Investment Banking Target School List Using Data (Updated 2023)
Debating who is and who is not a target school for investment banking is one of the most fun and contentious topics in finance.
But having had this discussion countless times, I know that the vast majority of bankers only have a reliable perspective for a single school and a single firm.
Without data, it is impossible to approach this question without a huge amount of bias. Many people overestimate the placement of traditionally prestigious schools when they don't know the specifics.
All this data is important because quite simply: the school you go to is the #1 factor that influences your ability to get into investment banking and earn a top salary.
In this post, we seek to complete a data-driven approach to determine which schools have the best placement into investment banking.
Our first goal is to see which school produces the greatest number of investment banking analysts at top firms.
To accomplish this, we scraped LinkedIn profile data and filtered the results according to our view of what a "top investment banking" job is.
I recognize that this approach favors larger schools, so we have also included a ranking that assigns some weight to the size of the school.
Here was our approach to filtering the data:
Aggregate all Investment Banking Analyst profiles in the world (~60k people)
We collected LinkedIn profile data with the help of HR analytics firm Terrain Analytics. They provided an enormous amount of high-quality data and this would not be possible without their help.
We collected the profiles of anyone with “Investment Banking Analyst” or closely related terms as one of their job titles.
For this cut, we looked at anyone who graduated between 2008 and 2023 in order to get a highly comprehensive dataset.
This resulted in ~60k global profiles around the world.
Screen for U.S.-based jobs only (~17k people)
We are only assessing U.S.-based jobs for this analysis. Our view is that the most attractive investment banking firms and jobs are based in the U.S.
Note that we are looking at schools in and out of the U.S. There are a handful of international schools on this list (e.g., Western University and Queen's University in Canada, National University of Singapore, etc.).
Our screen for U.S.-based jobs resulted in ~17k profiles.
Screen for top bulge brackets and elite boutiques only (~12k people)
Lastly, we only included people who worked at the "top investment banks" (complete list further below). The purpose of this analysis is to determine where the top investment banks recruit.
There are of course a ton of small and regional investment banks. But we do not think it is appropriate to equate an offer at one of those firms with one at a leading bank like Goldman Sachs or Lazard.
After these filters, we arrived at ~12k U.S. investment banking analysts who graduated between 2008 and 2023 and worked at one of these fine institutions:
When sanitizing the data, we made sure to include all variations of a school’s name on LinkedIn (e.g., NYU includes New York University, NYU, and Leonard N. Stern School of Business).
Also note that each school includes all hires from a school, not just the business program. For example, "University of Pennslyvania" includes all hires from Wharton and Penn.
Investment Banking Analyst Placement per School
Our first presentation of the data ranks all schools based on total hires. This ranking orders schools based on the total number of U.S. investment banking analyst hires they have had over the past 15 years.
On a volume basis, the four best schools for investment banking placement are:
University of Pennsylvania
New York University
University of Michigan
The University of Texas at Austin
University of Pennsylvania is no surprise and they are very clearly the overall best school for finance placement. UPenn dominates investment banking recruiting and even sends dozens of people directly into great private equity firms and hedge funds every year.
NYU, UMich, and UT Austin all have respectable business programs and huge student bodies and thus also do very well on this list. All of these schools consistently place people at the top firms and are well-represented throughout all of finance.
The data fields on these tables include:
Total Hires: The total amount of U.S. investment banking analysts at top firms that graduated from that school between 2008 and 2023. Data per LinkedIn, provided by Terrain Analytics.
# of Undergrads: The total number of undergrads per school, provided by U.S. News and various school websites. U.S. News did not cover international schools, so we had to collect those separately.
Undergrads % Total (also referred to as Undergrad % Placement): Calculates Total Hires / # of Undergrads. We include this piece of complementary data to measure how "easy" it is for a student to get into investment banking. This is a highly imperfect measure and frankly, there is no perfect way of accounting for this, which we explore further in the weighted rank below.
Elite Firm Hires: The total amount of U.S. investment banking analysts hired into the "Top 5 Firms", including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan, Evercore, and Centerview. This ranking is per the Firsthand. I included this because the difference between an offer at Goldman Sachs and a lower bulge bracket like Citi is very different.
Presence: This measures representation across firms, which we define as having at least 2 hires into that firm. I included this because it shows which schools may have great placement primarily due to a couple of strong relationships.
