University of Illinois Financial Engineering program

University of Illinois Financial Engineering program

If I could, I will give a zero to this program. The director of the program is a fraud. The whole program is a way he cheats money. The whole project is of no help to professionalism. What you do every day is just taking class. Besides, the quality of the teacher is bad, and even widely criticized on the Internet, but he still insists that every student must take this class. For non financial majors, though you can apply, he will also admit you for money. But you don't get the promotion you want because they think you're an expert in finance and unfairness to different majors is a performance of a "professional program". After this program, you are still a novice in finance, and you will continue unable to code well.
1. Two fundamental courses provided on first semester waste so much time and they are actually not so useful.
2. The statistics and computing courses are actually "touch" so many fields. Without a detailed explanation with how and why we use these, I am wondering if anyone could still know how to do these when they really take interviews or work.
3. Extremely expensive tuition. U of I actually is located in a small town and we got no advantages when finding jobs but the tuition is incredible high and almost the same with most private U.
4. Too much international student(including me) and homeworks that everybody works on the homework every week. Students really need some freedom to work on their weak. Some needs to work on programming while some need time to passing CFA or FRM exams.Students are actually exhausted and have no time to develop.
5. Some of the professors gave no patient to students while some even do not show up in the office hours.
As a current MSFE student, I really like this program. Class size is relatively small. The curriculum is very well structured. The program is very intense. Dr. Lane and other staff members are doing their best to provide us networking opportunities.
Intensive coursework, excellent professors, can learn everything needed. There are cutting edge stuffs including most advanced derivative valuation models, most prevailing numerical methods, machine learning technics and so on while very fundamental yet profound knowledges in programing, finance, math, stat and economics are also provided.
As a current student, I am finding this program extremely well structured. There is a specific focus and attention given to the program in terms of what is taught and how the curriculum can be directly linked to the current financial world.
The program gives access to both engineering and business career fairs with a widest range of options in positions and companies to choose from.
Morton Lane is the director and is pro actively involved in creating networking opportunities for students. The practitioner series is one step in that direction.
The program is rigorous, tough and demanding but I definitely see excellent prospects for students.
  • Anonymous
  • 5.00 star(s)
Excellent experience.
The practicum choice in the second semester gives MSFE students a valuable opportunity to cooperate with companies and gain real world experience in financial engineering industry. It is really helpful for MSFE students to find an internship or a full time job in US. A lot of students of class 2014 have found internships in US this summer.
I graduated from the program in 2011. Since after then, I have met people from other comparable programs through work or social networking.

I would like the comment that this program really hits the sweet spot in terms of elegantly balancing course work between academic rigorousness and industrial practicality by connecting world class engineering school resource with strong (and evolving) exposure to financial industry experience in Chicago as well as elsewhere. I am very glad to have made such a decision to go to UIUC MSFE.
About the program:
Overall, my experience at UIUC was positive. The program was demanding, and although I joined some social organizations like the tennis club in my first semester, I was unable to find time later on to do anything aside from studying and looking for jobs. I learned a lot and gained a lot from attending the program. My technical/quantitative skills have vastly improved.

-The people at the MSFE office are very nice and accommodating, and I sense that they are truly committed to providing for their students and helping them succeed.

-The professors (for the most part) are very respectful of the students, and committed in helping them succeed.

-The student body, in my year, was too homogenous in culture. I think the program should strive to achieve a balance in class diversity – as they seem to have done for the 2015 class.

-The practicum is really what makes this program unique and exceptional. There is really no replacement for hands-on experience with an employer. You can think of the practicum as an apprenticeship. There was a lot of diffusion of knowledge between the sponsor and our team, and our sponsor was also nice enough to offer compensated summer work for students whom were unable to find summer internships. The practicum for us was where we really saw the interdisciplinary blend of practices come together in finance, as we saw how text-mining was used in finance for Twitter sentiment scoring, got to work with the data and build forecasting models, and also receive feedback on our work throughout the entire process. Skills obtained through the practicum could not be obtained through the classroom.
However, the biweekly meetings in Chicago was a bit strenuous for me particularly, because I also chose to take extra courses that were in session on Fridays. Going to Chicago takes about 3-4 hours one way by Greyhound, and we had to allocate every other Friday for the trip to go to Chicago for a 1-hour meeting with the sponsor. In the end, I was overloaded with work throughout the semester, and I wish I had the capacity to put in more time and effort for the project.

-There were too many mandatory meetings in the second semester in Chicago like the IAQF panel and the volatility workshop. I think mandatory meetings in Chicago should occur on Saturdays, so students taking classes on Fridays don't have to skip class.

