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Carnegie Mellon University - MS in Computational Finance

Carnegie Mellon University - MS in Computational Finance

I graduated from MSCF in 2010, attending the program is one of best decision I ever made. MSCF has very practical course compare to other well-known programs, based in Business School it provide a great career service support, above all I've made a lot of great friends.

And yes workload is tough, but hey so the finance industry. I can assure you that if you spend some efforts there is nothing to be worry (there is a lot of help out there, your smart friends, TA, and Professor). One good thing about having 2 campus is that it help when it's come to job searching/interview, I was in Pittsburgh campus but from time to time when I had interview in NYC I attended class there. Professors understand it and they are very flexible about this (there is one time I had to take the final exam later because my interview got late).

Overall MSCF is a great program, it got me my dream job that I don't think I'll get otherwise, well deserved my 5-star.
I was a student at CMU in the satellite NYC campus from 2006-2007. I chose CMU over NYU and Chicago because of the reputation of the professors and the multi-disciplinarian approach. I was not disappointed.

The coursework was rigorous but the career opportunities were plentiful. In the process I built a foundation in math, statistics, and computer science that had been crucial for my career.

After graduation, CMU placed me at a large bank where I have been a credit trader for the past 5 years. The network is strong, the people are smart, and the opportunities are there for those who are willing to make the effort.
Great reputation among employers

What is unique about the program
The curriculum is well structured and there are plenty of employment opportunities.

Worst things about the program
The workload is a bit excessive especially while students are stressed out to find internship/full-time jobs.

Career services
Good career services. Both investment banks and top-tier prop firms come to campus for recruitment.

Student body
Half are Chinese and Indians. Have very diverse background. Some of them are really smart. Great networks to be built from this program as students are from all around the world.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Prior Academic work: Economics & Math
2+ years in Financial Services: Technical Programming & Data Analysis
I studied full-time in the program from 8/2008-12/2009

Did you get admitted to other programs?

Why did you choose this program (over others, if applicable)?
Reputation and Course Work Listed

Tell us about the application process at this program
2 Essays, GRE score report & transcripts w/ 1 Phone interview. I hear though they now do video chat.

Does this program offer refresher courses for incoming students? What do they offer and how much it costs?
They offer a Math Prep Course that was about $250 for admitted students. It was mainly calculus-based probability, so not entirely useful given my background and it was eventually covered again in future coursework.

Courses selection
Initial Coursework can be consider Foundation courses where they cover the math, stat, and Comp Sci theories over applications with emphasis to Finance.

Later coursework got into detail to specific use to finance. The later more specific coursework was more interesting and enjoyable
Foundation Courses: Stochastic Calculus I-II, Probability & Stat Inference, Regression Analysis & Time Series Analysis, Financial Computing I-III, Basic Finance (Corp Finance & Economics)
Applied Courses: Multi Period Asset Pricing,Financial Computing IV, Stat Arbitrage, Monte-Carlo Simulation, Quant Asset Mgmt, Studies in FE, Credit Derivatives.

Again the applied course where the more fun and built upon the knowledge gained from the foundation coursework.
Sadly there was little flexibility in the program. You had the option to opt out of foundation courses with the instructors permission. Otherwise, you do the listed course sequence. It wasn't until the last session did they allow the students to choose 4 out 5 available classes.

Quality of teaching
Mostly the teachers came from Academic backgrounds. Though a few had industrial experience via directly working in the Investment Banking sector or indirectly by doing projects with Industry.
The program is supported mainly via each academic department, so TA are available to help from the Math, Stat, CS & Finance/Econ Departments. They held TA sessions & office hours and responded to e-mails.
Most professors have a few years experience teaching their specific courses, so are well versed on the subject matter.

