University Bocconi

The Bocconi University Master in Finance Student Review is a long time coming and I am lucky enough to have a close friend who went to the program. He was kind enough to write a very comprehensive review of the program as he graduated only a few years ago. I am in the process of writing an update post on the program so stay tuned. Until then, enjoy this great review of one of the best programs in the world!

1) Why an MSF in general? Why the Bocconi program specifically?

 

I did my undergraduate studies in the US and worked for a year, after which I was unfortunately not able to secure a H1B visa. Given that the school is not recognizable in Europe, I decided to take the GMAT and apply to a Masters program in Europe to better position myself for a role in London. I knew about the Bocconi program as I had several friends that did it and were extremely positive about their experience, and also did my research to see that it is a strong feeder for London. I also thought it would be a good experience socially to spend two years in Italy (which it was). I was a bit late as I took GMAT last minute, so the credible program I could apply to were Bocconi, RSM and Copenhagen Business School. Bocconi was the best of the 3 and I made it.

 

2) Pros / Cons

Pros:

  • Highly rigorous program – I thought coming from a strong finance undergrad program and one year in the industry, the classes would be a walk in the park. They were not. The program has a strong quantitative emphasis, with two econometrics and two quantitative finance courses being mandatory. There is also an Italian exam that students need to pass in order to graduate (side note – it’s a joke and everyone passes; still you need to make some effort) – think this is sensible and also allows you to meet students from the other MSc programs.
  • Affordability – you pay EUR 24k for the two (or two and a half) years in tuition, compared to GBP 20k+ in a comparable 1-year UK program. Placement is on par with the top Masters programs there (although in the UK, doing a UK masters degree is slightly looked down upon as most people break in locally from undergrad). In addition, there are ample scholarship opportunities, including need-based.
  • Flexibility of the course:
    • In the second year, the students have to choose a specialization (called a track) and select elective courses accordingly. The options are Investment Banking, Quantitative Finance, Financial Institutions and Insurance Management. You can also choose a Free Track, but you need the program director’s approval for your electives selection (I did that).
    • There are multiple exam sessions, so you get a reasonable amount of do-overs for the challenging courses. It is often the case that people leave econometrics (and sometimes other courses) for the second year.
    • In order to graduate, students need to complete a 10-week internship. This can be waived if you have prior experience (another internship or a full-time role). Unlike the US, longer-term internships are common. A lot of people skip a semester or take 1-2 classes remotely while doing an off-cycle for 6 months (and if you’re really unlucky, there are year-long “placements” – the French do that and it’s absolute exploitation – don’t do it!). Luckily, Bocconi allows you to graduate in March of the third year (effectively, you get a fifth semester at no extra cost). A lot of people also use the fall of the third year for any remaining exams and to write their thesis while not taking a heavy course load. As a result, your experience can be structured to your liking when it comes to what you want to do with your time.
  • Job prospects – you’re likely to get the role that you want. You’d normally recruit as soon as school starts (September-October) and get an internship lined up for the summer between the first and second year. If you convert, your job is done and have a breeze with your electives the second year (although you still have to graduate), not worrying about your grades. If you don’t, you can do more internships (see above regarding program flexibility). Ultimately, almost everyone ends up at a good place. Emphasis is very heavy on banking and all big names recruit on campus. They have two weekends in the year where banks come to campus and present, followed by less formal networking events in the evenings at a bar/restaurant (you won’t necessarily get accelerated in the process, but you can mention the people you met in your cover letter and also they can probably remember you when screening CVs if you made a good impression). Apart from banking, people end up in a variety of other roles (trading, asset management, equity research, corporate, even consulting). Geographically, most people are gunning for London (some don’t make it and end up in their respective countries). A lot of Italians stay in Milan as there are plenty of roles there too. Some people go back to their countries (mostly the guys with good local markets, e.g. Germany, Nordics, Netherlands etc., but not always). Of course, people can end up in other places – Luxembourg (some European institutions HQd there, also reporting roles for larger firms), Budapest (some of the big consulting firms run their CEE operations from there, BlackRock also has a quite large office focused on analytics). There has been a recent push for Dubai – some classmates went to do consulting gigs there and get that tax-free money. Occasionally, some of the international students who studied Italian before or picked it up over the 2 years can end up working in Milan (although it’s fairly rare but I can think of several people from my cohort). Overall, any imaginable entry-level finance role is achievable (probably with the exception of truly “quant” roles as even the quantitative track is relatively light compared to a purely quant/mathematical finance program.
    • Side note: unlike the US, it is common to do multiple internships, including following your graduation. I know people that used the extra semester to graduate, and do internships for another year before landing a full-time role. The firms pass it off as “we want to see how you work before we hire you full-time” while their true motive is to get cheap labor from you for as long as possible. Unfortunately, it is widely accepted across Europe so do not be surprised if you have to go this route.
  • Quality of teaching – the professors are interested in the students’ success and are easily accessible via email/office hours to explain concepts that are unclear. There is a mix of academics and practitioners, including some legit guys (Head of GS Italy is co-teaching a course in banking, a business valuation teacher is a start-up investor sitting on a dozen boards, the professor teaching risk management is in charge of that area at UniCredit, etc.. Of course, teaching quality varies (some professors don’t speak very good English) but is overall quite good.

