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Columbia MFE (2017) Is Columbia MFE worth 100k?

spikygamma

New Member
Been trying to source feedback about the program - gotten the good and the bad. Wanted to focus on the bad - the dilution of the brand because of the OR and Math fin program, lackadaisical career services and a supposed dip in quality.

I understand the program structure is fantastic. However, that can be said for most top programs. So, is Columbia really in the top 5 as the rankings suggest and is it worth 100k?
 
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volmacro

Active Member
Can you name 5 other programs that are better? If not, Columbia MFE belongs in top 5. I don't think the other programs are that much better; are there really that many great financial mathematics lecturers/practitioners out there to support all the available programs, especially outside of NYC? At least with Columbia you would have the benefit of being in NYC, getting a brand-name, having a seminar delivered by industry folks, and possibly having practitioners as lecturers.

You have to think about opportunity cost. If you're already in a front-office job at a bank, HF, PE firm, etc., then the 100k is probably not worth it. However, if the best you have is a back-office job, then perhaps this is worth it. A decent median job would probably be $100k and a decent median bonus would probably be $40k out of these programs. Some people earn more, some much more; some people also earn less. Compare that with what you might have without the Columbia MFE. Without that context, it's hard to say whether Columbia MFE is worth 100k or not. If you applied to these programs, my guess is that something isn't working out for your career, and an MFE feels like a solution.
 

pingu

Well-Known Member
... So, is Columbia really in the top 5 as the rankings suggest and is it worth 100k?

There are two questions here. Let me try to give you my opnion individually.
1) is it a top 5? If you are talking about the MFE program directed by Derman, it seems it is very good. Quantnet does a good job ranking the programs and I tend to trust Andy through the years.

2) Is it worth 100k? Well, that depends on you more than the program. It's what you do after you finish the program what matters. A program can take you so far.
 

IntoDarkness

Well-Known Member
worth 100k? probably not for an mit, caltech, berkeley, ivy league undergrad and whatnot who already got very decent job right after college.

probably yes for op since he even asked this question...
 
Been trying to source feedback about the program - gotten the good and the bad. Wanted to focus on the bad - the dilution of the brand because of the OR and Math fin program, lackadaisical career services and a supposed dip in quality.

I read pages upon pages of information about this program. From what I gathered, the career services are poor compared to other programs, but somehow all the students manage to do fine. The take away is that you can't expect any hand-holding, you've got hustle for interviews yourself but being in NYC helps.

As far as the "dilution of the brand", remember that no matter what jobs you apply to, you are going to be competing with people from ALL THE TOP PROGRAMS. It isn't like each desk has two slot for Columbia students, one slot for Berkeley students, one slot for CMU etc. They are going to hire the best fit, period. What DOES happen is that sometimes there is some alumni solidarity going on. So if the head of a desk is a Columbia alumni, he may be partial to hiring Columbia students. If that is the case then having a lot of programs would imply a larger alumni network and in turn more benefits from this dynamic. However this hypothetical Columbia alumni who is heading the desk is not going to hire a dim-witted Columbia student who blew the interview over a brilliant CMU student just because. There is a limit to this solidarity.

One thing to consider, and take this with a grain of salt, is that one student told me that he felt that this supposed solidarity wasn't as strong in Columbia as it was in say Berkeley or other schools. Again, take this with caution, just anecdotal evidence. Try to speak with students to see how they feel about his.

The one thing that I feel is the true weakness of Columbia, is the lack of "true" finance courses compared to other programs. I don't mean "corporate finance" or stuff like that --these are all quant programs after all-- but courses where you learn more about financial products and investing and study them from a quant perspective of course. The only two seem to be "Foundations of Financial Engineering" and "Asset management" but students have told me they are nothing spectacular. Berkeley might be the strongest in this point. CMU is a good compromise. This could be the consequence of it being in a IEOR deparment as opposed to a business school (or 4 different departments like CMU!). You can see the effect of this on the placement statistics; Columbia seems to placec fewer people in the buy-side compared to UCB and CMU. If you aim for the sell-side though, this shouldn't be a problem I guess.


