’re going to be older than most graduates when you leave. I may use the time and money to look for a role business/finance related at a biotech firm and then move to finance

      1. Thanks M & I for the advice and the overall post! I kind of figured that going into business development whereby I help a company be successful, acquire new opportunities and also ensure good quality products are produced suites me better. Thanks again for the help!

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          You’re welcome!

  13. Heyy M&I,

    I completed engineering from one of the top universities in Asia and I’ll soon be joining a graduate program for Markets (Trading) at a universal bank in Hong Kong (The bank although has it’s headquarters in London is extremely strong in Asia).

    My engineering gpa is 3.7/4.0. I’d like to go to business school few years down the line. Please help me with the following:

    1. How many years of work-ex is good enough? Given that I’ll mostly be spending my initial years on trading with not much of admin/managerial work.

    2. Unlike IBD, I won’t have to go to work in the weekends, what do you suggest that I do to build my profile to MBA? I was thinking of volunteering, but would you have any suggestions regarding the organisations I could work with.

    3. Will a CFA add any value to my application?

    4. Please let me know if there’s anything else I could do or that I should keep in my mind while I build my story/profile for MBA.


    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      1. I’d say 2-3 years of work experience
      2. Do volunteer work and gain responsibility on that front i.e. hold a position in a charity organization
      3. Not really unless you want to break into the buy-side
      4. We’d suggest you to visit ; we’re specialized in IB recruiting on this website

  14. Hey M&I,

    If you were a finance major at Wharton (for undergrad), and wanted to do two years of IB then move into PE/HF, would you ever need an MBA?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      You don’t need it, but it can be helpful

  15. Hi M&I,

    I just graduated with an engineering degree from Asia and will be starting work at JPM as an Analyst. I gave the GMAT and scored a 720. To be able to get into a top B-school after a couple of years, what activities do you suggest I undertake along with the job?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Volunteer work… :) Ideally on a board of a charity organization. Many people who get accepted to HBS do that to get in. Just saying.

  16. Hello Nicole,

    Here’s something that I have been struggling with lately.

    I recently broken into a MM/boutique bank after spending several years in Big 4 TAS Group in Hong Kong. So far the deal flow has been slow. And I have been thinking about going back to business school lately.

    My question is, if my ultimate goal is to go into private equity or corporate development back in Asia. Would the network and branding of a 2-year MBA from a Top 15 business school in the US help my profile much?



    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I’d say a top 5 would help you a lot more than a top 15

      1. Thanks Nicole. So in your opinion, I should probably be recruiting for PE positions and applying to a top 5 school simultaneously and see what works out at the end.

        1. Yes, that would be a good approach.

  17. Question for you Brian/Nicole:

    I recently started Big 4 and I’m a remorseful auditor. Your articles have been so insightful and I am going to try to transfer to the TS branch in my firm, so I can avoid the “accountant” label as I want to get into finance positions (IB, valuation, etc).

    I will try to do this without an MBA but I think I may want to do a top tier MBA to really open up finance career prospects.

    My question to you is: I graduated with a double major in accounting & political science, do you think having two degrees will be advantageous with MBA admissions (obviously along with a competitive GMAT score)?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes it can be. However, I think your overall application (i.e. essay, resume, recommendations) is most important

  18. Hello M&I,

    You guys mentioned that one should network before attending MBA schools. I am wondering – would networking also works when it comes to getting offers at top MBA programs? (E.g: network with alumni who attended those business schools)

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes, I believe so, especially if you want to gain an insight into what the program is about and build a network of contacts for future job search purposes!

  19. Avatar
    King Kong


    I am actually really regretting what I did last semester. I interned during the summer at a top BB ST program, but there was problem of headcount so they let most of the class go. I got an offer from Big 4 advisory fairly early and stop my recruiting efforts right after. Do you think this is a great option after college or that I could have gotten in better places with my background?

    How likely is it to get into m7 MBA after 3 years of working here?

    Thanks a lot,

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      I think working in a big4 will give you solid accounting skills and overview of how business works. This is a good option for many after college, and it will give you a solid foundation to get into a top tier MBA program (provided that you have a strong application with strong essays etc). In terms of breaking into IB, check out

      1. Avatar
        King Kong

        Hi Nicole,

        This is not for accounting, but for advisory/management/strategy consulting – so it is quite comparable to Strategy operations arm of Deloitte. I never knew Big 4 has consulting before.
        However, my question was do you think I should have tried harder last semester leveraging my background from a BB internship rather than settling down this consulting arm in Big 4

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          This may be an interesting role, though not necessarily relevant to IB. Maybe, but then there’s no point in looking back. You can focus on the present and what you can do now and get back into IB. What you can do now is network immensely and meet as many bankers as you can. Otherwise, perhaps you can transfer internally within the big4 to TAS. Or you can transition to strategy roles in banks after working at Deloitte – they have such roles, though limited.

