I graduated from the program in December 2020 and absolutely loved it for multiple reasons. The program is strong academically and rigorous yet is ultimately very rewarding.
I joined the program straight from undergrad where I studied applied math and statistics so I only had internship experiences prior to starting. In general, students join with very different backgrounds (economics, engineering, physics, math, stats, finance, etc.) and some at different points in their careers so I would not say anyone is really at a disadvantage or wouldn’t be able to succeed in the program given their background (assuming program requirements are met). In fact, the finmath (UChicago financial math program!) faculty do a great job helping all students catch up and review any important material during September Review (prior to Fall quarter).
The application is fairly straight forward. You need letters of rec, an essay (why the financial math field? why uchicago?), and a video interview recording of you answering some questions (this is also nothing to stress over and although I don’t remember the exact questions asked, they were fairly general and nothing out of the ordinary, more or less something along the lines of “why do you want to join this program?”).
I was ultimately deciding between a few different programs and UChicago. While I obviously chose UChicago, I never once regretted it. I think a few important things to think about if you are applying or deciding are 1) prestige (I hate to say it but it’s true in this field) 2) location 3) experience visiting or meeting students or faculty from the program. For me, UChicago covered all these three categories fairly well and I can confidently say this after graduating as well as after experiencing the application and interview process for internships and full-time positions. The University of Chicago itself has a great reputation and the Financial Mathematics program even more so, so applying pretty much anywhere gives you a leg up. Furthermore, the program being in Chicago is great since there are numerous trading firms (who hire many students) there and also a great chance to actually see some of these firms in person as the finmath program organizes “field trips” for students to meet quants and traders at these firms. One thing to note, given many firms/banks in this field are in NY, the fact that the program is not in NY is a question that has come up quite a bit when I have talked to prospective students. I have never seen this as an issue or as a disadvantage when applying to jobs or going through the interview process with companies in different states. I guess the only downside is you might have to hop on an extra flight for an interview but that’s not always so bad. Finally, the actual experience when visiting or talking to students/faculty is crucial! I had some questions prior to accepting and Meredith who is the director of student and faculty services at finmath along with some current students at the time did an amazing job guiding me through these which gave me a great sense of what the culture of the program would be like. This is also important because after all, these are the people you will be going to for help with career advice, course work, research, etc. so I would say that these interactions should be a top factor in your decision making.
The courses offered at the program are very thoroughly planned out and designed to help you succeed. For instance, the first quarter of the program you take core courses in options pricing, stochastic processes, portfolio theory, and python. These are important because this is exactly what most interviews cover so you jump into the program really just being fed information that you will then be asked about in an interview. Fall quarter starts in early October or late September which is a bit unfortunate since that is the peak of the recruiting season for internships. However, finmath does a great job dealing with this since the career development office starts interacting with students during the summer with study tips, resume and cover letter review appointments, etc. pretty much getting you ready for September Review. September Review is an additional part of the program that while is not mandatory is STRONGLY recommended and for a good reason. Almost every day in September there is a review session or workshop (technical and non-technical) that is helpful in preparing you for classes and interviews. During this month, many activities are also organized that allow you to meet your fellow classmates, alum, or even quants or other professionals from different firms. These are all great opportunities to network and possibly learn more about where you want to apply. Fall quarter I would say is the most hectic as you are trying to juggle courses along with applying to jobs, studying for interviews, and finally actually interviewing which can all be a lot to handle together. If you are deciding between programs, I can confidently say that this is probably true for all students regardless of the school, so choosing a program where you think you can get the most help and support in this process is vital. I think what’s really helpful at finamath is that the career development office and faculty know and understand this which makes everything slightly easier to maneuver (Meredith is also a great cheerleader for everyone in this process throughout the entire year!!!) . Furthermore throughout the program, it really feels like the faculty is there to help you and really want the best for you which is a great environment to be in. I won’t go into too much detail about other courses, but some of my favorites or those that I found to be very helpful aside from the first quarter courses I mentioned are: FINM 33150 - Regression Analysis and Quant. Trading Strategies, FINM 32700 - Advanced Computing for Finance, and FINM 32000 - Numerical Methods.
Finally, project lab is definitely one of finmath’s selling points. Project lab is an opportunity for students to join a project each quarter (most students only do 1-2) with a partnering firm. This is kind of like a group project (4-5 students) in internship format that occurs during the quarter. I know students who have loved their projects and those who have not so I think it’s definitely a hit or miss depending on what firm you choose, how engaged the professionals from the firms are while working with finmath students, and of course, the topic of the project lab. However, it's a great experience to add to your resume or even get a paid summer internship /full-time job from. Lastly, many of the finmath faculty are working professionals. This means they bring a lot of what is being practiced in industry to the classroom. They are also all a great resource for questions regarding careers and research projects or really anything you may be curious about.
Career Development Office:
AMAZING. I really couldn’t even imagine how helpful a program’s career development office could be prior to attending UChicago’s finmath program. Students are paired with one of three finamth counselors at the start of the year and this is the person you can go to for everything career related. It is really easy to get appointments when necessary so if I ever had questions prior to interviewing somewhere, I could always schedule an appointment with my counselor. The CDO is more of a network that keeps growing every year, learning more and more about other companies, the interview process, and gaining valuable insight that they then share with students. Furthermore, they organize countless workshops throughout the year that help with interview prep. A common example of such workshop is a faculty member (often times Roger Lee or Mark Hendricks) going over brain teasers or interview questions that UChicago students have seen during interviews at top firms.
While there aren’t many weaknesses I that I can think of, I think that a few of the electives offered are not taught in the most practical manner or could be updated. Furthermore, the programming courses (other than those taught by Sebastien D. - Computing for Finance in Python, Advanced Computing for Finance) could be improved and some more advanced techniques (ex: advanced machine learning techniques) that are currently used in the field should be introduced. However this may be the key difference between financial engineering and financial math programs so I guess a matter of preference.
Random things I wish I knew about the program before joining:
- Financial Math at UChicago literally has its own building which is very cool! Inside is a lecture hall (where you take most of your courses throughout the program), study rooms, a computer lab, and offices of most of the faculty.
- Most courses are during the evenings! Usually 6-9 pm so it’s definitely something to get used to but also gives you time to interview, work, or do other things during the day.
- Not a lot of information is given about September Review but it essentially is an entire month of different events ranging from company talks, socializing events, and finally most importantly review of different topics that students should be refreshed on prior to starting.
Chicago is a very fun city to be in so definitely a great place to go to grad school.
- I think every single finmath student will tell you this but buy the green book ("A Practical Guide To Quantitative Finance Interviews”) in the summer prior to starting this program or any other financial math/engineering program and start going over questions and brainteasers from it. This will save you so much time during Fall Quarter and make your life so much easier.