Debating who is and who is not a target school for investment banking is one of the most fun and contentious topics there is. But honestly, having had this discussion countless times, the vast majority of bankers will only have a reliable perspective for a single school and a single firm.
Even for headhunters, it’s difficult to gather a complete picture of which schools consistently place students into the top firms because of how many moving pieces there are. At the individual level, there is a significant amount of bias and I find that many people just defer to naming whichever schools are the most prestigious.
This is important because the school you go to is the factor that most influences your ability to land at a top investment bank and earn a top finance salary.
In this post, we seek to complete a data driven approach to answering the question of who is and who is not a target school. We are going to base our line of thought on data collected from LinkedIn over the last several years. The full table is here, and we'll discuss our methodology and findings below.
Our goal is to do this as objectively as possible and we of course need reliable numbers to do so.
Here was our approach:
Aggregate all Investment Banking Analysts in the world (~22k people)
We collected profiles from LinkedIn using the help of a mechanical turk program and a proprietary data provider.
We collected the profiles of anyone with “Investment Banking Analyst” as one of their job titles.
We are most interested in knowing who the target schools are today, so we only looked at people who graduated between 2014 and 2019. We think this parameter is important because the rankings of schools can change within a couple of years.
This resulted in ~22k global profiles around the world.
Screen for U.S. based jobs only (~14k people)
Our view is that the most attractive investment banking firms and jobs are based in the U.S. So we don’t think it’s fair to equate a job in a remote office with one at a top group in New York.
We screened for only people with U.S. based jobs. This resulted in ~14k profiles.
Screen for top bulge brackets and elite boutiques only (~5k people)
Lastly, we are most interested in where the top investment banking firms recruit from. There are a ton of small investment banks and we again think it makes sense to filter for only the highest-quality firms.
We selected the following firms as part of our list of elite firms. This mostly follows league tables of the last several years.
Notably, we decided to exclude PJT Partners and Qatalyst. PJT because they’re very new as a firm and the available data didn’t feel complete. Qatalyst because despite being very good, is on the smaller side and as a result, they also skewed the data quite a bit when we included them.
Note: Our data source predicted that this still likely only represents 50-60% of the actual Investment Banking Analyst population (some people don’t have LinkedIn, some have restricted public access, or have hidden / different titles). This is a statistically significant sample, but should not be viewed as a complete dataset.
So, we end up with ~5k U.S. investment banking analysts who graduated between 2014 and 2019 and who worked at one of these fine institutions:
Bank of America
Moelis & Company
Investment Banking Target Schools
After reviewing the data, we sorted all of the schools based on total hires. We also 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).
By synthesizing the information this way, we were able to pretty easily carve the schools into three categories:
Targets – the schools with by far the most amount of hires and with good representation at every firm. We set the cutoff at around 100 hires over the last 4 years (~25 per year).
Semi-Targets – the schools with a solid amount of hires, but not necessarily good representation at every single firm. 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.
Non-Targets – everyone else
Here, we are defining good representation or “presence” at a firm if that school has sent at least 2 analysts to a firm between 2014 and 2019.
Target schools are schools where the vast majority of top banks conduct on-campus recruiting or specifically allocate spots for that school. Each target school is going to have multiple school alumni across all of the top banks. There’s going to be several people for you to reach out to at each firm and there’s a good chance that you have alumni at the junior, mid, and senior level.
Based on our assessment, there are 16 target schools nationwide, but even this list is pretty top heavy.
Frankly, there are a couple of schools that consistently dominate investment banking. They have multiple analysts at every single firm. The data says it and it was definitely my belief from working in investment banking in New York.
University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
New York University (Stern)
University of Michigan (Ross)
Wharton is without a doubt the best finance school in the world.
They have extremely bright students, a variety of unique programs, and by far the best investment banking output. Many buy-side firms will hire directly from Wharton. Harvard is obviously amazing but class sizes are smaller, which leads to fewer alumni. Many students at Harvard also opt not to pursue investment banking nowadays, so the numbers are not as high as they could be.
Wharton, Michigan, and Harvard are the only schools that have representation at 100% of the top firms. I’m still mostly convinced that NYU dominates because they’re based in New York, but a win is a win.
A school is a semi-target if one or more top banks conduct on-campus recruiting or focus on that school. 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 (except Stanford and Brown), but have made a name for themselves by having strong finance programs.
Many semi-targets have carved out a strong alumni base at a single firm and have a disproportionate amount of analysts there (e.g. BYU and Goldman, Emory and Lazard, Ivey and Evercore). As a result of single firm concentration, semi-targets typically have a much higher % of their students going to elite boutiques. Ivey is also notable as it is the only Canadian school on this list - Ivey is at the top of the Canadian target school list.
Semi-targets tend not to have good representation at all firms.
From my own experience, I find that the analyst lifecycle is so short (1-3 years) because analysts are rushing to break into the buyside, so it can be difficult to build a good school reputation at a firm. It takes generations of good analysts and an internal mid-level voice to ensure that a school consistently gets looks.
One analyst every few years is not going to get your school on the recruiting list.
Non-targets are schools that don’t have any on-campus recruiting or attention from the top banks.
If you’re at a non-target, your 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.
Volume and Prestigious Schools
One thing to note is that our ranking is obviously skewed to student body sizes. Bigger schools with bigger business programs are going to have more candidates pursuing investment banking.
I think this is a fair representation for the purposes of creating a list because sheer volume is still extremely helpful when you’re networking and looking for opportunities. All else being equal, larger schools will be more attractive to firms because it increases the expected value of running an on-campus event or recruiting seminar. There's a greater likelihood you'll find a high-quality candidate when you have more applicants. It can be hard for firms to explicitly target certain schools if that school only has a handful qualified people pursuing investment banking every year.
That being said, I still have a hunch that going to a traditionally prestigious school is still going to give you the best shot from an expected value standpoint to break into investment banking. There’s fewer people chasing these investment banking jobs at some of these elite schools. Instead of 600 people going for that one allocated GS NY TMT spot, there’s only 20-30.
Additionally (and way more anecdotally), I found that the traditional prestige level of schools starts to matter again during buy-side recruiting. In the list, I bolded a couple of target schools (Wharton, Harvard, Yale, Princeton) that, from my opinion, still received preferential treatment during buyside recruiting. Yale and Princeton just don’t have the sheer volume of students pursuing investment banking to top lists like this one.
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. Traditional pedigree of school is still important, but many schools have carved out a fantastic reputation in the industry through years of effort from their students.
If you want to break into banking, you need to think about whether your school has legitimate placement. You need to review data, check LinkedIn connections and see which firms your school has access to.