Elite Boutique %: The % of total hires that were placed into elite boutiques. This is more of an "interesting to know" data point and it doesn't really impact my perspective on a school's ranking.
People are generally most surprised to see Brigham Young in the 13th slot, but they have a very consistent pipeline into investment banking. They have excellent placement into Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, and Bank of America and have a stranglehold over Salt Lake City offices.
The other relative surprises are schools that have laser-focused business programs with student populations that are dedicated to investment banking. Western University (Ivey and my alma mater), Boston College (Carroll) and SMU (Cox) all have highly dedicated student populations that aggressively prepare for investment banking. Whatever they lack in traditional prestige, they make up for by overloading on investment club experience.
Weighted Ranking of Investment Banking Analyst Placement
If you take one look at the ranking by total hires, you'll probably make the very obvious critique that it over-indexes to large schools.
We can balance this out by factoring in the # of Undergrads per school, but I warn you that it still won't be "perfect".
It's still imperfect because focusing on Undergrad % Placement heavily penalizes the larger public schools. Schools like NYU, UMich, UT Austin, and USC have enormous student bodies, most of which aren't interested in investment banking.
You might then think to just look at a school's business school (e.g., only including the NYU Stern or the Western Ivey student body). However, I think this approach introduces a ton of bias. We would have to try to apply an apples-to-apples approach by only including the "business" students at a place like Harvard. This becomes nearly impossible when you realize that a ton of people at Ivy League schools major in statistics, engineering, and the liberal arts as opposed to economics.
It's not really possible to determine a denominator that is fair to all schools (and yes I have tried).
We feel that a reasonable solution is thus to do a weighted ranking:
# Total Hires (2/3 Weighting)
Undergrad Placement % (1/3 Weighting)
In my view, # Total Hires is the more important factor. All else being equal, it's better to go to a larger school because it means you have more alumni, more on-campus resources, and student clubs.
Firms are more incentivized to give larger schools attention during recruiting. From an expected value perspective, a firm would rather visit Columbia than Claremont McKenna even if their Undergrad Placement % is similar. Why fight over the two kids that want to do banking at Claremont McKenna when you can get swarmed by an army of Columbia kids foaming at the mouth?
I think this ranking is probably a better reflection of which schools are overall "the best" to get into investment banking.
Even if you ask the proudest NYU graduate (which I did), they'd probably be reluctant to say that their school is the 2nd best place to get into investment banking from. NYU produces a ton of high-quality candidates, but you'd still rather be at Harvard where it's significantly easier to impress both headhunters and your parents.
Weighting toward Undergrad % Placement logically boosts many of the traditionally prestigious schools, with all the Ivy League schools getting a healthy increase.
Investment Banking Target Schools
Now, there is no clear industry definition for what constitutes a "target school" for investment banking.
But because people love tier lists, we can do our best to group the schools based on their placement statistics:
Target Schools – the schools with by far the most amount of hires and with good representation at every firm. These schools are actively targeted by most top investment banks and send a considerable number of people to "elite firms".
Semi-Targets – schools with a solid amount of hires into investment banking. Semi-targets might lack representation at some firms or not have a great undergrad placement %. We found that many semi-targets dominate a particular region, industry, or bank, but don’t necessarily have the cachet to get interviews across the board.
Lower Semi-Targets – schools where it's possible to get into investment banking, but you generally need to be the cream of the crop. Your school might send 2-5 people into investment banking per year, potentially from a specific program (like University of Florida) or a great investment club (like Queen's University).
Non-Targets – I would say that if your school isn't on this list at all, you likely attend a non-target. It is not impossible to get into a top investment bank from your position, but having seen the data... it really falls off a lot after these schools.
Target Schools (Ranks 1-15)
Target schools are schools that the vast majority of top investment banks consistently hire from.
Each target school is going to have multiple school alumni across all of the top banks. There are going to be several people for you to reach out to at each firm.
Target schools all have strong investment banking/finance extra-curricular activities available. Private equity headhunters may even visit their campuses to give senior year students a preview of buyside recruiting.
Based on our assessment, there are 15 target schools nationwide. These schools all have consistent hiring into the top firms and reasonably good Undergrad % Placement. You can find people from all of these schools at the most elite firms.
On this list, we mostly have Ivy League schools (e.g., UPenn, Harvard), nationally ranked schools (e.g., University of Chicago), and large schools with great business programs (e.g., NYU, UC Berkeley).
