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How to Get Into Investment Banking: A Student’s Guide

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If you’re interested in pursuing a lucrative, rewarding career, you won’t find many better options than investment banking. So, how do you get into investment banking?

There are very few entry-level jobs that offer six-figure salaries, but investment banking is one of them. Experienced senior professionals earn tens of millions of dollars each year.

Breaking into this field is difficult and requires a combination of skills, hard work, ambition, and education. If you’re a high school student interested in becoming an investment banker, this guide will set you on the right track.

Here’s how to get into investment banking after graduating high school.

What Does an Investment Banker Do?

Investment bankers work with some of the world’s richest people. Essentially, they spend their time working with businesspeople and investors to conveniently make major deals.

You’ll do things such as arrange mergers and acquisitions of Fortune 500 companies and organize public offerings of private companies. Working in investment banking is best compared to working in high-risk and high-dollar sales.

If you’re a high school student, it’s okay if you’re not sure if investment banking is right for you. After all, it’s not a traditional career path that most elementary students think of when they’re figuring out their dreams.

However, people who are hard workers generally do quite well in this challenging field. As an investment banker, you’ll likely work more than 80 hours per week. You’ll need to have great attention to detail and take direction well. You should be strong in mathematics, particularly in finance and accounting, as well as possess basic technology skills, too.

What Should I Be Doing in High School to Get Into Investment Banking?

Although the most important thing you can do in high school is to focus on your grades, you should also look into some side work and experiences that will prepare you for this challenging field.

One good option? Start a side business. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It could be something as simple as mowing lawns. However, this experience will show colleges that you have the drive and hardworking attitude it takes to succeed in investment banking.

You should also join clubs that will prepare you for a future in business, such as FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) and  DECA (formerly Distributive Education Clubs of America). Both of these organizations can prepare you for careers in fields like marketing, finance, management, and hospitality. Many have branches that extend to college campuses. Even if your high school doesn’t have an active branch of these clubs, you can always join from afar and engage in remote or regional events.

What Classes Should I Be Taking in High School to Become an Investment Banker?

While your class choices will be somewhat limited by what your high school actually offers, there are some prerequisite courses offered by most schools that will serve you well in this field.

It is going to be most important that you spend some time honing your math skills. Courses like AP Calculus and AP Statistics will be best, but if your school does not offer them, even an honors-level mathematics class will do.

Other classes like economics and business law can be helpful, as can courses in more technologically-focused subjects like computer science and programming. It is important that your grades aren’t high just in mathematics and computers, either, but across the board. Most universities will want to see a candidate who is well-rounded and disciplined enough to succeed in all content areas.

What College Should I Go to in Order to Get into Investment Banking?

To become an investment banker, it is absolutely essential that you earn a college degree. Usually, it doesn’t matter which college you go to as long as there are plenty of opportunities for you to complete internships and make plenty of connections. Investment banking is one of those careers where it truly matters not just how much you know, but who you know, too.

In many cases, it can be beneficial for you to go to school near a major financial hub in a city like New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Washington, D.C.

At the end of the day, investment banks recruit students from colleges all over the world. The better your college’s reputation is, the better your odds are at getting a job. In the United States, your best bet will be to attend an Ivy League School, but you can easily go to a far less prestigious university and still achieve your goals.

Beyond that, you will also need to pay attention to the classes you are taking. A degree in economics or finance is generally the best choice, but business and accounting aren’t off the table, either.

Some liberal arts majors are able to get jobs as investment bankers, but you’ll be best off choosing a path that allows you to focus more specifically on the classes that are most aligned with your ultimate career goals.

More important than the name of the school you attend is how well you perform at that school. Your grades are important! If you graduate at the top of your class, you’ll be much more likely to draw the attention of hiring managers and recruiters.

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What Should I Do in College to Become an Investment Banker?

This can’t be stressed enough  – connections are everything when it comes to landing a job in investment banking. Complete as many internships as you can and don’t stop networking when the position has been completed. Make sure you reach out to past and current professionals via LinkedIn and do as much as you can to get your name out there.

There’s nothing like on-the-job-training to help you impress potential employers. Plus, networking will help you continue to stay current in the field. Don’t just rely on bosses and coworkers to help you find new connections, either. Remember that college alumni, industry groups, and even friends and family are all helpful when it comes to staying connected.

Networking is so important because, as an investment banker, you will spend most of your time selling. You’ll have to find large amounts of money and convince people to give it to your firm for investment. Without knowing how to “schmooze” with others, you’ll be starting a career in investment banking with a significant disadvantage.

Landing a job in investment banking is no different than landing your first megadeal when you’re actually on the job. You need to sell yourself, and engaging in as many internships and forging as many connections as possible is the way to do it.

There are other ways you can make a good connection while you are still in college, too. Join any business or investment banker’s clubs offered by your university to help you practice your skills and stay informed.

One other thing you should be doing while you are preparing for a career in investment banking is to practice investing on the side. You can dabble in the stock market with a small portion of your savings. This will help put you in the right direction when it comes to working with investments full time.