  20. Hi,
    I am a senior in college and will be working in consulting after graduation in NYC. This year, I am only taking 3 classes per semester since I got all the extra credits from 13 APs I took in high school. Would this be a bad thing for MBA application in the future? Should I take the normal work load of 4 classes instead?
    Moreover, could you tell me how important a factor is college transcript in applying for MBA?

    1. It doesn’t really matter, they mostly just care about major and overall GPA.

      1. Hi, My overall GPA is not too high since I failed one class due to family situation that made me missed midterm exams. However, my major GPA is quite high. Would this be a bad thing on my application?

        1. Depends on what you mean by “not too high.” I think the average at most top schools is around 3.6. But GPA matters less than work experience, recommendations, and GMAT scores.

          1. So as long as my overall GPA is around 3.6, it doesn’t matter that I failed one of my class? Moreover, how important are essays in this process?

          2. Essays are super-important. Failing a class may matter somewhat but overall for b-school, work exp, recs, and essays matter a lot more – see the other related articles on the site.

  21. Dear M&I,

    What are your thoughts on going to Business School as an Associate? (e.g. after having worked in IB for 3 years as an Analyst and another 2-3 years as an Associate) In particular:

    1. Do you have a higher chance of getting into a top MBA program – say, compared to those applying as analysts?

    2. Does it work in your favor with MBA Campus Recruiting, say for Consulting and Business Development/F500 roles? Or will they see you as overqualified?

    3. Does it make sense to do an MBA at this stage, assuming you want to leave Banking and haven’t found any other exit opps from the bank?

    Looking forward to your answers,


    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      1 + 2. This depends on your application & how you interview
      3. If you want to experience what an MBA offers, sure

  22. Hi Brian,

    I am from a semi-target school and worked in big four corporate finance (in China) for two years. I tried to network in China but wasn’t really successful getting myself into banking. Will you recommend me to apply for a top MBA program if I want to break into investment banking after graduation?


    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes a top MBA program will help.

      1. how much it will help? do you think investment banking value start-up experience?

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          Boutique banks – maybe. Most don’t I think unless you are looking at banks working with startups (perhaps tech IBs)

          1. Thanks Nicole! Then do u think it is helpful to have startup experience for applying a top MBA program? I assume it shows some leadership

  23. Hi Brian, w.r.t. the section in the article copied below, can you talk a little to the exceptions? Specifically, is it something you require to move from product to coverage roles at senior levels?

    1.First, decide if you’re actually interested for the right reasons. If you’re planning to stay in finance for the long-term and you’re already in it, an MBA usually doesn’t make a big difference (exceptions apply). Being “interesting” therefore matters far less.

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes – if you are in PE, pedigree (MBA from target school) matters
      If you don’t already have experience in IB/been laid off/rocky career, an MBA from a target school may help you rebrand yourself
      Yes because once you’re in IB, being interesting matters less if you can produce results, which is what interviewers care about

  24. Hello, I just read your reasons for not applying for an MBA. But what if, like myself, you can’t get any positions in investment banking, because nobody recruits in your college, but you can apply for one of the top masters in management (CEMS) and get a double degree in both management and finance. Would that do any good for my chances?

    Thanks in advance

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Getting into a target MBA program will help you immensely

  25. Dear Brian,
    Would you clarify me this: why is so important to get into the finance industry an MBA that’s about company management? I mean why the banks and investment banking firms do not look for people with Master In Finance for example?

    thank you very much!

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Some banks/funds do look for people w Masters in Finance, but they usually find these people for quant related roles. I think an MBA from a target school gives you stronger credibility and network. In terms of the curriculum, an MBA gives you the basics/knowledge to understand how to operate, run, manage and build a company; this knowledge is very important for PE roles, or roles (i.e. IB senior roles) which require you to deal w m’gmt on day-to-day basis.

      1. thank you very much! :-)

  26. Avatar
    Tushar Dogra

    Hi, great post and stuff on MBA. I would like to know that if you do MBA straight out of undergraduate college then what kind of job do you usually get in finance industry?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      It depends on what you interview for and your skills – I can’t say

  27. Does the job location play a big role for IB applicants? I mean : all other things being equal, is it better (for B-school) to be a banker in London, a major finance hub, rather than in Paris, a city that is not particularly related to finance ?