I understand the program structure is fantastic. However, that can be said for most top programs. So, is Columbia really in the top 5 as the rankings suggest and is it worth 100k?

Top five? I believe so. Take a look at other rankings like here and here (a bit outdated) if you don't trust the one here. They have similar methodologies so they are not going to deviate much (with the notable exception of Baruch which falls 18 spots). In my opinion, the most important variable should be "reputation on the street", but this can be hard to asses I reckon. The next best thing would be the "peer assessment" aka reputation on academia, which QuantNet publishes. Columbia places 4th in this.

Is ti worth it? Worth it as in what? ROI? Probably yes, 100% placement and 90k average salary. Although as others said, it depends on what are you doing now. If you are already pulling 150k a year, then this program will not add much value to you and perhaps you'd be better off doing an MBA or a PhD depending on your interests.

If you are asking "compared to other programs", that's a different story. (Btw Columbia's total cost of attendance is closer to 120k because most people finish it in 3 semesters not 2+summer).

Is Columbia worth the 30k more than Baruch? Is it worth 10k more than Berkeley? 20k less than Princeton or whatever? I don't know I guess that depends on you, your preferences and your interests (And your wallet!).
 
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spikygamma

New Member
@Charles Hammer That was really detailed and well thought out. Thanks, it cleared up a lot of questions I had about the program.

Just in addition, since you're so well aware about the program, any idea on the class profile? Most universities have it on their website, but IEOR seems to be in their own sweet world.
 

rnvpx

Member
where did u get 100+40k? Personally I don't know the numbers, but since most students seem to be getting s&t jobs in Hong Kong, I'd say it's closer to 90-100k. As for the lacking career services at Columbia, MFE has its own career service so it's better than that of MAFN or MSFE. Furthermore, columbia students have opportunity for buy side jobs that most schools can't offer. Think small hedge funds, PE funds, prop trading firms, family offices, school investment offices, etc. Finally, I don't know if this is true, but last year I heard rumors that MAFN students had harder time getting market risk jobs because there were less s&t jobs available, leading to MFE students taking the market risk jobs.
 

volmacro

Active Member
I don't know the numbers either. I say 100+40k based on looking at the other top programs, and my own sense of where compensation lies for the average risk analyst, which feels more or less like a median/baseline job out of these programs. Of course if Columbia MFE is placing more front-office than comp would be even higher. There are, of course, many international grads who go back to home country. I guess it's something OP would have to consider if international, though OP's English makes me guess he/she is state-side.
 
Just in addition, since you're so well aware about the program, any idea on the class profile? Most universities have it on their website, but IEOR seems to be in their own sweet world.

They don't publish this information unfortunately. However I suspect that they have more diversity than other programs since Columbia is a big name around the world, probably second only to MIT and Princeton in the top 10 of Quantnet. One student told me it was mostly Chinese followed by Indians, a few Europeans, Canadians and Americans. As far as the caliber of the students, again I don't know much, but I think they are behind Berkeley and ahead of most of the rest. Purely speculating here though, take it with a fistful of salt. Try to speak to some students.
 

spikygamma

New Member
where did u get 100+40k? Personally I don't know the numbers, but since most students seem to be getting s&t jobs in Hong Kong, I'd say it's closer to 90-100k. As for the lacking career services at Columbia, MFE has its own career service so it's better than that of MAFN or MSFE. Furthermore, columbia students have opportunity for buy side jobs that most schools can't offer. Think small hedge funds, PE funds, prop trading firms, family offices, school investment offices, etc. Finally, I don't know if this is true, but last year I heard rumors that MAFN students had harder time getting market risk jobs because there were less s&t jobs available, leading to MFE students taking the market risk jobs.

