If Your University Has Ridiculous Pandemic Restrictions, Should You Consider Transferring?
Years ago, we used to receive many questions about transferring universities.
The logic was simple: at a top-ranked school, it’s much easier to get into careers like investment banking, private equity, and management consulting, so if you were 100% certain you wanted to be in one of those fields, it made sense to transfer to a “target school.”
Even if you couldn’t win admission to an elite university, you could still improve your chances by transferring to a better school, such as a state university ranked in the top 30.
But this strategy works only if you transfer early so that you have time to network and complete classes before recruiting begins.
As summer internship recruiting has moved up at the undergraduate level – with most banks now starting over a year in advance of internships – transferring has become less viable.
But there’s now another problem with this strategy in our upside-down clown world: many “elite universities” have implemented draconian restrictions that diminish the value of the entire university experience.
So, as crazy as it sounds, it might make sense to transfer to a lower-ranked university if you want to get more out of a 4-year university degree than a single job:
Wait, What’s Going On at “Elite Universities”?
If you haven’t been following this story, here’s the short version:
- Vaccine Mandates: Hundreds of universities in the U.S., including the entire Ivy League, MIT, Stanford, etc., have implemented COVID-19 vaccine mandates for 2021-2022, under the argument that it will allow a “return to normal,” including in-person classes.
- But: Despite these mandates and 95%+ vaccination rates on many campuses, these schools have not returned to “normal.”
There are too many stories to run through the entire list, but here are a few examples:
- Harvard Business School “temporarily” moved classes online due to a Covid outbreak and requires testing 3x per week for all students – despite a 95%+ vaccination rate.
- Stanford requires vaccination for all students, masks everywhere, and weekly testing.
- Brown and Columbia paused in-person dining, banned students from hosting guests, and more (not sure if they’re still doing that).
As usual, the mainstream media is ignoring this story or acting like everything makes perfect sense.
Independent journalist Michael Tracey has been covering it in detail, and he has some excellent stories of the “snitching culture” that has developed at many schools.
You could argue that these restrictions made sense in early 2020 when vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, and Merck’s pill did not exist, and we understood far less about the virus.
In late 2021, however, these restrictions border on absurd:
- The risk to people under the age of 30, even pre-vaccination – but especially post-vaccination – is exceptionally low. This graphic from the Financial Times demonstrates the risk vs. age and vaccination status quite well.
- Covid is not going away. Even countries like New Zealand have given up and are learning to live with it. There are now animal reservoirs, and it is an RNA-based virus, so the chances of “eliminating it” are close to 0.
- Everyone – or at least a high percentage of the population – will be exposed, probably multiple times.
- Universities and other institutions have not established any criteria for the off-ramp to true normality. This will become a permanent emergency if they base these restrictions on “cases” rather than hospitalizations/deaths.
Who Cares About Restrictions and Surveillance?
These types of restrictions – online classes, constant masking, little socializing, etc. – remove a huge part of the value proposition of a 4-year degree.
In the U.S., a degree from a good school offers, in theory, the following benefits:
- Networking – You meet a huge number of people in different fields in a few short years, and many of these relationships will extend far beyond graduation.
- Experiences – You discover new interests and hobbies, potentially study abroad, and develop as a person through all that.
- Internships/Jobs – If you’re at a target school with on-campus recruiting, you have much better access to competitive jobs like investment banking.
- Learning – If you select a practical major (engineering, accounting, etc.), this point matters more, but it’s the least important aspect in the current system.
With all these restrictions in place, only the “internships/jobs” value proposition holds up well.
Online classes are OK for specialized, technical topics, but they don’t work well for broader areas of study, discussion-based classes, or lab/experiment-based teaching.
And it’s not possible to meet people or develop friendships in the same way if you can’t see the other person’s face or if in-person gatherings are restricted.
You’re also far less likely to find new interests/hobbies, study abroad, or do anything else fun when you’re constantly thinking about compliance with all the rules.
So, if you’re attending one of these universities and paying $200K+ for the experience, you’re right to question its value in the current environment.
