University of Illinois Financial Engineering program

University of Illinois Financial Engineering program

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.
With Math/CS B.S. degree and 5+ years of Engineering/Consulting career, U of I MSFE program was a perfect fit for me. I not only enjoyed working with great friends and professors but also gained profound real-industry knowledge through fellowship program, speaker series and internship. Professors and program director helped students a lot using their own network as well – I think it was possible because we had competitive and small class size.
About myself: Fresh grad with no full - time work experience. Joined the inaugural class straight from college. Majored in EE and have mathematical and programming experience, but no previous exposure to finance and economics in general.

About the program: Generally solid curriculum and effective teaching faculty. I enjoyed stochastic calculus, financial derivatives and term structures especially. Although some courses in 1st semester may seem to be redundant for someone who has experience in the relevant field, I believe they are necessary to bring all students up to speed. Therefore it would have been nice if some introduction courses are electives. The staff of the program are extremely helpful. They used their connections to bring in outside speakers, both industrial practitioners and acdemic researchers, and help us find internships and full - time employment oppoturnities.

Students: Most students are from science and engineering majors with little full - time work experience. But they are all hardworking and easy to work with. As for job placement, I believe all of us are able to find a job in the finance / insurance/ consulting areas. And the program has prepared me very well for my current job in Shanghai.
About myself: finance background with mathematics and programming exposures, join Class of 2010 directly.

About class: balanced with both finance and engineering, quite a lot opportunity for other classes in engineering school, such as CS and statistics. Good resource for both finance and engineering school, specially engineering.

About classmates and life. I'm definitely missing my talent classmates and easy life there. Study hard and play hard. We still keep in touch after graduate, and have gathering in Chicago sometimes.

About work: Dr Lane help us a lot on job seeking, I should definitely thanks him for my intern and first job. Good for engineering background, good for opportunity in Chicago.
Introduction: I joined MSFE program in fall 2010 and finished in December 2011. Prior to joining the program, I had a bachelor degree in Economics from China and Master of Finance from US.

About the program: The major reason that I the join the program for is school's renowned reputation in field of engineering and their attempt to fuse those great resources at their disposal with the financial industry, which was reaffirmed by my experience during my stay.

Students and staff: The background of both students and professors are well diversified, with some came from the discipline of Economics/Finance and some from a more technical field. This fact made the interaction I had with my classmates and professors very dynamic and beneficial. And School work is tough, but you really get what you paid for. The matrix of technologies and practices the program makes you exposed to prepares you to do well not in one, but a spectrum of job functions throughout the industry.

Placement: the employment situation across the country was in bad spot throughout the duration of the program, however to the best of my knowledge, most of my classmates that were diligently seeking for employment opportunities landed jobs with satisfactory status either here in US or in their home country. This again speaks well of the program's course work and especially its close fit to the industry.
About myself
Coming right out of my undergrad school in Shanghai, China, i joined the program in fall 2010 and completed in December 2011. I received my bachelor of Finance degree from Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
Currently i am working at a major bank in US as a quantitative analyst in credit risk.

My Experience with the program
Faculty: i had chance to attend classes at both business school and engineering school, which i found it especially helpful for me. Financial engineering or quantitative finance is an emerging area and keeps evolving over time. A broad knowledge in business and technology helps me adapt to the new ideas and trends in the industry.

People: Students have very diverse backgrounds. Many late nighters in the library but we also had much fun out of the classroom. I definitely miss my time in Champaign.

Placement:
As far as i know all the people who decided to look for full time jobs found a job. Some students went on to PHD programs. If you think the job market now is tough, it was way much tougher in 2011. I still remember i had a final round with a bulk bracket bank in New York but it turned out they didn't hire any of us, presumably because of the budget.

I am the only new hire on my team who is not from CMU or Gerogia Tech's program. These two are pretty good programs but I just found the program at UIUC has prepared me equally well for my job.
I attended the MSFE program from Aug 2010 to December 2011. In short, you get great engineering resources, which UIUC is famous for, tailored to be applied within finance.