2017 FE Internship and Job Placement | Department of Industrial Engineering & Operations Research

University website puts average base at 93k+17k sign on bonus. Again the lack of details is quite alarming. No median figure, nothing on how many secured internships etc. Compared to the kind of detailed data CMU/Berkeley/Baruch put out, this is frankly shameful. Perhaps, as Charles Hammer mentioned it's an outcome of the program being housed under IEOR.
 

financeguy

Well-Known Member
2017 FE Internship and Job Placement | Department of Industrial Engineering & Operations Research

University website puts average base at 93k+17k sign on bonus. Again the lack of details is quite alarming. No median figure, nothing on how many secured internships etc. Compared to the kind of detailed data CMU/Berkeley/Baruch put out, this is frankly shameful. Perhaps, as Charles Hammer mentioned it's an outcome of the program being housed under IEOR.

If you want more sample statistics, have you tried emailing the program and asking for them? That said, I wouldn't call it shameful to provide their annual placement ratio together with averages and ranges for compensation. That seems like a decent amount of information. So what if they don't provide the median as well? But again, if you want the median and internship placement information, try contacting them.
 

CMFEAlumnus

New Member
At least with Columbia you would have the benefit of being in NYC, getting a brand-name, having a seminar delivered by industry folks, and possibly having practitioners as lecturers.

A decent median job would probably be $100k and a decent median bonus would probably be $40k out of these programs. Some people earn more, some much more; some people also earn less. Compare that with what you might have without the Columbia MFE.

I am a recent Columbia MFE alumni and I'd like to bring some more insights into this.
First of all the above arguments are quite flawed. Let me explain why:

1) Benefit of being in NYC: this is a 'benefit' shared by another thousands of students at Columbia, CMU, Baruch, NYU and all other programs in NY location, so it's not really a benefit at all. What's not that beneficial, however, is that it will add significant cost to your living expenses compared to other cities.

2) Getting a brand-name: Probably the most overrated thing. This brand name 'benefit' is shared among people from MFE, MSOR, Mfin, Business School, CS, Data Science, and all other programs with people that are in some extent going to compete with you for jobs. It's not really a benefit much, more like a necessity. And compared to CMU, NYU, MIT, Princeton, it's not a benefit at all, it just puts you on the same starting line as those other universities also give you a brand name.

3) Having a seminar delivered by industry folks: Sounds great, right? In reality, most of these are not beneficial and most students attend just because it's compulsory (there's a reason why they are compulsory...). Won't help you with job search at all.

4) Possibly having practitioners as lecturers: In general, the courses taught by practitioners are significantly worse than those taught by full time faculty. So the benefit definitely doesn't lie here. The only possible benefit might be that if you can network with those people, they can potentially hook you up with some interview opportunity, but it's definitely not a rule, more like an exception.

5) Salary: $100k median salary and $40k sign on are way off. It heavily depends on your previous experience. I don't have the full data, but I'd say not many people reach $40k bonus and if so, they have like 2-3 years of experience (of course there are rare cases where people get Associate without previous work exp). The $93k mean is probably skewed upwards, as most people don't have previous work exp and start out as Analysts for $80-90k starting salary in NYC and $10-15k sign on, whether those experienced usually get Associate for $115k and around $20-40k sign on.

Another few things I'd like to mention are:

1) The cost really is more like $120k if you decide to graduate in December (which is definitely the most reasonable option) due to living expenses. Also don't forget that even though in the past all people got full time job within 3 months of graduation, 3 months after graduation actually means end of May. So you might still be looking for a job in April, which will eat up another 4-5 months of living expenses in NYC on top of the $120k.

2) Don't forget that $100k in NYC is more like $60-65k after tax. Factor in living expenses and you'll be lucky to save $10-20k a year from a salary (not considering bonuses as that's very volatile, depends on the job, position, firm, etc.).

3) The career service is what you make out of it. If you are persistent and try to work with the career officer consistently, it pays off and they help you push your resume to employers. However, that's pretty much it, everything else is up to you.
Having said that, the career officer for MSFE abruptly left a month ago due to having a child. She'll most probably be back for next year, but I've heard the folks looking for internships and full time jobs now have it pretty rough.

