A few of our readers are still in college as can be seen by the hundreds of questions on investment banking analyst recruiting. The world is changing rapidly, however we believe the blueprint to college remains the same, just more competitive. So with that lets go ahead and take a look at our view on how to manage your college experience and why it is instrumental that you do not follow the crowd.
“Best Time of Your Life”: If college was legitimately the best time of your life, that means you did it wrong. That is not to say that you will have no fun, instead it means your life did not improve after graduation. The reason why college should not be the best time of your life is as follows:
1) You should attend the highest quality university possible while minimizing debt (more on this later)
2) You should major in a subject with legitimate career prospects and the development of niche knowledge (these go hand and hand together)
3) You should not spend 90%+ of your time chasing girls, the only ones who get away with this are those with good family business connections or people who simply get lucky
4) You should learn how to outwork all of your peers, college is a time where you’re on your own so you will be forced to develop these skills solo
5) You should obtain internships/work experience in your field because the student with a 4.0 and no internships will not beat you for the top careers
If you follow the above five items you’re going to do extremely well in college. You will 1) exit with a better job than 99% of your peers, 2) develop personal work ethic/motivation, 3) obtain some niche knowledge in a field with good career prospects, 4) maintain a reasonable social life and 5) have a rolodex of other future successful people.
With the highlights out of the way lets go through a step by step process on how you’re going to set yourself up from the beginning.
The Application Process: Lets go ahead and cut to the chase. There is no point in attending a no-name university because the cost of education has skyrocketed and the job prospects are weak (low income) unless you attend a solid university. With that said the best way to break down the process is as follows:
Top Student? If you have solid grades in high school and a solid SAT score to back it up, apply directly to four year universities. In addition, if you are on the fence, apply to colleges that are slightly out of your league.
Mediocre Student? If you have sub-par grades and know that a meaningful university is out of the question, attend a community college with a high transfer rate to top schools. No point in incurring debt for a school that won’t increase your income correct? Correct.
What Major to Apply to? We are highlighting the word apply because you’re not going to apply to your major of choice. Go through the possible majors at each university and apply to the easiest major. As an example, if you want to get into the liberal arts section of the school do not apply to the difficult majors such as “undeclared” or “Economics” or “Psychology” which will be saturated with applications. Instead apply to a major no one cares about such as Ethnic Studies or an obscure foreign language major. You are doing this to simply gain admission, once inside the university the vast majority allow you to switch majors by your sophomore year. Make sure to check the switching rules. Most do allow this.
What Race to Check off? If possible always side with a minority group. Again not something people are going to tell you but both the major you choose and the minority group you associate with is going to drastically impact your admissions rate. Naturally this will only work if you are mixed, as an example if you are Hispanic and White or Asian and African American… Choose to apply as Hispanic/African American. It is the name of the game.
What Income Box to Check off? This is where a divorce will actually help you. Similar to major and race, colleges will consider economic background as well. If your mother and father are divorced, only claim one person (the lower earner) as your primary care taker. Do not combine the two and use an inflated income number.
What Type of Essay to Write? In a phrase “I want to help save the world and rid it of evil”. Okay not that drastic. The point is to avoid any sort of right leaning views and instead to have a philanthropy twist to your entire application. There are a few reasons for this 1) universities will call you for donations once you graduate, at least this gives a hint that you may be the type to donate later, 2) colleges are left leaning (heavily) and you’re better off assuming the reader is a bleeding heart liberal and 3) what type of person becomes an admissions counsellor? Enough said. As a side note, this is exactly why community service type activities are smiled upon by the admission staff.
As you can see, once you clear out a lot of the fluff there are only a few driving factors that are going to improve or act as a detriment to your applications. To summarize you are going to get the highest academic scores possible, write a left leaning essay, apply as a minority (if possible), apply to a major no one is interested in and understate family income if possible.
What is a Good College? We are relatively strict here so we would call this a Top 40 University or better (USA comment). This is not always the best answer and we can also include an income calculation method. If your additional net income from year one post graduation is equal to your debt load then it is likely a positive. This means your degree must add $X and that amount cannot exceed your total debt upon graduation of $Y.
Additional income from education in year one = Total Debt (ideally better)
Roughly speaking, if you’re able to pay every penny off by the end of year two, you will be in good shape. We are strict with this calculation. It is a good guideline as you will be out of debt by ~23-24 years of age.
With the income and debt side of the equation out of the way we can go ahead and narrow down the income estimation. This is key to building out your career/future income prospects.
Career Niche Knowledge Development: Start at a high level, go to your career center and track down every single major and find out which ones have the highest placement rates into the top companies/industries. Make no mistakes. This is the biggest part of your decision making process. If your college is unable to provide a laundry list of successful examples you shouldn’t attend that school. This step is so important that we would go ahead and triple check your work by doing the following:
1) Find the average starting salary for your major
2) Go on linked-in and find at least 10 alumni from the college for the last 2-3 years
3) Find at least 2-3 contacts where their grades are displayed, if their GPA is poor (below 3.5) chances are their family got them the job not the school. Make sure this is not the case for the majority of the successful alumni
Does this sound like a lot of work? Yes and no. It does take time but we can go ahead and cut through a lot of the fluff right here. If they obtained a high paying job and majored in Political Science, Ethnic Studies, any humanities major etc., they received the position through connections. They did not receive it from merit. Many years ago your major did not matter and you could simply obtain a 4.0 and find decent job prospects, but employers are wiser at this point in time. To weed through the insanity unless you went to a truly elite institution (Harvard-Yale-Princeton) assume that the only viable majors are 1) engineering based, 2) business based and 3) in some cases arithmetic based.
