The University of Virginia MS in Commerce program is one of the best specialized masters out there and students routinely ask me about it when we talk. I’ve been lucky enough to have another review from a graduating student to help any of you thinking about applying.
Why a Master’s in Commerce? Why the UVA McIntire program?
I began thinking about MSF/MSF-like programs during my junior year of undergrad. I entered college assuming I was going to go to law school afterward, so I didn’t give a whole of consideration to career planning (aside from getting good grades). At some point during my junior year, I realized two things. One, I really had no interest in law or the practice of it. Two, I thoroughly enjoyed the major I had chosen (Economics), but had no idea what I was supposed to do with a degree in it.
It was around this time I discovered Mergers and Inquisitions and Wall Street Oasis, which really opened my eyes towards finance for the first time. The MSF was a frequent topic of interest, and that actually led me to MSFHQ. I knew I had the grades and mindset for the industry, I just needed the access to recruiters and a quick crash course in finance to sell myself on actually being able to come in and be useful.
I attended a liberal arts school that would definitely be considered a non-target for Wall Street recruiting, but was still quite good academically. (Most of our best students went on straight to graduate school). However, our career services were lackluster. Thus, my number 1 concern for my MSF was access to recruiting. As I’m sure you can attest, Anthony, while what you learn in a quality MSF program can give you a great headstart in your career, the number 1 reason you get this degree is to advance yourself professionally. I was very impressed by the caliber of the companies that recruited there, along with their placement rates.
What really sold me on UVA, however, was how the program seemed practically tailor-made to somebody with my background. The program is a crash course in business and finance (or business and marketing & management, if you choose that track) that is specially designed with former liberal arts or science students in mind. Within the finance track, you go from time value of money basics to Black-Scholes very quickly.
Pros/Cons (if any) of the UVA program?
I’ll go with a list for this one.
1. Recruiting- Front office recruiting is strong- you’re in the exact same pool as the McIntire undergrads. With an identical resume (aside from UVA), I went from getting 0 interviews (admittedly by applying online to places and cold emailing people) to having interviews with about 20 companies during my time at UVA. I was an off-cycle hire for my firm, so my recruiting journey lasted about 5 months. The bulk of my interviewing took place in September, October, and January. A caveat, however- you are given great access to recruiters at UVA, but you are also up against great competition. This is a point to which I will return during the Cons section.
2. Interview Preparation and Career Services- Commerce Career Services has a great staff. They are good at reviewing resumes and more importantly can tailor advice to the career track you’re looking to pursue. They’re very familiar with the banking path, but given the range of business interests in the undergrad Comm School as well as the MS Comm program, they are also quite knowledgeable about consulting and marketing. They offer mock interviews, both with the counselors they have and visiting employers. This is a very useful tool for interview practice if you don’t have a lot of interview experience
The program makes you take a short class in the beginning called Seeking Authenticity and Thinking as A Leader. It may sound like BS if you’re the cynical type, but the first two weeks of the class extensively focus on how to sell yourself in interviews as a liberal arts/science kid looking to transfer into business. If you can internalize the general concepts you have a huge leg up in the process. No matter how quantitative your position is, you need to effectively tell your story as an aspiring professional and sell yourself to your prospective employer. One of your first assignments is giving a presentation to the class about why you came to the program and where you’re looking to head with your career. The presentation is a perfect way to develop a “Walk me through your resume…” pitch that creates a compelling hook to start off an interview.
3. Quality of Faculty- This is probably obvious, but McIntire’s professors live up to their reputation- many have had significant “real-world” experience and are very bright. More importantly, they know why you are at McIntire and will constructively push you to get where you want to be. Most are pretty easy to get in touch with for office hours if you have questions or are looking for advice.
4. Coursework- McIntire will definitely push you, but it strikes a good balance between challenging you and not demolishing your GPA. In my opinion, the curves are generous, but not ridiculous. If you put forth effort, you shouldn’t get below a B in your classes. You’re going to have to work for the A range (and really work for it in certain classes), but all in all, I think the process is quite fair. You will get as much out of the coursework as you put into it.
