For everyone thinking about doing a part-time MFE.

I've been meaning to write this for a while, but now that I've been a part-time MFE student for a little over 1.5 years (basically a little over the halfway point), I decided this may be a good time to do it.

I got home at 1AM last night, a weeknight.

Busy as hell at work? No. I left the office at 5pm (I get in at 7AM)

Had a fun night out? No. I had Doritoes with chunky salsa for dinner because I was too tired to eat anything else.

Just taking a long, contemplative walk around New York in the beautiful 50F weather? No. I was indoors the whole time.

I got home at 1AM because I was doing homework all evening. I felt so shitty at the end, I decided to Uber home because I didn't want to deal with delays, homeless stench, rats, crazies, or annoying tourists on the subway (I've experienced all).

You might think I'm out of my mind and I should have managed my time better and finished the homework over the weekend. Maybe just skip it and try to get high grades in the other homeworks to cover it up. Or just give up on life altogether. But you have no idea what it really is like.

This post is a word of advice and warning to anyone who has had even the slightest thought about doing a part-time MFE at one of the top schools.

You need to be mentally and physically ready for this. It's unlike anything you've ever done and you will quickly realize this once you're in it.

First: Doing an MFE makes you realize how mediocre you really are. It beats you down and puts you back in your place. You may have been #1, #2 in high school. Top 10% in college. But go to a good MFE program, and you'd be lucky to be in the top 50%.

The moment you decide to do a part-time MFE, your life has completely changed for the next 2-3 years.

For three-quarters of every year, August - December and January - May, you will not have a life. This is one of the most intense things you will ever do. Again, you will not have a life. Repeat after me. "I. Will. Not. Have. A. Life!"

What does this mean? Well, for starters, your social life will go completely out the window-and I mean it. Every minute of your life outside of the office is now a precious minute that could be used to work on HW, study for exams, or do some review. Forget about going to dinners, dates, birthday parties, sports games, concerts, weekend trips etc while classes are in session. I have declined 90% of social event invitations since I started my MFE. Even if a gorgeous girl were to ask me to get drinks, I will say no, I have to finish my Monte Carlo homework and I will have failed at life if I don't, so I can't.

The MFE curriculum is brutally unforgiving. Things move very fast; if you fall behind on lectures, you better get your sh*t together ASAP because you simply will not have time to catch up if you wait too long. By the time you catch up, the class has already moved 2 topics ahead and you have a HW on those topics due at the end of the week. And since you're part-time, the only time you really have is after work and the weekends. Does the idea of watching a stochastic calculus lecture or debugging C++ at 7PM on a weekday night after you've been in the office for 10 hours sound exciting to you? How about doing that for 3 months?

Not falling behind takes a lot of discipline - this means you have to either attend lectures or watch them the week they are held, take notes, and be ready to begin the assignments on Saturday morning. You have to use your weeknights wisely to make sure you don't waste precious weekend time on things that you could have gotten done over the week.

Now the weekends: this is when you go hardcore. Every weekend during my MFE, I have spent 10 hours+ a day on schoolwork - be it reviewing lecture, taking notes, doing assignments, or studying for exams. You cannot go out on the weekends - this is something I couldn't get over at the beginning of the program, and my grades suffered as a result. You cannot relax and go watch a movie on Saturday. You cannot stay up late on Friday night and get hungover. You cannot waste half a Saturday running errands and cleaning your apartment. You must use all of Saturday and Sunday to finish as much of your schoolwork as possible, or to study for an upcoming exam. If you don't do this for even one weekend, you are f**ked because where will you now find 20 extra hours to make up for it?

The part that sucks is there's no guarantee that you will actually get everything done over the weekend. Last weekend I spent 8 hours on a stochastic calculus problem set, 3 hours on reviewing a lecture, 6 hours getting started on another problem set, and a few hours on other academic stuff. I didn't get everything done. It took me Monday night, Tuesday night, and Wednesday night combined (including staying up until 1AM on Wednesday) to get one problem set done which was due on Thursday. I need to spend Thursday night trying to finish the other assignment. In this case you can't get home from work and simply relax. Take a quick nap and then go straight to work. Go to bed when you're too tired to keep going. You might wake up at 3AM super-energized and ready to spend another 2 hours to get the homework done. But you might need to be in the office at 8AM the next morning. Well, that sucks doesn't it.