The three overall best schools for investment banking placement are: University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, and Harvard University.
UPenn is clearly the best finance school in the entire world. They send an unparalleled 3.33% of undergrads into investment banking, with over 50% of their hires going to the very best firms. We note that Harvard sends an even higher % (58%) into the very best firms, which appears to be a minor weakness of Georgetown (only 40% to elite firms).
Semi-Target Schools (Ranks 16-30)
Semi-target schools are schools that consistently send a handful of people into investment banking per year. They typically do not have great coverage across every firm and geography.
Oftentimes, semi-targets emerge due to regional or geographical success and slowly creep their way to the rest of Wall Street. Most of the semi-targets are not as traditionally prestigious from an overall school level (aside from places like Dartmouth, Stanford, and Brown), but have made a name for themselves by having strong finance programs.
Western University is notable as it is the only Canadian school on this list - Western is at the top of the Canadian target school list.
It can be very difficult for a school to improve its investment banking placement. The investment banking lifecycle is very short (1-3 years) because analysts often rush to the buyside, which makes it hard for a school to establish a good reputation. It takes generations of good analysts and an internal mid-level voice to ensure that a school consistently gets looks.
Lower Semi-Target Schools (Ranks 31-60)
Lower Semi-Target Schools have worse placement than semi-targets but still typically send a few people into the top investment banks every year.
This category has a wider range of archetypes.
There are the elite liberal arts colleges like Middlebury, Claremont McKenna, Williams, and Amherst that have excellent Undergrad % placement. They are held back by small student bodies and weak Presence scores but are sneakily still great places to recruit from.
There are other public schools with huge amounts of people (Penn State, University of Georgia, Texas A&M, University of Florida) that by virtue of sheer volume and willpower place a couple of people into investment banking. Looking at individual school data also shows how reliant some of these schools are on a single firm (e.g., University of Florida sends a disproportionate amount of people to Evercore).
Of note, MIT and Queen's University (in Canada) have outstanding Elite Firms score (87% and 86% respectively), which are the highest on the entire target school list.
There are also a handful of other international schools on this list (The University of Hong Kong, Singapore Management University, McGill, HKUST). These schools have top-tier placement in their own countries and still manage to send a few people to the U.S. offices.
Non-targets are schools not on this list. Non-targets typically don't get any on-campus recruiting or specific attention from the top banks.
The data does unfortunately really taper off after this point.
Non-targets occasionally send people to the best firms, but it often takes an exceptional candidate with the right internal support or recruiting program.
If you’re at a non-target, your highest likelihood path is either to transfer schools or to play the long game and slowly lateral between firms.
Honestly, lateraling is way easier than most people realize, so long as you start somewhere in investment banking. It might add a year or two to your journey, but signing with a regional middle-market and lateraling to a more prestigious firm is a pretty tried and true path. If you’re at a non-target, the onus is on you to do way more diligence of your alumni and study what the most realistic paths are.
The benefit of non-targets is that your alumni will typically bat for you much harder. It’ll also be more obvious who you need to reach out to.
Of course, it is fairly easy to criticize the methodology or results of this analysis. There is a limitation to how reasonably precise we can be.
Here are some disclaimers that may hinder the accuracy of the analysis:
Not all investment banking employees have a LinkedIn profile or keep their investment banking role on their LinkedIn.
Some LinkedIn profiles have imperfect "Location" data, e.g., they may have removed all cities from their job titles or moved countries. This makes it harder to filter for only U.S. employees.
Finding an accurate denominator for Undergrad Placement % is very difficult. Each definition is going to disadvantage a certain school group.
It's tricky to assign weightings to # of Total Hires and Undergrad Placement %. Doing so involves a certain amount of bias.
It's impossible to define what the cutoff for a "top investment bank" is. You could make reasonable arguments for firms like LionTree, Guggenheim, etc., and the ranking changes annually.
Regardless, I think this is the most robust analysis of investment banking target schools that exists.
In my view, there is a clear ranking of schools when it comes to investment banking recruiting.
Some schools have a very distinct advantage in investment banking and I think it’s unwise to ignore the numbers.
If you want to break into investment banking, you need to:
Assess whether your school has reasonable placement
Begin networking with successful alumni
Be technically prepared for the interview