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Columbia University Operation Research program

Columbia University Operation Research program

As a graduate from MSOR class of 19' I couldn't be more grateful for my experience at this program. The program gives tremendous flexibility to choose courses that combine financial engineering and data science which gives an in-depth knowledge of finance and programming. The alumni base is also very helpful and broad. I personally got a referral from an alumnus at a big US investment bank and I joined the Equity Portfolio Analytics desk. I would strongly recommend this program to people who are interested in Quantitative Finance and/or Data Analytics as it uniquely combines the good of both worlds. The program starts by building the foundational blocks of knowledge with courses such as Optimization, Stochastic Calculus, and Programming in Python (even if you feel comfortable in Python you will get a deep understanding of how to code as a computer scientist). I believe this MSc at Columbia is a great investment that can't lose over the long term!
Tons of flexibility on courses but it can be a double edge sword. Career services is getting better.

What do you think is unique about this program?
There are a lot of unique things about this program:
Tons of flexibility on courses - I took an energy trading class from SIPA, various finance courses from CBS. Besides the core courses, you can pretty much do whatever you want. If you want to be a quant, load up on quant courses, there are tons of them. The courses can also be very interesting, I took Advanced Derivatives at CBS and loved it although the professor grilled us every class.
Very distinguished and very known professors - Although at times that doesn't translate into the best professors at teaching the material.

Great network (probably my favorite thing about the program, and something everyone should consider) - If you are good at networking, I don't think there is a better program out there. Couple reasons why: 1. You are in NYC, the center of anything related to finance, consulting, or any high power jobs. The people you can meet here from just going to various events can't even be compare to vs. other programs. 2. Possibility of joining various networking clubs on campus. I was able to plug myself into a club in another school through a friend, and I have met tons of great friends/connections through there and met big-shots in the finance world. Also was able to leverage a summer internship that way. 3. Unlike the MFE and MSMF program, which is pretty focused for obvious reasons, you can establish the type of network you want through classes. So if you want to meet some lawyers, go take a law class on financial structuring.

The Columbia name - As much as I hate to say it, having the school name on your resume does help. Now I am not saying it will get you every single interview you applied for, because in this economy, no one will unless you have great experience before school (a friend of mine at a IB quant desk told me they have interviewed more than a 100 applicants for quant positions but have not made an any offers as they are holding out for the perfect candidate. In this economy, banks can do that and have tons of leverage even with the decline in compensation.) But it will especially help you if you decide you don't want to embark on a quant career for whatever reason and have to switch to consulting (the top consulting firms hire mostly from Ivy and other target schools) or a corporate development role. Students at Columbia is not any smarter (trust me, I can attest to that) than those at non-Ivy schools, but the perception by the job market and decision makers is all that matters.

What are the weakest points about this program?
Some notable weakness:
The teaching and the methodology used can be better. I don't mean the professors are bad, because they are not and are very well established, but most of the core classes focus on a lot of theory and ideas that are really hard to implement in the real world. Also, with the huge class size in certain classes, the professors don't really have a way to give you personalize attention and help you in certain deficient areas if need. The TAs do a ok job at best.

The flexibility can be a double edge sword. For those that is not sure exactly what they want to do in regards to specific track (HF trading vs structuring for ex), you can get lost pretty quickly and no one is really there to watch you or guide you. You really have to be proactive and figure it out right off the bat. 2 or 3 semesters go by quickly.

Not necessary a weakness, but there is a huge premium on tuition. I highly doubt you learn more at MSOR than say the QCF program at Georgia Tech (just an example) especially if you want to be a quant, but the tuition is vastly different. Something to keep in mind.

Career services
Career services is getting better even since I been there in 3 semesters. They have ramped up the recruiting events, and send tons of emails out regarding various firms offering full time or intern positions. Most of the IB come on campus for various positions. They have also added a placement officer in the MS&E department. I am not sure if MSOR students can use her, but they might be working on a placement officers for MSOR. Don't know for sure though.

Regardless, network hard. Just because resources are there doesn't mean you will land anything for sure. You are competing against other MSOR students, and of course, MFE and MSMF students.

