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I can't decide between commercial and investment banking

Thoughtful student.

Ferran Traite Soler/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The question

I am a second-year student at the Schulich School of Business. I want to apply for various graduate-level programs for commercial banking as well as for investment banking. Should i apply to both kind of programs or restrict myself to only one kind?

The answer

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I am impressed with the way you are being proactive about your educational options. It is never too early, or too late, to be thoughtful about your choices.

A university education requires a significant investment in energy, time and money. There are a myriad of choices and the world has never been more competitive. You are entering into a globalized work force where you are going to be competing with millions of other well-educated and highly motivated graduates from Beijing to Bangalore. It is no longer just about being educated, it is about graduating in the top 20 per cent of your class.

What path should you choose? The key is to identify what program will give you the opportunity to be your very best.

I interviewed Jim Citrin, partner with leading global recruitment firm Spencer Stuart and best selling author of The 5 Patterns of an Extraordinary Career. His research project looked at successful executives to determine what had the greatest influence on their career success. They were six times more likely to be successful if they were both talented and passionate about their area of specialization.

Focus on the option that most engages you and that best suits your skill set. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what school you graduate from or even the program. What really matters is how engaged you are in your industry. You can listen to my podcast with Jim here.

Of the two majors – commercial banking or investment banking – which engages you most? Being engaged always leads economics, not the other way around. Start with meeting with the professors and get to know people in the programs. This has two benefits: You will have more information on which path is best for you and you will be able to build relationships with the faculty. This can be very helpful during the application process, as you move from being an applicant to a person they have met. It could give you an edge in programs that are highly competitive.

Having said all that, if you still decide to apply to both programs, be sure you know which is Plan A and which is Plan B.

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And remember: Ask not what your education will do for you, but what you will do for your education. Your degree is just the start of your career journey. An important start, yes, but it will be up to you to maximize your investment.

Alan Kearns is the founder and head coach of CareerJoy , and the author of The Great Canadian Job Search Kit.

Have a question for one of our career coaches? Send it to . Please be advised that while The Globe and Mail may publish your submission, your name and address will be kept confidential.

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