Generally, everything else can be crossed off the list.
What College Learning is and What it is Not: When you first enter college you are told that you will be tasked to think for yourself and work extremely hard for high grades. This is a complete lie. This is probably the biggest lie told and we’ve heard a lot of lies in the past, here is the truth:
“College does not teach you to think for yourself it teaches you to think LIKE someone else”
This is a major difference.
When you attend your first course you need to take note of how your professor thinks because it will determine your entire grade in the classroom. No one actually cares about your opinion on the topic at hand, particularly for the humanities/social science/general education piece of the curriculum. If your professor is a bleeding heart liberal, you better write like one. If your professor has an obsession with George W. Bush, you better take that side of the coin. If your professor loves trading options in his free time guess what questions will happen to show up on your mid-term? If your professor is an ex-bond trader, you can bet your last cent there will be a skew towards bond questions.
The real skill you develop is the ability to tell what topics interest a person.
The second piece we need to touch on here is work ethic. Your average college student is lazy, eats unhealthy food all day, is incredibly out of shape and cannot get motivated by himself. Take all of these traits and do the opposite. College actually teaches you to be lazy so you must learn to do the opposite. This is a great problem to have because you can gain tremendous ground on your peers by outworking them. Keep yourself honest by keeping a journal and jotting down everything you need to do. A good idea for a workday is outlined below:
1) Attend all private teaching sessions (skip lectures if you are in a jam) 3-4 hours
2) Work your unpaid internships (freshman/sophomore) or your paid internship (junior/senior) 3-4 hours
3) Workout for at least 1 hour.
4) Study 1 hour
5) Join a group related to your major such as the finance club 1 hour
6) Intramural sports, socialize etc. for 1-2 hours
7) Write down your schedule and items accomplished for the day 15 minutes
8) Read for a book as you fall sleep, 30 minutes
This should represent a typical day, ~12 hours of actual activity and we assume ~1-2 hours of transit time. You will obtain at least 6-8 hours of sleep as well. If you can maintain this run rate of 12-14+ hours a day of actual work, you’re going to graduate in the top 5% from a job opportunity basis. We practically guarantee it. Finally, you’re going to learn a lot about multiple subjects which can lead to business ideas later.
Working Through the Years: With the backdrop out of the way, lets go ahead and give some guidelines on what to focus on each year so you can efficiently use your time to get ahead.
Freshman: There are two key things to focus on for your freshman year 1) obtaining high grades (shoot for a 4.0) and 2) meeting like minded individuals. Do your best to sort out the future winners from the future losers. It won’t be hard as the future winners will be seen sporadically (ie: coming out when they are free to have fun) and will be focused on grades for the time being. During the summer you can try to either get ahead on your general education course work or obtain a simple internship (even unpaid) in your field of work.
Sophomore: By now you have a good grasp for how much work it will take to maintain a ~3.7 GPA average. Maintain this work ethic and begin searching for internships, school groups and opportunities related to your future work. You will also have a bit more time to socialize as you have obtained an even better understanding of the requirements to succeed.
Junior: This is the game changing year. Everyone assumes it is the Senior year but it is not. Your junior year is where you put the clamps down on work experience and obtain the important paid summer internship. During your first semester you focus 75% on grades and 25% on interview preparation. Then you focus entirely on work experience/job preparation. Take a lighter course load in the back half of your junior year so you have as much time as possible to hit the ground hard.
Senior: At this point you should be on cruise control. Your GPA will unlikely waver much and you should have a job offer in hand. Focus on interviewing for more prestigious positions and make schoolwork come second. If you have a 3.7GPA+ into the recruiting season, seeing this drop to 3.5 or so by graduation time will not matter. Once you’re all set with your job by December of your Senior year, go ahead and relax. Find time to party and socialize, do some basic prep work for your job and most importantly make friends with every single person who landed a high paying position as well. Now you have time to have fun (you earned it) and you can quickly build out the rolodex from the future alumni.
Efficiency Key Points:
1) Use all online resources that show grade distributions/difficulty such as ratemyprofessors.com. There is no point in making a course harder when your transcript will only show a grade and the course taken. Don’t be fooled, the vast majority of what you learn will not be used in the workforce.
2) Focus heavily on classes you are certain will be used on the job. For Wall Street this is beginning/intermediate accounting and corporate finance. The complex items are unnecessary for the vast majority of Wall Street.
3) Take advantage of early morning classes, most are too lazy to wake up and if there is an easier professor teaching early, jump on it
4) Frats/Groups all of these are fine, simply ask yourself if it is going to be a net drag or benefit to you later. Many frats have strong alumni support and many groups will be looked at positively by employers. The reverse statement is also true so be sure to do your due diligence
5) Remember that studying can be made up on weekends while internships rarely occur on weekends, use this as a guideline when you look at your schedule
Conclusion: There are a lot of misconceptions about College but generally the idea is as follows: 1) give yourself the best shot at the best schools/majors, 2) use an 80/20 rule for work/play until you’ve secured a solid future, 3) focus and learn in the courses that matter, 4) teach yourself discipline, 5) learn how to think like the other side of the table as they have no interest in your actual views and 6) there is no reason to make the experience harder than it needs to be.
Assuming you can execute efficiently here, the college experience should be fun but not the best time of your life. Your grades will be solid, your friends will be successful and you will have a lot of fun memories from partying on Spring Break to watching your grades take a cliff drop in your last quarter/semester. Execute on this plan and every year after college should be up and to the right.