How Do I Get a Full-Time Job in Investment Banking After College?

So, what are the positions you need to work in after college to become an investment banker?

Despite what many people think, it’s not common to go from a baccalaureate graduation ceremony directly into a career in investment banking. You’ll need to follow a certain pathway in order to be successful.

Usually, undergraduates are recruited out of university to participate in a two-year training program as an analyst. This is the most junior-level job at an investment bank. If you are successful after two years, you may be asked to complete a third year. Then, you might be promoted to an associate-level position before progressing to vice president, director, or managing director.

How do you get yourself recruited fresh out of university? Again, getting an internship is going to be key. If you ever try applying for a job at an investment bank without connecting with the right people first, you’ll quickly learn that getting one of these jobs isn’t easy.

There’s more than one way to land a job at an investment bank, but the best way is applying for internships while you’re still enrolled in your program of study. Often, students who complete internships while they are completing their undergraduate studies are then offered analyst positions before the end of their senior years.

You can also participate in on-campus recruiting events, but these kinds of “cold” prospects aren’t as likely to land you a job as if you already knew someone at the hiring organization. You can also flat-out apply to related jobs in a major city or complete an internship after you have graduated from college, too.

There are alternative pathways to becoming an investment banker. Some people become investment bankers later in life, after working in law, spending time in the army, or working as a consultant.

This latter option is one of the most common alternative pathways. The theory here is simple – banks often hire outsiders to help them hone their strategy. If you are a strategy consultant who works in the financial sector, you can land an internal strategy job at an investment bank. Later, this could lead to a job in investment banking.

Do I Need a Master’s Degree to Become an Investment Banker?

You don’t necessarily have to get a master’s degree to become an investment banker, but it can help. With several years of hard work, you may be able to rise from a job as an investment banking analyst to a more senior position. However, it will take a lot of diligence and connections in order for this to happen – and some companies won’t promote candidates without master’s degrees at all.

Getting a master’s degree will make your life easier. An MBA (Master of Business Administration) or another kind of advanced degree or certification in finance will provide you with a competitive edge over other candidates.

What Should I Get a Master’s Degree in to Become an Investment Banker?

You can get a master’s in business administration or a master’s in finance to be successful as an investment banker. A master’s in finance is a smart choice, particularly if you want to pursue specialty positions in sales and trading or risk.

It may be worth checking in with the bank you’d ultimately like to work at to see what kinds of classes they like applicants to have. Most master’s in finance degrees only last a year or so, so take the time to make sure you’re taking the classes that matter most.

What Graduate School Should I Apply To?

Although you can get an undergraduate degree from just about anywhere when you are first starting off as an investment banker, you may want to pay close attention to the graduate school you choose to attend. Banks can be pretty fussy about graduate schools, particularly MBAs.

Not that many schools offer MBAs, and students who graduate from top business schools are going to start with a leg up on the competition. Look for an MBA that allows you to complete an MBA internship, too, so that you’ll have the experience necessary to break into this field.

Some of the best business schools in the world include those at the University of Pennsylvania, New York University, Columbia University, and the University of Chicago, just to name a few.

What Certificates Does Investment Banking Require?

There are several financial certifications that you might want to pursue, either while you are enrolled as an undergraduate or later, while you’re already working in investment banking. These can signify that you have expertise in a certain area of the financial industry.

To receive these certifications, you will usually need to complete several hours of coursework and pass an exam. You’ll also have to abide by various professional ethics standards and take continuing education courses later on to maintain your certification.

Some of the most common certificates for investment banking include licensure as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Financial Planner (CFP), and Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC).

As a CPA, you’ll also be qualified to work as a tax preparer, accountant, or financial analyst. As one of the most widely recognized financial certifications, it requires the completion of 150 hours of coursework and a rigorous examination.

The CFP certification is another helpful certification. This certification, which requires the completion of a seven-hour test as well as several courses, will prove that you are well-versed in topics spanning the breadth of the financial field. With a ChFC certification, it will help you with niche financial planning beyond the basics of the CFP.

Some other certifications to consider include those as a Financial Risk Manager, Chartered Investment Counselor, Chartered Life Underwriter, and Certified Management Accountant.

What Skills Will Help Me Become a Successful Investment Banker as an Adult?

If you’re pursuing a career as an investment banker, your work won’t end once you land a job. You need to constantly hone your skills in analytical thinking, communication, and leadership. Attend as many conferences and networking events as you can to help you stay relevant in this rapidly changing field.

Interestingly, investment banking has begun to rely more heavily on technology, too. Traditional financial institutions and start-ups alike are looking for more candidates who specialize in fields related to artificial intelligence, data science, machine learning, and automation.

You don’t necessarily need a full-fledged college degree in one of these topics, but taking a few classes here and there can help you stay on top of the changes and new developments in these fields.

Final Thoughts: How to Get Into Investment Banking

If you have the drive to succeed and strong business acumen, a career in investment banking might be the right choice for you. Start as soon as you can, because taking these steps will make a world of difference when it comes to landing the perfect job in this competitive field.

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