Target Schools

Is Attending a Target School the Only Key to Unlocking Doors in Finance and Banking?

Where Should You Study?

Navigating the highly competitive world of finance and banking often starts with a crucial decision: where to study. This decision can heavily influence one’s career path, which is why the concept of a “target school” holds significant weight in this sector. 

In this article, we’ll explore what a target school is, the pros and cons of attending one, and how aspiring professionals can flourish in finance and banking regardless of their alma mater.

Key Highlights

  • A target school is a prestigious university with top academic programs in finance, economics, and business. Leading financial institutions and consulting firms prioritize recruiting new talent from these schools.
  • Although target school graduates often have an easier time accessing top-tier employers, large financial institutions are increasingly considering candidates from a wider range of schools and backgrounds.
  • Employers value perseverance, adaptability, and a deep understanding of financial systems. Regardless of whether you attend a target school, pursue diverse experiences, continuous learning, and meaningful connections.

What is a Target School?

In finance and banking, the term “target school” refers to a prestigious university from which leading firms and institutions actively recruit new talent. These schools often boast robust academic programs in finance, economics, and business and are well-known for their rigorous coursework, distinguished faculty, and successful alumni. Institutions like Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton come to mind, but the list extends to other top-ranked business schools globally.

The allure of target schools lies not just in their educational offerings but also in the strong alumni industry connections and exclusive recruitment events they host. Historically, investment banks, consulting firms, and other financial institutions often prioritize students from these target schools for internships and job placements, seeing them as a reliable source of highly skilled new hires.

Target Schools by Region

The actual list of target schools can vary by region and by specific firms, but here are some of the schools frequently considered target schools, particularly in the United States, United Kingdom, Europe, and Canada:

United States

  1. Harvard University
  2. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
  3. Stanford University
  4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  5. University of Chicago (Booth)
  6. Columbia University
  7. New York University (Stern)
  8. University of California, Berkeley (Haas)
  9. Northwestern University (Kellogg)
  10. Dartmouth College (Tuck)

United Kingdom

  1. London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
  2. London Business School (LBS)
  3. University of Oxford
  4. University of Cambridge
  5. Imperial College London
  6. University College London (UCL)


  1. INSEAD (France)
  2. HEC Paris (France)
  3. IE Business School (Spain)
  4. Bocconi University (Italy)


  1. University of Toronto – Rotman School of Management 
  2. University of British Columbia (UBC) – The Sauder School of Business
  3. McGill University – The Desautels Faculty of Management
  4. Western University – The Ivey Business School 
  5. Queen’s University – The Smith School 

These schools are recognized for their rigorous academics, strong alumni networks, and close ties with major financial institutions. And it is true that graduates from these institutions often have a leg up in landing positions in competitive fields like investment banking, asset management, and consulting.

Benefits of Attending a Target School

While many paths to a successful career in finance and banking do not require a target school path, historically, attending a target school does give students a leg up, including:

  1. Job Opportunities: Graduates from target schools often find doors open more easily for them in top-tier financial institutions. These schools’ career services often have direct pipelines into major firms, which can lead to more interviews and job offers.
  2. Networking Opportunities: The alumni network at these institutions can be incredibly valuable. Fellow graduates are often willing to mentor, provide job referrals, and facilitate introductions.
  3. Strong Peer Environment: Being surrounded by motivated, like-minded peers can drive students to push their limits and excel. A target school’s competitive and rigorous environment can foster a culture of success and ambition.

You Don’t Have to Attend a Target School to Be Successful

There are many paths to success in finance and banking, and perhaps the best path is investing in yourself—your knowledge, your skills (both hard and soft), your mindset, and your work ethic. 

Don’t believe me? There are so many stories to inspire you, including several notable figures in finance and banking who have achieved significant success without attending traditional “target” schools or coming from elite academic backgrounds, including Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase.