5. Quality of Students- I’m a recent grad and I am at the beginning of my career, but my MS Comm friends are possibly the smartest overall collection of young people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. I’ve had more intellectually stimulating conversations pregaming before heading out to bars in Charlottesville than I had in many of my undergrad classes.
6. Quality of Life- Speaking of which, this brings me to my next point- UVA is fantastic place to be. Obviously, your number 1 objective in going to an MSF program is landing the gig that you want, but having a positive environment makes the process easier. Recruiting is difficult and regardless of how smart you are, it is going to be a stressful process if you are aiming high. UVA definitely has a “work hard, play hard” culture, though your classmates in the MS program may vary. My experience was great- it was easy to form a social circle of like-minded people within the first week. As long as you can balance your goals with your social life, you can earn the position you want, learn a ton, and have a blast throughout the whole process.
7. Alumni Network- Another huge plus. UVA has a sizeable alumni network, both on the Street and throughout the larger corporate world. It was definitely beneficial during my recruiting process and ultimately helped me into the position I’m in today.
8. GIE- I didn’t give this a whole lot of weight when I accepted, but this was a great addition. It actually caused me to seriously consider the notion of living and working abroad for the first time. At bare minimum, it will be a really cool trip for you and will give you some newfound perspective on the world; if you apply yourself to the classes beforehand, you can learn quite a lot.
1. The first 6 weeks move at a breakneck pace. After the first week, expect to have your workload drastically increase at the exact same time recruiting kicks into gear for banking / consulting. You absolutely need to be ready to move come late August. If there is any one bit of advice I could give somebody coming into the program, it is to start networking as soon as you get access to the alumni database (it should be in the middle of the summer, but reach out to Commerce Career Services ASAP about access either way). If there’s one aspect of the program I would change, it would be starting it earlier, like Duke does.
2. The financial accounting course (which everyone is required to take during the second half of the fall) was poorly done during my year- it made simple concepts unnecessarily complicated. I’m sure it has improved; this was a common complaint amongst my classmates.
3. Delayed onset of most of the finance coursework- You have a course first semester which takes you all the way from time value of money to options theory, but you don’t get fully immersed in all finance courses until the second semester. Personally, I think learning the general business stuff first is helpful, but you could be disappointed in the pace if you’re looking to learn options trading from the get-go.
Who would you recommend the program to?
Liberal arts and/or science students who are able to focus and handle drinking out of a firehose- regardless of your track, the program and recruiting moves very quickly.
Anything else you want to talk about. Recruiting, trips, campus experience, projects, alumni, etc. Anything and everything.
I’ve touched on most of these already, but I’ll leave some final thoughts. I loved my time at UVA. I think being well-rounded in your skill set and in your life in general is hugely important, and the program exemplifies this. As helpful as it is to specialize, myopia on just pure finance without having an understanding of business strategy and marketing isn’t ideal- in fact, it can make you very replaceable depending on where your career takes you.
I’ve touched on the campus experience earlier, but want to revisit again. One huge plus of the program for me was that I felt like I was a part of the university, and not just some outsider in a random town for a year taking classes. I think this helps you stay engaged with the university and the alumni network afterwards. Football games, the Corner Bars, hanging out in Wetland Square/Downtown, Foxfield- all of these experiences are great fun by themselves, but can also help you easily relate to UVA’s alumni network.
I didn’t sign up for the program because of GIE, but I absolutely loved the trip. You won’t be disappointed.
In closing, I really can’t stress the importance of taking initiative enough. This obviously applies directly to networking, but also to finding new job opportunities if initial plans fall through, learning as much as possible in class, learning as much as possible outside of class, and more generally taking control of your career trajectory and the rest of your life. This program can really set you up well, but it’s not going to just fall into your lap- you have to make it happen.
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