-Career services/preparation really needs to ramp up.

About the University of Illinois:
Apart from the program, my experience at UIUC was very positive. I took 5 classes outside of the MSFE program (machine learning, finite element methods, partial diff. eqs, econometrics, and mathematical statistics), and they were all demanding, but truly world-class. This amount of coursework, combined with the rigorous contents, was a bit too much for me and affected my GPA, but I think the exposure I got was really worth it. It was an eye-opening experience where I got to take the same classes with statistics phds, economics phds, computer science phds, and mathematics phd students, and see for myself how I would do comparatively. The University of Illinois is truly a top university across all these fields and more. Financial engineering is by definition an interdisciplinary field, and I think it is important for any top institution to stay true to this interdisciplinary spirit, and offer elective coursework in all these areas. Given that the need for quant professionals changes constantly in the finance industry, I believe that a program that prescribes a fixed curriculum risks losing relevance to industry quickly. In this regard, the University of Illinois exceeded my expectations with the vast amount of top-notch coursework available. As a direct result of this, I was able to obtain interviews across a wide range of positions from algorithmic trader, to risk management consultant, to data scientist positions.

Apart from my review, I have a couple suggestions (ideas) on how the program can be improved:
1. Career Services (for Chinese Students)
- Make a separate career services specializing on getting Chinese students hired, and diffusing the sino-american cultural barriers. I think many of the Chinese students are technically talented enough to pass the technical interviews, but I would guess they must get held up in the behavioral interviews.
- I think that career services should already begin when the student enters the program, where students should identify a target position they want to apply to and receive counsel on how to strategize and build their resumes for those positions.
- Emily's occasional e-mails notifying us about open positions and events/tips weren't very helpful. I think quant interview workshops and role-playing workshops is what is really needed. Maybe bring in an outside quant interview expert for a day to hold a workshop or something(?).
- I would like to see some sign that the department is actively soliciting employers to come to campus and recruit MSFE students. At the present, the only visible relationship between the department and employers is the practicum, which I am hoping would change.
- Things they could use help on include building their resumes for specific positions through experiences and coursework, behavioral and technical interviews, finding the right jobs to apply to, how to approach recruiters at career fairs, understanding the typical recruitment process at American companies, understanding the power of acquainting with the recruiter beforehand, how to write follow-up e-mails, strategies on getting past the 'do you have work authorization' question, etc.
- Chinese students also need to recognize that they need to accept some American values and 'americanize' if they want to find jobs in U.S.

2. Re-evaluate the current curriculum
- While I realize that derivatives valuation is at the heart of the financial engineering discipline, the reality appears to reflect that the need for such people in industry is fast declining. Many of the tools acquired through an FE education are still relevant – like risk management, optimization, clustering, monte-carlo simulations, time-series modeling, and programming. However, it appears that current industry is more interested in using these tools within the context of data analytics. I am unsure of how relevant courses like financial economics and stochastic calculus are in the current industry, and they could be replaced to teach more data-oriented skills like Hadoop, cloud computing services like AWS, SQL, machine learning & data mining, data visualization, and statistical programming, that could make students more employable.

