I receive countless emails from international students asking about which Master in Finance program they should attend and what the employment opportunities are for them upon graduation. This is a very relevant and important question considering the state of the financial sector in the US as well as the current immigration environment. Below are common concerns among international students as well as things to consider in your decision making process.
What programs should I apply to?
I usually advise international students to apply to either very well known programs or programs located in or near a major metropolitan area. The reasoning behind this is that international students need the most assistance when it comes to finding a job outside of their home country. In the case of the US, going to the most well known school a student can get in to gives the candidate not only a great alumni base, but recognition from others who know of the university. The quality of the schools on campus recruiting is also generally connected to its overall reputation.
Location is also an important factor. Being close to a major city means the ability to network, look for employment and internships if necessary. Sponsorship is necessary for international students looking to get hired and firms that are open to this added cost are usually large, F500 type companies. There are exceptions to this and one should cast a wide net, leaving no stone unturned, but most opportunities for full time work will come from these larger, established firms.
Investment Banking or Bust?
If you are an international student your concern should be on finding a good financial job, not just on working in investment banking or other highly sought after, but ultimately very difficult to obtain position. Now this is not to say this is impossible as qualified students, international or not, can land a position at an investment bank if they are prepared and competent. That being said, international students should look at a variety of positions in order to maximize the odds of securing a quality position that sponsors.
If Investment Banking is what you truly want I would suggest you aim for banking, but also look at jobs that aren’t banking, but have transferable skills. Think of it as the next best thing. This would include corporate banking, valuation/economic services at the Big 4, credit analyst roles, middle office positions (particularly if your goal is trading), and other jobs that have skills that can be leveraged into the job you eventually want. Have an open mind, cast a wide net and play the long game.
I have an MBA in my home country, can I still do an MSF?
I get many emails from students regarding this topic as doing an MBA right after undergrad seems more common for international students. Generally having an MBA already will preclude you when it comes to applying for a 2nd MBA in the US (exceptions are sometimes made though). With the MSF that is usually not the case. The only caveat with this advice is that the MSF is still targeted at more junior applicants. If you have an MBA in your home country and have 3-5 years experience you might find some schools having reservations with admitting you.
For those who are looking to apply to an MSF with an MBA I suggest you clearly highlight why you feel the need for another graduate degree. The specialized nature of the degree and its incorporation of CFA materials are usually the main reason why MBA’s would want to get a Masters in Finance. Having CFA levels completed will be helpful in conveying this message. If your MBA was in marketing or management it becomes a lot easier in making this case. As long as you make sure to explain this in your essays and when speaking with admissions you should be fine in most circumstances.
What if I don’t find a job?
This is obviously a worst case scenario, but one that should be considered. This is why you should consider the reputation of the school you attend, not only in the US, but back home also. The world of finance truly is global and I wouldn’t consider working in Europe, India or China to be less desirable than working in the US. That being said, students who are dedicates to the job search, open to multiple career paths and do well in their masters in finance program should find a job in whatever country they desire.
It might be slightly more difficult for international students to find a job in the US, but if you come in with an open mind and properly prepare yourself the journey will be a lot easier. I hope some of this MSF advice helps those in this situation and if you remember to work hard don’t get discourages that odds of success will be in your favor. Good luck!