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Do Quants need to go to an Ivy League school?

Q: Do Quants need to have gone to an Ivy League school? Can you become a quant without going to a top tier university? I am close to a PhD in computer science from University of Wisconsin (Madison). What are my chances of breaking in?

Deborah Rivera, founder of New York-based Succession Group, says this is actually one of the few areas where you can excel, regardless of whether you attended an Ivy league institution. That said, the firm will be looking carefully at the quality and visibility of your published work and its potential relevance on Wall Street. Also extremely important will be references from your professors (It’s better if he or she is a published and relatively well-known professor).

“If you publish interesting work and develop the necessary relationships, you may very well excel in this area,” Rivera says. “But the references will be key.”

Rivera can’t stress enough how important references can be. Her firm received an offer from a well-known hedge fund for a quant position for one of her clients. However, the offer was rescinded after one of the client’s professors provided a less than enthusiastic reference.

“This hedge fund actually went through the trouble of contacting the professor that supervised his dissertation - rather than the professors which he listed as references - and that professor was located in Brazil!” Rivera said.

Rivera says candidates should not overlook the importance of academic reference, regardless of where those professors are located. It’s highly probable that at least one of the candidate’s professors will be contacted, and the candidate may not even know it happened, she says.

Rod Williams, a job market consultant with New York-based Lee Hecht Harrison agrees that solid references can catapult a candidate over the Ivy League requirement - though he says having gone to a top school certainly helps.

“The top tiers definitely help open more doors. Candidates from top tier schools are also recruited by many firms,” Williams said. “However, faculty members with great credentials and who are highly thought of in the quant/risk world can be a big help in securing interviews, especially if the candidate has high marks.”

Williams says it’s also a big plus if the candidate has a previous work history that relates to the field in which they’re interested. A job in front office or operations, for instance, would make a candidate more attractive.
 
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