Alternative Assets: the wolves of Bishop Boulevard

By Lucy Brock

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Only students within the Alternative Asset Center can earn this esteemed white hat. Photo credit: Lucy Brock

Among the rows of computer screens and Bloomberg terminals in the Kitt Investing and Trading Center in the Edwin L. Cox School of Business, meets a class of elite finance students who wear white hats.

These hats are like the Olympic gold medals of Cox. They belong only to students in the Alternative Assets Management program. Simply nicknamed “Alts”, it is arguably the least-known but most selective program at SMU.

Alts is an exclusive two-semester class for finance students pursuing careers in private equity, investment banking and hedge funds. Students take the first class in the spring of their junior year and the second class in the fall of their senior year.

“It’s very competitive,” said Alts academic director William Maxwell. “It is the most intense class most of these students will ever take, but it can also be fun if they are willing to put in the work.”

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Image credit: The Daily Campus

The program varies in size from year to year, and there are 51 current Alts students set to graduate in May 2017. In the new Alts class, 48 students were selected out of the 105 who applied. Of the 32 Alts students who graduated in May, about 24 are now in investment banking.

Business students are selected for Alts after an application process, technical interview and peer reviews. Factors such as GPA, campus involvement, internships and work ethic are taken into consideration by Maxwell and his colleagues in the selection process. The average GPA of the new Alts class is a 3.86.

“We take a holistic look at each applicant,” Maxwell said. “We want students who can work hard and collaborate with others.”

Students put their knowledge to work and take on assignments that analysts complete in the real world, like Harvard Business School case studies and fairness opinions. Students must earn at least an A- in the spring to be invited to take second semester of the course.

“The interview preparation, networking, and skills learned in the case-based class helped me tackle my banking internship,” said Jaime O’Donnell, who graduated in May 2016 and now works for Goldman Sachs in Dallas. “The second half of the course focuses on hedge fund investing strategies to round out our finance education.”

Maxwell takes a tough-love approach to teaching the Alts students. At the beginning of the spring semester, he sends an intimidating email, telling students that they are about to become “fire-breathing finance dragons”.

“The program consists of an extensive amount of work,” said Shawn O’Malley, an Alts student who will graduate in May 2017 and work for UBS in New York. “But it’s all relative once you start investment banking.”

And Maxwell’s students agree that the hard work pays off in the end, and they are better prepared for their jobs because of it.

“Maxwell pushes us to extreme lengths because he wants us to be the best students and employees possible,” O’Donnell said. “He gives us the tools to be successful.”

Once students make it through the interviews and are selected to participate in Alts, they are given the renowned white hat. While white hats with the mustang logo can be purchased by anyone, only Alts students have a hat with the Cox logo on one side and the Alternative Assets title on the other.

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