From Liberal Arts to Investment Banking

When I was a 17-year-old senior at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, I made my college decision based on two criteria. Most importantly, I wanted to receive the best possible education I could, but I also wanted to prolong my athletic career. Williams College, a small liberal arts school conveniently tucked away deep in the Berkshire Mountains, was the school that fit the bill. The million-dollar questions that people constantly asked me were, “Why Williams?” and “What do you want to do after school?” Well, to be honest, I had no clue what I wanted to do after school, and since Williams didn’t offer an undergraduate business program I just decided I was going to play it by ear.

Golf tournament at Taconic with the Williams boys on a warm Saturday morning.
Golf tournament at Taconic with the Williams boys on a warm Saturday morning.

The summer before my first semester at Williams I decided that I wanted to be an Econ Major. It seemed like the next best option since Williams didn’t offer any business courses. One semester later I had declared as a History Major.  My decision-making process to this day has always been more or less the same. I figure out what I am passionate about and I run with it as hard as I can. During my time at Williams I fell in love with studying American history, and I ran with it.

My high school friends made the long trip up from Charlottesville to Williamstown for my last game.
My high school friends made the long trip up from Charlottesville to Williamstown for my last game.

“So Johnny, what do you want to do after Williams?” Again, the million-dollar question. After my first year of college I still did not know what I wanted to do after school, so I began reaching out to family friends for job advice. One day over the summer, one of my mentors gave me a valuable piece of advice—If you don’t know what you want to do, go work for an investment bank. You’ll pick up an invaluable skill set which can apply wherever you decide to go next.

Grad week in Williamstown with the roommates.
Grad week in Williamstown with the roommates.

Those words resonated with me, and I wanted to follow his guidance, but I faced the challenge of getting my foot in the door with an investment bank. I could confidently tell you everywhere George Washington stopped between the French-Indian War and the Constitutional Convention, but I couldn’t tell a Balance Sheet from Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. As my senior year rolled around I knew that in order to successfully land a job with an investment bank I needed to make a reinvestment, and receive a formal business education.

From Williams to UVA

As a 21-year-old senior at Williams College I faced a similar situation to the one that presented itself to me four years earlier. Unlike high school, where every student in my senior class graduated and went on to college, people were going in all sorts of different directions after graduating college—Banking, Real Estate, Law School, Med School, etc. My mom, a UVA alum, recommended during the winter of my senior year that I consider applying to McIntire’s M.S. in Commerce (MSC) Program. After performing some due diligence, I came to the conclusion that this program looked like exactly what I needed to make myself a more desirable job candidate. Similar to my undergraduate college search, I looked up the top one-year master’s in business programs. Sure enough UVA’s MSC Program was at the top of the list. Seven months later I was loading up the wagon for Charlottesville.

At a home UVA football game.
At a home UVA football game.

Can a History Major handle a quant-heavy course load?

When I arrived in Charlottesville I was initially intimidated by the thought of taking a quantitative-heavy course load. Since I was a History Major at Williams I had only taken a few math and economics courses. As I sat in my first few finance and accounting courses I was worried that I was behind the eight ball since I had never taken any business courses. I quickly realized that the beauty of this program is that we are all here because we were liberal arts, science or engineering majors.

The MSC course load is definitely different than that my undergraduate history curriculum, however I believe that my rigorous liberal arts education has been tremendously helpful in critically analyzing the business problems we have studied this year.  Even a student like me, who hadn’t used his TI calculator since high school calculus, has managed to survive the quantitative courses.

Group pic after our final Strategy and Systems presentation.
Group pic after our final Strategy and Systems presentation.

Charlottesville

Perhaps my favorite part of the MSC program is that I get to spend a year in Charlottesville. I have been a Wahoo fan my whole life, and it only seems right that I finally ended up on UVA’s campus. My sister is a junior in the architecture school here, and it has been a lot of fun being at the same school as her. Charlottesville is really neat in that it has a quaint, small-town feel, but is also big enough so that I am constantly doing new things and trying out new restaurants and bars.

The MSC program has provided me with an outstanding group of friends who I have enjoyed experiencing Charlottesville with. The work load of the program does a good job of keeping our noses to the grindstone Sunday-Thursday, but I have found that most of my classmates realize that we are all fortunate to have one more year in school, and we have definitely tried made the most of our “victory lap.”

UVA vs Duke bball with MS in Comm, MS in Accounting, Law School and Med School friends.
UVA vs Duke bball with MS in Comm, MS in Accounting, Law School and Med School friends.

During the fall I attended every home football game, and this winter I have tried to go to every basketball game that I can get tickets to. Coming to UVA has been a great change of pace socially because there is just so much more to do in a bigger college town than Williamstown, where the only two bars were the Purple Pub and the Red Herring.

Learning not just for the sake of learning

At a school like Williams, that doesn’t offer business courses, students devote themselves to their studies for the sake of learning, not necessarily for learning applicable everyday skills. Liberal arts students learn how to be pragmatic problem solvers; they learn how to think analytically and outside the box. I am a full believer in the liberal arts education, however in order for me to have been able to pursue a career in finance I needed a more tangible skill set.

At Williams I struggled during my more technical banking interviews because I had never taken accounting. Naturally, I had a hard time talking through questions about the financial statements. I had also never taken a corporate valuation course, so I couldn’t sit down in interviews and intelligently perform DCF valuations. At Williams I had been taught how to think, but I needed a program like McIntire’s MSC to give me the business backing to apply my analytical skill set.

Within weeks the MSC program had infinitely improved my business acumen, and what had once been my Achilles heel in interviews had become an opportunity to outshine other interviewees. I can say with almost complete certainty that I would not have been able to land my job for next year as an analyst at investment bank KBW without my formal McIntire business education.

During the first half of the program I would’ve said that the interview help alone was worth the price of admission. Now, looking ahead five months, I see the real value of the MSC program. The skills that we are learning in the classroom will be directly applicable to my work next year. We work in Excel nearly every day and are constantly doing valuations, creating LBO models, and reverse engineering famous investment banking deals. Because of the Finance track curriculum I am completely confident going into my first day of work in July. As I mentioned earlier, my Williams degree is absolutely invaluable to me, and now my McIntire education gives me a few more tools that I will need in my tool belt in order to be successful at work next year.

Bringing it home

For all of those reading this blog who are considering applying to the MSC Program, I encourage you to do it. If you are someone like me, I promise this program is worth it. The University of Virginia is an incredibly special place and I am honored to have been able to spend a year here. The McIntire school taught me how to leverage my Williams education in a way that made me a much more desirable job applicant and future employee. The MSC Program has also provided me with a fantastic group of friends. I am so grateful that my mom told me to look into this program, because it has opened doors for me that would have certainly been closed without it.

Go Ephs andWahoowa!

-Written by Johnny Bond, M.S. in Commerce 2017

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