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes because location = more opportunities to network = being able to get your face in front of bankers = higher probabilities of being interviewed and understanding the industry

      1. Thank you. I’m also wondering: in terms of b-school positioning (HBS/Sloan/Columbia), which offer is better:
        – HSBC M&A London (given that HSBC is ranked 11 in the UK, and that London is a major financial center)
        – JPMorgan M&A Paris (given that JPMorgan is ranked 11 in France, and that the Paris office is small)

        Also, do business school applicants working in M&A have some advantage over applicants from ECM or DCM?

        Also, do business school applicants working in M&A have any advantage over applicants working in ECM or DCM?

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          JPM has a stronger name in the States



          I think it depends on your overall presentation

  28. An awesome post!!

    Preparing for GMAT right now, I already have one year financial working experience in PE fund.

    Would you recommend me to take another field that unrelated to finance since business schools view applicants from nowhere? How about a finance apartment of blue-chip company?

    And, my GPA is between 3.0 and 3.5, a quite low score I know. To revamp, a higher GMAT score and solid experience must be perfect. That’s the reason why I have to consider more deliberately.

    Thanks in advance for the help

    Best regards

    1. Avatar
      M&I - Nicole

      Yes, it works. Or you can try non-profit. I think your essays matter lots

  29. I am currently attending a Top 50 business school with a high GMAT average (680). My GMAT was only 570, bc I rushed my preparation to get a score in the books because I decided to apply to school last minute. Will my poor score affect me during interviews and do I need to plan to retake it?

    1. Yes I would just study for the exam again and get a better score – that’s all you can do.

      1. Do they ask you directly what your score is during interviews?

  30. This question is for my mom, who is roughly 40 and recently completed an MBA from a pretty good business school (think USC/UCLA) (had to stay in this area). She was never in finance and I assume (or she does) that it’s too late to get into that, but she would like to find a job that pays at least 100K. She’s very smart (scored 780 on her GMAT despite being a nonnative speaker from Asia, although her english is as good as any with only a slight accent, IQ 130-140, very good with math as well as people). I’m just concerned for her because she quit her old job, went through the grueling condensed MBA program, did well, all while raising me, and still runs the risk of not having it pay off and in fact having it be detrimental. She came from the aerospace industry and was in sales.

    Is the finance industry unrealistic for her at this age and what other possibilities exist for her that provide ample pay in the 100k range?

    1. Too experienced for investment banking. Better to go into asset management or trading or something else where they don’t care about age, only results.

  31. Hi there, I recently graduated from a non-target school and started working at a large insurance company for their commercial mortgage divison doing portfolio management and some credit analysis. If I wanted to go back to b-school, what kind of activities are you referring to, in terms of setting myself apart?

    1. Anything outside of finance/business, sports, travel, music, art. etc.

  32. Avatar
    Liam Densmore

    I will be attending the University of Oregon this fall and I was wondering if a double major in Finance and Computer Science would be good. I would eventually like to start my own tech business and I don’t think a degree in Finance would be very helpful by itself.

    1. If you want to do finance then no, just do the finance degree. Will be a lot of work so consider it carefully.

  33. Hey M&I. Great stuff as usual. I’m interning at a BB this summer in IBD. I don’t go to a target school, but my GPA is 3.8, I was able to get some finance experience on my resume, and networked like hell to get in. Will having only a non-target school with no real alumni connections hurt my chances of getting promoted up and/ or moving to a good PE shop? If I think I could stay on in IBD as an associate, is the opportunity cost of going for an MBA (plus time spent studying for the GMAT) worth it for the brand name and networking I would get if I got into HBS or Wharton?

    1. To some extent it will hurt you, more so on the PE side, because they are usually looking for people who have gone to similar schools. If you can advance to associate within IB it’s not worth it to do an MBA.

  34. I’m a second year law student at top 6 law school (think Columbia, Chicago, NYU) accepted into their JD/MBA program (all have Top 10 MBA’s), which would take an extra year. I’m interested in moving into finance and had 2 questions.

    1) Would I have a better chance of breaking into banking by going through the JD/MBA and recruiting for Associate positions through MBA recruiting or by finishing just the JD and working in corporate/securities law for a few years and trying to transfer over later?

    2) I’m not completely satisfied with the ‘level’ of my business school compared to the ‘level’ of my law school (you can probably figure out which school I’m in..) and how that might play out with career opportunities post-banking if I get in and move on. Do you know much about MBA admissions for practicing lawyers? Is it possible to get into an HWS, or at least an M7, with that kind of legal background (and a 3.5ish GPA, 720ish GMAT, top-15 undergrad)?

    1. Critical point I forgot to add: I have only one year of somewhat interesting, but non-traditional, non-finance work experience. One of my main concerns with doing the JD/MBA and banking recruiting is how much my lack of work experience might hurt me.