Sometimes professors might help with getting you and interview somewhere, as they have connections, but again, this is a rarity as you need to have a good relationship with the professor, the professor needs to know about a position and deem that you'd do good there. They are putting their name on the table too.

4) Regarding the hiring statistics, it is true most people find internships (or actually I don't know anyone who didn't), but what you don't see in the statistics is that not all of them are the coveted ones at GS, MS, JPM, etc. I'd say the extremes are on both sides of the spectrum - people got extremely good internship and also not so good internships... But in general getting an internship is quite random in the sense that the correlation between getting a good internship and how good you actually are is not 1, more like 0.5. And it depends heavily on your previous work experience.
Also, last year was quite shitty in the job market, so things might be better this year and on. But that's something you also need to take into account - you are in an industry where the job market is extremely dependent on what's going on in the markets and economy. You could come in a good year and you'll get great internship paying a lot of money with relatively low effort, or you come in a bad year and you'll have troubles getting even mediocre paying job with tons of effort.

The picture I've painted might not look good, but all in all I'd say the program is solid. Big benefit of Columbia is that you can take pretty much any subject you wish from other departments and schools, so you can focus on e.g. Business School stuff, or Data Science stuff, or you can take a time series/bayesian statistics/numerical methods course, and so on.

My answer to your question as it is stated is no. I don't think the program is worth $120k.
However, I think you shouldn't be asking this in an absolute sense, but relatively compared to other programs - Is $120k for Columbia MFE worth it compared to $xyz for ABC program at KLM uni? To that question, my answer would be yes.

Good luck.
 
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volmacro

Active Member
@CMFEAlumnus Very helpful. Would you mind posting a formal review for Columbia MFE? One of the main challenges in gauging all of these programs is that reviews are quite scant, especially for Columbia's programs, which despite being one of the largest ones, is one of the least reviewed programs on this site.
 
I am a recent Columbia MFE alumni and I'd like to bring some more insights into this.
First of all the above arguments are quite flawed. Let me explain why:

1) Benefit of being in NYC: this is a 'benefit' shared by another thousands of students at Columbia, CMU, Baruch, NYU and all other programs in NY location, so it's not really a benefit at all. What's not that beneficial, however, is that it will add significant cost to your living expenses compared to other cities.

2) Getting a brand-name: Probably the most overrated thing. This brand name 'benefit' is shared among people from MFE, MSOR, Mfin, Business School, CS, Data Science, and all other programs with people that are in some extent going to compete with you for jobs. It's not really a benefit much, more like a necessity. And compared to CMU, NYU, MIT, Princeton, it's not a benefit at all, it just puts you on the same starting line as those other universities also give you a brand name.

3) Having a seminar delivered by industry folks: Sounds great, right? In reality, most of these are not beneficial and most students attend just because it's compulsory (there's a reason why they are compulsory...). Won't help you with job search at all.

4) Possibly having practitioners as lecturers: In general, the courses taught by practitioners are significantly worse than those taught by full time faculty. So the benefit definitely doesn't lie here. The only possible benefit might be that if you can network with those people, they can potentially hook you up with some interview opportunity, but it's definitely not a rule, more like an exception.

5) Salary: $100k median salary and $40k sign on are way off. It heavily depends on your previous experience. I don't have the full data, but I'd say not many people reach $40k bonus and if so, they have like 2-3 years of experience (of course there are rare cases where people get Associate without previous work exp). The $93k mean is probably skewed upwards, as most people don't have previous work exp and start out as Analysts for $80-90k starting salary in NYC and $10-15k sign on, whether those experienced usually get Associate for $115k and around $20-40k sign on.

Another few things I'd like to mention are:

1) The cost really is more like $120k if you decide to graduate in December (which is definitely the most reasonable option) due to living expenses. Also don't forget that even though in the past all people got full time job within 3 months of graduation, 3 months after graduation actually means end of May. So you might still be looking for a job in April, which will eat up another 4-5 months of living expenses in NYC on top of the $120k.

