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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.

Comments (30)

  1. “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.

    what about getting the interviews, you don’t always get the same opportunity to interview if you are from a lower ranked school. the same candidate on all other levels may get 2 interviews while you would get 5.

  2. Oxford is the father in life.

  3. How about Cass Business School?

  4. Cass is not considered a particularly good school. For UCL, Imperial and LSE you need much higher grades than for City University.

  5. If other universities were to be considered, Investment banks would need to recognise that a 2:1 from a 2nd tier university, and below, is equivalent to a 2:2 or even a 3rd pass from LSE, UCL, Imperial (depending on the subject that is). Investment banks would need to adjust their requirement grade accordingly. This is only fair as the amount of work and standard of academics is much more demanding at these top universities and hence less time is available for extra-curriculum activities.

  6. On average, 80% of FO recruitment comes from the Top 6 targets.

  7. G5 universities are the main targets for graduate programmes into Front Office and so they should be.

    JPMorgan Trader Reply
  8. @Serkop, City University is not considered to be overly great, Cass Business School is regarded very highly as it is one of the top Business Schools in Europe. Dont get the too mixed up!

    Grad recruiter Reply
  9. Cass Business School is regarded very highly as it is one of the top Business Schools in Europe [quotation needed}

    One of the top… 50 or so at best.

    Grad recruiter? Reply
  10. CASS business school is average at best. It’s student body is of lower calibre compared to the likes of Oxbridge/LSE/Imperial/Warwick

  11. I had an assessment centre a while ago and I was surprised by the guys from LSE… I don’t want to have a general idea of LSE students but instead of thinking they are the only ones out there they should start to be more humble. Needless to say, none of them got an offer.

  12. Hey guys,
    Just to get people’s opinion. I got a first at the ICMA centre and have recently started at HSBC. I’m applying to do a masters in finance next year. I’m applying/applyed to the usual suspects mentioned above (LSE/Warwick/Cambridge/imperial), but was wondering what other schools looked good. Manchester, Nottingham, Cass?? any others that have really good reps?

  13. James, Southampton is a very good university for Economics and related subject (i.e. Finance). Its teaching is excellent and much better than at most top universities. The only reason why it is not on the list of top universities is because it does not have the money to market itself in the same way LSE and Warwick has done to get to the top. So this means Southampton cannot attract the same calibre students and researchers and hence the level of difficulty would be lower than at the top 5 universities (which is Oxbridge, UCL, Imperial and LSE for Economics). However, Southampton University would guarantee you an outstanding teaching quality.

  14. how bwt lancaster university management school. its reputation has been building up slowly.

  15. Hi nick,
    Thanks for the advice, and I’m definitely gonna look at Southampton. Today I got an offer from Warwick. In terms of teaching, I never really looked at it from that perspective. I loved my course content at the ICMA, as well as the way it was taught. But I feel that my CV lacks that real prestige that comes from the above unis, which is part the reason I want a masters, but most cos I love finance and it may introduce me to the possibility of a PhD.
    I’m hoping to get an offer from imperial as well, which would give me an offer from my two top choices.
    I didnt get into LSE. I’m English, so have not taken the GMAT. I don’t like excuses, but from what I’ve herd, there is almost an auto-rejection without the GMAT (sounds like an excuse to me :)).
    An offer from Cambridge would be nice, cos tuition fee’s with the MPhil Finance are basically a third of what imperial want and well…..its cambridge.
    I’ll see what pans out. But that offer from warwick means I can get the fact I have a masters position on my internship apps, so it doesnt look like I’m a grad student applying for an internship with no guaranteed masters place.

  16. Hi James, Boosting your CV with a top university name is one thing but be aware that the top 5 UK universities (Oxbridge, LSE, UCL, Imperial) have become prestigious because the teaching material is much harder than at other universities and it’s made for research. Also, make sure you are aware of the prestige implicated with the subject at your chosen university. For example, I wouldn’t recommend doing a Masters in Finance/Economics at Oxford nor Cambridge because it lacks the mathematical and statistical elements required with modern Financial/Economics theories. This is why a lot of Oxbridge students fill the Masters places at LSE/UCL. Masters are specialised courses and what you learn is as important as your grades. Interviewers would be looking at the in-depth technical and quantitative knowledge gained by a Masters student rather than the branded name on CVs. The best way to look at this would be to compare the material/reading list which universities display on their website. The problem with LSE is that they take on mostly non-English students (this is due to their marketing strategy). Warwick has a stable name but it is not as strong academically nor is technical enough.

  17. James; I think you’re getting confused between the GMAT and TOEFL. If anything, being English will help you get a higher overall score in your GMAT. GMAT is normally used as an entry requirement for Business Schools (MBAs). I agree that it is irrelevant for LSE to be asking for a GMAT score but LSE behaves more like a business than a ‘School’!

  18. Hi Hugo,
    Thanks for the input. I really like the detail of your point. My absolute first choice would be Imperial. I have looked at the content of each of the courses, and imperial, to me anyway, seems the most mathematically challenging and technically focused. I already have quite in-depth knowledge of the technical aspects of Fixed income, derivative securities and portfolio management. So i think I would have some sort of advantage should I be chosen to study at imperial. My main reason for studying the masters is so I can go further into each subject and learn as much as I can. I know what you’re saying about the top five having harder content, but I do believe I could cope as I am an extremely committed individual and hopefully my first would demonstrate that. For me the LSE finance programme just didn’t appear technical enough, and wished that I applied for the financial mathematics course.
    If you had to recommend a masters course, which would you say was best?

  19. Hi Tina,
    I brought up the GMAT because it is also mandatory for Oxfords MFE programme. I think I’d do okay in the GMAT, but it’s $200 a go, so I’m a bit apprehensive since i’d only be taking it for one school and it wouldn’t even be my first choice.

  20. Back to the discussion on top unis what about durham?

  21. What about the MSc Financial Computing of UCL, I’ve learned that this programme has 4 investment bank partners. It is structured with the Investment Banking IT Track. Does it mean that the graduates can only join the back office of IB? Does anybody know anything about this programme of UCL?What’s its reputation in the City of London?

  22. Don’t be suprised – Cass Business school is a very good university we target.

    Graduate recruiter for IB Reply
  23. What about Kent University, studying Actuarial Science ?

  24. Hi, I’m edmund and I need some help here! My aim is to work for international companies/banks. I’m doing my A-level now but i’m still confuse of what courses should I take to work in order to work for the companies i would like to work for. i.e World Bank? I was thinking of Banking and Finance in UK. Am I moving into the right direction? What university do u recommend for banking and finance course? as far as i noe, not many university offer that course. PLEASE HELP! and THANKS! =)

  25. What do you guys think about queens university its probably the number one buisness university in Canada?

  26. What about BPP business school? If I’m gonna take Bsc Banking and Finance at BPP how many chances will I have for interviews, comparing to graduates from Top5?

    Thank you

  27. Hi. Any good explanation for why Warwick, which is physically far from London (relatively), is considered top for an Msc in finance ? You would believe that being located in London, which is the main financial center in Europe, is critical because of the proximity to financial institutions and networking with financial people. Thanks in advance for your advice.

  28. @valeria999 Much poorer. Fortunately, once you have an interview it is an opportunity for YOU to shine through, so don’t loose all hope :)

  29. Hi all. I would like to do investment banking but i am confused whether i take economics and finance or banking and finance undergraduate course in the university. Please also advice which universities will be best for the above course.

  30. UCL may be very good in terms of overall reputation but not so good in terms of finance as compared to likes of LSE,Imperial,oxbridge,Cass(not university but business school only),warwick.

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