    2. 1) MBA –> Associate recruiting

      2) I’m not sure about that but for MBA it is more dependent on your activities and so on rather than GPA and test scores.. so it really depends on what you’ve done there.

      The biggest issue for you is that you lack work experience – if it’s only 1 year you will probably have to do corporate/securities law and then transition over from there.

      1. So are you saying that even if I do the JD/MBA, my lack of work experience is going to hurt and keep me from getting into a bank? I’m trying to reconcile your last paragraph with your answer to my first question, where you seem to recommend doing the MBA and going straight for a banking Associate position.

        If it’s the case that my lack of work experience is going to hurt and keep me from getting a job in banking, then it sounds like doing the MBA won’t really add any more opportunities, unless you think having the MBA would make it easier to transition into banking after a few years in corporate law.

        1. Ok if you only have 1 year of work experience you have no chance at the MBA –> Associate route. I did not see that addition before because of the way comments are displayed internally to me.

          So I don’t know why you’d bother with that, it sounds like the JD –> corporate law route is better for you as you have a higher chance of getting in after working for a few years there. If you have the experience an MBA is more direct but since you don’t the JD and corp law route is better.

  35. 10 years work experience in Investment Mgmt., doing analytical (number crunching) work, not pure Finance (modeling etc) but producing the framework to make financial decisions. Can’t complain, the $ is great (similar base as Investment Analysts here, lower bonus, and not prestigious front office) and the hours are normal, but the work has become easy and uninteresting. Will an MBA (Toronto-where I am) allow a change to a more challenging area, Corp. Finance/ IB, P/E (eventually). Or am i better off trying to transition to the top of the investment mgmt.(not my preference) front office instead? Would I be considered as someone with pre-MBA finance experience or without? Will I simply be ignored because of my age and waste a 100K+opp. costs? Cheers.

    1. From what I’ve been reading (Great stuff btw, thanks!), the MBA is the best option, even at an accelerated age. Now, what would you recommend I do pre-MBA? Currently adding a second language, obviously studying for the GMAT, Network for sure, but also considering taking some Financial Modeling courses (thoughts?). Should I push forward the MBA until I can also land a pre-MBA internship? Already 36, so 2-3 years pre-MBA will graduate 40’ish.


      1. Um if you really want to do IB then yes the MBA might be best, I would just try to get some interesting experience outside of work and/or leadership activities because that’s what will set you apart in MBA admissions

    2. Better off going to the front office in investment management and then maybe trying to get into a HF from there if you have the CFA / connections at hedge funds

      1. Thanks. Did take a couple years off to travel and work on some business ideas/consulting in S. America, hopefully that would constitute something interesting. But your second comment makes more sense, would you recommend CFA + practical Financial modelling courses to help move towards HF (sorry HF is a bit off topic)?
        From reading my own comments, sounds like I don’t REALLY want IB – or I would have tried earlier, at least I know, cheers for that!

        1. I’d almost prefer to do some Financial Modeling Courses (practical), then an MBA (theory,networking) and leave the CFA for later if required, seems I could find a better use of my time? But will that best prepare me for a front office/HF position? Sorry, going further off topic, will have to find another forum. thanks.

        2. Yes but networking is way more important than either of those even though CFA is arguably helpful for hedge funds. So I would make sure you get out of the study room and spend most of your time talking to people rather than focusing on studying to get in.

          1. Thanks, much appreciated!

            My plan: Network, Financial Modeling in-class/online + GMAT(MBA) – CFA after, what do you think (anyone else, please feel free to jump in)?
            I should have stated earlier, I do have a 4 yr undergrad commerce degree with a major in Finance and minor in Economics, if that makes any difference.

  36. Hi, I would like to know what kind of work experience is better to seek an acceptance into a top MBA program. I have been hired by a big company as a financial advisor but am wondering if this will not be looked as significant work experience for an MBA. I would like to have your opinion on the matter.

    1. That’s fine experience. Most would say that IB and management consulting are the most “prestigious” for business school but the truth is they take people from all different types of backgrounds and don’t “rank” people per se.

  37. Hi,

    I was a little surprised to find that the ‘Exit Opportunities’ seem to encompass such few areas ( PE/ Hedge fund/ business school). Was I being lied to when I was told that analysts do ‘all sorts of things’ after two years ? Is an PhD in Economics / Business degree followed by work in public policy / government / international development completely unattainable/ridiculous ? How should I plan to do something completely different after 2 years ?

    Thanks !

    1. There are other options, but most people value money and prestige far more than doing interesting things with their lives, so that’s why most end up in PE/HF or business school. You can do anything you mentioned there and it may be even easier since there’s less competition – it’s just that most people want money more than those goals.

