High School: YIS | Passport: China | Other Countries: Japan, USA
Degrees: B.A. Economics, B.S. Business Administration | Industry: Start-up / Finance
College and University Culture
Boston University is one of the most international colleges in the United States. The business school (Questrom School of Business) may be the most international of all – maybe with the exception of the College of General Studies. There is a large body of students from other international schools. Because of the school’s large size, it becomes easy for students to form their own mini-circles, which was kind of sad – unlike coming from a school like YIS (Yokohama International School). Then again, most of my friends were from the Finance & Investment Club and that was already quite diverse – although the club did have its own culture.
I highly recommend studying abroad – it’s one thing that I regret not doing – well, aside from not studying computer science. Many people consider studying abroad to be a vacation, but I believe it will widen your perspective and worldview.
Career in the United States
Boston University is well-reputed for its teaching quality, but it’s weak on career placement. If you’re looking to do finance or investments in the United States, you’re going to face an up-hill battle because Boston University is not a target school for many well-known (top / most prestigious) companies. However, it’s possible. You should take advantage of diversity programs, be active and network through the Finance & Investment Club, and maybe sneak into MIT and Harvard’s career fairs. You can also think about transferring to a target school in your freshman or sophomore year.
If you’re looking to get into buy-side firms, where you get to pitch your investment ideas to portfolio managers (those who manage money for wealthy individuals and institutions), the road is going to be bumpy. You can still break into buy-side firms if you are a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident – you must really be passionate about investing – but the odds are against you. The best way to get into the buy-side world would be to start from the sell-side.
Sell-side firms are companies such as Barclays, Credit Suisse, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Mizuho, Citigroup, Merrill Lynch (Bank of America), and HSBC – think of these as equivalent to Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and AirBnb in the finance world. While buy-side firms buy or sell investments and manage money for people who have money, sell-side firms serve as middle-men and advisers to people who want to buy and sell financial instruments (financial assets that can be traded).
Opportunities for Internationals
For international students, it’s going to be more difficult for you to break into finance in the United States because of visa issues and possible cultural differences – almost impossible for buy-side firms. As an international student, you have to be 125%+ better than students who are permanent residents or U.S. citizens.
If you can work on your second language up to business or native level, you’d be much better off finding opportunities in China or Japan (or any other country). Of course, there will be cultural differences among firms in Japan (which is what we’re going to try and address on this web portal). Because there aren’t that many people who can speak the local language (on top of English), it’s less competitive in Asia. Attend the Boston Career Forum, held in the fall season in Boston, for opportunities in Japan.
I’ve recently heard that sell-side firms (banks) in Hong Kong are looking out of the Ivy league circle, because not many students want to work in finance these days. Those markets are much less competitive and are probably less mature – i.e. more opportunities to make the market more efficient. Because the market in the United States is a mature one – referring to the stock market – it’s become much harder to find stocks that are often mispriced. You will be competing against many people who are just as smart (if not smarter than you).
While I was at Boston University, the Big 4 accounting firms (PwC, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and KPMG) were more international-student friendly. They find many international students to be hard-working and of higher caliber – according to a friend who interviewed with them – so they’re open to sponsoring visas. Note that they also have the resource (HR) and scale to provide sponsorship. Moving from accounting to finance is a challenge – few end up doing it – but if staying in the United States is your priority and you’re not all-in on finance, it’s something to consider. Note: this might have changed because it’s become so much harder to obtain a U.S. visa since 2014 as U.S. labor market has improved along with its economy and demand for H-1B visas has grown.
U.S. Visa Explained
It is true that where you want to live after graduation is where you should go for school. If you go to a U.S. school, you’d get one year of OPT (optional practical training) after graduation. After that, your company needs to sponsor your H-1B visa. The H-1B visa, however, is not guaranteed and there is an annual cap of 65,000 (general) with an additional 20,000 available to U.S. advanced degree holders (masters+).
There are talks about changes to the H-1B visa system. I am not sure how the visa policy is going to change under Mr. Trump. Contrary to what people may think, it might be positive for U.S. school graduates who are looking for high-paying / high-skilled roles in finance or consulting upon graduation.
On the other hand, if you go to a U.K. school, you can switch from the Tier 4 (student visa) to Tier 2 (general work visa) if you have found employment in the U.K. and you make the switch before your Tier 4 visa expires. That switch is not subject to the annual limit that U.K. can issue.
Tip: seek out large companies with a global presence or that benefits from having a global perspective or diversity of thoughts.