- Every year Goldman trains 100-plus students on the art of the deal and other finance concepts.
- A lucky few HBCU Possibilities Program participants go on to intern or work at the bank.
- We spoke to two program participants and a Goldman exec about how it works and how to succeed.
College is one of the most transformative times in most people’s lives. But what changed Taylor Weekes the most during her time at Howard University was something that didn’t happen in a dorm, a courtyard, or even a classroom.
It happened on her computer screen in 2021, during video calls with executives from one of Wall Street’s most storied institutions.
Weekes took part in Goldman Sachs’ first-ever HBCU Possibilities Program, a semester-long course for students at historically Black colleges and universities in which freshmen and sophomores learn the fundamentals of finance, are exposed to the ins and outs of Goldman, and work on a group project that is presented to top executives at the firm for a chance to win $1,000,000 for their school.
“For many of us who did the program, that experience was one of the most transformational during that year and during our collegiate experience,” Weekes said in an interview with Insider.
Her sophomore year of college had just begun. Weekes landed an internship at the firm the following summer, in 2022, in the prestigious investment banking division’s financial institutions group. She started as a full-time analyst on that same team in July.
“It was very helpful realizing that I can actually start a career here, work here, and intern here,” Weekes explained in a recent interview. “Because I see other people who look like me and went to schools like mine who not only came to Goldman but thrived here.” It changed my life, and I’m sure many others would agree.”
Since then, Goldman Sachs has run this program every year. The application period for the 2024 program, which will run from January to April, ends this week. Insider spoke with Weekes and Zachariah Smith, a Morehouse College grad on Goldman’s healthcare team, to help applicants get a leg up and better understand the program and its potential benefits. They discussed how to be a successful applicant, what it takes to succeed once you’re in, and what you can gain from the program with Megan Hogan, who started the program and is now the firm’s chief diversity officer.
How does the program work?
Students from the 12 participating HBCUs can apply for the program, which will run from January to April next year. The 12 HBCUs are as follows:
- Alcorn State University
- Delaware State University
- Fisk University
- Florida A&M University
- Hampton University
- Howard University
- Morehouse College
- Morgan State University
- North Carolina A&T State University
- Prairie View A&M University
- Spelman College
- Texas Southern University
The program selected 150 students from over 400 applications in 2023.
According to the firm, the time commitment is three to four hours per week. The first eight weeks are primarily focused on curriculum — finance courses taught via the training platform Financial Edge — and networking with Goldman employees and leaders. The second half is devoted to the group project: case studies of real brands in which students are asked to propose ways for the given company to grow, such as entering a new market, launching a new product line, or changing its strategy.
Except for the final event, which takes place at the firm’s New York headquarters, the program is entirely virtual. There, student groups present their work to the firm’s top leaders, including CEO David Solomon, division heads, and members of the management committee, as well as representatives from the case study’s respective client subjects, which have previously included Proctor and Gamble, L’Oreal, and Pepsi.
Each program participant receives $10,000, and competition winners can receive up to $1 million in funding for their universities. The opportunity to leverage the experience to get a summer internship, and thus eventually a job, at the prestigious Wall Street firm is perhaps the most enticing draw for students applying to participate.
To date, Goldman has recruited 25 programming students to join the firm in the 2023 new and summer analyst classes.
What makes for a winning application?
According to Hogan, the program is intended to be an introduction to finance, so students don’t need to demonstrate financial acumen as much as a curiosity about the industry.
“Be able to demonstrate intellectual curiosity in the finance services industry more broadly,” Hogan said in a statement. “We’re really focused on showing these students what it’s like to build a career here — you can be a humanities major or a computer programmer.” There are numerous interesting positions available at the firm.”
Weekes agreed, saying that soft skills such as leadership, effective communication, and time management will go a long way.
“You may be a freshman starting college, but you may have had a summer job or a volunteer experience, you may have led some organization or started a nonprofit,” Weekes, the professor, said. “Look at your experiences because these soft skills that you learn in these experiences are arguably just as important as the technical skills.”
Hogan stated that previous applicants did this by highlighting businesses they started or membership in entrepreneurship clubs.
“Something that we look for in all candidates at Goldman Sachs: What is your innovative and creative spirit?” Hogan stated. “You can demonstrate that in a variety of ways that aren’t necessarily related to financial services.” What was it like in your previous jobs in high school or your first year of college on campus? How do you balance academics and work? What clubs do you belong to where you demonstrate great verbal and written communication skills, which are at the heart of everything we do?”
“My advice to anyone applying is: Know that you’re plenty capable of working in finance, especially at a place like Goldman Sachs,” Hogan added. Demonstrating your interest in the program and how you intend to use it will help you in the application process.”
What’s the formula for success once accepted?
Once the program has begun, an entrepreneurial spirit can also contribute significantly to success.
“I think that the most important piece of advice is that students take control of their own experience and their own career trajectory very early on,” she said. “What that looks like is ultimately being inquisitive, engaged, passionate, and always looking to go the extra mile,” he went on to say.
For him, this meant putting in the time required to really master the materials.
“Many of us hadn’t had that same level of exposure to valuation techniques, especially not by our sophomore year,” Smith said of the eight weeks of educational training by Wall Street training provider Financial Edge. “I think many of us took advantage of the opportunity and spent hours upon hours reviewing the material and practicing what essentially has now become our craft and will be the craft of our careers.
They also recommend making the most of the industry connections presented during the program and events, whether to network for future jobs or just to soak up knowledge. In addition to the financial training, they also heard from industry leaders at Goldman.
Weekes recalls being particularly inspired by a panel of senior Black women who work at Goldman.
“They gave us a lot of great advice in terms of being authentically ourselves, navigating affinity networks, career progression, and even just staying involved with our HBCUs while we’re at the firm,” she went on to say. “Seeing Black leaders at the firm, seeing Black bankers, and really understanding how they’ve been able to achieve throughout their professional lives” was a true highlight of the program, she said.
What are the benefits of the program?
The program offers eight weeks of training followed by eight weeks dedicated to a group project. This format helps instill confidence in participants when it comes to financial know-how as well as public speaking and presenting, Hogan said.
“Some of them were intimidated or had certain myths about what it meant to work in finance,” he said. “I think the program does a great job of debunking them.”
The competition allows them to take what they have learned and make it their own, she said.
“I’m blown away every year by how poised they are, how creative their pitches are as a part of the competition, and quite frankly, how much fun they’re having with their teammates and their coaches. It’s incredible to see them on stage and know that all of their hard work has paid off.”
“It gave me confidence to speak up and ask questions and speak on financial topics because we’re given the jargon and the concepts to be able to actually discuss these things in a way that is similar to how it’s discussed on the street,” she went on to say.
Participants in the program will also have a much better understanding of the financial services industry, which will help them decide which careers are right for them.
“Hearing weekly from professionals at the firm at varying levels — senior leaders all the way to more entry-level professionals — was really great to get a grasp of everything that we do here, from transaction banking to investment banking, asset and wealth management, and our sales and trading businesses,” Weekes said in a statement.
The program’s networking opportunities can also help with future job opportunities, though Weekes and Smith warn that the road from the program to a job at Goldman Sachs is long.
It doesn’t mean you’re a “shoo-in” for a job, according to Smith. “You still have to do every bit of regular recruiting and outside work like anybody else.”