  38. Hi, great website and incredibly helpful! I have a quick question – I’ve done 2 years in IB in a BB firm and about to move to a PE fund but it’s a very small unknown firm that does direct and secondaries investments. It’s better hours and I’m thinking it will give me an opportunity to develop my “story” for an MBA later on. However I’m concerned that moving to a small unknown PE fund could be seen as a step down and would diminish my chances for an MBA or for a move to a larger more established PE fund later on. Do you think it would make a significant impact or is it fine as long as you can justify it? Thanks very much for your help!

    1. I don’t think it will hurt you much since you already have the BB name.

  39. Hey there!

    Have been following you site for over 2 years now, congrats for that. I’m Brazilian, have spent one year as analyst at a M&A boutique here, 1 year as Associate at a Corporate Finance boutique in Shanghai & now I’m back to Brazil, working as Associate in another Corporate Finance boutique.

    My question is: do you think an MBA could be usefull to rebrand myself, helping me to move from boutiques to bulge braquets banks as Associate?

    Tks a lot!

    1. Maybe… not as helpful for someone with a non-finance background though. It would be more helpful if you wanted to leave Brazil and work elsewhere and went to a top MBA program in another country.

      1. This is part of the idea too, to have some more international experience for a while, especialy in Asia.

        Any other thought on how to move from small boutiques to bulge banks?

        Tks for your help!

        1. It’s basically alumni / co-worker networking or business school – also consider headhunters if you have some banking experience.

          1. Alright, I’ll keep it here cause think we can get some insights, alright?

            My whole idea is to exapt ASAP. Shanghai was amazing, and I want to feel it again… When looking at headhunters’ websites abroad they’re always talking about “bulge braket experience” for most of the positions, and that’s what worries me more. As I had no experience at Bulge Brakets so far, MBA sounded as a great deal to rebrand – either working for a global IB, a PE/VC position or even M&A at MNCs.

            So the main decision now is which MBAs apply to. when we talk about keeping an International career, do you think we should be more traditional about it? I’m afraid about choosing an Asian MBA which is famous now, and get a big deception in 3 years from now.

            Can you pls give me some insight about what could we understand about “target schools”, in a more global level?

            Tks a lot again!

          2. Do not do an Asian MBA – they are way less respected than top US or even European programs. I would say go for top US business schools (Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, etc.) or the top few European ones like INSEAD.

  40. what about alternative investments? don’t u think it is kinda boring…seems like all u do is just interview fund managers, gather info, track performance, etc..

    seeems like if u get laid off from alternative investments, ur screwed cuz its not as marketable as like ibd

    1. I don’t know much about it to be honest. I would agree with you that it’s more risky than IBD in terms of layoffs and also less interesting than “real” buy-side roles if you just invest in funds rather than companies.

  41. Why is it uncommon to see people going back to b-school to break into something like sales, prime brokerage, trading, or alt investments

    ppl do do it, but it is rare…how come?

    1. Because business school costs $120K and then you have the opportunity cost of 2 years of work, which might be over $200K. If you spend that much money on something, you want a good ROI – while the other fields you mention can pay decently, they will not pay as much as IB / PE / HFs. Sales and trading also doesn’t recruit much from MBA programs because you don’t need the degree at all.

  42. Do you think that being a varsity athlete in undergrad would significantly differentiate someone from the thousands of investment bankers appling to b-school?

    1. Honestly, no, not really – many bankers were former athletes. It can help if you’ve kept doing sports on the side afterward though.

  43. Hey,
    I have a question (who would of thought…)
    In continental europe (i know not ur speciality but still) it is very common to do a masters degree (either in management / finance / and so on) after the bachelors degree and before working.
    My question is: do you think a master of science (in finance) / master of finance …. would increase or decrease my chances of getting into a top mba program after a few years of work experience.
    Would you rather do bachelor, then master, then work (and then mba)
    or bachelor, then work (and then mba)?
    Or would people just think Im stupid cause i essentially did 2 master degrees (master of finance & mba)?

    1. I don’t think it matters either way – people understand that a normal Master’s degree is different from an MBA. Either order is fine, I don’t think it significantly affects your chances.

  44. How do you define a target school? When BBs go to my school and conduct career presentations, does it mean that my school is a target school? Sorry if this makes a dumb question..

    1. Yes, that sounds right. If banks actively recruit there it is a “target school.”

      1. BBs usually conduct career presentations and recruit from my school, but they recruit more for the middle and back office positions, such as equity research, technology, finance, etc.

        I heard that they recruit very few students for the IB positions, because BBs get applicants from the top 5 in US as well (my school is in Singapore).

        Is it really a target school? Because I feel that my chances of getting into IB there is really small, judging from the stories..

