International banks in Hong Kong generally have their pick of elite graduates. Not all their interns and graduates come from the likes of Stanford, LSE or even HKU, though.
Global firms are increasingly hiring from the best mainland universities, in particular Peking (dubbed the ‘Harvard of China’), Fundan, and Tsinghua (‘China’s MIT’)
So what’s it like attending an exclusive Chinese college? And how hard is it to get a banking job after you finish your degree? To find out, we spoke to two mainland graduates who’ve both landed roles at American banks. Li Jie studied at Fudan, while Geoffrey Hou went to Tsinghua University (we’ve used pseudonyms to protect their identities).
Why did you choose your university and was it tough to get it?
Li: I applied to others, but Fudan enrolled me earlier and it’s in Shanghai – China’s financial centre. Fudan has its own entrance exam, independent from the national one. Its recruitment process has three stages: an essay about your experience, skills and ambitions; a three-hour exam covering 10 subjects; and one-to-one interviews with five professors, each lasting 20 minutes.
Hou: The main reason I chose Tsinghua – rather than somewhere like Shanghai Jiao Tong – is that it’s undoubtedly thought of as the top university in China. Even if others outrank it in some subjects, Chinese people still perceive it to be the best. But it wasn’t that hard to get in. I went to high school in Hong Kong, and China has a policy of encouraging HK students to go to the mainland for university.
What are the strengths of your university?
Li: I studied at the School of Management – it has a strong alumni network, solid and international teaching, and it offers lots of overseas internship and exchange opportunities.
Hou: It’s got very diligent students. People work so hard there, and that makes Tsinghua a leading university in China.
But why not study abroad?
Hou: I did consider US schools but the cost of living and studying there as a foreign student is so high – about $50k a semester. In China it costs less than $10k.
What are the weak points of your school?
Li: The global banks still don’t value Fudan as much as they value Ivy League schools. Having said that, I’m performing just as well, or better, in my job than graduates from US or European universities.
Hou: The academic standards are excellent. But if you compare Tsinghua to a university in, say, Hong Kong, the overall campus environment isn’t that good. It doesn’t have a grand lecture hall, the classrooms are generally ill-equipped, and the toilets are horrible.
So did global banks actually visit your campus?
Li: Yes, most of the big names came for recruitment, training and information sessions: Deutsche, BNP Paribas, UBS, Citi, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley, BAML and Goldman Sachs.
You got a banking job with a degree from a Chinese university. Was this challenging?
Hou: Most of the prestigious Western banks prefer to hire Chinese students with overseas exposure. So if you’re from a local university you have to really stand out in the interview. The main benefit of studying at a top Chinese school is not what kind of courses you take, but how well you understand China and the networks you have there. Multinational financial institutions want business opportunities in China and it’s an advantage if you have good local networks, even as a graduate.
Li: It helped that during my Fudan degree I got global exposure – I did an exchange at a North America university, I interned in Singapore at an asset management company, and I interned at an investment bank in New York. These experiences really helped me land my current job in Hong Kong. Overall, global banks in Hong Kong still prefer Ivy League degrees. It’s a bit different in Shanghai – they hire quite a lot from my college because of its strong brand name and the quality of its students.
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