Why You May Not Want to Base Four Years of Your Life Around Winning One Single Job
You may be surprised that I’m making this argument.
In other coverage on this site, such as in the best major for investment banking article, I’ve recommended maximizing your career options, even if the required choices are “less fun.”
The difference is that deciding to attend a specific 4-year university is quite different from picking a major.
Your major is a small part of the entire experience, and even if you end up hating it, you could still get a lot out of the other parts of university.
But if the entire experience is bad because you can’t interact like a normal human being, you can’t do much about that.
You may think that your first full-time job is the most important thing in the world, but remember that most people quit investment banking and management consulting within the first few years.
Yes, they may go into other fields where IB/MC are prerequisites, but not always: look at all the people who left finance for tech companies.
In short, it may be better to attend a lower-ranked-but-still-good university if it means that you’ll have a better overall experience there (and possibly pay less in the process).
As a specific example, the University of Texas, including the highly ranked UT Austin campus, does not have any of these restrictions, probably because the governor in Texas banned them.
The top UTs are not targets for NYC-based investment banking jobs, but they are good options for Houston-based energy investment banking groups.
And you can find other examples of good schools in Southern and Midwestern states that offer experiences closer to “normal” for students.
Transferring: How to Decide
This decision comes down to a few factors:
- How certain are you that you want to work in investment banking, private equity, management consulting, or a similarly competitive field right after graduation?
- How much time do you have left in university (i.e., is a transfer worthwhile/plausible)?
- How much are you or your family paying for your university, and would you pay a different amount if you transferred?
- How much longer will these restrictions at the top schools continue, and do you care about them?
Starting with the last point, if you disagree with me and think that continued restrictions are good, useful, or necessary, the decision is easy: stay where you are and use your degree to win a competitive job.
If not, the best-case scenario is that the restrictions go away within the next year, and life returns to normal by then.
But remember that everything started in March 2020 with “15 days to slow the spread,” and now we’re on day #577 of that 15-day effort (at least in certain cities and states).
So, there is a chance that these restrictions could continue for multiple years, especially since no one has defined the specific conditions required for a return to normal.
And with the first two factors, here are a few examples of how I’d think about this decision:
Case #1: You just started university, you’re in Year 1, you have some interest in finance but could see yourself in plenty of other fields, and you could get a full scholarship at a good state school in the South or Midwest and save $200K+. Transfer!
Case #2: If you’re already in Year 3 or 4 of an elite school, you pretty much have to stick it out, regardless of whether you hate, don’t mind, or enjoy the experience there.
Case #3: If you’re in Year 2, you’re not fully committed to IB/PE/MC, but you are interested in them, then it’s a difficult call.
In this case, you probably need an internship in one of these fields to decide.
The other issue is that you will probably have to repeat a year if you still want to make a run at IB roles because of how interviews start toward the end of Year 2.
Case #4: If you’re in Year 2, you’ve already done an IB or related internship, and you’re 100% certain you want to be in the field based on your internship experience, stay the course.
You don’t have many options at the MBA and Master’s levels because the programs are so short.
You could defer enrollment, but you’ll need to find something else to do in the meantime, with an uncertain re-enrollment date.
I’ll make one last point before closing: while attending a top school gives you a big advantage for a few specific fields, it’s less essential for others.
For example, you could win a quant fund role coming from any solid STEM program, and you could win jobs in areas like corporate finance, corporate banking, or tech product management from many “good but not elite” schools.
How to Tackle the Upside-Down World
It’s possible that I’ve gone insane and that this article will generate the most controversy out of anything ever published on this site.
But I don’t think the idea of transferring to a lower-ranked, cheaper university is that crazy, especially if your career goals are uncertain.
I’ll close by turning this into a set of questions for you:
- If you’re at one of these schools, do you and other students not mind these restrictions? Do you think they’re necessary, even with very high vaccination rates?
- Can you socialize with universal masking and limitations on guests and gatherings? Are people just meeting in secret to avoid the rules?
- Is there something I’m overlooking? Is a university’s reputation so important that it supersedes all other aspects of the experience?
And if you have any questions on a potential transfer in any direction, ask away.
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