Student body
Through the various means as stated above. Finance positions were really hard to get since the competition is stiff in a not so well market, but I have friends that landed at IBs as quant and IB roles. Also, some in consulting. Others in startups, etc, but that's usually they can't land anything in time or finance related. But let me be clear, it is a tough market and it takes a lot of work to land an internship or job. No guarantees.
When did you start and finish the program

Can you tell us a bit about your background
I have my applied physics BA from a top tier university and has good tradition for students to go study abroad for higher education. As well i get fellowship from several physics PhD programs from US universities.

Did you get admitted to other programs?
I only applied Columbia and Cornell. Cornell is quite strict in their ORIE program or i choose to come Columbia, as i know its course are more flexible.

Why did you choose this program (over others, if applicable)?
Location is first thing i am considering. After all, companies usually want intern students face to face from second round; as well, Columbia as one of IVY members is quite attractive to me. I think this is also a treasure for the future of my career.

What alternative sources of info you used to learn more about the program?
Mainly i search information online and also through school's website, as they already contains large amount of information. Of course, talking with current students and faculty are also good ideas, as they may constructive views for you.

Tell us about the application process at this program
It is normal application process like all the other US school in terms of material and procedures. The school responses in a timely manner and also they have their own online application systems to keep applicants' material updated.

Tell us about the courses selection in this program. Any special courses you like?
Basically I like their financial engineering courses and feel they are quite useful no matter in the theory or in practice.
One course i like is the statistical arbitrage course, although it is only half semester course, but it is really one challenge course and lead you into the door where you can have practical ideas about the systematic trading procedure, such as how this procedure are set up one step by one step, and what skill set students need to have to handle these.
All in all, i am thinking if got opportunities, just learn as much as you can, as this industry is really competing and challenging, and new knowledge and information come out so fast that you can not stop learning new skills.

Tell us about the quality of teaching
Professors who are teaching in my program are mostly pretty good.
They are willing to give advice to students, and mentor students if you find right ways to communicate with them.
For the courses they are teaching, they definitely have a deep understanding and as well an overview for the whole picture. So they know what is the most important topics they need to teach to students for their preparation for future career.
Also because those professors usually have extensive experience in industry, so their experience are also value as a guide to students no matter in career development or future's network contact.
All in all, I feel in a higher level, the faculty(with their teaching) are valuable to students.

Which reading materials are used in the program
Usually in class, we use professors' notes, as their notes already covered most of important topics. Normally, the course include stochastic process, computational finance, continuous time analysis, and so on, all standard courses in quantitative finance fields.
About the books, of course, having some classical books on hand are also necessary for detailed knowledge are quite important, such as Hull. Shreve, Ross' books. These books can provide you more detailed information and knowledge and assist you in case you feel confused about the materials.

Programming component of the program
Matlab, VBA, R, c/c++ are all used in the program. Programming is really important in terms of finishing homeworks and courses projects. So students who have computer science(technical) background are really have great advantage over other students.

Course projects, in a form of course works or exams, are assigned to students during the semester. As a project, students usually need to research papers to obtain idea and thoughts from them. and of course, as well students need to implement it in codings.
Projects are done often in groups as students can cooperate on it and share ideas and thoughts. Rarely projects are assigned to individual student, but it happened from what i know.
Sometime students have industry mentor to provide some advice, but not so much, depending on the course requirement and the professor.

Career service
Columbia has its own career service center for the whole university. It provide quite a lot of career events for students. And it has done its good job so far.
As well program department also has its own staff to provide suggestions and guide to students. Usually students who have specific questions and problems can go to there for help.

What do you like about the program?
I like this program, as students really can learn many theoretic and practical knowledge of their fields, and prepare for their future jobs.
Also students can know many excellent faculty and other senior students and learn from them as well.
Also as it is in new york city, so location is also quite good for students who are looking for interns and jobs.

Suggestions for the program to make it better
Columbia University, as it is located in New York city, causing its campus is quite small. So its classroom, sometime for its large amount of students, is kind of small and crowed. So school may consider to open more sections for same course for the benefits of its students, or possibly offer more online course for students who are not able or convenient to come to school.