Once you have done this for 7 weeks or 14 weeks or however long each term is, it's time to prepare for exams. As a part-time student, you need to figure out the best way to study for a minimum or 2 days per exam (or even longer if the exam is on a tough subject) each term. For me this has basically meant that I use 3-4 vacation days every time I have final exams. For example if the exam is on Tuesday, I take Friday through Tuesday off and study for 3 or 4 days. You have to be aggressive at work about making sure you can actually take these days off. Final exam dates are often posted way in advance, so take advantage of that and book your vacation days early before anyone else. One semester, I had to take a final on the same day as I went to work and I suffered badly. Make sure that does not happen. Just treat all of your vacation days exam study days and don't think you can go on a real vacation because you can't. Cruise? Bahamas? Paris? Barcelona? Not happening - you've got a time series analysis final exam, b*tch! Keep in mind you still have a full-time job that takes up 40-60 hours of your weekday. It is impossible to study for exams without taking days off of work. Do not attempt it!

Repeat this for 3 years, and hopefully you've survived and now have an MFE! :)


If you read all of the above and are still convinced you want to do a part-time MFE, here's my bullet-point advice.

1) If you're married, or in a committed relationship (on the way to getting married), your partner needs to know that you will be gone for 80% of all weekends for the next 2-3 years, and even some weeknights. And be okay with it. Good luck with that.

2) If you're very social, you need to be okay with the fact that you won't be able to do anything social on the weekends (except during breaks) for the next 2-3 years.

3) Treat time as the most precious commodity. Calculate the most efficient way to do anything and everything. Basically if there is something you can pay money for that saves you a significant amount of time and you aren't poor, pay for it. Don't be cheap. Have to go buy a new pair of shoes? Go during lunch hour instead of during the weekend. Buy them online instead of going to a store. Buy stuff in bulk so you can deal with it once and forget about it. Instead of wasting hours each month on laundry, pay someone to do it and deliver it for you. There are apartment cleaning services out there as well. Have a slow laptop? Buy a fast one, even if it costs you $1500-2000. It'll be worth it. If it takes you an hour to cook meals, get takeout (it won't kill you) or cook in bulk if you really want to cook. If it's late and public transport takes too long, take a cab. 30 minutes of sleep could translate into 2 hours of productivity. Use services like Box, Dropbox, or (if you're geeky like me) Git/SVN to centralize all of your school files and have access to them anywhere. I've seen people email themselves homework and that's just stupid. If you have a tablet, store all lecture slides and course notes on there so you can review them on the train, on the bus, before bed, etc. There's so many ways to potentially waste time - your life should be optimized.

4) Maximize your return on hours spent on schoolwork. If you finished 80% of one homework and have 20% left for a tough problem, and that homework is 1% of your grade in this class, and if you have enough time to either get through that 20% or finish 80% of a different homework for which is worth 5% of your grade in another class, you probably should just move on to the second homework.

Similarly if you studied for an exam and went through 90% of the material and are pretty confident about it, and you have enough time to either go through the esoteric remaining 10% or study for 50% of some other class, the choice should be obvious. Being a perfectionist is not possible because you do not have enough time. You are taking 50% of the load of the fulltime students, but have basically 30% of the time they have. You do the math. Shortcuts are inevitable.

5) Do well at work. The last thing you want is work issues eating into the precious time you have to do schoolwork.

6) Tell your boss that you're doing an MFE. People will be a lot more accommodating about random days off, leaving early to attend class, and working from home if they know you are doing an intense masters program. The negative of it is that they will know you're looking to leave your position, but it's a lot better than having to make up excuses to hide the MFE.

7) Don't feel bad about splurging on fancy restaurants and nice things in life, getting an expensive massage, etc. Nice things decrease stress and make your brutal life a lot more tolerable. Better yet take a girl (or guy) out to brunch or dinner once a month or so to relax. Get regular high-quality haircuts. Buy nice shoes and dress well-this helps a lot both in and outside the office. Keep your morale high.

