Choosing a degree and university for your finance career

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What do you need to consider when choosing where to go to university and what to study?

Most finance employers take on graduates from a wide range of universities and degree subjects. Hiring graduates from a wide pool enables companies to build a diverse workforce with a broad range of skills and experiences. Gemma Adams, HR director at Mitsubishi UFJ Securities, told TARGETjobs: ‘We don’t want a class where all entrants are a complete carbon copy of one another. We don’t want 20 graduates who have all achieved firsts in economics at a redbrick university, for example – that just isn’t how we work here. We want a really diverse class.’ There are some things, however, that you should consider before you choose your university and degree subject.

Some finance employers seek specific degrees

Most finance employers accept graduates from all degree disciplines, but a small number of employers seek specific degrees or have a preference for certain degree subjects. For actuarial roles, for instance, employers want hard evidence that you’re good with numbers and data, so a numerate degree is often a must. Numerate degree subjects are those that contain a high concentration of maths, such as statistics, physics, economics and maths itself. Likewise, for IT roles in finance, computer science/IT or software engineering degrees are often a prerequisite. For a handful of accountancy employers a business studies or business related degree is preferred. And for a few other roles in finance, a numerate or semi-numerate degree (eg accountancy or chemistry) is desired. If you have an employer in mind, it’s worth finding out what its degree entry requirements are.

Some finance employers want graduates from top universities

Once you begin your graduate job hunt, you may occasionally come across a job advert that says graduates from ‘top universities’ are sought. Many employers prefer candidates from higher ranking universities, even if they don’t say so out loud. Have a look online at The Guardian’s most recent university league table for a ranking of all UK universities, for starters, but bear in mind that some employers may have a more ‘traditional’ mental list of desired universities. This is not to say, however, that finance employers only consider Oxford or Cambridge graduates; as previously mentioned, they want a diverse workforce. But if you’ve got the grades to get into a top university, go for it – it may well help you to stand out from the competition.

Some universities will be better than others in your chosen subject

Don’t simply choose a university because it scores highly in a league table. Consider universities that are best for your chosen subject of study, and those that have facilities and extracurricular opportunities that will help you to develop the knowledge and skills you need to succeed in finance. Perhaps there’s a particular university that has a large proportion of alumni that have gone on to have successful careers in the area of finance that interests you. University and course comparison websites such as Unistats will help you in your research.

Certain degree subjects are more finance-related than others

If you’re interested in a career in finance you could choose to study a finance-related subject such as economics, maths or accountancy and finance. Such subjects will provide you with a good foundation for your future finance career because you are likely to develop at least a basic understanding of the sorts of thing you’ll be doing on the job. This could help with your confidence when it comes to applying. With an accountancy and finance degree, for example, you’ll be well equipped for a career in the accounting profession and, when you start work, may find the route to professional qualification easier than a colleague who has done an English degree. However, remember that in the main, finance employers accept graduates from all degree disciplines, and a 2.1 (the second highest class of degree) in English from a top university will be much more impressive to recruiters than a 2.2 in accountancy and finance from a lower ranked institution.

It’s better to choose a degree subject that you’ll enjoy and will do well in

The vast majority of finance employers have a 2.1 minimum degree requirement. If you don’t obtain this your chances of landing a graduate job in the industry will be severely reduced unless you can prove mitigating circumstances or, for some employers, outstanding achievement in another area – this is the case with some accountancy employers. For this reason, choosing a university you think will help you do well, in a degree subject that you’ll enjoy, is your best option.

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