Materials used in the program
For the Math classes the main book was Stochastic Calculus I&II (Shreve). With the applied courses having their own course notes/internal textbooks.
All of the Stat Courses mainly used their own internal course notes/reading materials. Optional readings from Probability and Statistics(Degroot), Glasserman's Monte Carlo Methods, Weisberg's Applied Linear Regression, Intro to Time Series and Forecasting (Brockwell&Davis)
CS Classes mainly focused on course notes with a number of reference materials.

Programming component of the program
Financial Computing used C++, mainly to teach OOP. R/S+ was used in the stat/simulation courses, Matlab was also used in Simulation and applied course work. A small amount of VBA Excel & SQL was taught. Programing is over 25% of the program.

Group Projects were assigned in the applied coursework.
The Studies of FE course is case-study style project.
Other classes such as Stat Arb & Quant Asset Mgmt had group projects that applied the course content requiring technical programing and financial analysis.

Career service
Career services is helpful and its quite strong for a Quant Finance program. Each student has a dedicated member of the Career Services center help with their cover letters, resume & mock interviews for internships and Full-time offers.
The career services is part of the Tepper Business School, so they are working to place both MBA & MSCF, using network contacts to bring recruiters on-campus. However, the unique nature of the MSCF can be challenge to a few in the Career Service Center.
In conjunction, the MSCF program director works to place students by sending MSCF only resume books targeted at firms with quant hiring needs.

What do you like about the program?
I liked the design of the program. First they set the table with the foundation coursework. Then, they give the students an understanding of the applications using the foundation knowledge.
The professors have vested a lot of time into the program and take pride in it. They are more than helpful to the students in terms of academic and professional advice.

What DON’T you like about the program?
I'd hope they could trim the amount of foundation coursework in favor of more applied coursework. This would be asking a lot since everyone's background is different, and they do their best to get every on the same solid ground before doing applied work.

Suggestions for the program to make it better
Add more flexibility to the program. If you opt out of a course, then you just have free time. It might be interesting to allow students to do independent self-study or group study on the topic (depending on how many students opt out). This might allow stronger professor-student relationships. As well, get to applied coursework faster. Might also be a feather in the cap for students for their resumes.
Also, for the refresher courses. Maybe add classes on MatLab and R/S+.

What are your current job status? What are you looking for?
Took a job offer in Quant Asset Mgmt
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I obtained dual degrees in Computer Science and Economics from my college in China. I did not have any full-time experience prior to coming to MSCF.
I studied full-time in the program from 8/2008-12/2009

Did you get admitted to other programs?
I also got admissions to Cornell MFE, U Chicago MSFM, U Mich MFE, and WUSTL MSF.

Why did you choose this program (over others, if applicable)?
First, from the information I collected at the time, MSCF has the best reputation, placement record, and career service among all the programs that I got admission to. Second, MSCF is an 1.5 year program, which allows the time for a summer internship that I think is important for a student as me that had no prior working experience. Third, MSCF has a very well organized curriculum and all courses are specially tailored for the program, contrasting to many other programs that are composed of a set of selective courses shared by students from other majors. Fourth, MSCF is known for programming intensive comparing to other programs, which I think better matches my Computer Science background.

Tell us about the application process at this program
The application process is easy and smooth. I just submitted my application online, and mailed out the recommendation letters and transcripts. I have applied to the first round, and the decision arrives at the end of January. One little difference to other program is that MSCF asks for 2 essays dedicated to career plan and background respectively.

Does this program offer refresher courses for incoming students? How useful was it?
MSCF offers a math preparatory course in summer before the fall semester starts. The prep course reviews mainly the calculus and probability theories that are relevant to later courses. I think it is useful especially for those who has been out of school for several years. Though I came directly from my undergraduate school to MSCF, I still find it helpful for me to remember what I have learned in my fresh year in college.

Tell us about the courses selection in this program. Any special courses you like?
There are mainly four modules of courses, namely Mathematics, Programming, Statistics, and Finance. Personally, there are a few courses that I like most:
Stochastic Calculus I, II & III, Monte-Carlo Simulation, Numerical Methods. I think these are the core courses for FE, and will be extremely useful in future works. They are also very interesting.
I also like the course Studies in FE, which asks students to team up and work on two case projects that are simplified real world structuring problems.