  45. Avatar
    Jonathan Cage

    M&I, the “stand out in business” link is broken.

    Could you repost? Would love to see the article.

    Johnny Cage

    1. I just looked on his site but it looks like he permanently removed the article for some reason – so there’s no easy way to get it back.

  46. Firstly, let me thank you again for answering my questions and I do understand that Analyst will do the reading of resumes and classify them as those with banking and finance experience has one pile and non-finance banking experience is another pile. The interview by in large go to those with Experience in banking and Finance. I got it! However, you contradict yourself in the last thread. You actually do this in a previous thread as well and I am not looking for anything but straight answers and again please understand I appreciate you taking the time. However, I asked will a top business school aid me in getting interview and you say yes it will help more even ( I guess that “more” is slightly less than incremental) with the explanation of my work experience in tow and then at the very end of the same thread you say that attending a will not make much difference in my case. Huh??? It either does or it doesn’t, Believe me I fully understand that I would be aided by knowing someone who is a senior level executive if I want to improve my chances, got it or I may slip in or by as a charity case as one in a million shot, I Got that too! If I want a IB opportunity I should find a boutique that has an aviation focus I got that too! Just make it plain is all I am asking now I would like to continue building my resume experience and to even purchase you excellent well reviewed course on financial modeling if it can help!

    1. There are thousands of comments on here, and everyone’s situation is different. I don’t cross-check every single comment.

      BASICALLY, if you are under 30 then a top business school will help you vs. a non-top school because banks only recruit at top schools.

      But at 40+ it is very, very difficult to transition into finance because banks like people with 5-10 years of experience – or less – more.

      So yes, going to a top school will give you more opportunities but for someone with your background it would still not make a huge difference.

      If you have more detailed questions, email may be better – comments are really more for quick questions and answers related to the article.

      1. You are Gem thank you!!!

      2. Hi, would banks recruit a 32 years old female with 5 years experience (finance-related) for an associate level post MBA or is that too old? Do they look both age and experience?
        I’m just turning 30 this fall and I am wondering if an MBA would be a good idea to get a finance job in New York. I work in a research role (FIG focused) in the central bank of an emerging market country in Eastern Europe, and I have worked one year in a boutique investment bank in the same country and 1 year as a research associate in an asset manager in New York. So I would have 2 years experience in finance and investment banking, and 3 years in the central bank/research on banks. If I do an MBA now can I apply for associate positions when I graduate?! The reason I will be 31 and have only 5 years of experience is because I did a master’s of applied economics (in NYU but had to leave New York to fulfill a Fulbright condition).

        1. Avatar
          M&I - Nicole

          Yes I believe you can still apply for associate roles after your MBA. You may be slightly older than other incoming Associates but I think you can still potentially make that cut if you present yourself well enough. This only applies if you get into a target, top MBA though.

  47. I am really passionate about pursuing a career in Investment Banking, I have read a plethora of books and movies on the subject and at present I major in Finance and Economics, please tell me if I am in correct with my analogies that more is better in the heat of competition. I plan to pursue a MA in Math Statistics as well as an MBA in Finance. The Asian population is heavily Quantitative based in their academic accomplishments is it smart to load up your educational guns and put them on rapid fire with an MA in Math an MBA in finance and maybe pursuing the CFA as a backup, plus I am forty and I worked as an air traffic controller for 15 years does my age weigh against me but is nullified if I have impressive academic credential.

    1. I’m not sure I understand your question(s), but it’s quite tough to break into the field with 15 years of experience in another industry. If you want to do that your best shot would be to go to a boutique focused on aerospace or something similar where you can leverage your background.

      1. I didnt quite understand your answer,allo me to elucidate. I am switching careers at the age of 40. I am very interested in a career in IB. I am currently pursuing a double major (BA) in Finance and Economics my GPA is 3.1; as I am a former airtraffic controller and currently working at a Major trucking comapny as a pricing analyst in the finance department. I am interested in further pursuing an MA in Math Statistics and an MBA in Finance. Are you saying that I am limited to only boutique firms because of my experiences and age? What are my likely career options as an Invetsment Banker? My second choice would be Sales and Trading and Asset Management and Research would be third. I appreciate your assistance as you appear to be well informed.

        1. There is a huge age bias in the field, because they expect you to work 80-100 hour weeks initially and assume that only undergraduates/MBAs just out of school can do that.

          I won’t say it’s impossible to get in with your age/experience, but I think you would have better luck in the other fields you mentioned.

          Usually you stand a better shot at getting into banking with a lot of work experience if you have senior-level relationships at companies and can pitch yourself as someone who can bring in business.

