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Collection of Admission Numbers from MFE Programs

For directors of many Financial Engineering (MFE) and quantitative finance master programs, 2009 is a year they would rather forget. After years of unabated growth of popularity and annually triple-digit increase in number of applicants, things seemed to head into a unfamiliar territory at the beginning of the year.

As the global financial crisis worsened by the day, the future of modern financial industry seems pretty much in doubt. From Shanghai to Mumbai, recent college graduates aspired to a job on Wall Street began to second guess their thinking. Concerned applicants flooded discussion boards to seek comfort and justification for their hard earned investment. When words spread that many graduates of top programs returned to home countries after months of unfruitful job searches, many prospective students decided to wait out the financial storm or join another line of work.

As a result, application numbers fell across many established and competitive MFE programs. Carnegie Mellon University reported a 20% drop in 2009 number of applicants to its venerable Master of Computational Finance (MSCF) program after reaching an all-time high a year before. The relative new kid on the block, Baruch MFE program saw its numbers dropping a stunning 32% after receiving more than 500 applicants in 2008. Elsewhere, the story was similar. From west coast's Berkeley MFE to east coast's Princeton MFin, the message was clear: brace for hard time ahead.

As students across this great nation started a new school year this week, we have a chance to look at the numbers gathered from various MFE programs. What we saw was telling. Like the new financial system emerged from the greatest crisis in decades, many programs are heading back to their pre-2009 level while some appear to level off. At least one program is declining in popularity.

From first glance, it's clear that not all is rosy. No program has regained the level of 2008 in term of admission number. While CMU MSCF, Baruch MFE, Columbia MFE have the biggest recovery with triple digit increase in the total number, the biggest surprise comes from the MFin program at MIT's Sloan which has 947 applicants in its second year from 175 a year earlier. Of equally shocking is the UCB MFE program from Haas which sees its numbers slipping for two years in a row. In 2010, it received 333 applicants, a far 30% cry from its peak in 2008. In 2009, it received 401 applicants, only 15% down from a year earlier.

Explaining the astronomical rise in application number this year, Andrew Lo, Harris & Harris Group Professor told me that MIT did not advertise the MFin program in its inaugural year. Indeed, text-based and banner ads touting the one-year program have been spotted since early this year on various education forums and finance websites running Google Adwords system.

While UCB MFE program has been a long time buyer of Google text-ads for certain keywords ("quantitative finance", "financial engineering"), recent programs joining in the keyword-based advertising push are Rutgers Mathematical Finance, Hawaii Shidler's MFE, Rutgers Quantitative Finance (another program from Rutgers from its business school), UIUC MFE. The list will certainly keep growing as programs experiment with non-traditional channel to reach prospective students.

The following chart displays the official admission numbers only from programs that post the data for at least the past five years. Big kudos to all of them for being transparent.

NOTE: Using official admission numbers from the website of UCB MFE, CMU MSCF, Baruch MFE, Princeton MFin, Stanford FinMath as well as from numerous conversations and email exchanges with officials at other programs, the data bellow represents the most extensive effort to date to gather all available admission numbers in one place.



Quant Headhunter
There seems to be a correlation between the cost of the course and drop in numbers, which I guess is not that surprising.
Is it because of their high application fee?

I bailed on my UCLA application when I saw the $200 application fee... wasn't sure I wanted to go to LA anyway, and charging 3 times as much as everywhere else to apply seemed absolutely insane
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