2) Don't forget that $100k in NYC is more like $60-65k after tax. Factor in living expenses and you'll be lucky to save $10-20k a year from a salary (not considering bonuses as that's very volatile, depends on the job, position, firm, etc.).

3) The career service is what you make out of it. If you are persistent and try to work with the career officer consistently, it pays off and they help you push your resume to employers. However, that's pretty much it, everything else is up to you.
Having said that, the career officer for MSFE abruptly left a month ago due to having a child. She'll most probably be back for next year, but I've heard the folks looking for internships and full time jobs now have it pretty rough.

Sometimes professors might help with getting you and interview somewhere, as they have connections, but again, this is a rarity as you need to have a good relationship with the professor, the professor needs to know about a position and deem that you'd do good there. They are putting their name on the table too.

4) Regarding the hiring statistics, it is true most people find internships (or actually I don't know anyone who didn't), but what you don't see in the statistics is that not all of them are the coveted ones at GS, MS, JPM, etc. I'd say the extremes are on both sides of the spectrum - people got extremely good internship and also not so good internships... But in general getting an internship is quite random in the sense that the correlation between getting a good internship and how good you actually are is not 1, more like 0.5. And it depends heavily on your previous work experience.
Also, last year was quite shitty in the job market, so things might be better this year and on. But that's something you also need to take into account - you are in an industry where the job market is extremely dependent on what's going on in the markets and economy. You could come in a good year and you'll get great internship paying a lot of money with relatively low effort, or you come in a bad year and you'll have troubles getting even mediocre paying job with tons of effort.

The picture I've painted might not look good, but all in all I'd say the program is solid. Big benefit of Columbia is that you can take pretty much any subject you wish from other departments and schools, so you can focus on e.g. Business School stuff, or Data Science stuff, or you can take a time series/bayesian statistics/numerical methods course, and so on.

My answer to your question as it is stated is no. I don't think the program is worth $120k.
However, I think you shouldn't be asking this in an absolute sense, but relatively compared to other programs - Is $120k for Columbia MFE worth it compared to $xyz for ABC program at KLM uni? To that question, my answer would be yes.

Good luck.

Can you please share your views about Columbia's MAFN program? That would be really helpful.
 

spikygamma

New Member
@CMFEAlumnus Thanks for the response! Pretty much covered all the bases.

The reason I was prompted to make this post was that my discussions with current students mostly painted a rosy picture (besides the career services - those are universally hated). I understand the pros outweigh the cons, but I still want to freakin know the cons so that I can make an informed decision. Maybe I'm prejudiced, but this brand aspect is overdone with Columbia when compared to other MFE schools. Plus, the career officer thing was hilariously absurd.

@Andy Nguyen Your two cents, given you review the program each year?
 

Drew L

Active Member
I personally never saw the value in any MFE program for anyone with an undergraduate math degree.
You can get an MS Math and be a lot more comfortable and capable in this fields than someone who rushed through an MFE.
With an MS Math the academic world is then your oyster and you're free to pick up an MS in Econ or Applied Math and basically get paid to learn the same curriculum as any MFE that people paid $75k+ for. And industry advice all around says banks much prefer a guy with solid theoretical and research abilities than someone who shelled out to go to a brand-name school and think he's a Wall Street hotshot.
Just my 2 cents
 

Drew L

Active Member
And this is just a personal thing but to me, getting paid to become a true expert in a field is much more valuable than any MFE degree.
I don't even love theoretical math but I wouldn't trade my education for anything.

Of course if your undergrad is engineering or something or you REALLY dont want to do a PhD I understand going for your MFE.
 

pingu

Well-Known Member
And this is just a personal thing but to me, getting paid to become a true expert in a field is much more valuable than any MFE degree.
I don't even love theoretical math but I wouldn't trade my education for anything.

Of course if your undergrad is engineering or something or you REALLY dont want to do a PhD I understand going for your MFE.

I know a lot of true experts in their fields with PhDs and all that jazz that get paid half of what a first year associate in a financial firm makes.
 
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