        2. Thanks you for your conscise but well thought answer, however if I am still determined to take a long shot and I am at the opposite end of the court and about to shoot my once in a lifetime million diollar shot! How do I a prepare myself and would an internship through my university be a viable option even at age 40 + along with mastery of excel and Financial modeling and an impressive academic record and maybe working as Financial Advisor give me any leverage towards career field of IB. I am going for bulge bracket or are my chances completely infinitismal. What if I interview well be willing to work 100+ hours a week! Besides I cannot be the first forty-year who has aspired to get in this career field at forty. some one has done this before me did I mention I am study the CFA level 1?

        3. Those credentials do help you somewhat, but I am just making you aware that there is a big age bias in finance, for better or worse (obviously worse in this case).

          I would strongly recommend avoiding bulge brackets unless you have an incredible connection (C-level executive) as you will be fighting an uphill battle – it’s also hard to get access to recruiting channels unless you go to a top 10 school.

          I’m sure some others have done it before, and your credentials certainly help, so I’m not saying it’s “impossible” – I’m just saying that the competition is stiff and it’s very difficult to get into a large bank from a “non-standard” background.

          1. Haha damn, I’m starting analyst training at 26 and still feel way old. Age bias indeed

        4. Thank you very much for your clear assesments and the answering of my questions. What I gather from our threads is that my journey will be difficult at best :even with an impressive background and academic record within the realm of a bulgebracket IB and PE firms, however Breaking into Wall Street makes the assertion that it aided four non finance experienced people get into PE firms which are much harder to do than IB firms. I am not saying that you are not offering sage wisdom. Butr,we both know if I sit on my backside nothing will happen and nothing will be accomplished, thanks again for providing realistic and experienced advise to those of us who want to experience a career in IB. If you any further recommendation that could aid and asist me it would be tremendously appreciated. My best to you and the IB family.

        5. Well, those people were from much different background than you. They were either students or were working in another field of finance… so it’s not really the same situation.

          I’m just being honest with you because it is VERY tough to get in as an Analyst/Associate with 15 years of work experience.

        6. I see your points and all of them make good common sense and based upon what I have heard an read as well I do agree. Maybe an MBA at a top ten school maybe be a good route? Or finding an IB where some of their specialties or sectors are in in Aerospace, Aviation and transportation is an area of expertise where I can leverage my experience with a boutique bank, would be a possible better route. Forget bulge Bracket for now is what you are saying until I have built up some serious level of experience. I believe the aforementioned is what our thread has surmised this much.(For Purposes Of Clarity) The B- Schools of choice are Chicago Booth, Yale SOM and U Of Penn (Wharton) may give me a slightly better oppurtunirty is what I gather. Am I correct? But Age and experience dictate oppurtunities.

        7. Yes a top school will help more but I’m just being honest with you: it’s tough if you have 15 years of experience no matter what your credentials are. Give it a shot and see what the reaction is from those you contact. Transferring to a top business school will not make much of a difference in this case.

  48. From people you’ve talked to and your experience, do you actually learn anything valuable in MBA?

    1. Honestly, no. The only reason to do it is for the connections / access to recruiters.

      1. Man that’s just ridiculous. The curriculum looks so thoughtfully structured. Really absurd that the whole “school” part of B-school is pointless.

      2. …What if you had a non-business undergrad degree and spend 3-4 years in the finance industry? Is an MBA after that still useless in terms of acquiring actual knowledge? 100K seems like an awful lot to pay for connections…

        1. Not useless but greatly overpriced

  49. Got a currently an Econ major, minor in Intl Relations at a decent sized program..however i discovered that the economics major gets put on the back burner and everyone goes into finance instead. We get some local recruiters but no banks..BUT i found a web site that lists every I Bank in america..believe it or not..and so u better believe everyone of them is getting a resume from me..but my question is this?

    Should I grad in 4 years wit my Econ/Intl Relations degree?

    or should I major in Finance and minor in Intl Relations and Econ and try and study abroad ->found an internatinoal work experience seems interesting?


    What do you think about these Masters in Finance Programs, I use to want to be a trader coming out of skool..but i found out IBankin gives u more versatitlty..thanks to your article you wrote..should i get a Master in Finance and try and break into the market? or jus get bachelors and work experience and fight for MBA??

    1. I’m not sure I understand your question, but I would do whatever most people who get into finance do in terms of major. If you need a major in Finance, then yes I would do that.

      On your second question, it really depends on whether you have any work experience right now or can get any… if you can, then a Masters is not necessary. But if you have nothing, delaying your graduation by doing one of those programs might be a good idea.

      1. Well the first question was basically whether i should major in finance or economics…but u answered that question…but another question…what do you think about JD/MBA…as ur previous article said, At best you have 3 – 5 years in the law before you can transfer you think that would be work for like Cravath or Sully/Cromwell for 3 years and then transfer over? The law school I am in contact places at top law firms..also Citigroup and BoA recruit from the MBA program..