Jamie Dimon is often considered an elite figure in banking. However, his educational path included attending Tufts University, which, while highly respectable, is not typically classified among the “target” schools for finance careers such as those in the Ivy League. Dimon’s journey through finance was shaped significantly by his work ethic and skills rather than solely his academic pedigree. 

While Jamie Dimon might be as close to a household name as one can get in finance, there are many other examples, such as Thomas Peterffy. Peterffy is the founder of Interactive Brokers and a pioneer in digital trading. He emigrated from Hungary and began his career in the U.S. as a draftsman, designing highway projects. Peterffy didn’t attend a prominent university for finance but taught himself programming and used his knowledge to build his brokerage firm and become a highly influential leader in the financial sector. 

These individuals highlight how diverse backgrounds can lead to substantial success in the finance and banking industries, emphasizing that personal qualities such as determination, innovative thinking, and leadership can be as important as, if not more than, the prestige of one’s academic institution.

Financial Institutions are Diversifying Their Approach to Hiring

Many large financial institutions are diversifying their hiring practices to include candidates from a broader range of schools and backgrounds. This shift is driven by recognizing that talent can be found beyond traditional “target” institutions and the desire to enhance diversity within their teams.

For instance, Goldman Sachs has expressed a commitment to sourcing talent based on merit and potential rather than the prestige of a candidate’s educational institution. They emphasize a recruitment approach that is school-agnostic, major-agnostic, and focused on skill development, ensuring a fair chance for all candidates​.

“[We hire from] wherever we feel we find top talent that matches our definition of top. And we want to make sure we’re creating a workflow and system that allows for that. That’s a full true approach of long term junior talent development: everyone feels like they have a fair chance. People won’t apply to your company if they think you’re only going to hire from a certain type of person or background. It’s not just school agnostic, it’s major agnostic, and it’s skill-development based.”

Omer Tanvir, Global Head of Campus Recruiting, Goldman Sachs

Similarly, a study from Deloitte indicates that financial services firms are reconsidering their leadership criteria to include a wider range of backgrounds. This approach not only promotes gender diversity but also opens leadership paths to a broader array of candidates, potentially reshaping the traditional routes to executive roles​.

Succeeding Outside the Target School Network

The road to a successful career in finance and banking is not exclusive to graduates of target schools. Here’s how you can carve your path in the industry:

  1. Leverage Your Unique Strengths: Differentiating yourself is key, whether it’s your multicultural background, work experience, or unique perspective. Highlight what makes you distinct and how it can be an asset in a finance role.
  2. Pursue Relevant Experience: Internships, part-time jobs, and volunteering in finance-related roles can provide practical experience and build your resume. Small and mid-sized companies can offer roles with significant responsibility early on.
  3. Continuous Learning: The finance sector values expertise highly, so obtaining professional certifications or enrolling in specialized courses can enhance your qualifications.
  4. Networking: Building a professional network can be as beneficial as a degree from a target school. Attend industry conferences, join finance-related groups, and contact professionals on platforms like LinkedIn.
  5. Demonstrate Passion and Drive: Often, what sets candidates apart isn’t only where they studied but their passion for the industry, their drive to succeed, and their commitment to continual learning and improvement.

Many Roads Can Lead to Success

While attending a target school can certainly smooth the path into finance and banking, it is by no means a certain path, and it’s definitely not the only way to achieve success in this incredibly dynamic field. Industry leaders often note that perseverance, adaptability, and a deep understanding of financial systems play a larger role in long-term career success than the prestige of one’s alma mater.

Whether you are a student plotting your educational journey or a professional seeking to pivot into finance, remember that your unique journey can also be your strength. Harness your diverse experiences, continuously seek out knowledge, network, and build meaningful connections. In finance and banking, as in all fields, many roads lead to success – not just the well-trodden paths.

Additional Resources

Networking for University Students

Why You Don’t Need to Be a Prodigy to Succeed in Finance

Investment Banking Internship Programs

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