Have you ever wondered how other finance students’ experiences compare to yours? Do they share the same fears and aspirations? How does your coursework and job experience measure up? In this article, we’ll take a look at what four real-life finance students are studying this fall, what jobs and internships they’ve held, and what they consider to be their dream jobs. We’ll also tell you about the challenges they expect to encounter in finding jobs after graduation and in their future careers. Finally, we’ll share their advice to students contemplating a career in finance.
Michael Bruno, who will be a senior at Boston University in the fall of 2013, says he has finally finished his general education requirements and can focus on the classes he wants to take. Because he is majoring in business administration with concentrations in finance and law, he is taking Money, Financial Markets and Economic Activity; Corporate Financial Management; Advanced Business Law; and Strategy and Policy.
Ashley Panessa, who will be a junior this fall at Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania, will be taking biology, principles of managerial accounting, intermediate corporate finance, international organization and global political economics this fall. All of these classes either are required for her finance major or are part of the business school’s requirements, she says.
Zak Leedom, who will be a sophomore this fall at West Virginia University, says his fall class schedule consists of a couple of basic business classes along with some psychology and general education classes. “I am trying to get the basic requirements out of the way, and following my advisor’s recommendations has led me to these classes,” he says.
College Jobs and Internships
“I have held a couple on-campus jobs during the school year just to get some pocket money,” Bruno says. “However, I also interned at Merrill Lynch during my junior year. I was really interested in wealth management as a career, so I was excited to get that opportunity,” he says. Bruno says he is still unsure, however, of which field he wants to pursue within finance, so experience in any area is helpful.
Panessa is currently interning at TD Ameritrade Institutional in the wealth management department. “This internship has definitely widened my perspective on all the possibilities a finance degree can offer,” she says. While she still isn’t sure what area of finance she wants to work in, she says this internship has given her a perspective on the industry that cannot be taught in school.
Leedom plays soccer for WVU. “Being a full-time athlete leaves no room in my schedule for any jobs or internships,” he says. This summer, however, he interned at Libertas Wealth Management Group in Dublin, Ohio. He says his internship has helped support his decision to go into finance and will help him feel more comfortable in the financial field and in his future finance classes.
Matthew Lenhard, a sophomore studying finance at the University of Delaware, is unlike our other three interviewees, in that he has gone off the typical finance student’s path. “When I first came to Delaware, I had dreams of working in investment banking or on Wall Street,” he says. He was drawn to it by the prestige and the salary. “As time passed and I learned more about finance, my goals moved away from a job in the financial sector and more towards entrepreneurship,” he says. “I realized just how competitive the job market is in the financial sector and saw how much more lucrative entrepreneurship can be.”
Lenhard says he realized that although his school has a respectable business program, it was nowhere near the top 10 programs that most investment banking jobs and other prestigious positions are recruited from. He was also tired of taking classes that weren’t related to his career but which took up a huge portion of his time.
“It felt as if I was almost wasting my time putting countless hours into studying when I knew that if I put the same amount of time into my own business the rewards would be much greater than just an A in the class,” he says.
While he’s still taking finance classes, Lenhard launched a mobile website development firm, Shine Mobile, as a way to follow through with his new dream of entrepreneurship.
Panessa, on the other hand, doesn’t yet know where she wants to work, but says she hopes her finance classes next semester will lead her toward a specific area in finance. “I would like to figure out my career path as I go along,” she says. “I think it is very important to stay flexible and adapt to the changing industry.” She says that someone who planned their entire career path before graduating from college might find himself trapped in a dying part of the industry or become disappointed if they didn’t reach a certain goal.
Bruno says his dream job would probably be to work as a sports agent. “I love sports and being able to have a career that revolves around them would be one of the coolest things ever,” he says. This career path would make use of his interests in both finance and law.
Leedom says his dream job after graduating would definitely be playing professional soccer, but working at Libertas Wealth Management, where he did his summer internship, would be a close second.
“I think my biggest challenge in getting a job will be standing out from the crowd,” Bruno says. “More than 3,000 students graduate from BU alone each year. When you think of all the universities in the U.S. and the thousands of students graduating from each one, it really adds up, and all of them are looking for jobs at the same time. Being able to stand out from them and prove what I have to offer to an employer is the biggest challenge.” He says he is excited, however, to see where his career path will take him, even though he doesn’t yet know where he’ll be after graduating.
Panessa also says she thinks that the biggest challenge in getting a job will be successfully differentiating her resume from that of every other college graduate with the same major and GPA.
In addition to the challenges of finding that first finance job out of college come the long-term challenges that face anyone working in the finance industry.
“I think that the finance industry is currently experiencing a lot of change that has the potential of altering the way everyone has been working,” Panessa says. While this transformation may create new job opportunities, it will also phase out old ones. “I think that a big challenge is going to be anticipating where change is going to take place in the industry and then successfully capitalizing on the changing movements,” she says.
Leedom says the biggest challenges for him will be completing all of the certifications such as the CFP and getting the required licenses in order to succeed in the financial field. But, he says, “I feel very confident in my future in the financial field because I am a good learner, a hard worker and above all I am very competitive at everything that I do.”
Words of Wisdom
“My advice to anyone thinking of studying finance is to open your mind to other classes and majors,” Bruno says. “Take classes in other subjects in a completely different area as well as other types of business classes. If you combine finance with another major or minor, it becomes so much more valuable. You not only have that finance background you wanted, but you also have a complementary skill set that other finance students may not have, further distinguishing yourself.”
Panessa’s advice for anyone already studying or planning to study finance is to start familiarizing yourself with the industry by reading newspapers or talking to people who work in finance. “This will help them figure out if finance is really the area they want to study or help them in school if they decide to stick with finance,” she says.
The Bottom Line
While some of today’s finance students know exactly what they want to do for a living—or are already doing it—others are leaving their future plans wide open for now. Many have gained work and/or internship experience that will inform their decisions. Some are confident in their ability to find jobs—or create their own—but others are concerned about the competition. While these four students’ experiences and thoughts provide just a snapshot and shouldn’t be construed as a representative sample, they offer an interesting glimpse into what today’s finance students are going through.