Private Equity Target Schools

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Dan Buckley
Dan Buckley is an US-based trader, consultant, and part-time writer with a background in macroeconomics and mathematical finance. He trades and writes about a variety of asset classes, including equities, fixed income, commodities, currencies, and interest rates. As a writer, his goal is to explain trading and finance concepts in levels of detail that could appeal to a range of audiences, from novice traders to those with more experienced backgrounds.

A private equity target school refers to an academic institution that private equity firms prioritize during their recruitment process.

Such schools have a reputation for producing graduates who possess the analytical, financial, and leadership skills important for success in the private equity sector.

In previous articles, we’ve looked at target schools for investment banking and hedge funds, and while there’s some overlap, there are some differences as well.

Please note that this is just a guide. There’s no such thing as a perfect list of target schools for private equity.

People get into PE from all sorts of academic and work backgrounds.

Moreover, many private equity firms recruit out of investment banking programs or business schools (list below) rather than directly out of undergraduate programs.

However, some do recruit directly out of undergraduate.

The most common paths are, however:

  1. Target School -> 2 years as an Investment Banking Analyst -> Private Equity
  2. 2-4 years of relevant work experience (e.g., investment banking, management consulting) -> Target Business School -> Private Equity


Ivy League

  • Harvard University
  • Yale University
  • University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
  • Princeton University
  • Columbia University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Brown University
  • Cornell University


Top Colleges & Universities Outside the Ivy League

  • Stanford University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • University of Chicago
  • Duke University
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • New York University (Stern)
  • Northwestern University


Business Schools

  • Harvard Business School
  • Stanford Graduate School of Business
  • Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Chicago Booth School of Business
  • Columbia Business School
  • MIT Sloan School of Management
  • London Business School


Liberal Arts Colleges

  • Williams College
  • Amherst College
  • Middlebury College
  • Claremont McKenna College
  • Wesleyan University


  • University of Virginia (Darden School of Business)
  • University of Michigan (Ross School of Business)
  • University of California, Los Angeles (Anderson School of Management)
  • Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper School of Business)


Regional Target Schools

  • Georgetown University (McDonough School of Business)
  • University of Texas at Austin (McCombs School of Business)
  • Boston University (Questrom School of Business)
  • Rice University
  • University of Southern California
  • Northwestern University


International Private Equity Target Schools

  • HEC Paris
  • University of Oxford (Saïd Business School)
  • University of Cambridge (Judge Business School)
  • IE Business School (Spain)
  • Bocconi University (Italy)


FAQs – Private Equity Target Schools

How do private equity firms benefit from recruiting at target schools?

Recruiting at target schools offers several benefits for private equity firms:

  • Streamlined Process: It provides an efficient and cost-effective way to access a concentrated pool of top talent.
  • Historical Success: Graduates from these schools have historically demonstrated success in private equity roles. (Firms like to reduce risk in whatever ways they can.)
  • Relevant Training: Target schools often integrate case studies, internships, and courses that are specifically tailored for roles in finance and private equity.
  • Network Relations: These schools often have longstanding ties with industry professionals, including alumni in senior roles, ensuring a quality pipeline of candidates.

Students from these schools tend to be better prepared.

The career development office often provides resources, such as interview questions, mock interviews, paper LBOs, etc., to help students succeed in the recruitment process.

What criteria make a school a top target for private equity firms?

Factors include:

  • Alumni Representation: A strong presence of alumni in the private equity industry can raise a school’s profile.
  • Academic Rigor: A robust curriculum in finance, economics, and business. (For example, this is why Wharton is often considered on par with, or perhaps better than, Harvard.)
  • Reputation: General prestige and recognition in the business world.
  • Career Placement: Past success in placing students in prominent private equity roles.
  • Industry Engagement: On-campus events, guest lectures, and workshops related to private equity.

How can students from non-target schools break into private equity?