3. Standardize the programming language used throughout the curriculum, and then implement a baseline standard for programming skill across all students
- The employability of a student is highly correlated with that student’s programming skills. For a student to gain a high level of competency in a language, he/she needs to continue using it for a period of time. To make this process faster, I really believe that the program should just stick to one language used throughout the entire curriculum, and I further argue that the ideal language for this would be Python.
- With the current way things are, a lot of students graduate with little to mediocre programming skills, and most students graduate with Matlab being their primary language of choice. I believe this model is unsustainable because Matlab is rarely used in industry, and it is a superficially easy language to use. Programming skill in Matlab does not carry over to many other languages.
- Many students enter the program with no prior experience using Matlab, and then get introduced to C++ and R - all while still climbing the learning curve for Matlab. This results in them never fully climbing the learning curve for C++ or R or Python. Instead of trying to learn all these different languages at once, it's better to just concentrate on learning one main language that can be used in almost all situations, which isn't Matlab.
- Financial computing teaches us the type-safe language C++, which is useful to know, but a different beast from dynamic languages like Matlab, Python, and R. For the purposes of finding quant employment outside of quant development, knowledge of dynamic languages is more important, and Python seems to be the king in this field. Python seems to suite all the needs of a financial engineer in one language, and it is used widely in industry as opposed to Matlab.
- Python is probably the most frequently used language in the growing area of data analytics.
- I think that programming is important enough that the MSFE department should monitor and set a baseline standard for how well the students can do it.
We had worked with six students from the MSFE program at UIUC on a quant project for around 5 months this year. These students have very strong quantitative skills and are good at solving practical problems. You can also find star developers who can really code in C++ among them. All the students in this group worked very hard and were easy to work with. I highly recomend this program.
I work for the University of Illinois's Investment Department, and we partnered with the Financial Engineering Program as part of their practicum program. The students did an excellent job creating a scenario analysis database for us. Dr. Lane was very involved in our project and provided great insight. We were impressed not only with the final product, but also with the quality of students and their experience through the program.
As a potential employer of MSFE students, I feel the program offers a well-balanced and practical curriculum supporting a deeply analytic approach to the financial markets. My experience with the students participating on my practicum has been very thoughtful and quite useful.
I just graduated from this program (Dec 2014). It is a great program because it concerns a lot about technical skills. You can learn a lot in statistics, programming. Of course, courses like Risk Management and Financial Derivatives make me equipped with detailed knowledge and skills applied in finance industry. You could expect a lot after you finish your study. That is why I found a job in Chicago.
I learned a lot in this program, and the students here is outstanding! What's more the director and professors here are very brilliant and willing to help students with their learning and job hunting. Students feel comfortable to study, live and discuss with each other!
  • Anonymous
  • 5.00 star(s)
It is one of the program that emphasizes much on programming which I have ever known. Its practicum also gives students a good chance to devote themselves into real problems and social with industry elites.
The MSFE program has a one of a kind curriculum that allows you to study a wide variety of subjects in all relevant fields that define quantitative finance.

My favorite courses were Risk Management, Financial Derivatives and Market Microstructure, since they provide the ideal foundation for algo trading.

The Practicum project in the third semester gives you immense exposure to the industry and practices - and the best part is that you get to apply what you've learned to very realistic, implementable and professional projects.

I'd recommend this program to everyone who's interested in pursuing a career as a quant.
While I cannot in a timely fashion explain all of the reasons as to why this program is exceptional, I can at least express my gratitude for the endless opportunities UIUC MSFE has provided me. Albeit rigorous, exhausting, and daunting at times, this program is ideal for candidates interested in:

studying stochastic calculus in a financial context; using statistical techniques for time-series data; building valuation methodologies; leveraging a handful of programming languages; employing optimization techniques; investigating numeric methods; networking with financial institutions; contributing to confidential practicums; joining a community of accomplished alumni.

This program's flexibility has also enabled me to study data structures, numeric algorithms, and random processes at a more advanced level, in particular the applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning, parallel numeric algorithms, and human-computer interaction.

Following graduation, a considerable number are tempted to pursue doctoral degrees. While this is not surprising, I think the vast majority are as anxious as myself in merging a professional career with this newly instilled skill set that has such broad applications.
The design of the curriculum is great. Gradually you will see that all the seemingly independent knowledge are merging together and reinforce each other to show you a whole picture of Financial Engineering. Meanwhile we have a lot of chances to choose alternatives courses.

The professors are really fabulous. Some of them are from engineering departments and some from finance. They lead you through different topics and teach you how to approach complex problems which I think is valuable not only to this major. And of course, they are always ready to help.

The program directors are really putting their hearts in this young and energetic program. They are trying to improve it all the time. They are lovely.

Last but not least...Champaign-Urbana is a nice place for study, it is peaceful, simple and vibrate. I am starting my new job in Chicago now, and I will definitely go back to visit it in the future!
A Well balanced program with combination from Math, Computing and Finance. Tough coursework but worth your time. Most importantly, you could see that all the UIUC MFE staff are striving to improve the progam
I am a recent graduate from the program (Dec 2013). I majored in EE as an undergrad.

I feel the program itself solid and the depth to explore is great due to the strong CS and business programs at UIUC. The faculty is very accessible and have much to offer in and out of the classroom. I made some great friends and participated in some very interesting projects.
I am currently a UIUC MSFE student (graduating in Spring 2013). I came directly from UIUC undergraduate having a B.S. in Applied Mathematics, Economics and a B.S. in Finance, CS Minor. I applied to the program because of the excellent reputation of the engineering school, strong reputation of the business school, pre-existing work with faculty, and familiarity with the infrastructure/resources/facilities and my job on campus. There are several aspects about this program that make it strong.