I found the program to be very challenging although interesting. The teaching quality was great, some classes being better than others, and it did prepare me well for my career in consulting and fraud investigations. One of the biggest perks of the program was the ability to work with an actual company in the industry for the final project. As part of the collaboration with the corporate partner, we needed to prepare presentations and timely updates to the management, as well as we needed to write a research paper for the class itself.

As most Master's programs, MSFE is aimed at training specialty professionals upon graduation, so Job Placement is probably the most important metric why anyone would consider getting a Master's degree.

Job Placement:
We had quite a few students in my class who came with no job experience straight from undergrad, some with undergrad from other countries. I was an international student myself, and I came directly out of college with a degree in Economics.
Obviously, you cannot expect to receive a job offer just because you attended a certain program (any program in general).
In my class, those who diligently searched for full-time jobs in the US were successful. This pool of successful job-seekers was very diverse and included US citizens and International Students; GPAs ranging from around 3.0 to 4.0; native English speakers and “not-so-native” English speakers.
Employers included insurance firms, consulting firms, trading houses, banks, the US government, etc.
The best thing about this program is it's a marriage of the College of Engineering and the College of Business at the University of Illinois. The program prepared us with quantitative, computational and analytical knowledge. My final project was related to market microstructure, which prepared me for my role at the Securities & Exchange Commission as a financial economist.
By and large, the faculty is very effective at teaching, and the curriculum includes a number of informative and interesting classes. The applied capstone project is a wonderful opportunity to put the instruction to use before graduation. My experience with the other students the program attracted has been overwhelmingly positive.
Some minor caveats include that any given student will likely find at least one first semester course to be redundant, which one(s) depending on his or her academic or employment background prior to joining the program; despite this, I would have welcomed an expansion to four semesters to allow greater depth in the core curriculum and allow for more electives; and as a small program between two much larger colleges, Career Services events and services are more geared towards more traditional engineering and business majors.
When did you start and finish the program
Started Fall 2010 / will complete Dec 2011

Can you tell us a bit about your background
- Math / CS major
- System Engineer experience
- Risk Management consulting experience

Why did you choose this program over others if you were admitted into several program?
This is the only FE program I applied since I belived in their Engineering Department having completed undergraduate also in UIUC. Faculty members are great and Champaign is great place to live especially with family.

How did you learn about this program?
Before its launching director and other faculties were actively marketing this program over industry and within UIUC community.

Does this program offer refresher courses for incoming students? What do they offer and how much it costs?
Basic Finance related course / Stat courses / Computing courses
Tell us about the courses selection in this program *
[1st semester] Econ / Finance / Time series analysis / Computing
[2nd semester] Numerical Method / Derivatives / Stochastic Calc / Optimization
[3rd semester] Independent research / electives.... (7-8 choices)

Quality of teaching
Of course, not all faculties are holding strong finance related knowledge - some are very very competitive in teaching others are not. However, in overall the quality is satisfying in terms of engineering academic curriculums and related teaching skills.

Programming component of the program
C++ / Real industry API implementation experience through Trading workshop

Projects
Optimization Class / Stochastic Calculus classes hold project assignments.
Derivative classes introduce many many real world cases such as HBS cases and others from different sources.

Career service
Career Services department is Okay.
The best part is that professors and directors running around really diligently to contact employers and get students at much interview opportunities as possible. For example, even though as an international student I had 8 interview opportunities and got 2 offers for internship.

What do you like about the program?
In overall I'm satisfied so far. However since it's in first year there are also lots of things to improve such as getting a bit better faculties with more financial industry experience and practical knowledge.

What DON'T you like about the program? What kind of changes would you make if you were in charge?
A bit too expensive and somewhat can be bored if you're very outgoing person looking for decent amount of party. Also, student demographic is not diversified. Heavy portion of student is from one single country.

What are your current job status? What are you looking for? What would you prefer to work in?
Got an internship. Will look for fulltime during next semester.

Other comments. What would you advise prospective students interested in this program?
One word: UIUC MSFE provides (at least tries to provide) if you're involved and actively ask what you want. If not there will be nothing you can get out of this as other programs in other schools.
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