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Yasser F. El Halaby ’06

Analyst, Emerging Markets-Focused Hedge Fund

My intended major when I arrived at Princeton was economics. This wasn’t because I was highly interested in the subject, but was mostly because it was considered a discipline conducive to getting a job in the business world. However, I soon realized that studying economics was not necessarily considered an advantage in getting a job in business. I knew many students preparing for jobs in finance who were majoring in fields such as psychology and religion; I also encountered alumni who had studied a variety of disciplines and had later gone on to join the ranks of the investment bankers, traders, and consultants. Thus, I chose my major based on what interested me and not on what I thought my employers would like to see. I am glad that was the case.

Having always been interested in politics, it was not surprising that I leaned toward politics as a major and declared it as such by the end of sophomore year. However, I had also considered majoring in philosophy. Midway through the fall semester of my junior year, I decided to switch majors and joined the philosophy department. I ended up having to write three junior papers, but it was more than worth it. The department is small, which allows for quality time to be spent with the department’s faculty and fellow students. This reason alone could have been sufficient in tilting the bar in favor of philosophy. But the truth is that I loved everything about the department. The classes, the faculty, and my peers in the department played a collective role in making my decision one that I deeply cherish.

Equipped with learning tools

While at school, the prospect of joining the business world after college became questionable, as I was unsure about which career path I wished to pursue. After Princeton, I competed on the professional squash tour for two years. During this time, I traveled around the world playing the sport I love, and took the time to reflect on what I would like to do. I started developing an interest in the world’s financial markets. This interest prompted me to start a self-study, three-year finance program called the chartered financial analyst (CFA) program. 

The CFA program was my first training in finance, as I had never taken any classes in finance or even interned in the field. I eventually accepted a job offer at a private equity firm. It was a good entry position into the investment business. More recently, I joined an emerging markets-focused hedge fund, a place that I am very much enjoying. Philosophy played a huge role in equipping me with tools that I have found very helpful. Unorthodox thinking, critical analysis, intellectual debating, and nourishing a curiosity to learn are some aspects of my experience that carry over very well to the real world and my current job.

My time at Princeton played a major role in my development and influenced the way I approach life, and my major was a big part of it all. Indeed, the process of choosing my major was in itself as instrumental to my development as was the actual decision itself. The process reinforced my belief that one should pursue one’s interests and remain true to one’s self. And majoring in philosophy was the best intellectual experience I could ever have asked for. The ability to think critically, and differently at times, is a pillar of a Princeton education. While the benefits of a liberal arts education at Princeton exist in all departments, it’s my inclination that such benefits are maximized when the student is extremely intrigued by the subject matter and has proximity to the faculty and peers in the department. I cannot forget mentioning that my independent work was an experience that I hold dear to my heart. The three professors I worked with were extremely generous with their time and effort; my meetings with them will never be forgotten.

Finally, I would like to wish you luck with your decision. Thank you for reading. I hope you’ve been having a great time at Princeton, and I wish you all the best in the future.