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Which university is best for breaking into banking?

Ask any investment banking graduate recruiter about university preference, and they’ll tell you that all applications are considered equally, regardless of subject studied or the educational institution at which the degree was attained.

To an extent this is true, but banks also have an elite group of ‘target’ universities to which they’ll actively sell a career within investment banking. At undergraduate level in the UK (in no particular order) these are Oxford, Cambridge, London School of Economics (LSE), UCL, Imperial College London and Warwick. The likes of Kings College London, Bristol, Nottingham, Manchester, Bath and Edinburgh are also well-regarded.

“Graduate recruitment officials will tell you they are unbiased, but the vast majority of front office hires come from target schools,” says one former investment banker and hedge fund manager, who now lectures to non-target universities about how to break into banking. “Students outside of these are largely recruited for back office functions.”

But do London universities have an edge? One head of graduate recruitment at a bulge bracket bank admits that their proximity to the City means that LSE, UCL and Imperial enjoy far more lectures and presentations, meaning their knowledge of and exposure to the investment banking world is far greater.

One UCL student who is attempting to break into investment banking tells us: “At this point in the year, there can be as many four or five presentations a week (sometimes confirmed at the last minute), which quickly increases your knowledge of the industry and expands your contacts. These events are attended by a broad range of students studying a variety of disciplines, and banks are attracted by this diversity.”

But the former investment banker cum careers advisor believes that one university is best for students with aspirations to break into the industry.

“LSE is best almost by a happy accident, and not necessarily just because of the calibre of students,” he claims. “The university has close ties to the City and pushes its students towards a career in finance, while Oxbridge colleges are more generalist. There’s also the fact that the subjects are more quantitative and the opportunity for networking with traders, sales people and bankers much greater because they’re in the same city.”

But one LSE student who has secured an investment banking position says that, while the school’s prestige and networking opportunities offer an advantage over most universities, it’s largely on a par with Oxbridge, UCL, Imperial and Warwick.

“I believe that the recruitment processes that I have experienced so far have been based on merit (results and past working experience) and not because of the school I am attending,” he says.