Cons:

  • Homogeneity of the student body – a large portion of the students are dead set on breaking into banking and place a great importance of achieving a perfect GPA, which can result in unhealthy competitiveness and sometimes induce panic in other students (e.g. all conversations revolving around “have you applied to xyz”, “have you gotten interviews here”, “do you have a job yet”). Because of that, the environment can be unpleasant for some, even if they do not fall into that category. The profiles can be broadly summarized as below (not scientific in any way). From what I heard from people doing the program before me, this does not change much over time:
    • Italian bachelors degree with maximum score (from Bocconi or another university in Italy), no work experience, no languages, wants to work in M&A (c.50% of the program).
    • Same as above but wants to do something else (c.10% of the program).
    • Hungry internationals from various places in Europe going for banking (c.15%).
    • Miscellaneous internationals (c.25%) – some people with prior experience, some know they don’t want to go through banking and the Bocconi program is opening the door for them to much more interesting and lucrative opportunities in their home countries without working 80+ hours/week.

3) Who would you recommend this program to?

If you want to do banking, Bocconi will position you perfectly. It’s an affordable and worthwhile option for those who for some reason couldn’t get in the first time around, or did not decide to pursue a career in finance until later during their studies. A great option for those who are uncertain which specific branch they would like to go to, as the flexibility of the program allows you to do several internships in order to get a clear idea of where you would like to go.

 

4) Anything else you want to add. I usually ask for how was the campus, recruiting, student life, etc. 

Campus

  • Not great looking – we have one new building by some prominent architect (I keep forgetting his name), but the buildings are all in different styles and some are in more run-down state than others.
  • Library gets absolutely rammed during exams and there is a line forming before opening time. They need an extension of the library as well as a larger 24h area.
  • The location is otherwise great, next to the Navigli canals which is one of the more lively areas in Milan.

Social groups fall into the following categories (confirmed by people from previous years and the year below mine):

  • Italians that did their Bachelors at Bocconi – already know each other, can be reserved towards newcomers since they have formed their social circles. Usually dead set on banking.
  • Italians that did their Bachelors at other Italian universities – a bit more open to hanging out with the international crowd, but forming their own group.
  • Large groups of Internationals from the same country/region – Germans and Russians usually have the most numbers. Tend to socialize largely with people from the same country/region.
  • Random internationals – obviously biased towards my own group, but this is where you can meet a broader variety of characters and backgrounds.

Other social nuances:

  • Nightlife – you see two large groups there. The wealthier students would go multiple times a week to the most expensive/exclusive clubs (e.g. Armani, Byblos where you pay EUR 20 for a drink). Those that are on a stricter budget would go to the Erasmus nights with student specials (free entry or EUR 10/15 entry with 2 drinks included). There are numerous options to have fun as Milan has a great scene.
  • As an international student, you will most likely have a great time as people from all the programs meet before classes start via Facebook groups (e.g. Bocconi Masters Students Class of 2017), so in the beginning people are quite open to making friends. Some of my better friends did not study finance.
  • If you studied Italian before, you’ll have a great time to improve your command of the language and your social experience will improve 10x (since you can go to places and do things that you wouldn’t be able to if you only spoke English).
  • Make an effort to learn a decent level of Italian – it’s one of the easiest languages to learn and being in the environment where people outside of the university rarely speak English, you can pick it up rather quickly. I regret not doing that as I was preoccupied with my employment prospects. Opportunity you’ll never get back.

Recruitment

  • Covered above

Miscellaneous

  • Take a lot of trips around Italy – so many beautiful places to visit that are easy day trips or weekend trips. Class attendance policy is fairly lax so you can even go in the middle of the week if you want to spend longer in a certain place. You won’t have that kind of time once you start working.

All, this is a phenomenal review. I wish every one I had was this comprehensive. Huge shout out to my friend for doing this one. Everyone considering Bocconi (or a European university in general), enjoy!