        So basically question the JD/MBA a good thing (Id like to get all my schooling done in one shot, especially since im gettin my bachelors right after i turn im young)?

        Or just stick with the traditional Finance to I bankin route that you answered previously..

        1. I don’t really think a JD/MBA gives you any advantage over a normal MBA. The only reason to do it is if you actually want to work in law or a hybrid law/finance field – otherwise I would just stick with the normal route.

        2. Thank you.. I greatly appreciate it..I realize my shot at I-Banking is a long one at best..May be able to get in with a boutique but we both know its not as good as BB..but im glad there is someone who i can ask stuff like this..keep up the good work..this website is EXCELLENT..if i cant land in Ibank..then i guess ill be a lawyer :( but ill be closer to the deal somehow..but ya..keep up the good work!!!

  50. I am one year out of school and currently working as an actuary, but I don’t enjoy my job. I have taken some courses in finance, accounting, economics, advanced option theory, etc and find those subjects much more interesting. Is it still too early to head back to school for an mba to transition?

    1. Yeah you probably don’t have enough experience yet… maybe try to switch jobs and spend 1-2 more years out first

  51. Good post! Thanks
    What about the in depth guide you were working on Private Equity?
    In the comming weeks?

    1. We thought about it but decided to work on other things first. It might be coming at some point but it is very, very difficult to write a PE interview guide that caters to everyone vs. IB interviews which are more standard.

  52. Hi,

    I am going to attend the spring week of GS in London in a couple of weeks. This is the info I have about what will happen during the week.

    “Overview presentations on Banking, a tour of the Goldman Sachs campus, networking session, a mixture of technical and soft skills workshops, culminate in a group exercise.”

    What kind of workshops is it? And what can the group exercise be in particular? How and how much should I prepare?

    Do you have any other general tips about spring weeks? How do I benefit from the week the most? Do I get better odds on the summer internships of 2010?

    I would be really grateful for an answer!

    Best Regards

    1. Answered in Q&A post.

  53. What if your background is REALLY non-traditional? My buddy from school who is way smarter than me and pulled close to a 3.8 is in a legitimate, revenue generating, touring metal band as a musician. Would that be beneficial in setting himself apart?

    1. Yes. That is coming up next.

  54. Just a word of caution on career changing–I worked in technology for about ten years, then got my MBA from NYU Stern. Switching into finance at 30+ is a difficult proposition. The only interviews I got were for technology positions at IBs. A couple of people I knew with similar backgrounds had to take unpaid summer positions to gain enough experience to have a hope at some interviews. I had a similar experience with management consulting–no consulting experience, no interviews.

    I think MBAs get sold as a way to switch careers, but the reality is that it is quite difficult to do. I ran into quite a few people like myself with technology backgrounds who ended up staying in technology because the opportunities were still superior. A couple were able to transition to operations or marketing (which is highly technical now).

    More thoughts here: MBA Career Change

    1. yup that is exactly what I am covering next.

  55. If you’re an undergrad (at a top 15 US News and World Report school) and were allowed to complete about 1/3 of the coursework necessary for a MBA while still enrolled as an undergrad and managed to get A’s – does this significantly help your odds?

    1. not really… only finishing the actual degree makes a difference. could be good to bring up in interviews etc. but not likely to make an enormous difference.

  56. Avatar
    Ryan from UVA

    M&I, a suggestion/request for a future post: one successful and one unsuccessful example of a normal person (one who has not climbed mountains in Japan) spinning his story into something interesting. Thanks!

    1. Yup will see what we can do. it’s difficult because everyone in this field is super-secretive but I’ll ask some current business school applicants what they’ve been saying.

  57. How does on get into PE without an MBA right out of banking for 2 yrs?

    1. You speak with headhunters, network, and get on their radar that way. Headhunters are the key to getting into PE from banking. Most PE interviewing is taking place right now at least for the larger firms.

    2. I thought it was an essential for someone to get an MBA before applying for PE or even having a chance to talk to headhunters?

      1. Uh.. no. PE has both pre-MBA and post-MBA positions, just like banking.

  58. Hey! Awesome post. Two quick questions:

    What business school did you attend M&I?

    Was there a common set of traits among your classmates who came from a pre-MBA finance background?


    1. Business school: This is all based on conversations with those in school, field research, and helping people get in by reviewing their applications.

      Common set of traits: Yeah, they all had something else that stood out about themselves… some had lots of musical talents, others had unusual backgrounds etc. Hardly anyone just followed the standard set of stuff and hoped for the best.

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