There’s been a lot of press recently about how students from Duke and other elite colleges are still flocking to Wall Street: “How Elite CollegesStill Feed Wall St.’s Recruiting Machine” and “At Duke,Wall Street May Still Hold Allure.”
Similar to the author of the first article, I first came to Duke not knowing much about finance or investment banking and had never heard of Goldman Sachs before setting foot on campus. Early on in my freshman year, I distinctly remember an article in Duke’s Towerview magazine called “I-bank, Therefore I Am,” which initially brought my attention to Wall Street as a potential career interest. I had known one of the students interviewed in the article through my involvement in Duke Student Government and a lot of what he said in the article resonated with me. It’s actually pretty surprising that I can still trace my initial interest to finance back to the upperclassman I had met at Duke and all the articles about Wall Street in our college newspaper.
And based on this documentary by a current Duke student, it looks like many students still feel very strongly about pursuing a career in finance. They seem to be going through a very similar thought process that I went through while I attended Duke.
However, with all these articles and the documentary, the one thing that I have to disagree with is that it is more prevalent on elite college campuses for students to want to pursue careers in finance. This is because you’ll find just as many students at state schools who want to be investment bankers or traders, but the only difference is that it is that it is much more difficult to receive an internship or full-time offer to one of the top tier banks from a non-target school.
And having participated in the other side of recruiting from the banks’ perspective, I’ve had the opportunity to come back to Duke’s campus for information sessions and with each recruiting trip, I’ve always been honest to the students I’ve talked to and admit to them that i-banking and Sales & Trading is not for everyone. After talking to several students at these sessions, I also started to be able to tell which students may have been pursuing a finance career more for the money and prestige vs. the experience and responsibility they would gain. I made sure to make it clear that investment banking was a lot of hard work and some of my colleagues found it to be mostly grunt work, so it was very important to realize one’s true motivations for accepting a position in finance because the money isn’t worth it if you didn’t enjoy the work. At the end of the day, I learned a lot from my banking experience and met a lot of smart and motivated people, but it was really up to me to make the most of my experience and use the opportunity to learn more about what I wanted to do long-term. I knew that the long hours, financial models, focus on attention to detail, meetings with senior management teams, all positioned me and my colleagues well for whatever we wanted to do afterwards.
When I was graduating from college, both the money and prestige of finance didn’t exist to the same extent as it did before, so looking back it was a much smaller group of classmates that chose to pursue a career in finance (it also happened to be two months after Lehman went bankrupt that the banks were recruiting for full-time positions my senior year). From my experience on Wall Street, I’m grateful that I discovered that the area of finance that interests me the most is investing and the industries that I want to specialize in are healthcare and technology. I may not have needed to go through those long hours of working on financial models and presentation mark-ups after midnight, but I truly believe in having no regrets and if I could go back to my senior year, I would make the same decision all over again.