Tell us about the quality of teaching
I would like to say almost all the professors are truly excellent. They are passionate, knowledgeable, and good at teaching. TA's are also very helpful. There are TA session every week for most courses, during which TA's explains some details that professors do not have time to cover in lectues, and are ready to answer your questions.
Each week, MSCF will invite some practitioners to the MSCF Speaker Series to give a speech on recent trends and real practices in the industry.

Materials used in the program
Stochastic Calculus, Steven E. Shreve
Fixed Income Securities, Bruce Tuckman
Monte Carlo Methods in Financial Engineering, Paul Glasserman
Credit Risk: Pricing, Measurement and Management, D. Duffie and K. Singleton

Programming component of the program
There are four courses namely Financial Computing I, II, III, IV for C++. VBA is also cover in Financial Computing III. Matlab is also used extensively in various course like Simulation, Credit Derivatives, Numerical Methods, etc. S-plus or R is used in statistics courses.

In the course Studies in FE, we have done two teamwork projects solving simplified real world structuring cases. For example, my team has done a structuring problem hedging a floating rate redeemable GNMA mortgage security with prepayment risk.
There are also more homework like projects in many courses like Monte Carlo Simulation, Statistical Arbitrage, Quantitative Asset Management, Stochastic Calculus III, Financial Computing IV, etc.

Career service
MSCF shares with MBA students the career service website for Tepper School of Business (And other CMU students do not have access to this website). MSCF students also have access to the career service website of CMU. Both websites are very helpful, and most students can get at least several on-campus interviews from these sources. Most major banks come to campus recruit through these websites.

MSCF also sends out resume books to a long list of firms, and these firm do give a lot of interviews in response to the resume book. These firms include many big names like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Nomura Securities, GETCO, etc.

The career service consultants are very helpful in providing advice on resume and cover letter writing, job hunting and interview preparation, mock interviews, etc. Many consultants are CMU alumni that has many years experience in the industry. e.g. Sondi has worked at Goldman for 12 years, and Jack at Barclays for 8 years.

Can you comment on the social interaction between students of different ethnics, nationalities in the program?
It is true that to some extent, students tend to work more closely with those coming from the same country. This is more obvious for American, Chinese, Indian, and Korean students, because each of these forms a large portion of student population in class. For students coming from other countries like Columbia, Argentina, Japan, etc, they usually interact more with other students because there are only one or two from their own country.

Having said so, if you want, you still have plenty of opportunities to reach out to students from other ethnic groups. Personally, I am Chinese, and I have cooperated with Indian and American students in several course projects, and I believe we all have learned a lot from each other.

What do you like about the program?
There are several things I like a lot. First, the curriculum is very well organized and courses are specially designed for the MSCF program, which form the basis of an excellent learning experience. Second, we have many famous professors teaching in the program including Steven Shreve, John Lehoczky, Duann Seppi, etc, and most professors are excellent in teaching. Third, staff at career services work really hard, and MSCF students do have a lot of on-campus interview opportunities with those big name firms. Last but not the least, the group of students in the program are extremely smart and hard working, and it is a great experience to spend the one and half year time with them.

What DON’T you like about the program?
Basically, I love the program, and don't have much to complain.

Suggestions for the program to make it better
I would provide some kind of flexibility to the program to fit the special needs for students coming from different backgrounds. For example, I would allow students with IT backgrounds to drop some of the basic programming courses, and insert more economic courses into their curriculum. On the other hand, students with business backgrounds should have more courses in basic programming to help them get through the remaining courses.

What are your current job status? What are you looking for?
I have got two offers from two major banks in NYC. One is an analyst position in the quantitative trading and analysis rotational program. The other is a second year analyst position in the IBD strategy group.

Other comments
It requires hard work to survive the program, but you will get rewarded handsomely if you can survive.