For one, the MSFE is allowing for more electives than in previous years. Oftentimes, financial engineering programs have very rigid curricula and only a fraction of such curricula are valuable to employers. If your dream job is to be a quant, then financial engineering programs are generally not your best bet as most quant jobs require PhD’s or some form of published research. In addition, financial engineering programs tend to give you the “cliff notes” version of mathematical modeling in finance—usually enough to understand and develop simple models, but not the heavy machinery required for professional work. There are a few programs which attempt to cram measure theory and functional analysis into schedules of students which have never taken real analysis before, and consequently this may fall onto deaf ears so to speak. I don’t see the point of offering that kind of math to students who general will forget it once they fall into a non-quant (although still quantitative) role. What is great about the program at Illinois is that you can be whichever type of financial engineer that you desire. For instance, my electives include Applied Regression, Statistical Learning, Applied Parallel Programming, Measure theory, and several courses TBD. Basically, this leverages some of the prestige of other departments as well—especially those in the engineering college. While the core curriculum itself is strong and offers hands-on, relevant assignments I think most FE programs have nearly identical curricula. Flexibility is a valuable advantage here.


Secondly, the MSFE practicum is developing a more prestigious list of corporate participants with incredibly neat projects; these vary from trading shops, hedge funds, banks, startups, and financial data providers/analysts. I was very excited to see names like Nanex, DRW, and CME group on the list of practicum projects. This gives students networking/job opportunities and experience in different sides of financial engineering. With time, I think this will list develop an unparalleled prestige across the FE programs.



Thirdly, the MSFE gets students acquainted with many different types of programming languages/IDE’s, and relevant software. In your classes you use MatLab, R, MS Excel, and Visual Studio (C++) mostly. In other projects I have used python, javascript, MS SQL, C# in visual studio, and more (in addition to previous experience with linux C++, mysql, php, java). In the Uchicago trading competition we developed several models in MatLab in and implemented them in Java (I used Notepad ++ for by IDE while others on my team used sublime text). At first I thought using visual studio was not as advantageous as learning to program in linux, but the fact of the matter is that most firms use visual studio (I am currently using it every day in my internship). Unfortunately, Visual Studio is much more confusing to use than one would hope and it helps to have some experience going into a job or internship. And of course, I expect much more hands-on work in my final year at Illinois.



Another GREAT resource at UIUC is the MIL (Margolis market information lab). The MIL is an instructional finance lab on the business campus that gives ALL students hands-on experience with software products frequently used in different industries of finance. They teach over 40 workshops on various topics across 9 software products, including MatLab, Morningstar Direct/Encorr, Capital IQ, Bloomberg, MS Excel, Crystal Ball, and more. The MIL has 13 bloomberg terminals which, when combined with the MSFE office’s 2 terminals (2 more coming in the fall) puts UIUC among the leading universities in terms of financial software.


The significance behind all of this is the following: while your curriculum is ideally the reason you are paying money to get an FE degree, your resourcefulness and familiarity with different software products is what is going to make you a valuable (and likely employable) intern. The complexity of certain jobs you apply for may require nearly an entire year of training. As an intern, you need to prove that you can contribute and produce in other ways than the job’s main role. From day one of my internship I was heavily using Bloomberg and Excel and I’m sure this left a good impression. The MIL’s workshops on VBA allowed me to start developing simple VBA apps while the Excel-Bloomberg add-in workshop increased my understanding of the Bloomberg API to the point where I was working on C# apps that frequently used Bloomberg data. Not only does the MIL have a certification program for its software tools, but it is developing a practicum certification program with tasks and quizzes developed by its advisory board, alumni, and own staff. I am pretty sure this level of professional rigor and software arsenal is not offered by similar labs at competing schools.



Lastly, there is a very strong entrepreneurial spirit at UIUC. The engineering school brings in a large amount of competent individuals looking for extra work and there are countless ways to get involved. There are hands-on courses in CFA-style portfolio management with real money, many extra-curriculars, start-ups left and right, tons of research opportunities, trading/financial engineering competitions, etc. I have personally been involved in a FE-related start-up and it has been the most rewarding experience in terms of hands-on FE work, leadership, networking, and business management. Moreover, I have had chats with very ambitious people at UIUC seeking to establish student-run portfolio management groups, supercomputing tools in the MSFE office, and more.


In conclusion I would say the MSFE’s greatest strengths like in the potential to create a flexible curriculum, vast amounts of resources, lively extra-curricular and startup culture, developing practicum program with leads into Chicago financial firms, and integration of real software tools and various programming environments into the curriculum.
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