For students from non-target schools:

  • Networking: Proactively connecting with professionals in the industry and attending industry events.
  • Skills Development: Building relevant skills, such as financial modeling and industry analysis.
  • Relevant Experience: Seeking internships or jobs in related areas like investment banking or management consulting to gain transferable experience.
  • Further Education: Considering graduate programs, like an MBA from a well-regarded institution (after 2-4 years of work experience), can open doors.
  • Show Initiative: Starting or joining investment clubs, attending private equity conferences, or conducting independent research on industry trends.

Do private equity firms have formal partnerships with specific target schools?

Many private equity firms establish formal relationships with target schools.

These can involve on-campus recruitment, internship programs, scholarships, case study competitions, or guest lecture opportunities.

These partnerships are mutually beneficial, offering firms direct access to top talent while providing students with valuable industry exposure.

Are there certain courses or majors that are more favorable for a career in private equity?

Yes, courses and majors that focus on:

  • Finance
  • Business Administration
  • Economics
  • Accounting
  • Corporate Strategy

Many target schools also offer specific courses on mergers and acquisitions, leveraged buyouts, and private equity that provide deeper insights into the industry.

How does MBA recruitment for private equity differ from undergraduate recruitment?

MBA recruitment often targets candidates who already have some relevant experience, usually in fields like investment banking or consulting.

These candidates are sought for higher-level roles compared to undergraduates.

MBA candidates typically have developed more advanced skill sets, have a matured network, and often engage in private equity-specific case competitions or projects during their MBA program.

What student organizations or clubs at target schools facilitate private equity networking and recruitment?

Private equity clubs or finance and investment clubs at target schools are instrumental.

These clubs often:

  • Host industry speakers
  • Organize networking events
  • Conduct workshops on relevant skills (like financial modeling)
  • Manage student-run investment funds
  • Participate in or host case study competitions focused on private equity scenarios

How do international target schools compare to US schools in the eyes of global private equity firms?

Many international target schools, like INSEAD or London Business School, hold significant prestige and are highly regarded by global private equity firms.

While US schools often have a strong foothold in the US market, top international institutions provide a talent pipeline for firms with a global presence.

Beyond academic pedigree, what other skills or experiences do private equity firms prioritize?

Private equity firms value:

  • Analytical and quantitative skills
  • Deal-making experience, often from sectors like investment banking (which is why they tend to recruit out of i-banking)
  • Strong communication abilities
  • Leadership experience, showcased through leading projects or teams
  • Industry-specific knowledge, especially for sector-focused PE firms
  • Entrepreneurial mindset or experience, valuable for growth equity or venture capital roles.

How has the landscape of private equity target schools evolved over the past decade?

While many top institutions have retained their status as target schools, there’s a growing recognition of global and regional institutions due to the international expansion of private equity.

Additionally, as the industry evolves and tends to become more specialized, schools offering specialized programs or courses in areas like fintech or sustainable investing are gaining attention.

There are also hybrid approaches.

For example, PE and VC used to be separate.

But “growth equity” firms are popular and require different skill sets – e.g., emerging economic trends vs. operational skill in established businesses.

Can attending a target school significantly boost one’s chances of landing a role in a top private equity firm?

Yes, attending a target school can offer more direct recruitment opportunities, specialized training, and a valuable network, all of which can increase one’s chances.

However, individual drive, experience, skills, and fit with a firm’s culture remain important.

How influential are alumni networks from target schools in the private equity hiring process?

They’re important.

Alumni often serve as gatekeepers, mentors, or references for candidates.

They can provide introductions, insights into the firm’s culture, and interview preparation.

An active and engaged alumni network can be instrumental in facilitating interviews and offers.

Do regional target schools cater specifically to private equity firms in their vicinity or region?

Yes, regional target schools often have strong ties with local and regional private equity firms.

This proximity allows for regular networking events, internships, and easy access for on-campus recruitment, making these schools attractive for firms in the region.

Are there notable differences between hedge fund target schools and private equity target schools?

While there’s overlap, there can be differences.

Hedge funds may prioritize schools with strong quantitative, economics, or computer science programs, given the analytical nature of many hedge fund strategies.

In contrast, private equity firms may lean more toward schools known for finance, business, and entrepreneurship, given the deal-making and company management aspects of PE.

However, top institutions are often target schools for both industries due to their broad excellence.