Other comments
Figure out what is the real interest inside you, and determine what field to focus on.
Learn as much what you feel interesting as you can from right now.
Prepare earlier and don't wait to the last minute to get work done, as sometime it is too late.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Bachelor's degree in mathematics, 1 year part time + summer quant analyst at NYC hedge fund
I studied full-time in the program from 9/2008-5/2009

Did you get admitted to other programs?
NYU math in finance, LSE financial math, Stanford financial math

Why did you choose this program (over others, if applicable)?
Columbia's MSOR was more flexible, in NYC, and was easier to transition into a non-purely-quant role. I was choosing between Columbia, NYU, LSE, Stanford. If possible I wanted to be in NYC because that's where I wanted to work. Stanford and LSE, although both great programs, were just not in NYC, so it came down to Columbia vs NYU. NYU was more rigid in program structure and seemed to produce students who almost exclusively became quants at hedge funds or banks. If you pinned me to the wall and asked which program was better for a would-be quant, I would have to say NYU, but I wanted to be derivatives trader - and for that I felt Columbia was better. Moreover, I felt I might even change my mind about my focus once in the program (which I didn't), and I could have done that at Columbia but not NYU. Lastly, Columbia's alumni network in general is especially strong in NYC.

Tell us about the application process at this program
Just applied online, no interview, and received notice via email with a follow up in snail mail. This was the same process for all the schools.

Does this program offer refresher courses for incoming students? How useful was it?
The program offers a course in probability & statistics for students who are rusty or who haven't taken those subjects. I've heard it's a helpful course but I didn't take it myself.

Tell us about the courses selection in this program. Any special courses you like?
You're required to take Stochastic Models, Deterministic Models (a course on linear optimization), and Simulation (and that probability & statistics refresher course if you don't come in with the background). If you place out of any of those three courses you just have to take a higher level version of it. After that you take 7 courses (or more) completely of your choosing, including one course per term from the business school and school of international affairs, and as many as you want from economics dept, math dept, etc. There are tons of electives to choose from. Most useful I found were the product electives, e.g. credit derivatives, MBS, currency derivatives, commodity derivatives. There's also risk management, quant methods in investment mgmt, asset allocation, pricing models, hedge funds - just see the courselist online there are way to many for me to list. A good number of these electives are 1.5 credits so you can take a bunch of them, which I thought was great for breadth of the experience.

Tell us about the quality of teaching
Generally it was great, but I did have a couple professors I just didn't jive with - but these were not the practitioners (specifically it was the stochastic models and simulation profs). TAs were available, though, of course if needed. The practitioners, Emanuel Derman, Iraj Kani, and others, were excellent teachers and were very much accessible and supportive of our development, which was really remarkable.

Materials used in the program
Some courses used online materials, some textbooks, some just class notes. All were very relevant. But expect to purchase at least a few textbooks in this program unless you're resourceful in getting them online.

Programming component of the program
Matlab, C++, Java, VBA, AMPL ... simulation requires Matlab, credit derivatives we used VBA or Matlab depending on the assignment, AMPL was only for deteministic models. Other than simulation you could choose your language as long as it's accepted as a well known language.

Both individual and group projects depending on the class.

Career service
Resume reviews, mock interviews, and access to Columbia's career services website where lots of jobs are posted for on and off campus interviews. It's pretty much up to you to find yourself jobs with the great resources Columbia gives you. I didn't have a problem, but there were plenty of students who did in the horrific job market of 2009.

Can you comment on the social interaction between students of different ethnics, nationalities in the program?
The main nationalities are China, India, France - but I think there are more Americans this year since they took a bunch of Columbia undergrads. A lot of the time everyone sticks to what they know and hang out with people from where they're from, but everyone is generally friendly with each other.

What do you like about the program?
The flexibility of the program and the Columbia name in the industry are the best things about it. Another great thing was the access to top practitioners in the field. And also you can choose to make it either two semesters or three with a summer internship in between.

What DON’T you like about the program?
It's expensive, but then again not the most expensive and you of course make back all the money you spend and more in the first half year of work after you leave the program.
Suggestions for the program to make it better
Tough question. Maybe allow students to opt out of the deterministic models course in favor of a second stochastics course.

What are your current job status? What are you looking for?
Working as a derivatives trader at a top desk in a large global bank, which was exactly what I wanted.

Other comments
If given the choice again for choosing between NYU, LSE, Stanford, and Columbia MSOR, I would choose Columbia MSOR again without question.