8) Try to go to the gym once a week to blow off steam and maintain a regular sleep schedule. You cannot afford to get sick or injured. If you get sick and miss an exam, this can potentially delay your degree a whole year. I've never been more careful going up and down those narrow stairs in the NYC subways, staying out of the way of crazy people, taking cabs late at night, etc. You should be risk-averse - you'll appreciate it when you're done with your degree.

9) Once in a while you will simply be completely lost and have no idea what to do or how to finish a HW. When this happens, email the instructor (NOT at the last minute) and ask if they would be willing to accept homework a day or two late. If not, just submit what you have and get over it. Take a nap, go outside, refresh yourself and try again. Ask classmates or the TA for help.

10) Build a study group with your fellow part-time students. This is incredibly important. These are the only people who are in the exact same situation you are in and they are the most likely to understand you. Often times, you will find that people complement each other (someone has a math degree, someone has a CS degree, another has a background in statistics, etc...). Having a group setting to bounce ideas off of and study together is a huge morale boost.
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Thanks for the inspiring insight.

If I were an employer, I would hire someone like this just for the productivity skills learned going through this.
part time is tough no doubt. But I think op lacks some good foundation classes that help sooth things out. I know some Goldman PPL did full time CMU program while working full time at Goldman and managed it OK. Source: another part timer who graduated 2011
part time is tough no doubt. But I think op lacks some good foundation classes that help sooth things out. I know some Goldman PPL did full time CMU program while working full time at Goldman and managed it OK. Source: another part timer who graduated 2011

I'm doing perfectly fine at CMU. Just wanted to make it clear to people that it's not easy.
if ur doing fine, u might consider doing full time and get it done by this year. U may also want to quit ur job if some internship opportunity is really good. I personally feel u exaggerate a bit the time u spent doing schoolworks. I'm taking 2 classes every semester and still can go out at weekends...

Also according to insiders, part time and Online programs r ezier to get in. So for PPL just want the school and program name on the resume (with some limited career support from school, if there is any), its a very good idea.
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if ur doing fine, u might consider doing full time and get it done by this year. U may also want to quit ur job if some internship opportunity is really good. I personally feel u exaggerate a bit the time u spent doing schoolworks. I'm taking 2 classes every semester and still can go out at weekends...

I don't think all the schools make that kind of distinction between PT/FT. I was offered the opportunity to do FT (presumably since I didn't have much work experience) but I didn't take it. I would have taken someone's place on the FT waitlist if I had accepted.
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Since ur already in ft, I would switch to ft during last couple mini semesters if I were u to do some interesting internships and take a break. Just me.

I'm not smarter. I took whole suit of real, complex, linear analysis, numerical methods and computer science classes while in college. Good foundation serves me well.
thats very insightful and helpful, it is very diffcult to do the work and study at the same time while balancing other thing... i do believe lots of hints you mentioned also applied to full-time especially for people who wanna to pave a hard path for themselves to a top-notch quant place... thanks so much for sharing this...

Ken Abbott

Managing Director
Well said @mhy. I did an MS is stat/OR 20 years ago at NYU and it was brutal. And I don't think that program was as tough as some of the quant programs out there now. The upside of a part-time program, of course, is a) you save a lot of money, b) you don't lose the work experience and perhaps most importantly c) you are able to apply what you learn as you learn it.

I can't overstate the importance of the last point. The motivation is completely different when you can apply knowledge right away.

Daniel Duffy

C++ author, trainer
No offence intended but...

You young fellas have it way too easy; a good job in a good city, chances to improve yourself etc. etc.
If it's too much, to be honest, do something else.

In the dark 70s we had no work, no money and no jobs nor iphones and we still did a PhD. We did not feel entitled to anything which seems to be the norm these days.

Thank your lucky stars. Happy Easter.

Next time don't refuse the coffee with the beautiful girl :)
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Which class at CMU would you say is the toughest so far or that you are spending the most time on?

Stochastic Calculus I and Options were both tough classes. Stochastic Calculus was just theoretically hard, and Options was not hard conceptually but our professor brutalized us with endless problem sets and projects (and no one finished the final). I spend the most time on Options, I think. Debugging also takes a lot of time.
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